Ready To Lighten Your Load? Follow These 5 Steps To Downsizing

By Kate Silver | November 5, 2020
After living in the same home in Las Vegas for 21 years, Ruth and Michael Furman decided it was time for a change. Ruth says she'd fallen out of love with their five-bedroom house, and was stymied by the two decades of "stuff" the two had accumulated.
"Unless we moved, I knew we would never truly declutter and purge the excess," she says. So right before Covid-19 led to state-wide stay-at-home orders last spring, the couple purchased a three-bedroom, one-story house in a neighborhood they love.
On the downsizing front, Ruth and her spouse have lots of company. As the pandemic continues to change the way we live our lives, work our jobs and even use our homes, many Americans are considering a change of scenery. According to data from Harris Poll, because of Covid-19, nearly one-third of people in this country are considering a move to a place that's less populated. 
Whether you're thinking of moving or just decluttering your current home, it helps to have a solid game plan - and possibly someone to coach you through the process. Ruth was so overwhelmed by the purging and moving process she enlisted the help organizing professionals, including Laura Schulman, a senior move manager who is married to Ruth's cousin, and owns A Moving Experience in Columbus, Ohio. 
(Note: A senior move manager is a professional who assists older adults and their families with relocation or aging in place. To locate one in your area, contact the National Association of Senior Move Managers at nasmm.org.)
Over the phone, Schulman talked Ruth through the steps behind deciding what to keep, what to discard and how to lighten up in a positive way. "She specializes in downsizing and talked me off the ledge," says Ruth.
Schulman, who helps clients with every aspect of moving, including planning and organizing, says it's common to feel overwhelmed by downsizing at first, but it becomes easier. "A lot of times, it's a slow start," she notes. "Once they get in the groove and they understand and surrender to the process and are willing to go through it, it becomes much easier."
Plus, Schulman helps clients focus on the light at the end of the tunnel: their new life. Ruth, who is now settling into a more organized existence, couldn't be more pleased. "A big motivator to downsizing was actually lifestyle," says Ruth. "We looked into a few options and decided on what I call a 'suburban-urban community' with a gym and a pool that's walking distance to shopping, dining and coffee shops. I can even walk to my favorite happy hour spot where I meet friends and business associates."
For anyone thinking about shedding some of their belongings and / or opting for a new setting amid the pandemic, Schulman shared the following downsizing advice.
1. Start early and take it little by little. It can be psychologically draining to catalogue your life and decide whether to sell, toss, gift, donate or keep. Schulman limits her organizing work with clients to three hours a day. "They're emotionally spent at the end of the day," she notes. "It's hard work."
2. Have a frank talk with family members about heirlooms. Keepsakes that were once passed down from generation to generation are now often seen as a burden, says Schulman. Have an honest discussion with children and grandchildren about what, if any, of your belongings they want. "There are certain things people may want from their parents because it creates a memory for them," says Schulman. But we don't need 12 of them to recall something. One or two is more than enough."
3. Consider what you'll realistically need - or want - in the future. Are a dozen place settings truly necessary? What about eight pie pans? While many belongings may have family memories attached, it's important to think practically about your current and future needs, says Schulman. "If somebody has a pottery collection that's 25 pieces that are not going to fit, there are different ways they can pick their favorites and take pictures of the others."
4. Visualize your belongings in the new space. Take measurements and photos and create a blueprint of what will go where. What can the shelves hold? Will that old sectional actually fit? Do you have storage space for three sets of dishes? Come up with a realistic idea of how many of your belongings will fit comfortably. The payoff, says Schulman, arrives when you're settling into your new place. "I tell my clients, we need to make sure that when you get there, everything has a place to go so that you can start to enjoy yourself right then and there." 
5. Decide whether to enlist a professional. Moving is no easy task, and downsizing is even more complicated. Schulman says that people who haven't moved in years - or decades - may forget just how overwhelming it can be. A professional, whether it's a senior move manager or a pro organizer, brings both experience and an outside perspective. "A third party can be a voice of reason," she says. "The emotion is not there." 
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While the timing of the Furmans' move was challenging, Ruth is grateful they made it happen. Now that she's spending more time at home because of the pandemic, she's especially mindful of starting new habits and living the life she wants to live. "Shedding a lot of possessions is overwhelming and scary, but it feels so freeing," she says. "If we hadn't downsized, I would never have the quality of life I have now. I love where I live and I love how we live. I feel so unencumbered."
Kate Silver is a Gen X writer living in Chicago. Her work regularly appears in Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and her own website, www.thekatesilver.com.



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