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15 little tips for downsizing for retirement

An openness to downsizing and simplification is tremendously helpful as we age. The seniors who age most successfully, thriving into late life, usually show a willingness to shed what’s unneeded and adapt to changing circumstances.

Regardless of whether you’re moving or not, these 15 little tips should help you effectively plan and execute your downsizing mission.


  1. Get motivated: Take a moment to think about a better life with less clutter, and more time for what really matters to you. Let this motivation get you back on track if you get discouraged.
  2. Learn to let go: Now, more than ever, it’s important to be prepared to part with the unnecessary. Remind yourself that things are just, well, things. Too many possessions, especially cluttered possessions, steal time, energy, and mental well-being from you. Keep the heirlooms, treasures, and really special keepsakes, but don’t get sentimentally attached to what amounts to junk. If letting go of items is hard for you, plan a ceremony where you say “goodbye” to unnecessary stuff.
  3. Get a lot of boxes: Even if you’re not downsizing in order to move, boxes will be an essential part of this process. Consider getting more than you think you’ll need. Boxes help keep the process tidy and organized. Without them, you’re likely to find yourself spreading things across your floor, perhaps separating items into piles.
  4. Make a plan: Have clear downsizing goals and a plan to accomplish them. If you’re moving, have a good sense of your new home, its floor plan, and storage options so that you know what needs to get done. But even if you’re not moving, you should have a clear end-goal and plan to get it done. For instance, “I will clean and declutter my garage so that I can safely and comfortably park my car here. First I will address the unpacked clutter, then I’ll go through the tool chest,” and so on.
  5. Stay organized with lists: Now that you have a master plan, use lists for the details. You may want to list items that you’ll keep, people that you’ll gift possessions to, steps for completing the downsizing of one room, and so on.
  6. Break your work up into chunks: Don’t overwhelmed by contemplating your whole home and all the work that needs to be done. Approach your work one room at a time, or even one task at a time.
  7. Be decisive: If you have spent more than 30 seconds deciding whether you ought to keep something or get rid of it, get rid of it. If you have a collection, perhaps save your favorite pieces and donate the rest. Have heirlooms that are part of your legacy? Give them to the recipient now.
  8. Get some help: Downsizing can be psychologically intimidating and physically strenuous. Find at least one support person, like a friend or family member, who can help you along the way. It’s likely to be a multi-day process, so you could get different helpers on different days.
  9. Make it fun: Stock your favorite snacks and soft-drinks, and play some upbeat music you like. Downsizing can be fun if you give it a chance. If you’re struggling to enjoy the process, remind yourself that you’re making a better life for yourself.
  10. Categorize: There are a lot of ways to approach downsizing, but most of them involve creating strict categories for your possessions with clearly defined next-steps. Categories might include items to:
    • Keep
    • Give to family
    • Sell
    • Throw away.

Don’t use a “maybe” category, as that just promotes procrastination and indecisiveness.

  1. Take a deep breath: Congratulations! After you’ve gone through your things and categorized them, the hardest part is over. Now you just need to make the downsizing physically happen.
  2. Eliminate as much you can quickly as you can: Try to get rid of anything you are donating or throwing away in one fell swoop. Many second-hand stores will pick-up sizable donations, which could save you a trip. Similarly, if you have a lot to throw away, you could have a junk removal service haul it away for a small fee.
  3. Streamline selling: If you have a substantial amount of items to sell, or particularly valuable items, consider third-parties that can assist for a fee. That way you can focus on downsizing instead of dealing with a yard sale, or managing dozens of eBay auctions.
  4. Have a get together: Plan a get party and invite the friends and family you’re giving things to. Have them take their gifts home with them at the end of the gathering.
  5. Next-steps for the keepers: After all of this, you should be left with your own stuff, which you’re keeping. If you’re not moving, the natural next step is to put it back away where it belongs. If you are moving, you should make sure your things are packed and categorized in a way that’s conducive to moving. For instance, you probably don’t want a box containing a mix of random possessions destined for various different rooms.


Downsizing isn’t easy, but if you approach the process with a willingness to let go, diligent organization, a sense of urgency, and a positive attitude, it’s certain to go well.