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How to effectively downsize and declutter now to leave a better legacy

As we age, parting with personal belongings can be difficult. When it comes to downsizing and decluttering, it’s normal to have trouble letting go of all the assets and furnishings that make your home uniquely yours. For most of us, the possessions we hold on to have unique sentimental value, making it hard to detach. When we look at our homes, we don’t see “stuff.” Instead, there are memories of a life worth celebrating, taking the form of a drawer full of eclectic ties from every Father’s Day and birthday, or the jewelry box filled with gestures of true love—that we haven’t opened in more than a decade.

It’s all beautiful because it tells a unique story about us. But, what many of us fail to consider is that when we’re gone, those who inevitably decide what happens to our belongings may not have any stories to associate with them. In a recent survey, caregivers and loved ones reported downsizing and decluttering were more demanding than any other caregiving or estate duty. The survey also found that 18 percent of respondents were most stressed by taking time off work, which is problematic since nine out of 10 had to take time off to help someone with downsizing. When talking about downsizing, the issue is not just about the things we leave behind, but our very legacy. Whether it’s just before a move or just after we’ve passed, estate management could be the defining memory we leave for our loved ones.

The key to downsizing is to start early. The process can take months, even longer depending on the size of your home and how long you’ve lived there. Here are some ways to downsize effectively:

1. Take it one room at a time

Getting started on a big decluttering project might seem intimidating, especially if you’re planning to transition from a full-size home to a one-bedroom apartment. Rather than tackling the entire house in one weekend, it’s often more effective—and less overwhelming—to go through rooms one at a time.

2. Start with the big stuff

Large pieces of furniture should be the first to go if you’re moving—they’re often the most expensive to haul between destinations, and if you don’t have space at your new home, you could get stuck with moving into a storage unit. Deciding which items should stay and which should go can be tricky if most of your furniture serves a purpose. Simplify this by really evaluating whether you use the item often, or if it serves as a clunky storage option. Grab your tape measure and get the dimensions of each item—this will be especially important if you’re relocating.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Sifting through boxes of knick-knacks, old photos and anything else will undoubtably be the most time-consuming task of the downsizing process. One common mistake is accidentally getting rid of items you use regularly or seasonally, like cookware or stationary. It’s easy to get rid of the extra frying pan thinking it’ll save you so much space… until you’re cooking and don’t have the pan you need. Rather than starting with essential parts of your home, try dealing with the unopened boxes in the basement or the garage first.

4. Sort it into four piles

When it comes to deciding where each item should go, try this useful Four Pile Sort Method: as you declutter, decide whether to keep, donate, trash or sell the item. Have a plan for each pile before you even start, like which days you’ll go to the donation drop off.

  • KEEP: The “keep” pile should include items you want for yourself as well as what you’ll pass on to your loved ones.
  • DONATE: When it comes to the “donate” pile, don’t assume all your belongings will be useful to charities. Ask yourself, are they functional and in good shape?
  • TRASH: If the item is in poor condition, it should go in the “trash” pile, even if you’d rather avoid sending more stuff to the landfill. Even the cleanest homes will have a lot of items in the trash pile, and you may need to rent a dumpster.
  • SELL: Finally, when it comes to the “sell” pile, try not to mix up the sentimental value with the actual value. For getting rid of several antiques or collectibles, consider sending them to auction rather than trying to consign them all individually. If you only have a few items, consider bringing in a special appraiser, who can not only give you the value but may be able to recommend individuals or organizations who may be interested.

Downsizing is a physical and emotional challenge, but addressing it before you’re in a hurry can make the process less stressful and more productive. You can even make it enjoyable if you approach it with a good plan and plenty of time.

If you’re just starting to consider a transition to senior living, take a look at our recent blog, Questions to Ask When Choosing a Senior Living Community.

Wingate Residences at Haverhill