Downsizing? Now What.

Ok so, you’ve decided you are moving to a smaller home you need to get rid of stuff.  Now What? 

The reality for many of is that giving away things we have lived with for years we find fairly difficult whether, we actually like an object or not.  We develop emotional attachment to items as they evoke memories.  Whether these memories are good or bad, they contribute to our identity and act as a connection to past experiences and relationships.  We spend a good part of our life building and acquiring things that prepare us for now or for the future and so it seems counter intuitive to let go of things, in order to move forward.  The world around us is also telling us that more is better in though ad campaigns and feeling pressure to fit in to our chosen lifestyle and with our neighbours bringing a ‘keep up with the Jones’’ mentality.  Even buying a cup of coffee, the portions have upsized and a small is the old medium and a medium the old large. 

There are reasons for the attachment to stuff.  Receiving and owning objects is a part of the human experience.  Among our first experiences as babies includes receiving items that offer comfort such as a blanket, toy or soother.  Then through life as a child experiences that likely brought an amount of joy were those celebrations that enabled the receiving of presents such as birthdays, Christmas and Hanukkah, or family members traveling from far away for a visit. The reason for most squabbles in younger children is most often over a toy.  The toy being the item that represents something desirable to have in ones possession.

As teenagers we explore a sense of independence and individuality apart from our family.  We still enjoy receiving gifts and also engaging in activities to earn our own spending money so we can choose our own belongings.  We may decide to acquire specific articles of clothing to than appeals to a social circle or equipment that allows us to develop skills and engage in more exciting activities.  Early adulthood is spent acquiring items that offer a chosen lifestyle such as a car, and a home and it’s furnishings, and life becomes busy.

Then suddenly you find yourself deciding to ‘downsize’ and no wonder it’s challenging.  Life up to this point has been spent acquiring, and now you are shedding and so emotionally it feels backwards.

Downsizing to a new condo, or tiny home is now becoming a reality for a lot of us, even well before we hit our senior years.  With soaring real estate prices, upsizing to a larger home is just not possible for a lot of families and many are choosing to go smaller.  Regardless of the reason, in order to make it work you will need to make decisions and let stuff go.

Here are some tips to help get you through the process. Things to think about and consider and before you start, make sure you have the right frame of mind.

  1. Live in the now
  2. Honour the past
  3. Respect the future

Live in the now

As someone who helps clients through this process, success is determined at the end.  If you come out the other side feeling that you were in control of all decisions made and feel at peace.  Allow yourself to feel all the emotions including sentiment, anxiety, sadness, happiness and being overwhelmed.  Honoring how you feel about things and why, will allow you process it and then come to the decision you know is right.

Honour the past

I’m sure you’ve heard people say ‘we came into this world naked and we’ll be leaving the same way’, an ‘we don’t need things where we are going’.  You need to bring perspective to the actual value of items.  Things are things, and don’t have feelings, but you do.  Possessions evoke reactions that represent memories, feelings, and emotions, even if the emotion expresses itself in practicality like ‘it may be useful one day’.   ‘Out of sight out of mind’ (the expression) is often meant as a cheerleading statement to those who are decluttering or simply cleaning up, but as humans we sometimes want to be reminded of our past because we got through it bringing us to the present.

Respect the future

Mindfulness and sustainability are modern concepts to be given labels, although as concepts are closer to how people approached life in the past when people didn’t own as many things.  Being mindful of ‘why’ you are downsizing and the freedom that having less brings, can be a great motivator to remain focused as you ‘keep your eye on the prize’ so to speak.  When people had less, they took care of what they owned.  When something broke it got fixed if at all possible, and only replaced if absolutely necessary.  Living sustainably also means keeping what is important and meaningful, bridging the past to the future, and so of course you will choose the items that have the most meaning and practicality to you.

Now that you are in the right frame of mind, and are ready to tackle the ‘stuff’, every item will need to be put in one of five categories.

  1. Toss
  2. Keep
  3. Give Away
  4. Sell
  5. Donate

The first thing to do is toss the obvious.  These are the things that you know no one else will want.  Items I see regularly in clients’ homes are: 

  • Papers: old calendars, prescription bags, directions and old maps, magazines, user manuals
  • Containers:  empty pill bottles, jam jars, broken cups, chipped plates, dishes that belonged to a set but there is only one left
  • Knick Knacks: fridge magnets, broken utensils, kitchen gadgets, or broken anything
  • Repurposed items: you know the ones that often end up in crazy places in the house because they were brought there for silly reasons, like being repurposed as fly swatters, a change collector, a hot plate, or something to sit under a plantar to protect the floor
  • Fabric items: stained, ripped, or old tea towels, facecloths, sheets, articles of clothing

This stuff accumulates in our homes and becomes such a part of our everyday life that we don’t really see it.  This is the clutter, so look for it and remove it first.  These items are hiding in drawers, bathroom vanities, closets, cupboards, and often right on the mantle, dressers, and counter tops.

First – Removing ‘tossable’ items.  This allows you to see the items of value and gives a sense of accomplishment at the start so the rest of the job may not appear so enormous.  It may even save on a lot of sweeping time at the end.

Second – Keep the things that mean the most. The things that have the most sentiment and function.  You still want your new place to feel like home and so don’t be afraid to keep the things that matter to you (within reason of course).  Measure, think about where it would live in your new place.  Is there room for it?  Does it fit?  Does it compliment the lifestyle you want to achieve?  Designate one room or area of your larger home as a ‘staging area’ for your new home and put all your keeping items there, or put a sticker on ‘keep’ items once they have been decided, and then don’t allow yourself to add to the keep pile.

Third – Give away the items that you know friends or family members would want.  If you’re not sure, ask them.  If they want to think about it, give them a deadline or it’s going into the donate or sell pile.

This is how I got my Grand mothers dining set.  A Duncan Phyfe style table with drop down sides that seats 2 and then can be extended with leaves to seat 12.  They just don’t make them like that anymore.  With my blended family this table gets used more than I ever dreamed.  The finish was wearing and so I spruced it up with some black paint to update it.  Something that could have been trashed has been saved from the landfill, cost me $120 in paint supplies, and looks great!  My grandma would be pleased.

Fourth – Sell items you just want to try and get a little money for.  My clients are generally aware that what used to be valuable is not so anymore.  Possessions like good quality antique china sets and collectors figurines, just have not held their value.  However, it still doesn’t feel right just to throw it in a donation pile.  These are items to try and sell. 

In Canada your options are pretty limited to selling online.  If you have just a few items than the best way is to do it yourself through sites like Facebook marketplace or Kijiji.  If you decide that you have quite a bit that is sellable, there are online Auction services.  What’s now great about both of these methods, is that the buyer pays and then collects the items from the sellers location.

Fifth – Donate what’s left. By donating these items you are supporting local charities that can re-sell items, and use the money for use in the community.  Not all items will get resold, but you might be surprised about what people will buy. 

Sustainability and environmental issues aren’t new, and there is a movement underway of people choosing to only buy used items for these reasons.  Families new to Canada needing to set up a home quickly, it offers a one stop shop for a multitude of household items.  That goes for students or young people as well setting up first apartments or homes.

For those lucky enough to own a cottage, antiques or secondhand items can be a perfect esthetic and price for a country location and especially for a seasonal property.

Film sets, theaters and children’s programs regularly scour seconds hand shops for authentic props.

So, donate the items and let the charities decided what they can sell.  They actually do know!

Don’t do it alone, bring in help and make it an adventure.  Friends and family or a professional service can help get the job done and make it fun.

There is a list of some of the donation centres in the Hamilton / Burlington area. There are more.

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