5 tips on downsizing your home

Don’t think of that purge as a burden, but an opportunity. Moving is a great chance to get rid of all of the things you haven’t seen or touched in years.

Don’t think of that purge as a burden, but an opportunity. Moving is a great chance to get rid of all of the things you haven’t seen or touched in years.

At some point, many of us are going to want to downsize. Maybe the move will come because four bedrooms feels like two too many since the kids moved out, or because you want a place closer to your kids (and their kids). Maybe you’ll move because it’s an easy solution to an unbalanced budget, or because you can afford a house on the beach if you give up several hundred square feet. Whatever the reason, the process of downsizing — which almost always involves a major purge — is intimidating, especially if your current house is packed to the gills.

My suggestion? Don’t think of that purge as a burden, but an opportunity. Moving is a great chance to get rid of all of the things you haven’t seen or touched in years. I suspect that once you get started, you’ll find the process freeing, and by the end, you’ll feel lighter on your feet. That said, deciding what stays and what goes is a complicated, emotional process. Here, I tapped the brain of Jill Pollack, a professional organizer, to bring you some tips on getting the job done:

1. Start with a list. I love this idea, mainly because it forces you to be honest with yourself. If you’ve ever cleaned a closet, you know that even as you unearth things you haven’t seen in five or ten years, it’s easy to come up with excuses for why you need to hang on to them. Pollack’s first step, which involves making a list of all the things you absolutely have to take with you, helps tame your sentimental pack rat nature. Write down the things that aren’t negotiable, like the piano from your great grandmother. Then, as you’re going through stuff, noting whether it did or did not make the list will help you gauge if it stays or goes.” Says Pollack: “If you didn’t care about it enough to remember it when you made the list, it should probably go.”

2. Strategize in advance. This sounds like a given, but it’s a step many skip: Take the time to measure your new space, so you know if your three armchairs will fit in the living room or if your new dining room will accommodate a table that seats eight. This automatically keeps you realistic and helps you weed out certain items. Pollack suggests starting this process at least three months before your move date.

3. Involve your family. “People think of downsizing negatively, because it’s the end of a chapter. But if you look at it as a chance to celebrate the next chapter, the letting go of things will come easier,” says Pollack. “Pour some wine, have your family over, and ask them to take a look around and think about the things they want.” This puts a positive spin on getting rid of things that are important to you. “Often my clients don’t want to let go of things because they don’t think they will go to a good home. But if you know your son or daughter really wants it, you might want them to have it more than you care about keeping it. That makes this process joyful,” explains Pollack.

4. Value your time. Should you sell or donate? To answer that question, decide on a resale amount that makes it worth your time to go through the process of selling. Pollack suggests $100 — so if something won’t fetch at least that much, you donate instead — but you can set your own threshold. Be sure you consider all the work that goes into selling, whether you have a yard sale or list on eBay or Craigslist. And if you decide you just want to get rid of things, you can always post a free ad or “curb alert” on Craigslist — chances are someone will come by to scoop things up in no time.

5. Digitize. I’m not going to tell you to get rid of photos and mementos — I’m hanging on to mine, too. But digitizing can help you save space and preserve these sentimental items, which can fade and get moldy over time. You can do this yourself with a scanner and a computer, or pay a service like ScanCafe.

With Arielle O’Shea

Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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