Adopt these simple strategies to launch the next chapter of your life with minimal stress—and stuff.
Home isn’t just where your heart is—it’s also where your stuff is. Tons of it.
If you’ve lived in your house for decades, you’ve no doubt accumulated enough possessions to cram every closet, cupboard, and crawl space in the place. Of course, most of those items have great memories attached to them, which makes them hard to part with. It’s hard to fathom moving only some of your memories.
And yet, once you reach a certain age, downsizing to a smaller house or apartment starts to make a lot of sense. Maybe your children have flown the coop. Maybe you and your spouse don’t need that much space—and the accompanying bills—anymore. And maybe it’s time to let someone else mow the lawn for a change.
Whatever your reason to consider a switch, you might feel overwhelmed at the thought of actually making the move. The good news? Downsizing isn’t nearly as intimidating as it seems.
Follow these seven simple strategies to launch the next chapter of your life and land in a new home you’ll love—with your memories fully intact.
Step #1: Stop Saying the D Word
It all starts with that word: downsizing.
“Whenever anything is ‘down,’ there’s a negative connotation,” says John Hall, president of Caring Transitions of Chester County, a company that specializes in relocating seniors. Moving to a smaller space can be both inherently stressful and sad, but the trick is to focus less on what you’re losing and more on what you’re gaining, he says.
“It’s a blessing to be able to move to a new phase, with a whole new lifestyle before you,” Hall says.
That’s why he suggests reframing your journey by using a new word: rightsizing.
Think of your next home as the “right” fit for you and your family at this stage in the game: It could be more affordable, more convenient, or more comfortable for your needs. Simply tweaking your perspective makes the whole experience more positive, Hall says.
Step #2: Seek Buy-In from Your Family
Relocating is easier when everyone involved is on the same page. That means making sure your children, friends, and other important people in your life know why you’re rightsizing—and where they come in.
“Sometimes family members are in varying degrees of acceptance,” Hall says.
Maybe you’re a bit more committed than your spouse, or maybe your kids are leading the charge. In any case, minor disagreements are inevitable.
Sit down with your family and address all concerns: Which neighborhood makes the most sense for your next step? Who will handle the sale? What happens to possessions that aren’t moving with you?
“That’s the most important piece: being aligned in respect to what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” Hall says.
If you need help, you can hire a senior relocation company, which will develop a personalized plan tailored to your family’s specific needs and guide you through every step of the way. You can also pick and choose specific services in lieu of the full package.
Step #3: Commit to a Timeline
Talking about your plans is great, but putting them into motion is even better. Pick an end date—the cutoff for landing in your new house—and stick to it.
“Unless you commit, this is an amorphous project,” Hall says, “which means it won’t happen.”
Give yourself six months to one year, Hall recommends. Maybe that sounds quick, but consider that Caring Transitions and similar companies can relocate someone from start to finish in as little as six weeks.
Build enough of a cushion and “you’ll have plenty of time to get comfortable, go through your excess home goods, pick out a new community, stage your house, put it on the market, sell it, and arrange for a mover,” Hall says.
Step #4: Declutter Like a Pro
Deciding what stuff stays and goes seems like the hardest part of the process, but it’s actually simpler than you think. Your mission isn’t to empty your house at any cost—it’s to get rid of the things that won’t be a part of your lifestyle going forward, Hall says.
The best way to break this down? Group items into two categories: big and small boulders.
Big boulders are the goods that you haven’t used in years and can eliminate without having an emotional attachment to them, like a broken bicycle, mismatched china, or old sports equipment.
“There’s a lot of space that gets freed up when you get rid of clothing that doesn’t fit and furniture that has stains,” Hall says. “And you start freeing your mind.”
You don’t have to clear out these items all at once. Hall recommends taking three or four hours each week to identify them, recycle or throw them away, or donate them to a place like GreenDrop.
Then there are the small boulders: the things you use every day and the things you love. Cozy recliner? Check. Trusty coffee maker? Check. That homemade gift from your grandkids? Check.
“You’ll see that 70 percent of your house is stuff you either need, use, or love,” Hall says—and the other 30 becomes a breeze to ditch.
Step #5: Plan Your Next Stop
The destination, of course, is just as important as the journey. If your house-hunting skills are a little rusty, you can hire a senior real estate specialist (SRES), who is trained to transition older adults.
Figure out your budget and put together a wish list of amenities, and your realtor will find plenty of options in the area that match, from retirement communities to affordable apartment complexes.
Plus, Hall says, this kind of specialist is equipped to tackle most challenges that you might face when moving.
“That includes everything from having connections with handymen to knowing how to stage your old house and get it ready,” he says.
Your realtor can also help you devise a floor plan for the new place. If you know how much space you’re working with—say, two bedrooms and 1,500 square feet—it will be easier to part with old items that simply won’t fit.
Moving to a new state? Renting before buying can help you avoid a costly money mistake and feel more confident in your relocation plans.
Step #6: Get Moving!
Once you’ve picked your perfect spot, it’s time to pack up.
You can hire a service to handle all the dirty work for you. They’ll schedule a mover, develop a timeline for packing, and do it in three- or four-hour shifts so that it’s not burdensome to the family, Hall says.
The advantage of hiring helpers, he says, is that they know to handle every moving hurdle, from navigating narrow stairways to solving pesky parking problems.
If you prefer to run point on the project—or if your whole family has pledged to pitch in—remember to tack on plenty of extra hours to get the job done.
“Always double the time you think it’s going to take,” Hall recommends, “because it’s going to take a lot of time.”
Another pro tip: Skip the cheap cardboard and invest in sturdier storage boxes, which you can find at hardware hubs like Lowe’s and Home Depot. “They’re actually designed for moving,” Hall says. “And from a safety standpoint, they’re so much easier to use.”
No matter what type of box you’re using, be sure to breathe the right way to protect your back.
Step #7: Embrace Your New Place
Make no mistake: It will take some time to get used to your new digs.
“Some folks do go into a bit of a funk after they move in,” Hall says. The key is to remember that you moved to improve. “While it’s not what you’ve had for the past 60 years, it’s good for you in your current phase of your life.”
Seize all the opportunities that your new home provides. Maybe there’s a great gym through SilverSneakers in the area, or maybe you’re now part of a robust retirement community with a jam-packed activities calendar.
“Socialization is a great deterrent to aging,” Hall says. “It’s all about staying vibrant, being active, making new friends, and getting involved. You should feel as empowered as possible to chart your own course.”
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