6 Ways to Avoid Stress During a Downsizing Move

Seniors can save time, avoid stress and overwhelm by having a downsizing plan

We are all looking for ways to avoid stress in one aspect of our life or another.

If you, or a loved one, has been considering a downsizing move, the moment those words are uttered, you probably developed an “I’ve just binge-eaten a jar of pickles” look on your face.

Most people physically cringe from the memory of their own downsizing move or a challenging experience a family member had.

As a downsizing specialist who has helped hundreds of clients and their families take on this formidable task, I learned some valuable stress-saving lessons along the way.

If you or a loved one is facing a downsizing move, here are six ways to avoid stress and overwhelm.

Avoid stress by starting early

1) Avoid Stress by Starting Early.  WAY Early!

When I first meet clients at my initial consultation, there’s a good chance that they’ve already bypassed this opportunity to maintain sanity by defaulting to coping mechanism #1: active procrastination.

They always think they have more time than they do.  They have the best of intentions, but time slips away.  Sometimes it’s because they were surprised by an unanticipated crisis that fast-tracked their move timing, but usually, it just comes down to poor time management.

So, even if you think a downsizing move is years away, now is the time to start the process.  If you do, you’ll avoid the overwhelm that comes with waiting to the last minute to tackle all the decision-making that downsizing requires.

Avoid Stress by focusing and finishing one small area at a time

2) Avoid Stress by Starting Small.

One of the biggest stress generators during downsizing is the dreaded “Purge Phase”.  This is where the rubber hits the road in facing the reality of how much stuff you’ve accrued in your life. 

Many clients call me for help because they can’t figure out where to start, let alone how to finish assessing and deciding what they want to take with them or whether items will fit or not.

This is where the beauty of starting months, or even years, ahead of a downsizing deadline can give you the emotional and physical space to tackle bite-size areas, one at a time, and complete them before moving on to the next area. There’s a lot less pressure and you allow yourself time to ease into a transition instead of being catapulted into it.

When I say start small, I mean, one drawer of a dresser, one side of a closet, or one cabinet at a time, not one bedroom or trying to tackle an entire garage all at once.

You’ll feel more in control and less panicked using this strategy, as well as experiencing that great feeling of accomplishment you get as you successfully complete each task.

Avoid Stress by doing your homework on items you want to sell

3) Avoid Stress by Doing Your Research

Often, one of the biggest surprises for downsizers is the realization that items they have invested in, or held onto, over the years either have considerably less value (or worse, no value) than they anticipated in today’s marketplace. 

This is a tough one for many people because they were raised in a generation where holding onto things over time generally meant it increased in value and passing items down to their children was not only expected, but appreciated.

But things have changed.  There are two things working against them now. 

First, new generations have developed different values, tastes, and lifestyles that put more value on uncluttered, minimalist living. They reject the concept of “more” and embrace “less” as more valuable to their well-being and enjoyment, preferring to surround themselves with technology-friendly features and open spaces.  If an item doesn’t serve them directly and immediately in function or comfort, they’ll pass.   

Second, with the surge of senior population growing every year and the need to downsize to a more manageable lifestyle increases, a glut of furniture and household items has already started to flood the marketplace. 

Too much inventory to choose from means lower values.  Many consignment or antique stores are now at capacity or only taking items that can be quickly sold.

That means items like antique furniture, fine rugs, china, crystal, and silver, which have been highly coveted by previous generations, are now worth pennies on the dollar.  Younger generations aren’t interested in formal entertaining, the high maintenance of hand washing china and crystal or polishing silver.

So, it’s critical to start your research early on as you go through your purging process to determine what, in fact, has true value in the marketplace.

Start asking the questions now about whether your children, or other family members, have any real interest in taking items at move time, and be prepared to graciously accept no for the answer.  

Wikihow.com has a great online guide to finding sources for value on items called “3 Ways to Find Out How Much Something is Worth”.

Other options include checking with local antique dealers, online auction sites like eBay, or local consignment stores, to see what is currently considered saleable and what isn’t. 

Just be sure that, if you use sites like eBay, you’re checking for the “sold” pricing of a given item, not the “for sale” pricing, as the estimate of worth. 

You’ll avoid stress by taking the time to do a space plan

4) Avoid Stress by Creating a Space Plan.

Once you know where you will be moving to, either hire a downsizing specialist, home organizer or do it yourself by creating a “to-scale” space plan of the home you’ll be moving to.  It’s worth every penny of the investment and it’ll save you time and stress on move day!

There are several free, easy-to-use space plan software programs that create accurate three-dimensional floor plans on your desktop computer or tablet.  If you aren’t the “techy” type, get a tech-savvy member of the family to help and make it a family project.

Be sure to personally measure the rooms. Never depend on a marketing floor plan dimension that a retirement community hands out for one of their residences.  Often, there are subtle (or large) changes that occur during the building phase that can create unpleasant surprises on move day.  

I’ve offered 3D space planning for years as part of my downsizing practice. It never failed to reduce the stress my clients had over how much of their stuff would fit in their new home. To their surprise, they were often able to bring considerably more items than they originally expected.

I recommend avoiding the use of pre-made, paper furniture “Pop-outs” that come in kits because they rarely accurately represent the type and size of furniture that an average senior has.

Instead, using a 3D program will allow you to create furniture with exact measurements that you can then easily add to, and move around, the floor plan to determine the best layout for your needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends during a downsizing move

5) Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Moving of any kind is taxing, but a downsizing move is tough because you have the added aspect of purging and decision-making while figuring out how to get rid of the items you can’t take with you.

It can make a huge difference in reducing downsizing stress to have some added support in this process, both emotionally and physically.

I’ve frequently heard clients say that, though they knew they needed the help, they were afraid to ask their family for it. They didn’t want to bother them or their kids lived out of state and couldn’t take time off work.  The parent figured since they’d moved themselves before, they could do it again, only to find themselves overwhelmed and exhausted.

If the family isn’t available, hire a local downsizing specialist to help you create a plan that meets your unique needs.  Even if you don’t, or can’t, use a specialist in all aspects of your move for budget reasons, consider hiring them for the tasks that you need help with most.   

Other resources include asking friends, members of your church, or activities club, to help with one or more tasks.  Make it fun! 

Books are one of the biggest space hogs in a home

6) Address the “Space Hogs”.

What are the items in your home that take up a LOT of space?  Do you have a lot of photos or photo albums?  What about books, CD’s or DVD’s?  These are two of the top space hogs in any home, and frankly, among the least used.

Be honest. When was the last time you pulled out that photo album from your Caribbean cruise in 1995? Have you re-read any of the books you’ve saved over time like you thought you would?

Consider how to handle these early on, because if you’re downsizing to a smaller home, storage space will be at a premium.  For each item that you want to bring to your new home, ask yourself this: “where will I be storing or displaying this?”.

Consider condensing photos, or photo albums, into digitized form. Any photo can be scanned and stored on a CD, DVD, or computer and it goes a long way in freeing up storage space. That means you can bring more of your treasured items to your new home.

I know it’s not easy. Clients of mine who were big book lovers found parting with some, or all, of their cherished book collection initially painful.  But, once they selected their favorites and let the rest go to a library, school, retirement community library, reading program, or another worthy benefactor, they felt great that the books would be used and more appreciated.

Many resources and services are available now for scanning and digitizing photos, as well as restoring old, faded photos back to their former glory.  It’s truly an answer to a downsizer’s prayer!

A downsizing move doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience.  Having a plan, giving yourself adequate time to process, and decide what goes and what stays, will save you from unnecessary stress and strife.

Check out my stories of transformation previous downsizing clients have shared about how having the right plan in place helped them avoid stress.

If you need a little help getting a plan in place, reach out to a qualified downsizing specialist in your area who can give you guidance and helpful tips to get you started.