How My Recent Experience With Rightsizing Might Help You

Graphic of two people standing with donations in front of heart

By Christine Hall, Sr. Director of Marketing at PR – Franke Tobey Jones

Although I am only in my early 60s, last year I decided it was the right time to downsize (rightsize), to sell my home of many years and to live in a place that was a lot more manageable.  As with so many people, isolating during the pandemic really changed my priorities, and my gut was telling me that the time to sell my home was “now!”  But after living in my home for so many years, I absolutely had no idea where to begin. 

I’ve worked at Franke Tobey Jones for nearly thirteen years and have seen so many people move here that were in my same boat.  “What do I do with all my stuff?  No one seems to want it!!”  Now I TOTALLY understand what they were/are saying.  I didn’t even want all my stuff.  HA!

I started downsizing in February 2021, sold my home in July 2021 and started renting a condo in August 2021.  When I look back, I remember how much work it was, and how, at first, it seemed so overwhelming.  But I am SO HAPPY that I did it.  It was totally worth it.  I’ve never been happier in my life.  It was incredibly freeing to let go of so much stuff that I had been packing into my home for years.  Stuff I never used or never even saw anymore.  I gave away or sold nearly 4,000 items including most of my furniture.  I also repurposed several pieces of furniture, and this was very rewarding as well.  Selling and/or giving away my furniture, dishes, pictures, clothes and other items gave me the opportunity to start fresh. 

Now, every time I walk into my condo I look around and see all the things that I love…because I could only bring the items that meant the most to me.  I am surrounded by cherished memories!  Along with my repurposed furniture, I have purchased a few new pieces of furniture, new dishes, new curtains and went from a “country” theme in my home to a “modern uptown” look.  I absolutely love it!

Downsizing your home can be the right move at any stage of life depending on your goals.  You may find purchasing a smaller home makes the most sense, or possibly moving to a senior community where you can cook (or not), socialize with lots of people (or not), have fitness opportunities practically at your doorstep, and a place to start creating many new memories.

Here are some tips from my own experience that might help you.

Start Sooner Rather Than Later

As soon as I realized that I needed to sell my home, I started my downsizing process.  I read several articles on how to downsize and just jumped in.  If you know that a move is in your future, it’s never too late to start the process, and honestly, the sooner the better.  You should start the downsizing process as soon as possible to give yourself time to properly sort through your house without feeling overwhelmed. A general rule of thumb is that you’ll want to start at least three months before you plan to move but honestly, the sooner the better.

Aside from getting a jump on the downsizing process, you can also keep your home free of clutter and things you no longer need.  There are some different organization methods that have gained popularity in recent years, like the KonMari method.  Whatever method you choose, the goal is to find a balanced workflow and to end up with possessions that you actually love and need to keep around. Some popular methods include:

  • One-A-Day Method: Let go of one item per day or let go of the number of items that corresponds with the date (i.e. giving away 12 items on the 12th of a given month).
  • KonMari Method: Take on clutter by category (clothes, paper/books, miscellaneous items and then sentimental items). If an item no longer “sparks joy” then it’s time to get rid of it.
  • Four-Box Method: Restrict your options for what to do with a particular item by only giving yourself four options. Typically, these options are keep, donate, trash/recycle and sell. You should try to avoid putting items in storage.
  • Closet-Hanger Method: Face all closet hanger hooks away from you. Once you wear an item, turn the hanger hook toward you. After six months, donate any clothes that are still facing away.

I decided to focus on one room at a time.  Thinking about my home as a whole was just too much to process.  It was overwhelming.  But, I figured I could concentrate on one room at a time, and that really worked for me.  I started in my office/craft room which I knew would be the most difficult. 

I had thousands and thousands of photos and negatives from the last 40 years.  Oh my goodness!  How to decide what to keep and what to let go of.  If you have family (which I do not), I suggest making a box for each person, and as you go through your photos sort them into each box…also keeping a box for yourself.  I found some really neat photo storage boxes at a craft store.  Each plastic box with a handle had 16 individual boxes for 4 x 6 photos.  I decided to keep one 4 x 6 box of photos for each year.  This worked so well for me.  I now have 4 of these plastic boxes that take up very little room, and I filled an entire dumpster of photos, photo albums and negatives.  At first it was hard to let go, but as I got rolling and knew I was saving my favorite photos, it became very easy.

I am also a huge crafter.  I had a full closet of paper, scissors, glue, scrapbook items, empty scrapbooks (for the scrapbooks I was going to make in the future), ribbon, silk flowers, flower arranging items, bins of socks and material to make sock snowmen, beads, buttons and bows …you name it.  As much as I like to do all kinds of craft projects, I knew in my heart that moving forward crafting was not going to be a priority.  I found three girlfriends who are totally into crafts and was able to give it ALL to them.  What a blessing!

And, what about all my books?  They had been sitting on my bookshelves for DECADES and I had never once revisited them.  Would I read them or reference them in the future?…probably not.  I ended up giving away literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books to several donation sites.

Within a matter of one month, my office was completely cleaned out, and this gave me the fortitude and the joy to start the next room.  And, so it went, room by room.  I read an article that said, when deciding what to take with you make sure it brings you joy.  And, this is exactly what I did.  Every item in my new home brings me a lot of joy.  Also, if you can easily replace the item, discard it and buy it in the future if you need it.

One of the hardest things to do was downsizing my teddy bears.  I have collected teddy bears and bunnies for over 40 years, and I love them all.  I had one room dedicated to 350 bears and bunnies which I called the Bear Den.  I kept asking myself, “How can I possibly let go of all these special treasures?”  But, I knew I had to.  So when cleaning out that room, I looked at each one, held each one and made the decision…stay or go?  If I couldn’t remember the story attached to that bear, I let it go.  But, I could remember so many stories of how/where I got so many of them!  I kept about 50…which was still a stretch.  A friend of mine told me about the Tacoma Toy Rescue Mission which serves over 3,000 children each year.  In tears, I brought 300 of my precious bears/bunnies to them.  They showed me all around the place, told me how they serve hundreds of underprivileged children each year for their birthdays, Easter, Christmas and throughout the year.  I was so touched by the ladies that run this incredible operation, that I left all smiles knowing my beloved bears and bunnies would find new homes and children that would love them.  My point is, even letting go of your most treasured items, in the end, can be a real joy.  Try to seek out those opportunities when letting go of your items.  It made a world of difference to me.

Consider Your New Space

I knew my new space would be less than half the space of my home.  When I found the condo I was going to rent, I measured every room and every piece of furniture that I wanted to keep, then put all the rooms on graph paper.  It’s an amazing process because I found I really couldn’t bring as much as I thought I could, so I ended up selling/giving away a few more pieces of furniture.  The time it took to lay my new rooms and furniture on graph paper was really a life saver.  I didn’t want my new place stuffed with too much furniture.  The goal was really to downsize.  At Franke Tobey Jones, we can recommend a few companies that can help you go through this process which I highly recommend if you or your family members don’t want to take this on yourself.

What Will Your New Life Be Like?

One of the things I had to consider when rightsizing was what my new lifestyle was going to look like.  How did I want my life to change when I moved?  In the end, I really had to think about what was important to me.  I could only do so much and/or have so much stuff in a much smaller space.  I am a huge baker, but had to give up my three freezers, three refrigerators and large kitchen when rightsizing…so I didn’t need all my baking pans and sundry items that go along with big quantity baking.  I am a huge crafter, but there was no room for my craft supplies.  I am a piano player and singer, could I bring all my music and my piano?  In the end, I decided that I really wanted to simplify my life.  I was ready to just not do so much!  That sounded ridiculous and unbelievable when I thought about it, but my heart was telling me to simplify. 

I’m not much of a bucket list person, but I  had always dreamed about having a baby grand piano, though I never thought I’d own one.  One of my most sentimental items in my home was the piano that my parents gave to me when I was 10.  It had moved 18 times with me during my college and early career years.  How could I possibly let go of that?  One day it dawned on me that I could donate it to Franke Tobey Jones, where I work, which would free up the opportunity and space to buy a baby grand piano.  This alone made me so happy I was almost giddy! 

I say this because I believe you can pursue your new life in whatever way you want.  I have given up baking, given up most of my crafting and given up photography…but that opened up room in my life to have some new music experiences.  What would you like your new life to be like after you rightsize?  What passions and interests have you not had time to pursue?  I have had so many residents at Franke Tobey Jones tell me, as difficult as it was, rightsizing and moving to Franke Tobey Jones was the best thing they ever did.  Like me, they gave up a large home, many treasures, hobbies, sometimes cooking and more, but at Franke Tobey Jones they have found a new life, a simpler life enjoying music, or gardening, or walking, or meeting new friends at happy hours and classes without the burden of being surrounded by too much “stuff.”  Many of our residents dine in our dining rooms and no longer have to shop for groceries and cook.  Housekeeping is provided too.  Imagine what your life could be like NOT upkeeping a large house and yard, not shopping for groceries and cooking, not managing so much stuff and trying to keep it organized and in its right place, not scrubbing your floors,  not cleaning your bathrooms or the myriad of other home/yard upkeep time consuming “to dos.”  Personally, I have THOROUGHLY ENJOYED giving up all that for a simpler life.  Now I have time for more fun, playing the piano, meeting friends, reading, walking, traveling or simply relaxing without any home/yard worries or that nagging feeling of “I should be doing xyz home project.”  What a blessing!

No ”Maybes”

When I was decluttering it would have been easy to put a lot of my stuff into a “maybe” pile and put off the decision until later.  To keep myself on track, I decided I would look at each item ONLY ONE TIME…and decide right then and there what to do with it.  Would I:

  • Keep it
  • Donate it
  • Sell it
  • Trash/recycle it
  • Pass it down

Once I had several big bags in each category, I would remove them from the house wherever I had decided to take it. 

  • Donations – All the items that I was donating to friends/family, I either took these items to them or they picked them up. I made trips to donation sites on a weekly basis and ended up practically being on a first name basis at these places!  HA!
  • Selling – I took photos of all the items I wanted to sell at my Estate Sale.
  • Trash/Recycle – I made several trips to the dump/recycle center each month and also put out extra trash bags each week for my regular trash pickup.
  • There were several special items that I kept aside to “regift” to friends and family which I gave to them face-to-face.

If there are items that your family members don’t want or are too young to take right now, try selling them and putting the money you made in savings.  When the time is right, you can pass on that gift and they can purchase something for their home that they really need.  If you know you’re going to miss the item, but it has no place in your new home, take a photo of it and add any relevant details (where it came from, what it signifies). Create your own “treasure” photobook or work the photos into an album.  Some additional ways to memorialize items and memories include:

  • Take photos of sweet notes and cards
  • Scan and upload paper mementos like tickets or playbills
  • Photograph or scan can your child’s artwork

There are so many different ways to organize your memories. You could create chronological, categorical or any number of different photo books, whatever makes the most sense to you.

Selling Items

I ended up having an Estate Sale which worked out well.  A couple of weeks before the Estate Sale I made a catalog of all the items that were going to be for sale and emailed it to all my family, friends and coworkers who might be interested, etc.  Because of this catalog, many of my larger pieces of furniture and other items sold before the Estate Sale which was wonderful.  Furthermore, I used Offer Up and Marketplace to sell items, but make sure you exercise the proper safety and anti-fraud precautions when using these apps to sell or buy items (guidelines can be found through each individual organization’s site or app).  When all was said and done, I made enough money to buy a few smaller items for my condo – a smaller desk, smaller dining table, smaller chairs, curtains, etc.

If there are items of high value that you don’t want to bring with you to your new space, consider getting them appraised so they can garner their full value at an auction, be donated (with proper tax deductions) or passed down as an early family legacy gift.

Cleaning Out Files and Paperwork

This was the perfect time to clean out decade’s worth of files and paperwork that I no longer needed.  I took literally thousands of documents to a shredding place, and it was totally worth the money to dispose of all this paperwork safely.  When I moved into the condo, I only brought the paperwork that was current and what I needed which allowed me to clear out many filing cabinets that I either sold or took to the dump.  Take this opportunity to get more organized so your new space will be clutter free.  If you do need to keep some important paperwork, consider scanning and organizing them in neat digital files…and back up these files on a separate drive if it’s imperative to keep these items. 

Bring in Help if Needed

All this can be a lot to handle.  I did a majority of it by myself, but I did hire movers to take some pieces of furniture to a donation place, and some good friends helped me clean out everything in my garage that I was not keeping or that had not been sold or given away.  I also hired movers to actually move me, but I brought the most important things with me in my car – jewelry, music, important documents, my treasured stuffed animals and my favorite clothes.

If you feel any steps of the downsizing and moving processes are above your ability or you don’t have the time, bring in some help.  You could first put out feelers to your particularly organized friends and family but try to not make it feel like an obligation.  If they do agree to help out, make sure you thank them properly.  At Franke Tobey Jones we have preferred movers that we can recommend.

Know what your strengths and weaknesses are – if you’re a strong organizer, maybe you’ll just need help moving boxes on moving day.  If you have a hard time getting and staying organized or letting go of items, a professional organizer could be well-worth your money.

  • Organization Tip:  Hire help for your most difficult room and then see if you can apply what you learned to your other rooms by yourself.
  • Packing Tip:  Don’t pack jewelry, money or other valuables, keep those close by during your move or temporarily place them in a vault or bank lockbox.

After the move

After I got everything into the condo, I still needed to purge some clothes, knick knacks, stuffed bears/bunnies and items for which there was no room.  By that time, however, I was ready to let go of more items.  I didn’t want my new place to be completely stuffed to the gills.  When all was said and done, I gave away/sold/donated nearly 4,000 items.  I kept an itemized list of every item for tax purposes, though, in the end, my standard tax deduction was more (or about equal to) the amount I could write off for the donations.  Talk to your accountant before you take the time to itemize everything.  In my case, it took a lot of time to keep track of everything when I really didn’t need to for tax purposes.

Senior Downsizing Tips

Make It A Family Affair

Invite your kids or grandkids to help you sort through items. Tell your stories and encourage them to ask questions. If it can’t happen in-person, do this over a video chat so no one feels left out.

Give Without Expectations

Don’t pressure your family members to take something and don’t check in on the item after the fact if they do. Understand that any item you gift may end up donated or given away.  Also remember that while your family loves you dearly, they may not have space for your things.

Think About Accessibility And Safety

Some items won’t lend themselves to your new home or lifestyle.  Consider accessibility and safety as you sort. Maybe you’ll decide you don’t really need those stilts anymore.  Start thinking about which safety precautions you can add to your home ahead of time rather than waiting until they’re necessary to add them.

Add Details To Photo Albums

While you reminisce, take the time to add details, names and dates to photos and to labels on family heirlooms.  It will be more fun for guests when they peruse your albums and easier to know who is who and what came from where when you eventually pass those items down.

Collaborate On A Family Recipe Book

We all have those family recipes that we look forward to during the holidays and one of the best gifts you can give is passing down traditions.  As you’re going through your kitchen, gather and organize your recipe cards so you can create a mini family cookbook.  Once you’ve created it online you can have multiple books printed – give them out to your children, grandchildren or other family members (and one for yourself for your new home).

Consider Senior Moving Assistance And Resources

Moving can be a long process that requires a lot of physical effort.  While your family would likely love to help, they may not be available throughout the entire process.  To help save yourself the time, consider getting professional help.  If you do, make sure you get a signed, written agreement ahead of time with costs and the services detailed. 

  • HUD Counseling Services is a great place to start if you’re unsure of where to find help.
  • National Institute on Aging also has some great resources for those looking to age in place.
  • Franke Tobey Jones can offer you local companies that can help you.

Post-Move Tips After Downsizing Your Home

After you’ve put in all this work to downsize and simplify your life, you’ll want to keep up the good work.  It can be tempting to start filling in the nooks and crannies of your new place, but you can avoid a clutter-relapse by following the tips below.

Do Routine Organizing And Decluttering

Clutter has a funny way of sneaking up on people.  To keep your new space in tip-top shape, make cleaning and decluttering a habit throughout the year on a schedule that works best for you.  For some, four seasonal purges work best while others may need to give their space monthly attention.

Be Discerning About New Purchases

Be very picky about new purchases to avoid collecting clutter.  Some people live by the rule that if something new comes into their home, something else must go.  This will help keep clutter to a minimum and keep you from spending unnecessarily.  If you’re really on the fence about a purchase or have poor spending habits, give yourself a 48-hour cool-off period to see if you truly need the item or if you just got caught up in the thrill of an impulse buy. 

Ask For Donations In Lieu Of Gifts

Even the gifts with the best intentions can sit and collect dust if you don’t really need them.  For certain events, a gift registry can be a great solution to ensure you only get what you absolutely need.  In other cases, you may decide to ask for donations to a charity of your choice instead of gifts.  As a bonus, this also means no one gets their feelings hurt because of a returned gift.

Whatever your situation is, Franke Tobey Jones can help you assemble the tools you need to make the next best step, whether that’s moving to a smaller home, moving to senior living, or giving you information about the cost difference of living in your own home versus living in senior living, including care costs. We’ve got you covered.

All and all, for me, downsizing was absolutely freeing and a wonderful process.  The more I purged the easier it was to let go of things.  A good book about downsizing is Rightsizing Your Life by Ciji Ware.  I read it several years ago and revisited it early last year shortly before I started downsizing.  I encourage you to take the next step even if you don’t feel ready.  Start decluttering and downsizing…you won’t regret it!

If you would like to contact us regarding downsizing and/or moving to senior living, please call 253-756-6621.  Our team would be happy to speak with you over the phone or meet with you in person.

Categories: General