Downsizing and Real Estate

You may have heard that a goldfish will grow to the size of its tank. If you’ve ever been involved in downsizing or decluttering a home, you may feel like your possessions have done the same, and expanded to fill the size of your house. But with about 42% of Americans downsizing in retirement, most of us will need to declutter at some point in order to fit in a smaller place.

With downsizing and decluttering come important questions. What to keep, and what to get rid of? Is this piece clutter, or is it a treasured memory? Am I keeping this out of guilt? Out of obligation? Or it can seem like almost everything is connected to a good memory, making the decluttering an emotional task. Here are a few tips to make the job easier.

1. Start Small

When you’re decluttering, don’t tackle the areas where you’ve stored the important stuff first. Go through closets, bookshelves, kitchen cupboards, and get rid of the mundane items initially. Excess cookware, clothes that don’t fit, and books you’ll never reread can go to a thrift store without much deliberation. You can tackle attics and basements after that.

2. Don’t Do It Alone

Having help – a spouse, child, other family member, or friend – on board will help you make tough decisions. Sometimes you feel attached to an item, but your child doesn’t want it, or your friend can’t see its value. This might make you rethink your attachment to the item. And remember, if you do decide to sell or donate an item, you’re not selling your memory of the event. You’re only letting go of an object.

3. Don’t Rush It

Anything is more stressful if it’s rushed. Try to budget enough time so you can tackle small chunks of the work at a time – one closet on a Saturday afternoon, for example. Telling yourself you have to declutter the whole house immediately is too much.

4. Make Time for Memories

Decluttering might send you down memory lane, and that’s okay. When you come across baby clothes and wedding albums, take some time to reminisce and share stories. Don’t get too distracted, though. Set a time frame for retrospection, and then set aside the items that triggered your memories. You can come back to them and share them with your family later.

5. Find Out What Things Are Worth

If you’re holding onto items because they’re worth money, consider having them checked out by an expert. Some estate sale companies will come in and appraise your belongings. If you find out that Grandma’s sideboard and china closet taking up space in your dining room really isn’t worth that much, you might realize you’re not as attached to it as you thought.

6. Think About Donations in a Positive Way

A sentimental item might find its way to a family member that loves it. But but there is a chance that some items may just not find a home. Your intended recipient may not want the item, or won’t see the value in it that you do. Try to see it from their point of view. If they already have their own wedding china, maybe they don’t have room for their grandparents’ set. Their houses may already be bursting at the seams with their children’s toys, so they don’t want the stuff from when they were little.

If there are treasured items you know you can’t use, but your intended recipient doesn’t want them, you may have to donate them to a charity. Donating items to a charity means that someone who really needs the items will get a chance to use them. They’re getting a new life, instead of just being transferred from attic to attic. 

Bonus Tip: Make an Album for Your Most Treasured Items

Realistically, you may not be able to hold onto everything that brings you joy and triggers meaningful nostalgia. One way to maintain the memory of sentimental items – furniture, paintings, jewelry, knickknacks, and so on – is to photograph them. Create a photo album or scrapbook of things you had to leave behind, or even frame them. You may not have space for that beloved sofa, for example, but you can still look at it every day!