Downsizing a home is something that many people must face at some point — particularly older adults who are considering a move to a smaller place. But before they sell, they face a daunting task: organizing and paring down the family’s accumulated belongings. Those belongings may include treasured heirlooms and much-loved art, but frankly, they may also include a lot of items that are never used or thought about.


Handy How-Tos for Downsizing

The idea of sorting through a household of belongings and getting rid of much of them can be daunting. The hardest part is getting started, according to Marisela Panzarella, Allied ASID. Panzarella is the designer and move-in coordinator for Splendido, an all-inclusive community for those 55 and better, and has helped many, many older adults with the process of downsizing their homes. 

“Finding a starting point is always a challenge,” she says. “You need to find a method of breaking it down into manageable chunks. Once you find a place to get started, it will snowball.”

To ease the emotional aspect of paring down belongings and to start with easier decisions on what to keep, start by going through storage areas in your home: the attic, garage and basement. There you’ll find things you seldom or never use or which you may not need if you’re moving to a smaller home, making it easier to let go of them. 

Next, move to rooms that you use the least, or that are less personal, such as spare bedrooms, the laundry room, the dining room (if you’re a kitchen-table family) or the formal living room. 

“I’d say set a goal of organizing one room a day — some may not take that long, so you can take some time off,” says Panzarella. “But if you find a particular room is taking you longer, move on to the next one. Don’t get hung up — that just means that one room was too hard, too emotional. You should keep moving and come back to it later.”

As you work through each room, categorize furniture, art and all other items with labels, boxes or areas of the room or house. Categories should include things you want to keep, things to donate, things that family members might want and possibly things to sell. 

“If my older clients want to sell items, I tell them to go through a consignment company. I want them to avoid the inconveniences and possible dangers of selling via Craigslist, when individuals might come to their home,” advises Panzarella. 

 You might consider moving some things to an offsite storage locker or room, particularly if you’re putting your home on the market. 

“Offsite storage is a good thing for the short term,” says Panzarella. “It clears out your home, making it easier to sell — and easier for you to continue sorting your things. It also gives you time to have your family members go through things and see what they want, and perhaps even consignment sellers. But keep it short term.”

Finally, it may make sense to enlist help. Whether you are calling in a favor and having friends do the heavy lifting or hiring a professional organizer to guide you in sorting through your home, additional people will make downsizing faster and easier. Panzarella offers downsizing guidance (as well as home staging and space planning) to those moving to Splendido.

However and whenever you approach downsizing your home, keep one final tip in mind: “Everyone who goes through this tells me they’re glad they did it,” says Panzarella. “I hear things like, ‘I should have done this five years ago.’ or ‘What were we waiting for?’ It’s tough to go through, but it’s definitely worth it.”

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