Between the new year resolutions, tiny-house craze and bestselling books about minimizing your life, we’ve probably all thought about downsizing recently. But is it really the right move for you at this moment? Before you decide to downsize, spend some time thinking about what it’s going to mean for your life so that you can do it without regrets.
If you think that downsizing might be in your future, follow these steps to do it intelligently – you’ll be glad you didn’t just leap into something and you’ll be able to assess whether this is a step you should take now or put off for a few years.
Understand Why You Want to Downsize
If you don’t have a set reason to scale back your house and your lifestyle, then this might not be the best time to try it. For most people, downsizing entails a lot of work and major decisions, and remembering why you’re going through the process can help you keep on track with the ultimate goal.
Are you hoping to move closer to family members? Or do you want to travel more efficiently? Does it make financial sense, or are you simply tired of having so much house to keep clean? Are you hoping to trade in a house in the suburbs for a cute condo downtown?
Your reason for downsizing will give you a true north to follow when things start to feel tough down the road.
Assess Your Current Possessions
Some downsizers find it helpful to take a literal inventory of their belongings and decide how much they’re willing to remove. How many books do you have in your house? Desks? Beds? Dressers? Can you do without most of those items? What about clothes? For that matter, how many towels and sheet sets do you have, and how many do you really need?
Consider Where You Want to Move
Maybe you already have your eye on the place you want to move. If not, it’s something to think about. If the units in that development downtown where you’d love to live contain a certain number of bedrooms and square feet, then that gives you a parameter to aim for. If you’re hoping to travel the world in an RV, then that gives you a different goal. Getting your head around where you want to be will help you make some tough decisions later.
Think About What You’ll Miss If It Were Gone
There’s no shame in admitting that some of your possessions aren’t that necessary to you. Maybe you really wanted that sewing machine and got a few good years out of it, but if it’s been collecting dust for half a decade. Perhaps you’re better off taking any needed hemming to a tailor and focusing on other things. On the other hand, if you still use and love the sewing machine, maybe you need to make sure it comes with you on your downsizing journey.
As you work on taking an inventory of what you have, think about whether (and how much) you’d miss it if it were gone.
Understand Your Guest Situation, Short-Term and Long-Term
Some of us love hosting guests in our house, while some of us find it a minor imposition at best. Do you have adult children who are likely to come stay with you? Do you have siblings who like to visit where you live and who are used to bunking in your house when they do? Are those circumstances you’ll happily accommodate, or is part of the reason you’re downsizing because you want some space of your own – no guests allowed?
“I just don’t have the room to host you anymore” might be something that you don’t want to have to say, or it might sound like a dream come true to you.
Assess Your Finances
Many people decide they want to downsize for financial reasons; smaller homes are cheaper to heat, light and water, but there might be other costs of living you need to consider. Let’s say you’re hoping to move to one of the coasts – not only does housing cost more on both coasts than it tends to in the middle of the country, but you’ll likely also be spending more on groceries, gas, and even utilities. Similarly, if you want to trade it all in for a van life, you’ll have to consider whether you can afford the price of gas rising in the future, and if it does, what that will mean for the longevity of your new lifestyle. Talk to your accountant or another financial professional to get a sense of what you might need to spend to have the sort of lifestyle you want, and make sure that your finances can accommodate it.
Consider the Cost of Replacing What You’ve Already Got
Even if all of your furniture is perfectly serviceable, are you really going to need a dining set that seats twelve and has room for all your ancestors’ china in a condo? Probably not. Even if you sell that dining set, you’ll likely want to replace it with a smaller table, and whatever money you net in selling your current possessions might not quite cover the new things you may want to purchase before you settle into your downsized home.
Think well beyond furniture when you’re considering replacements. Can you replace your desktop computer with a laptop computer? Or all of the cutlery, plates and mugs that you’ve accumulated with smaller sets? Do you need that full set of large pots and pans, or should you invest in a smaller one? There may be quite a few things that you want to shed and replace, so go back over your inventory of possessions and decide whether anything should be replaced, and then try to ballpark how much that will cost you.
Decide Whether a Home Sale Could Cover Your New Living Expenses
Depending on when you bought your current house, home prices have likely gone up, and you may have spent some of your time fantasizing about what you might be able to buy if you sell now. But that rise in home prices works both ways: Anyplace you might be considering downsizing into has probably also gone up in price, and mortgage rates might be higher today than your current rate, so you’ll need to think about how much you’ll really be netting, whether it makes more sense to rent than buy, and what you’ll use for a down payment if you decide not to sell your current home and rent it out instead.
Be Honest About Storage
A lot of people who downsize tell themselves that they can just put whatever they don’t take with them into storage. Technically that’s true, but it’s an additional monthly expense you’ll have to take into consideration when you’re working on your budget.
If a small storage unit for storing seasonal items that you can rotate out makes sense, then go right ahead and reserve one. But if you already know that you’re going to put your stuff in storage and then mostly forget about it, do everybody a favor and just release it now.
Get Ruthless About New Purchases
A lot of us go shopping when we’re stressed out – it’s a normal way to handle big life changes. But before you start going nuts at the mall, set up a series of warnings so you don’t buy anything without thinking about it for at least 48 hours.
Don’t make your downsizing job any harder than it has to be by bringing in new items. Crack down on your shopping habits so that you can downsize as easily as possible. You can always get what you need after you’ve moved!
Talk to Your Relatives and Friends About What They Might Want
If there are any heirlooms or treasures that you’re hoping to pass along to the next generation, now is the time to have a conversation where you ask them if they really want the item and whether you can go ahead and hand it over. Sometimes people who are downsizing don’t realize that their children or grandchildren are also trying to live minimally and have no intention of collecting things.
There may be some items you think should stay in the family, but if nobody claims them think about what you’ll do with them. Perhaps a family friend would like them, or maybe it’s time to let another family enjoy them by adding them to an estate sale.
Follow the One-Year Rule
One rule for getting rid of possessions: If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it. This applies to everything except (perhaps) family heirlooms, but it’s a good rule of thumb for things like clothes, books, dishes, blankets, or anything else you don’t have strong feelings about. If you haven’t already started purging some of your things in preparation for the downsize, then using the one-year rule can help you get started.
Family photo albums are fun to flip through, and it might make sense to keep one or two, but if you have stacks and stacks of them, then it’s time to seriously consider digitizing your collection. The same goes for books, movies and other media – you can buy almost everything digitally.
All that said, before you go too crazy moving all of your media to digital files, make sure you have a reliable backup system in case your computer crashes. An external hard drive, cloud drive, or another form of backup can save you a lot of heartache in the event of a total computer failure.
Take It Room by Room
Downsizing is definitely overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it all at once. If you work room by room, you’ll have better success than if you try to tackle, say, all of your sports equipment at once. Start with a guest room or garage where you’re already storing things you don’t use very often, then work your way into the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen, where it’s likely going to be harder and harder to make decisions about what goes. If you begin with the less personal areas, by the time you move into the real heart of your house, you’ll be in the downsizing zone.
Keep Your Goal Front and Center
The process of downsizing is a lot to take in, and if you don’t keep reminding yourself why you want to do it, it can be very tempting to simply give up. Make sure you remember your end goal; maybe it’s living in a smaller home so that you can travel the world like you always wanted, or maybe you want to get closer to the city center. Whatever your “why” is, remember it and hold it close so that you don’t get discouraged by the process. In the end, your streamlined lifestyle will be worth it.