Tips for Downsizing in Retirement


Downsizing to a smaller home or perhaps moving to a new community is not easy. Here are tips to make downsizing in retirement a bit easier.

According to a 2018 Transamerica Center for Retirement Research Report, four in ten retirees moved to a new community. A study by Merrill Lynch states that over half of retirees have downsized to a smaller home. While the downsizing process can seem overwhelming, there are tips to make it easier.

Start Early

Experts strongly recommend starting early and planning ahead. Do not wait until a medical issue forces you to have to move to a more manageable space, or financial issues to sell the family home. The best time to downsize is when you are healthy and have options. Start thinking of what you want retirement to look like. If it is a choice, it will be easier. Consider where you want to live – if you are looking at living in a new community, visit the area first. Perhaps, take a vacation there or spend a month or two getting the lay of the land. Not only will it seem that you are retiring to some place familiar, but you know you will be happy before making a permanent move. Many a retiree sold everything and moved to a new place only to find out they hated it there and wanted to move back.

Get Rid of Stuff – And Don’t Assume Your Kids Want It!

Sticker System

Consider giving items to others or donating to a charity. (Make sure you get receipts for tax purposes.) Experts suggest taking your time and using the “sticker system’. Label each item with a colored sticker – white to keep, blue to give to charity, yellow to gift, green to sell and red to throw away. Starting with the least emotional area of your home- maybe the bathroom – makes it easier.

Determine Lifestyle Needs

In figuring out what to get rid of, consider where you are moving. Do you have space for your current furniture? Or will you need to get rid of the twelve-person dining room set and buy something smaller? If you are moving from Minnesota to Florida, you will not need a closet full of winter coats and boots. If you are moving from a single family home to an apartment or condominium, you likely can get rid of the lawn mower and shed full of yard tools.

Ask for Impartial Help

While sorting, enlist help from a family member or trusted friend. Be careful with asking kids to help; they may have an attachment to your items as well. According to David Mischoulon, Director of the Depression Clinical Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, an impartial helper is “more objective”. When it comes to your stuff, “they don’t have the same sentimental attachment.” If the task still seems overwhelming, consider hiring a professional organizer. Many larger real estate companies may have specialized staff to help with the downsizing process.

Take Photos

It can be emotionally hard parting with stuff. One suggestion is to take pictures of cherished mementos before you get rid of them. In addition, it’s helpful to take a picture of your home and yard before you sell. It can be jarring returning to the old home to see it painted or with new landscaping.

“House Cooling” Party

Many people host a “house warming” party when they move into a new place. The latest trend in downsizing is to have a “house cooling” party. Especially if you are moving to a new community, a house cooling gives you an opportunity to say goodbye to friends and family, reminisce about time spent together in the home and have a bit of closure before the move.

Tips for the Big Downsizing Move

Unless you have moved frequently over the years for job or other purposes, moving can be stressful. Here are a few tips.

Renovate First

If you are looking at making changes to your new home, whether it is painting or installing new flooring, renovate first! It is much easier to make changes in an empty house. Moving can be challenging enough without having to live in a construction zone for the first few months.

Label! Label! Label!

As you are packing, label each box well. Identify the room where the box should go and what is inside – say “kitchen-blender” or “living room-figurine collection”. Not only will that help movers determine where things should go in the new home, but it will also save countless time in going through boxes to try to find the television remote control (I have been here!) or your bath mat. Labeling also helps in determining which boxes you will want to unpack first and what can wait.

Hire Movers

When you were younger, you may have had friends help you move by “bribing” them with pizza and beer. For a major downsize and move, consider hiring professionals. If you do, make sure you get requirements in writing and know what you are paying for. Put every detail in the contract.

Moving Day Emergency Kit

Create a moving day “emergency kit” box for when you get to your new home. Include things like scissors or box openers, toilet paper and paper towels, screwdrivers and a hammer. Also, remember phone chargers. Having paper plates, cups and plastic cutlery is also helpful if your first few meals will be takeout. Having an emergency kit on hand prevents trips to the store or having to frantically open boxes to find what you need.

Downsizing Tips for the New Space

According to HGTV, here are some great downsizing tips for the new space.

Get Creative with Technology

Save space by reducing your technology footprint. Eliminate extra cables by having your printer connect to Wi-Fi instead. Chose a TV that mounts to the wall. Consider replacing your 1980’s stereo system with a portable turntable or download your music to your computer.

Shop for Versatility

Rather than filling a room with smaller pieces of furniture, consider buying one quality “statement” piece. Also, look for furniture that serves dual purposes – for instance a nightstand with open storage that can act as a bookshelves or an ottoman that opens to store blankets. Put a cloth on an old table to give it a fresh look and to give you additional space underneath. Also, invest in items to hang on walls or ceilings to save room.

Think Purpose

In a smaller space, every item should have a purpose. According to Mark Dykstra, CPO, President Elect for the National Association of Professional Organizers, “be conscious of what you let into your mind, life and environment and how you choose to spend your time and resources moving forward. This is the secret to feeling and living well.

Experts say the best tip to downsizing in retirement is to acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to grieve. According to psychiatrist Gary W. Small, “for a large part of our life we are building, creating, amassing. When we are downsizing we are going in the opposite direction. We don’t need as much space; there is an empty next.” Small suggest focusing on what you have to look forward to – new activities, new friends and new places to explore.

“Think of downsizing as an adventure.”