by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Lately, I’ve seen a few real estate agencies use the term ‘smart sizing’ when marketing to individuals over the age of 55 who are seeking to downsize from a larger home. As the term suggests, you are asking smart questions so to make smart decisions about your living arrangements. Do you really need four bedrooms? A formal dining room? A family room?
For real estate agents, the focus is often on one-level living, sometimes with smaller or fewer rooms; or, communities for individuals over age 55 (meaning you don’t have children or grandchildren, even adults, who’ll be living with you).
The idea of downsizing to a smaller home may be something that you are thinking of for yourself, with an eye toward your future retirement. Maybe you aren’t of retirement age, but a divorce or death of a partner or spouse has made you realize that you don’t need all the space that you have. Or, you may be in the process of talking to a parent or parents about removing some of the burdens of living in a large home.
You don’t have to know where (or even when) you’ll move to a smart size home, to start the process of decluttering.
You’ll also want to start thinking about what you want to do with stuff that you won’t keep so as you declutter you keep moving stuff out of your house.
Can You Really Downsize to a Smaller Home?
Your first reaction to the idea of downsizing may be that it’s impossible because your house is full of stuff! However, are you using this stuff or just storing it? Maybe when your children moved out of the house, you started to put a few things in their room, you know, ‘just for a while.’ But, now, you aren’t sure what is stored in that room.
Empty rooms tend not to stay that way. In part, we know we are paying taxes and utilities for that vacated room and so it seems silly to not use it. Maybe we convert an extra room into a guest room or a craft room or an in-home gym, but the room never gets used that way. Maybe the room has become the junk room.
So, how do you figure out how much extra space you have in your home if your rooms are currently filled with stuff?
Empty the Extra Rooms
In most cases, when you declutter with no plan for moving, you may start with your closet, personal library, or with duplicate and damaged items (which are the easiest items to declutter). However, in this case, you’re looking for more than extra space in your closet or kitchen cabinets. You are looking for extra rooms that you don’t need.
Select a room that you haven’t spent time in during the past week. Bring some trash bags with you. You may also want boxes that you can fill with items that you will donate or give to a relative.
1. Remove the Trash
In your first go-around, move counterclockwise around the room, trash bag in hand, and toss anything worn out or damaged. Old magazines and other non-personal papers can go into a box that you’ll take to your recycling bin. Keep this first trip around the room quick – don’t open drawers, and don’t pick up anything that you need to think about.
If the room is so packed with stuff that you can’t walk around the room, then you’ll just deal with what you can reach.
2. Decide What to Do with Surface Objects
When you get back to your starting point, you’ll move more slowly around the room, examining items to keep, toss, donate, sell, or potentially give to someone you know. Start with items that are on the floor or on top of furniture. Don’t empty drawers or closets in the beginning because all you’ll succeed in doing is putting more items on your flat surfaces.
Pick up an item (any item). Do you still use this item? If your answer is, ‘yes,’ when was the last time you used it? Why is this useful item stored in a room you don’t go into? Maybe you’re storing your holiday dishes in this room and you know you use them in the winter. Bring these useful items into another room. (Yes, you may find yourself shuffling items around and that’s okay. It may not seem efficient, but if you aren’t certain what to do with something, you don’t need to force a decision.)
Remember, your goal is to empty the room. It doesn’t matter whether this takes a day or a month … provided you don’t have to move by a certain date.
3. Empty Drawers and Closets
After you’ve cleared the floor of everything except furniture and the dresser tops and shelves are empty, you can now go through each drawer, one at a time.
You may now see why I told you to wait to empty drawers until you cleared surfaces … drawers and closets tend to contain far more stuff that we expect.
You’ll continue to sort the items into keep, toss, donate, sell, or give away boxes. (If you don’t want the hassle of selling items, then move them into the donate or give away box instead.)
How to Declutter Someone Else’s Stuff
Did your kids leave stuff in their old bedrooms? Did your niece ask you to store things for her since ‘you have the space?’ You don’t want to toss or giveaway someone else’s stuff. Call them and explain that you are planning on moving and you are smart sizing the contents of your home. Point out that when you do move, you won’t have extra rooms or storage space. (And, no, you shouldn’t pay for an extra room in your house just to store stuff, especially, someone else’s stuff.)
You can ask that they come to your house to make final decisions about their stuff. This may involve giving them a deadline and maybe even a consequence for not tending to their stuff. (For example, if they don’t take care of their stuff in six months, you will select the items you think they may want and ship them in a single box. Explain that any other items will be disposed of; so, by the time they receive the box that you shipped to them, they won’t be able to request additional items.)
Although that may seem harsh, remember – although they may say the items are important to them, their actions (not keeping the items in their own home), suggest otherwise. Don't just toss someone's stuff. Give them the opportunity to collect it or sort through it.
You can box the items for this individual to take to their own home, further emphasizing to yourself that you are emptying the room so to prove it is an unnecessary space.
Decluttering the Rooms that You Use
Maybe you realize that you have two bedrooms, a dining room, and a bathroom that are no longer in use. You’ve emptied the attic. Your garage has piles of items awaiting pick up by charities as well as piles of things that belong to your adult children (who have promised to collect their stuff when they visit at Christmas).
You have a better sense of what a smart size home would look like for you. You can now move into decluttering rooms, such as your bedroom, kitchen, living room, and home office or craft room that contain a lot of the stuff that you know you’ll take with you to your new home. In my book, Decadent Decluttering, I cover techniques for sorting through the different categories of stuff that you may have in your home.
Remember, if you can declutter before you pack for a move, you’ll save money on moving costs (fewer boxes) and you’ll continue to give yourself a clearer sense of how much space you will need to do the things you want to do.
Preparing to smart size to a smaller home is an opportunity to surround yourself with the things that you know to be useful and that you love. By decluttering extra stuff (and closing off rooms that you don’t use), you allow yourself to see the type and amount of space that would be perfect for your life.
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.