Couple moving boxes from truck in an effort to downsize

If you’re planning on a big move when you retire, you should know that taking everything you own with you often isn’t practical. That’s why most people try to reduce their belongings before they move.

There’s even a term for it: downsizing.’ And it can be a very positive experience if you go about it the right way. 

Downsizing for Retirement: Everyone Needs a Plan

Make no mistake: downsizing your home is a lot harder than just ‘getting rid of what you don’t need.’ Half the battle is making all those decisions about what exactly you do or don’t need.

Here are a few rules for those who want to make the process of downsizing for retirement as smooth as possible. These guidelines should make all those decisions a lot easier.

1. Start with the Right Frame of Mind

If you’re about to tackle the big task of downsizing your home for retirement, start by easing yourself into the right mindset. This may be the most important tip, so if you do nothing else, at least do this first step.

The right attitude can make a big difference, which is why you shouldn’t bother starting until you understand this: it won’t be easy, but getting rid of some belongings can actually feel great.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about downsizing for retirement. Here are just a few of the potential benefits: 

  • Create more room for you. If you’re looking to move into a smaller house or retirement community, make sure you maximize that space by having more room for you to live, not more room to hold the possessions you never use.  
  • Free up your time. Maintaining a home that’s too big for you and taking care of endless mountains of possessions is time-consuming. The LA Times has reported that there are more than 300,000 items in the average home in America! 
  • Free your mind. Sometimes our possessions weigh us down emotionally, too. Jettisoning those items that don’t make us happy is one way to free ourselves from the weight of emotional baggage that’s associated with some of the things we keep. 
  • Reduce stress. Researchers who studied the impact of clutter found that stress hormones spiked when people were dealing with their belongings. 
  • Simplify life. The more you own, the more brain power you have to devote to managing it all. Decluttering your home often gives way to much-welcome added benefits: de-cluttering your mind and simplifying your life. 
  • Retire fresh. Retirement can be an exciting new chapter in our lives, full of promise, hope, and new discoveries. Holding on to things that weigh you down makes it hard to start that new chapter afresh. 
  • Save money. If you can’t downsize before you move, the alternative is paying to store your belongings. Monthly storage fees will add to the cost of moving to a retirement community, something you don’t want to happen! 

2. Start as Early as Possible

Adjusting your mindset and focusing on all those benefits will be a lot easier if you give yourself plenty of time. You’ll be making hundreds of tiny decisions about all the things you own, so downsizing is best done in small spurts.

We’re talking months, ideally, to really get the job done right.

Rushing the job of downsizing for retirement increases the likelihood that you’ll feel added stress. Moving too quickly through this very emotional process means you could end up making bad decisions about what to keep and what to leave behind. Most people, when they feel pressured, will opt to just keep everything rather than risk losing a valued possession because of a decision made in haste. It taps into our prehistoric drive to collect stuff and surround ourselves with material possessions.

But you’re not a caveman and you probably don’t need all the stuff you currently own. The earlier you begin downsizing your home for retirement, the more time you’ll have to adjust to this all-important truth. 

3. Take a Good, Hard Look at Your Stuff

Three people looking at items as they downsize and move things into boxes

Look around you. Is your home full of things that don’t bring you joy? When you walk into your living room, do you feel delighted or do you feel… meh? Your belongings should uplift your spirits, comfort you, or provide practical functions in your life. The trick is seeing clearly whether they do or don’t fulfill these basic needs.

For example, you may still be holding on to some childhood toys that once brought magic and happiness into your life. Maybe they were your own toys or maybe they belonged to your children. Either way, they may not continue to enchant the way they once did.

It’s learning to clearly assess the things you own in this way that proves very difficult for some people. 

The key is to separate your emotions from your belongings. Do you hold on to that old teacup collection because your Aunt Polly gave it to you and you feel ‘guilty’ for wanting to get rid of it? If so, ask yourself this: would Aunt Polly have wanted to make you unhappy? If she had known the teacups were a burden, would she really be upset if you parted ways with the unwanted collection? Probably not. 

4. Learn to Love Letting Go

There are lots of ways to make downsizing your home for retirement less stressful. Some professional organizers suggest creating a ceremonial ‘goodbye’ ritual to ease the emotional distress of donating, selling, or throwing things away. That way, you feel that you’re still in control and you’ve given each item its due respect. Later on, should you feel anxious that you let something go, you’ll have that memory to reassure your mind that you did the right thing.

Of course, that doesn’t work for everyone. For some downsizers, the ‘three-box’ method works best. You’ll need three huge boxes, marked: 

  1. Yes 
  2. No 
  3. Maybe 

Every decision becomes a simple matter of ‘yes, keep it’ or ‘no, don’t keep it.’ Keep the ‘maybe’ box as small as possible. This way, your mind isn’t over-taxed with the burning questions about what to do with the ‘no’ box. That’s the next step… 

5. Get Excited About Making Some Cash

Once you view the decluttering process as positive, and once you learn to assess your belongings and start loving the act of ‘letting go’ of them, it’s time to get real and make some cash. Not all of your things will be marketable, but lots of people do have plenty of cash locked up in their ‘stuff.

From your designer handbags to the artwork on your walls, there’s a market for almost everything these days. Your job will be to figure out how to connect with the people who value your tossed-aside items. Hire a professional or get to know eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace. If you think you really have some vintage treasures, there are specialty online marketplaces to explore, like Ruby Lane.

What doesn’t sell, you can donate, give away, or send right to the trash.

Downsizing your home for retirement won’t be the easiest thing you’ll ever do. It can be a lot easier when you have some help, though. Whether you enlist family to help or you choose to downsize by yourself at your own pace, having these guidelines will help remove a lot of the stress. Good luck!