How to downsize your home in 2024

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Downsizing is a big decision, but it’s one that many Americans make around retirement age for good reason. Moving into a smaller home can simplify your life and help you age in place. (There are, however, some people who choose to upsize when their kids move out.)

Let's say you've already decided to sell your home and buy another one, or even gone ahead and gotten that done. In order to move into your new home, you’ll need to make a plan, recruit some help, and declutter your current space. Although it may feel intimidating at first, downsizing isn’t that different from other moves, you’ll just need to be mindful of the number of things you take with you. 

When should you downsize your home? The best age to do it

Many people choose to downsize in their 50s and 60s into a better home for their needs as they age. However, deciding to downsize is a personal choice and there’s not a “right time” for everyone. 

Here are 4 reasons you may consider downsizing include:

  • You're trying to save money: Oftentimes, a smaller property in the same area will have a lower mortgage payment. This frees additional income or savings for travel, healthcare, and supporting your current lifestyle. Downsizing can also help if you're house poor.
  • You have a reduced need for space: A larger home can feel overwhelming at times, especially if you don’t need the square footage anymore. A smaller house will feel more manageable and will require less maintenance.
  • You have mobility concerns: It’s common to downsize to a one-story home or condo so that you don’t need to worry about stairs, steep driveways, and other mobility challenges as you age.
  • You need a change of location : Many seniors choose to move to a new location for retirement (often to be closer to family or closer to a destination, like the lake or beach). 

What are the steps to downsizing?

Downsizing may sound like a difficult process, but it’s not unlike any other move. It requires some time, planning, and decluttering. Follow these steps to get started.

1. Set aside plenty of time 

Downsizing is a big life change that sometimes coincides with other life changes like retirement, so give yourself as much time as possible. While it’s not always feasible due to health and lifestyle changes, if you can give yourself ample time to plan and pack, you’ll feel less rushed and stressed throughout the process.

Here's what to look for in a retirement home.

2. Make a plan

You need to know where you’re moving before you can effectively pack and declutter. Decide where you plan to move (even if it’s just narrowing down the area you’d like to move to), how much space you can afford, and when you need to leave your current home. As you plan, consider meeting with a real estate agent and/or financial advisor so that you can ensure your decision is thoughtful and makes financial sense (especially if you have had previous financial challenges, like bad credit). 

3. Choose what will fit in your new space

The key to downsizing is to only move with the things that will fit in your new home. That means you’ll have quite a few things to donate or sell (especially if you're moving into a tiny home.) Make a list of the furniture and large items you want to bring with you. Everything else that is in good condition can be given to loved ones, donated, or sold. The smaller items can be reviewed room-by-room.

4. Focus on one area at a time

To make the moving process manageable, focus on one area at a time. This could mean one room at a time, one dresser at a time, or even one drawer. Start with whatever feels the least intimidating and work your way up to larger rooms and storage spaces.

5. Declutter

As you find items you don’t use, clothes you don’t wear, or duplicates, decide which of these categories they fit into. Separate each category into different areas or bins.

  • To be donated
  • To be given to friends or family
  • To be sold online or at a yard sale
  • Trash

6. Rent a storage space

If you aren’t able to declutter as much as you’d like, you may want to rent a storage space. Storage can also be a great short term solution for things you want to give to family members. For example, if your family member wants a piece of furniture but cannot travel to your current location until after you move, they can pick it up from a storage unit. Likewise, if there are some things you will only need for part of the year (like holiday decor), and your new space doesn’t have room, you may want to keep it in storage (especially if your new home or apartment building has storage areas for rent). 

7. Be prepared to let go of some things

Moving to a new space is difficult, especially if you need to let go of a large number of belongings. It can be particularly hard to hear that your loved ones don’t want certain items or don’t have room for pieces of furniture you want to give them. Try to prepare yourself for the reality that you may need to donate or sell belongings that won’t fit in your new home.

8. Digitize and label photographs

Downsizing is a great opportunity to reminisce with friends and family. Take time to go through your sentimental items and photographs. Label them so they’re easily accessible in your new home. Or, if you’re trying to save even more space, consider digitizing your photos. You can scan them or use a digitizing service.

9. Keep things you love and use

Downsizing doesn’t have to be all about getting rid of stuff. It’s also about simplifying your life and keeping the things you really love and use in your new space. Use the Marie Kondo method and consider what items spark joy. Hang onto decor and possessions that you love and use regularly, especially if they remind you of home. 

10. Recruit help

Moving is a big task that’s made much easier when you have help. Ask friends, family, and other loved ones to help you with the decluttering and packing process. If you don’t have loved ones nearby, you can also hire a moving service to ease the process.

How do you downsize quickly?

While taking your time to move is easier, you may need to downsize quickly due to health or lifestyle changes. Don’t worry, downsizing quickly is doable and you’ll follow the same steps that you normally would. However, if you hire help and get started right away, the process will go by much quicker. 

The hardest part of downsizing is getting started. So get to work making your plan and decluttering right away and you’ll make progress quickly. To speed this up, you can hire a real estate agent to help you find your new home, a donation service to pick up excess items and furniture, and a moving service to help you pack and move belongings. Alternatively, if you have loved ones that can help, consider delegating some tasks to them so they get done quickly.

If you're looking to sell your home and buy a new one, Orchard can help. We can help line up closing for an easier move and also give you guaranteed offer on your old home. Get started with a free home valuation — our estimates are 30% more accurate.

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