4 Steps to Start Downsizing

how to find what’s truly valuable and important in your life - and how to get rid of the rest

Barbara Arnold

Image: MyBiggestFan | CC 2.0

Unless we are already minimalists, all of us at one time or another will be faced with cleaning out a home and deciding what to do with all the stuff in it. Whether you are taking early retirement or you are a caregiver for an older relative as they transition to the next stage, downsizing - your own stuff or someone else’s - has become a rite of passage for most Americans, including Chippewa Vallians.

1. Make a list.

If there are others involved - children, siblings, other relatives, or lawyers (in the case of personal property estate) - first and foremost, do an inventory and make a list. Lists may already exist, too. You, your parents, or an older relative may already have one for insurance purposes, as part of a prenuptial agreement, a divorce settlement, or an estate or will.

Video: This might be the quickest. Make a video of each room and area in the home. Share pertinent stories about heirlooms if appropriate.

Photograph: Follow up by taking photographs of the major items. Label and identify pertinent characteristics, such as date bought if known, dimensions, family history, value, etc.

The List: Yes, make a list, however time-consuming or painful. Laptop computers make this quick. A spreadsheet works best because you can sort it if needed. A handwritten list works well, too. On your list write a brief description of the item, its original value and current value, and then leave blank for the asset’s disposition (i.e., where it went) to fill in later.

To save time, group together like items of insignificant value, such as Mom’s costume jewelry or Dad’s books. Before grouping as such, though, you’ll want to ensure no valuable piece of jewelry or book is among those items, or if the value of said costume jewelry has changed. Otherwise, you might find yourself having to take the time to list every … single … item.

2. Out of all your stuff, discern what it truly important to you.

Many times, this issue is posed to you as follows: “If there was a fire in my home, what would I grab first and take with me?” The recent hurricanes and flooding in Texas and Florida as well as the fires in northern California have brought this issue to light tragically.

3. Get organized by grouping collections and like things together.

This might be the most challenging and time-consuming. Fortunately, many people have already been through this before. They are happy to share their knowledge. Some have TV shows. Some have written books and articles. Another idea is to hire a professional organizer to do all the heavy-lifting - mostly emotional, not necessarily physical - for you.

A couple of TV shows:

  • Clean House. Billed as “weekly interventions for families whose homes have been taken over by knickknacks, dusty souvenirs, and other disarray,” episodes from this program with its “decluttering crew” can be found on YouTube.
  • Hoarders. While you or your family may not be at this point yet, Hoarders, found on A&E, can provide insights on where to start in particular circumstances. Check online for local listings.

Three books:

Here are three of the dozens of books in this genre of decluttering, downsizing, and minimalist living.

  1. Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go by Marni Jameson
  2. Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand
  3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

AARP website:

The website of AARP (aarp.org) also has a number of good articles. Simply search for downsizing or decluttering and you’ll come up with:

  • “Tips to Declutter and Clean Up Your Home”
  • “Downsizing the Family Home”
  • “Downsizing and Moving? Items to Throw Away Before Relocating”

A couple of professional organizers:

  • Nancy Rothwell, owner of Straight-Up Organizing, based in Eau Claire and serving the Chippewa Valley since 2003. Visit www.straighten-up.net.
  • Mary Rossow of Rossow Resources, Professional Organizing & Life Coaching since 1985. A native of Eau Claire, Mary can schedule time to help you with your project when she is in the area. Search for Rossow Resources on Facebook.

4. Now for getting rid of the stuff!

Disposition or disposing doesn’t necessarily mean the trash pile - yet. There are bequests and requests from family members. Then, you can sell. Next, you can donate. Finally, you can toss.

And, last but not least, if you are paying for any storage units, start there first.

About the Author(s)

Barbara Arnold

Barbara Arnold, a writer in Eau Claire, is a “cool aunt” who will take care of your kids for a date night and deliver them back on a sugar high. She has served as a coach and mentor to hundreds of young people.

View more of Barbara Arnold's work »