The Hard Task of Downsizing

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If you’ve decided to downsize into a smaller home the task can seem overwhelming, especially if you have lived in your current home for many years.

Start by sorting out things that should be shredded, recycled, or thrown out, such as old receipts, phone books and tax records no longer needed. Many people possess years of documentation that they no longer need, since nearly every manual, receipt and resource is available online. Get rid of broken or soiled items that hold no sentimental value and you can’t fix or clean to make them usable again. Clearing spaces by eliminating these things will give you more sorting space.

“I try to go through each room and question, ‘Do I truly need this? Can I donate it? Does it need to be in my life?’” said Sonja Vigneux, owner of Errand Angels in Liverpool. “Spend even a half hour in each room. It’s surprising what you can get done.”

If you’re keeping items to remember someone by, choose the most meaningful item.

When you look at your perfectly good stuff, think about if you’ll use it at your new place. If you’re moving from a house with a workshop to a patio home with a single-car garage, you likely won’t need an extensive set of automotive tools — especially if you haven’t done any major car repair in years. If you don’t anticipate entertaining big groups, you could probably let go of the big platter and dinnerware for 24. Just keep the basic set and pass along the fancy stuff you don’t use a lot.

“A lot of people want to give things to their family members upon their death,” said Allison Schad, owner CNY Compassion Care in Syracuse. “They should give them before they move. It’s one less thing to pack. They can see if their family member even wants it.”

Passing items along to a grandchild just starting out can be easier and more ecological than tossing them. If you have a set of fine china, consider giving a piece or two to each daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter to remember you by. Unless they explicitly ask for them, no one wants an entire set of hand wash only, non-microwavable dishes. Most young people don’t want large hutches and display cases because they move often and most middle-aged adults already have them and don’t want more. If your granddaughter does want the hutch, she may decide to give it a facelift with paint or repurpose it for another use, so give with no strings attached.

Old electronics are likely not something other people want. Look on eBay to see if your item model is selling (not just listed). If it’s old enough, you may have a market for it. Some designer clothing labels sell well on eBay and Facebook Marketplace, as do high-end tools, but only if they’re in good condition.

Paradoxically, some items that seem like junk are valued now.

“Someone might think, ‘I bought this in the ‘70s and it’s passé,’ but people are collecting it and paying hundreds for a sunburst clock,” Schad said. “And the same people think that the Hummels have value and they don’t.”

Inviting relatives to look around and select from things you won’t take with you can help you thin out your possessions. But don’t feel pressured to get rid of things you want to keep for now.

“Some people want their familiar chair that’s comfortable and their artwork and things that look familiar,” Schad said. “Otherwise, it doesn’t feel like it’s home at their new place.”

Enlisting help for the sorting, whether personal or professional, can help you make progress and make the process easier.

“It’s so stressful,” said Jennifer Novak, owner of Caring Transitions of Syracuse. “We’re concerned about people’s physical and emotional health. Seniors don’t always tolerate the stress. We give them options wherever possible.”

Novak said that for many clients, donating to cause they care about feels better than selling their things at an auction because they feel more in control of what happens.

“If they’re planning on moving to a place half the size, and you have 20 things, keep half of the things,” Novak said. “Pick the top few you love and donate and sell the things you’re not taking.”

She added that sorting into labeled boxes the things they wish to pass down to someone is easier than labeling items with notes. Once their friend or family member has sorted through the box, they can more easily sell or donate the rest.

“We love what we do,” Novak said. “You have to be kind and respectful as you don’t know what people are going though. Treat everyone how you’d want your grandparents to be treated.”

What and Where to Donate

Unsure of where to donate your stuff that’s in good condition? Consider the following types of organizations, but ask before you drop off items and ask your tax adviser about if you can deduct these on your taxes:

• Linens, clothing, handbags, shoes, accessories, luggage, small household items.

Donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army, homeless shelters, church “help” closet ministries and women’s shelters.

• Linens, pet beds, leashes and carriers

Donate to pet shelters

• Craft and hobby supplies office supplies

Donate to teachers, schools.

• Craft and hobby supplies, old magazines, books (especially in large font), lap quilts/small blankets, pillows

Donate to nursing homes and day facilities.

Freecycle.org: Register and then list any items you’d like picked up from your curb. This can help you shed larger items like furniture and exercise equipment.