From Ann Armistead, Downsize Designs
Why do most people want to downsize?
Most people downsize to make their lives simpler. Usually, they’ve decided to move to a smaller place to eliminate the extra work and energy it takes to take care of a large home with lots of stuff.
What are the issues?
There are two complaints I hear from everyone. The first is, “I’m afraid I can’t take everything I want to take – I’m afraid that it just won’t work. Second, I hear “I just don’t know what to do with everything else.” Of course, the underlying issue is that we’re not just talking about furniture and belongings, but what makes a house a home. The challenge is to identify and preserve enough to make the new house a home, and not a storage facility. That can be a lot of work, both physically and emotionally.
What’s the best way to sort through all my stuff?
The easiest way to start downsizing is to do two things first:
Know where you’re moving:
If you know all the specifics of the space you’re moving into, you have exact limits to work with. It’s too easy, if you don’t know where you’re going, to tell yourself “this might fit in somewhere,” and end up keeping way too much stuff. Hopefully, if you know where you’re going, you can get yourself excited about a new adventure, and working toward that can take lots of drudgery out of sorting.
Plan your new space: measure, measure, measure!
This is the step most people skip, and it’s the most important one. When you measure and draw to scale, you really learn what’s going to fit and what’s not. Most of us can’t visualize in 3D well enough to avoid big mistakes, like the sofa that won’t go through the new condo’s front door, or the dining table that’s too wide and you can’t pull out the chairs. You have to measure your new space, measure closets and cabinets, and measure what you want to take. Draw it all out to scale on graph paper, and don’t forget to allow wide, safe clearances between the furnishings. Try to use existing pieces in new ways! A side table with leaves can become a dining table, or a buffet can become a TV table. Put a priority on keeping and using your treasures. You may be surprised what you can keep, if you’re willing to use things differently. Too many dishes? How about getting rid of the every-day dishes, and using the good china all the time? It’s a wild thought, but why not?
Also, when you’re ready for sorting, keep two more things in mind:
Start as early so you can work a little at a time:
It’s best to work on downsizing just a couple of hours a day. That’s all the really effective decision-making time any of us has. After that, people tend to start tossing everything, or keeping everything.
Have a system:
Our favorite at Downsize Designs is to start in rooms used least, decide on big items first, and sort into 3 piles: keep, give/sell, and toss. You can keep the mess away from where you’re living this way, and when you’re done with a spare room, it can be used for sorting and storing items from your heavily used spaces.
What if I have trouble making decisions?
For people who have a tough time making decisions, here are some guidelines to try:
- One year rule – it goes if you haven’t used it.
- Replacement rule – think you might need it, but not sure? If easily/cheaply replaced, don’t keep it.
Decorative and sentimental items:
- Does it put a really big smile in your heart? If not, let someone else love it.
- Is it a collection? Keep 2 or 3 and just photograph the rest for an album.
- For really large items that will cramp your new space, take pictures and keep those, instead of trying to wedge big furniture into your new space.
What do I do with the rest?
Let family and friends treasure the things you can’t use – that’s the most satisfying way to give. Next, consider giving to charities – you may be able to claim a healthy tax deduction. Selling through auctions, estate sales or dealers is another option, but if you think some items are really valuable, consider an independent appraisal first. Unless you have the energy and strong desire to hold garage sales, I wouldn’t recommend them – they’re a lot of work, and buyers expect something for almost nothing.
What if I just can’t do it by myself?
You shouldn’t feel badly if this is all too overwhelming. Many people need help. Someone who is objective can keep you moving, keep you honest with yourself, make everything much less stressful, and save you tons of time. Help can come from family members, friends, or professionals, like myself. I’m a Senior Move Manager, so-called because I also take care of moving, and seniors are my most frequent customers. There’s a great national website for SMM’s – you can find us all over the country. Check out www.NASMM.org for lots of information; there’s a link on my website, www.DownsizeDesigns.com.
When I’m finished downsizing, my house will be much less cluttered, and I’ll be all ready to put my house on the market, right?
Well, you’re way ahead of the game. A cluttered home prevents buyers from appreciating the space you have, so you have an advantage over other sellers if your home is already less cluttered. However, staging is still important.
What is staging?
Staging is simply making interior and exterior changes to your home that will help buyers do two things: be able to visualize their taste and possessions in your home, and see your home and its potential in the most positive light.
How do I make these changes, and will it cost a lot of money?
Real estate agents usually recommend that you use professional stagers, and thorough jobs can be pretty expensive. Though staging will sell a house quickly and for top dollar, you do need to balance the need to sell the house, and what price you expect to get, against the cost of staging. In my experience at Downsize Designs, if the house is in good basic shape with decent furniture, we can often do an effective job using only the homeowner’s furnishings, and just about the only cost is paint.
Do you have some tips for doing some basic staging on my own?
If you want to do some staging on your own, the first thing you need to do is lose the attitude that if you think it’s attractive, it will be attractive to most everyone else. We all have our quirks. For example, I have an orange dining room, so I’m going to have to do some serious painting when I decide to sell! No highly individualized décor, wild colors, or family mementos. If colors, furnishings, or even landscaping, is too jarring or taste-specific, it will repel buyers, and they’ll be attracted instead to your plentiful competition. Many people can’t visualize spaces with different décor, so what you have needs to be attractive to the majority. Paint with neutral colors. Uncovered windows are better than outdated draperies. Make sure your house is very sparsely furnished; rent a storage locker for excess furnishings. Clear out and pack up closets and cabinets as much as possible, so the storage space appears generous. Put those boxes in storage, too. To help do this, pretend the house is no longer yours, and just keep what you have to have, as if you were camping out. (By packing up, you’ll be getting a jump start on moving!) If you can’t afford a storage locker, my favorite trick is to move everything into the center of a garage or spare room, and cover the pile with white sheets. The buyer will be able to walk around and get a sense of the size of the room, and the pile will just seem like a cloud that will be disappearing when he buys your house. When showing your house, keep all the lights on, and the interior doors open.
To summarize, take out what will overwhelm a buyer’s imagination, and leave in or add in only what will accentuate your home’s best features. A staged home always shows better than a vacant one.
Good luck to everyone with downsizing and staging!
Ann Armistead, email@example.com