While there can be a certain romanticism to the idea of downsizing your home—moving into a new space, decorating it beautifully, and having less maintenance to deal with—the reality is that downsizing and moving can be hard.
If you have lived in your current home for years, have celebrated occasions and milestones there, created memories there, and are comfortable and familiar with life in your home, it can be stressful and emotional to make a move, even if downsizing makes perfect sense for you.
Of course, as with just about anything in life, the stress of the new and unfamiliar can be minimized by taking steps to research, plan, and tackle downsizing in the best way possible.
In this article, we’re going to explore how to downsize your home, beginning with the costs and trade-offs of downsizing and the decision making process, followed by top tips to downsizing to a smaller house, before going into detail with a complete list of how to downsize your home quickly and effectively.
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Advantages of downsizing costs & tradeoffs
A recent article titled “The Upside to Downsizing” shared the results of an interesting survey: 69% of survey respondents confirmed the main reason they were considering downsizing their home was to save money. The survey also found that for most people the main disadvantage of downsizing is having to get rid of possessions.
There are several other advantages and disadvantages to downsizing your home as well, so let’s explore them:
Potential advantages of downsizing your home:
- Save money on your monthly mortgage—downsizing to a smaller home usually means lower mortgage payments.
- Save money on utility bills—a smaller home typically requires less energy and water, and could significantly reduce your monthly utility bills.
- Save money on maintenance bills—doing away with things like a yard and a swimming pool means no more paying for lawn care, cleanings, etc.
- Save time on cleaning and maintenance—a smaller house generally requires less attention, and time-savings count for something too.
- Reduce unnecessary purchases and clutter—space limitations can be a good thing and can help you to prioritize purchases, spend wisely, and get rid of unnecessary items.
- Potential to have a smaller but nicer home—sometimes downsizing means you can exchange your large home for a smaller, fancier home, in a better neighborhood.
- Chance to redecorate and start fresh—a new home always offers the chance to start over. It can be fun and symbolic of a new time in your life.
Potential disadvantages of downsizing your home:
- Less space—of course, downsizing means you’ll have less space available to you, which can take some getting used to.
- Fewer belongings—moving to a smaller home means downsizing household items. You’ll most likely have to carefully consider what’s most important to you, get rid of belongings, and be careful what you purchase in the future.
- No room for guests—chances are you won’t have spare bedrooms to accommodate guests, children visiting, and dinner parties, which can be a hard adjustment if you’re used to being the host.
- Lifestyle change—any move is hard at first and, when downsizing, you can expect it to feel unfamiliar for a while before you settle in.
- New area—downsizing your home might mean moving to a new neighborhood with new stores, etc. and any change has an adjustment period.
- Possible storage costs—if you don’t like the idea of getting rid of sentimental items and larger belongings, such as furniture, you might need to rent a storage unit, which can cost a couple hundred dollars a month.
As we see, there are many pros and cons to consider, so it’s important to determine what’s right for you. Sometimes cost savings can mean the opportunity to live in a newer, recently renovated and upgraded smaller home, but it can sometimes come at the cost of your happiness, if saying goodbye to the home you are familiar with is a tough thing for you to do.
So, how do you make the decision to downsize or not to downsize your home? Let’s find out.
Making the decision: To downsize or not to downsize
There’s no sugar coating it—downsizing your household is a big decision.
That said, it’s the right move for many, but the question is, is it the right move for you?
Start by asking yourself why you are considering downsizing. If it’s for financial reasons, do the math and make sure the numbers make sense. Then start a pros and cons list of your own, or use the one shared above, and make notes next to each item. You might even want to rate each item from 1 to 10, with 1 being of little impact to you, and 10 being the greatest impact to you, and then add up the pros column and and compare it to the total of the cons column.
You might also want to take into account what you would likely get for your home if you sold it. An easy way to get a quick home valuation estimate is to enter your home address using the iBuyer.com Home Valuation estimator tool.
The fact is, everyone has different concerns about downsizing and everyone adjusts to change differently. For some, the savings might hugely outweigh the potential stress of adjusting to a new environment, while for others the comfort of familiarity is worth the price, so it’s important to look at all the pros and cons and determine what the right decision is for you.
There’s no right or wrong answer and it’s a decision that will impact you for years to come, so take your time thinking about it and avoid making a hasty decision.
If you decide that downsizing and moving is for you, then follow the below steps to downsize your home quickly and with the least amount of hassle.
Preparing to downsize your home
It sounds overly simple, but it’s true—the best way to prepare to downsize your home is to “assess your actual needs.” We all have those items we purchased with good intention of using one day, but years later and they still haven’t been worn, touched, or used for exercise. I’m sure at least a few examples come to mind!
Because downsizing requires you to get rid of belongings, which can be a tough thing to do, it’s helpful to get into the mindset of what you actually need and use, versus nice-to-have items that you can do without, before you start making decisions about what to take with you.
Once you are ready to make some hard decisions on what to keep and what not to keep, follow the below guide to downsizing your home.
The process: how to downsize your home
1. Downsize your possessions
Hand in hand with downsizing your home comes downsizing household items. Space might dictate what you can and can’t keep, so the trick is to get practical, and look at each item you own objectively. The best approach is to keep what you use, love, and can’t live without, and get rid of everything else.
When it comes to your closet, the typical rule is “if you haven’t used a particular item in the last year, you’re unlikely to use it in the next year,” so start there and consider only taking the items you do wear. You could also try the Marie Kondo approach and keep the items that bring you the most joy.
Go through your entire house and examine each item one at a time, making a list of the items you want to take with you and the ones you are okay saying goodbye to. Once you have finished accounting for every item in your home, review the items you noted to keep and access whether they will all fit in your smaller house, or whether you need to cut your list down further.
2. Sell what you can
We already know from the survey mentioned earlier that most people are downsizing their home to save money. So, the process of listing items for sale and receiving money in exchange for taking steps towards downsizing, can be extremely rewarding. Selling items is one of the top downsizing tips, as it can encourage you to keep moving forward.
Just be careful not to get too sales happy too quickly and end up regretting something you sold. Begin by selling items that you have duplicates of, items that don’t hold any sentimental value, and items that can be easily replaced.
3. Digitalize what you can
We’ve come a long way in technology and the great thing about it is you can keep copies of children’s drawings, letters, and family photographs digitally, rather than in a physical box that you probably hardly ever look at.
One of the best downsizing home ideas today is to photograph and back up your precious memories and important documents on a Cloud or flash drive, and you’ll have access to everything without having loads of unnecessary physical papers.
4. Set some accumulation limits
Downsizing isn’t just for now, it’s a lifestyle that you’ll have to embrace moving forward—once you move into your smaller home, there simply won’t be the storage capacity you have previously been used to, which will limit how much you can buy and collect.
To avoid clutter and paying for storage, start practising conscious purchasing. A great downsizing home tip is anytime you want to buy something ask yourself these four questions:
- Is it truly needed?
- Will I really get use out of it?
- Do I have something similar already?
- Is it suitable and realistic for my new lifestyle?
Accumulation limits can be a hard thing to set, but in the end it can result in a much happier, clutter-free life.
5. Downsize your furniture
The pros recommend starting with the big things and leaving the small, sentimental decisions until the end.
One of the expert tips to downsizing to a smaller house is, if you already know how much space you’ll have in your new home, then go room by room and consider which large furniture items will fit, and which ones will no longer work in your new space.
If, however, you’re preparing to downsize ahead of purchasing or renting a new home, then it’s helpful to take a practical and a sentimental approach to deciding what furniture to take with you, and what furniture to get rid of. Start by thinking about what you use most often, what’s most comfortable, and what you simply can’t see yourself parting with. Then focus on what didn’t make that priority list and ask yourself if those items are important enough to keep.
6. Organize your things
Getting organized makes the downsizing process so much easier and less stressful. It’s one of the essential steps to downsize your home but is most often overlooked.
So, once you’ve made the big decisions on what to keep and what needs to go, it’s a good idea to organize everything that you’re not taking with you into piles, and get them out the way before your move.
The Life Storage Blog offers great downsizing home ideas and recommends sorting the belongings you’re getting rid of into four piles:
- Giveaways—items going to family members or friends
- Donations—items you can donate to a good cause
- Sell—items that you intend to sell
- Trash—items that simply need to be trashed
7. Storage options
In smaller homes, you have to get creative with your storage options. A few excellent tips for downsizing to a smaller house include: adding shelves inside the closet, keeping organized storage containers under your bed, and upgrading open shelf room dividers to closed cabinets that can double as additional storage. This multi-purpose approach is the way to go, if at all possible.
For those large items you just can’t get yourself to part with, you might need to consider renting a storage space. This should ideally be a last resort though, as storage units can cost you several hundred dollars each month. That said, storage units can be a great short-term solution when downsizing your home quickly.
Coping with downsizing your home: bigger is not always better
Society has conditioned us to think that bigger is better, but sometimes “less is more.”
When it comes to downsizing, the best approach is to acknowledge that it can be hard to say goodbye to a larger house and sentimental things, and to follow a process that keeps you organized and on track.
In this guide to downsizing your home, we explored how to determine if downsizing your home is right for you, the pros and cons of downsizing, hot to downsize when moving in the most effective (and least stressful) way possible, and expert tips to streamline the process.
At the end of the day, downsizing is a personal thing and everyone’s experience differs, so try to enjoy the process and know that if it feels emotional and overwhelming at times, that’s completely normal, and all part of any big change.