Downsize with less compromise: Celebrate the positive, pare down thoughtfully and get the most from your new home
It seems more likely these days to hear of people downsizing their homes than to hear of companies downsizing businesses — and the connotations are getting more and more positive. Moving away from a large house, where maintenance is expensive and stuff seems to magically accumulate in the black hole of the basement, can be a really good thing, but getting from here to there is not so easy. How do you decide what to bring with you and what to leave behind? How and where can you sell all of your excess stuff? And how can you find a smaller place that still meets your needs?
Get Ready to DownsizeChange your mind-set. Don’t feel limited. If you are downsizing by necessity, it can be easy to get down about the whole process. But there can be a lot to love about going smaller; easier upkeep, lower maintenance costs, and less pressure to host large groups of people can be a relief after years of living in a big house. Or perhaps you will be relocating closer to an urban center, where you can reduce reliance on your car and have easier access to shopping, restaurants and cultural events. Try thinking of three benefits of downsizing and keep those things in mind as you winnow your belongings and move into smaller digs.
Set your top three priorities. What do you most crave, need or want in your living space? Really think about this and be honest. It’s not often you will get everything you want in a new place, but if you stick with your top three priorities (I suggest you actually list five but ultimately don’t settle for fewer than three), you can get what is most important to you. For instance, is it really important to you to have a private outdoor space? An entrance that is not in an enclosed hallway? Lots of light or an open floor plan? These will point you quickly toward the spaces that may be a good fit and allow you to move past others that would not suit your needs.
Start an inspiration/motivation file. It wouldn’t hurt to also start saving images of small spaces you find inspiring (like perhaps the rooftop patio shown here), as well as organizing and decluttering ideas. When you are feeling discouraged, you can flip through your Houzz ideabooks and clippings for a boost.
Decide What to Get Rid OfList your must-haves. Imagine you lost your possessions in your home in a fire today. What would you immediately feel heartbroken to have lost? What would you need to replace right away to move on with your life?
Your answers to these questions should make up the beginnings of a list of things to definitely bring to your new home. I encourage you to start with your “yes, definitely” list rather than the other way around. You can always talk yourself into keeping something you don’t really need or want, but it is infinitely harder to let things go. Identifying your most important things right from the start should make the rest of the process easier.
Get rid of the obvious stuff first. You can probably think of a dozen things off the top of your head that fit this category — the broken toaster in the basement you never got around to tossing, outdated clothes, books you’ve been meaning to donate to the library. Take your time if you must, but doing a marathon day of clutter clearing can really get you motivated to continue. It’s liberating to get rid of stuff like this!Cut back on duplicates and “just in case” items. When you live in a big house with plenty of storage, it’s easy to stash things just in case you might someday need them — but in a small space, it’s “use it or lose it.” If you need something, you can go out and get it, right? Also cut out as many duplicate items as you can, from the big (multiple sets of glassware and china) to the small (five pairs of scissors). What’s convenient or even necessary in a large home will simply not work in a small space.
How to Get Rid of Your StuffGive relatives a chance to take stuff. It can be quite upsetting for relatives to find out after the fact that you got rid of family heirlooms without consulting them first. Offering to pass along family treasures is a good idea — but you don’t have to put up with endless waffling or wait forever for relatives to get their act together to take what they want. Set a clear but reasonable time limit, and let your family know what you intend to do with the items they don’t want at the end of that time.
If you have younger family members who want something but have nowhere to store it, it’s your call how you handle it. If you are planning to rent a storage unit anyway and money is not an issue, you could (generously) offer to store the pieces for them for a certain amount of time. But it is not your responsibility to act as a warehouse for other people’s stuff — if you want everything off your hands now, just say so. Maybe another relative will step up and offer a garage corner.
Consider hiring a company to sell your things. If you have the time and patience, you may be able to make more money for your unwanted stuff by selling it yourself on Craigslist or eBay, or at a large yard sale. But if you want some help, it is available.It’s not widely known, but many estate sale companies also handle sales for the living — either in your home, like a typical estate sale, or outside in a yard sale. If you want only a little help, some will come over and appraise your items, set prices and help you get organized for a sale you run yourself. Search online for “estate sale company” plus your city and state to find help.
Rent a storage space as a last (temporary) resort. There are times when renting storage space makes sense: if you think you might move again into a larger space within the next year or so, or if you simply need to buy yourself more time before letting go of everything. Just remember, you are literally buying yourself time, and that time can get expensive. Choose the smallest space possible and give yourself a deadline to decide what to do with the stuff.
Finding and Moving Into the New PlaceTry to have it meet your top three criteria. There is no doubt you will have to compromise on something — price, location, size, style — but if you get your top three needs met, consider that a major win. For some, the bedroom shown here, with its lovely French doors leading onto a private balcony, would be worth sacrificing living space; others wouldn’t mind a smaller, darker bedroom if the main space is bright and sunny. Know yourself and stick with what’s important to you. If you’ll be living with a partner, each of you should come up with your own top three priorities and then combine them to create the top three things you both agree you want.
Expect to shed even more stuff. Even the best-laid plans are sure to have a crack or two, so don’t beat yourself up if your already pared-down collection of dishes doesn’t fit in the cupboards. You can avoid some of this last-minute shuffling by making adjustments as soon as you know exactly where you’ll be moving to. Those final weeks offer you a chance to replace a few pieces of furniture with smaller versions that will fit the new space better, and to do one last pare-down.
Trick out your new home with storage before moving in. Another great thing to do before or soon after you move into your new space, whether you own or rent, is to install lots of storage. Floor-to-ceiling shelving or cabinets, underbed storage and closet shelving will make the most of the room you have. It’s worth investing a little money in this, because proper storage can enhance the quality of your daily life.
Moving ForwardRealize you’ll need to alter your habits. A small home, condo or apartment does not offer the vast storage possibilities of a larger house — which can actually be a benefit. No more digging through that dusty attic or flood-prone basement to find the Christmas lights when everything you need is at hand. Of course, that also means you must be vigilant about not bringing home new stuff without considering where it will go. You may want to adopt a one-in, one-out policy, letting go of a similar item for each new one you buy.
Tell us: Are you thinking of downsizing, or have you recently moved into a smaller space? What are the biggest challenges and rewards? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments.