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Preparing to Downsize

It’s never too early to start downsizing

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Debra Kostiw
Debra Kostiw

If your children are grown and gone and your family home feels too big, you may feel it is time to downsize. 

A smaller home costs less for taxes, utilities and maintenance. But you may face a sizable obstacle: what to do with a lifetime of accumulation.

Debra Kostiw, owner of No Place Like Home Senior Care in Henrietta, recommends tackling a downsizing project by “starting out with a little bit each week, like pick a room and do one at a time.”

She encourages thinking of possessions by priority. At the top are can’t-live-without pieces such as an heirloom. Those are keepers.

The next lower priority is good things that you will not have the room to keep such furniture that is too large and redundant items (do you really need five casserole dishes that are the same size?). The lowest priority is comprised of items you should phase out, from clothing that no longer fits to completely useless things such as old newspapers and magazines.

“Even in your 50s and 60s, you should start thinking about what’s coming,” Kostiw said. “If you were ever to end up in the hospital and you were told you couldn’t move home, it’s nice to have dwindled things down. It’s much easier for that person who is making these arrangements. They won’t make a mistake.”

She advises to let family members know what is important to you lest any “helpful” family member disposes of something that seems worthless but feels precious to you. Kostiw has a piece of fuzzy, red yarn in her home that she would never part with because one of her daughters gave it to her as part of a school project. The yarn measured the youngster’s arm span to show “my hug is this big.” To outsiders, the priceless memento appears worthless.

Tamara Turcott, owner of An Eye For Detail Professional Organization, said that many people can easily shed old toiletries and prescriptions as part of early downsizing.

“There’s just no need to move with expired and no longer used items,” she said. “Getting them out now saves time later.”

Ask your pharmacist or doctor how to properly dispose of medication as some should not be flushed or placed in the trash.

Turcott also advises sorting through printed photos, “organizing them into categories and getting rid of doubles, blurry pictures, and multiple angles of the same picture.”

Scan good photos to pass along through online file sharing—no prints or thumb drives required.

Bobbie Goodridge, managing owner of Grandma’s Helpers, LLC, in Rochester, often helps older adults with downsizing once they are no longer physically capable of hauling forgotten boxes out of the attic and moving out large furniture they no longer need.

“It’s never too early to begin the downsizing process,” she said. 

As you sort through an area, make sure that items are leaving your house and that you are not just shuffling them from room to room. Sort into categories of give to family, donate to charity, recycle or dispose.

Goodridge recommends starting with “catch-all” areas such as the attic, basement, closet, file cabinet and garage. Get rid of things that are broken, valueless, or that you have not used or looked at in more than a year.

Goodridge recommends setting a deadline for adult children to pick up items they have left at your house or to ship it if you must.

Keep just one or two objects to remember a person or phase of life and pass along the rest. For example, keep one baby dress, but not all. You could also take photos of items if it feels hard to let it go.

It may be difficult to know what items have value for resale. Everyday small objects from the 1950s through 1980s may be valuable and collectible. However, mass produced “collectibles” like Hummel figurines are monetarily worthless.

If you feel uncertain, “get some professional opinion about whether their things are collectible and could be sold,” Goodridge said.

The huge china hutch full of china may have a costly wedding gift, but many people consider these white elephants now.

“Old sets of nice china are going for $20 for a set of 12,” Goodridge said. “I cannot sell good china for any kind of money and it’s heartbreaking.”

If they’re not dishwasher and microwave safe, these dishes do not appeal to many young people. Few have room for large furniture like bedroom sets, dining room tables and entertainment centers, as they have smaller homes, eat-in kitchens and wall-mounted TVs.

Adult children already have what they need and adult grandchildren may want small, modern, portable household goods. But there are ways to still pass along a few items.

Social media platforms like Pintrest have inspired a lot of people to repurpose household items. If you are willing to let your great-niece transform the headboard and footboard into a garden bench, you may have a new home for some things. Give without strings attached.

“It’s cool the things they’re doing with old furniture. But you have to be willing to let it go and not necessarily be of the mindset that ‘I spent $5,000 on this set and I don’t want to give it away,’” Goodridge said. “But it’s only worth what people will pay for it.”

She has advised clients with TV cabinets to contact a local school workshop department to see if they want to take the solid wood to repurpose.

Instead of expecting one grandchild to take all the dishes and entire furniture sets, consider giving each one a piece or two. Taking just one plate to use as a platter or special occasion plate may be easier than taking a set for 20 or taking one dresser is easier than an entire bedroom set, for example.

Many large book collections can be whittled down by breaking them up, too. Though your adult children may not want more books, a surprising number of children and teens enjoy the vintage vibe of printed books. Libraries, charitable organizations and nursing homes often accept printed materials.

Bills, receipts, business letters, tax returns: most households hold a lot of paper.

Goodridge likes Paper Clarity At a Glance: What to Keep, Where and When to Shred (Laura J. Moore, ClutterClarity Press: 2008) as “a good resource for what to do with old paper and how long you should keep records,” she said.

She advises clients to use the scan mode on their smartphone and rely on online manuals for home appliances rather than keeping them.

Boxes of old cards, children’s drawings and letters can become overwhelming. Goodridge advises clients to keep just a few special examples and photograph the rest.

Downsizing a clothing and shoe collection may challenge you. Goodridge advises letting go of items that no longer fit or that have not been worn in more than a year. Items such as a wedding dress or other highly sentimental nature may be an exception, but limit the number you will keep. Some designer labels may fetch a good price on consignment or sold online.

If you have superfluous linens you cannot use (twin sheets when all your beds are queen), or faded towels stuffed in cupboards with your good towels, let the extras go.

“Lollipop Farm, or your local veterinarian loves donations of sheets, pillowcases, towels and washcloths,” Goodridge said. “They can use and will gladly take them off your hands. Put things in the hands of people who can use them, rather than having them sit in a closet or a cabinet. There are people who can really use them.”

She suggested refugee organizations, as many of these accept clothing, household goods and furniture.  She also suggests checking Community Wishbook (www.communitywishbook.com), which lists charitable organizations in the area and what items they would like to receive as donations.