Making the decision to downsize your material world is a big deal, and you want to stay in charge of the process. Let's take a moment so you can think about yourself as a downsizer and how you might wish to be advised and supported as you streamline your stuff.
Consider a few scenarios...
You love where you live but your life is too cluttered with stuff.
You want to simplify your life and plan to sell your current home.
An event has led you to need to modify your environment somewhat urgently.
As you go down the list, you can probably guess when more people enter the picture with expectations for you. But with some careful planning, you can stay in the driver’s seat even in an emergency.
In any case, if you want to get serious about your stuff, it is never too soon to clean up the attic and the basement. This doesn’t mean suddenly thrusting stuff on your kids or other family members. But you can clear out your own discards and reorganize the rest so that each person has a storage space that is theirs to deal with another day.
Let’s begin with the first case, you love where you live but your life is too cluttered with stuff. This situation can be great since it takes away time pressure. The process looks like this...
Set your own goals and priorities with flexible timing.
Clean out the attic and basement when seasonally appropriate, and set aside things you plan to consolidate into your main living space.
Downsize to your lifestyle essentials for the moment, reducing clutter and making housekeeping less of a chore.
Dispose of your unwanted items at a leisurely pace, giving yourself the most choices.
Budget for support to jump-start the process, if inertia is an obstacle, or for action items that you find most distasteful or overwhelming.
In the next scenario, in which simplifying your life includes moving to a new residence, you can still run the show. However, you want to make the most of the real estate opportunities at both ends of your move.
Estimate space/capacity constraints in your next home and when you expect to move.
Get your downsizing process in sync with your realtor’s marketing efforts.
Prepare an action plan with a series of deadlines
Clean out attic and basement immediately.
Identify spaces that can approximate your future living area.
Downsize clothing, dishes, books, and excess decorative articles to fit within your new space before staging for sale of real estate.
Send gifts/donations right away; pack items for sale later in unseen storage areas, like that newly cleaned basement.
Prepare your home for its open house dates with your realtor.
Schedule tentative dates for estate sale or furniture consignment/donations ahead of the actual sale of your home so you can be fleet-footed later.
This case is one where your living situation has to change immediately. The least complicated approach is the single-minded solution for an individual…
Make a fast-track moving or remodeling plan for appropriate housing.
Get interim housing if the best site is not available immediately.
Enlist help from friends and family as available for back-up with sorting and packing.
Consider a clean-out company to finish the downsizing process once you have gathered your essentials and personal treasures.
In the moment, a simple, focused solution may emerge to relieve the crisis. However, if there are two of you, the precipitating event may not affect each of you in the same way. You have to remind yourself to balance the urgent need with a longer-term vision. For instance, is there a blended solution in shared housing that supports two levels of need at once? Can a couple be together every day, but officially reside apart more economically?
When both members of a couple move for the sake of one partner, it is important to anticipate the time when they may not be together. A healthy senior who has lost someone to death or overwhelming disability will need some semblance of his or her former lifestyle when living alone in the future. But this may not seem important in the midst of the loved one’s crisis. An advocate can help by keeping two lists when gleaning essentials - one for now and one for later.
Beyond health considerations, downsizing may have urgency when you are facing a change in financial or marital status or other life crisis. New rules of engagement are likely, but what is important for you may not be all that different. You will still need a vision for a soft landing to enable your new sense of self and your surroundings even as you reduce your holdings. Be your own advocate and enlist supporters with discretion.
Next, we will consider your slack resources, i.e., places where you can get slack in a pinch. Is it time? Is it money? Is it an alternative place to live? Is it your willingness to give up space or things?