7 Steps to Downsize on a Deadline

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with one of my favorite professional organizers, the talented Vickie Dellaquila, about the extreme challenges that confront our clients who are downsizing on a deadline.  Downsizing is stressful regardless of the circumstances but when the timeline is tight (due to financial issues, foreclosure, health problems, or otherwise), the situation can be downright paralyzing. 

3 years ago, due to circumstances far beyond our control, our family was facing foreclosure.  After a year on the market, our efforts to sell had proved unsuccessful. My parents’ home of 30+ years was about to be repossessed by the bank.  Within about a week’s time, we had to downsize from a 4 bedroom/4 bath 2,000+ sf home to a 2 bedroom apartment.  If you’re facing a similar situation -- I’m so very sorry.  I know from personal experience that it is not an easy process.  Everyone has to start somewhere, though -- here’s my advice on how to get things started.

First, a few disclaimers: 1) Because we had had our home on the market for some time, my mom and sisters had already gone through a few rounds of purging and a couple moving sales before we got notice from the bank that it was time to leave. 2) Downsizing is most effectively accomplished when you have time to make sound, well thought out decisions.  If you have the time, take it.

Dining Room c. 2006

Dining Room c. 2006

Purged Dining Room - Staged for Sale

Purged Dining Room - Staged for Sale

Here are my recommendations.

Step 1: Set a date.  Figure out when the last day is you’ll have access to your property and plan to move at least 3 days before so you have time to purge the leftovers.  Request time off, book your movers (weekdays are cheaper) or reserve your U-Haul, arrange for a charity to pick-up donations, reserve a junk hauler if needed, and rally your friends and family.

Step 2:  If you have already identified a place to move to, go take measurements.  Use a tool like floorplanner.com to figure out what furniture will realistically fit in the space and tag each piece with post-it notes or painter’s tape.  Use a consistent color.  Go through your necessities and start pulling household essentials (a list like this is a good place to start).  I like to consolidate “keep” items into one room or one corner of each room so I can gain a visual understanding of how much I’m keeping.  When you’re ready -- if you’re packing yourself -- box up your items, mark boxes with the same color post-it/painter’s tape, and label the contents.

Step 3:  Once you have everything you need packed to move (if you still have time), start going through room by room and identify what can be donated, what can be sold, what can be trashed, and what needs to be kept in the family.  Designate a post-it/tape color for each family member and mark large items.  Pack anything that needs to be shipped.  When we moved, I had one room designated for “sell” items, one room designated for “keep,” and trash was bagged and placed on our carport.

Purged Living Room - Staged for Sale

Purged Living Room - Staged for Sale

Downsized Living Room

Downsized Living Room

Step 4:  Move into your new place.  Get what’s most important (what you pulled out in step 2) out of the house and to a safe place.  If you’re facing bank repossession like we were, it’s important to make sure you have what you need before the bank changes the locks.  Having your furniture and boxes color coded will help you and your movers identify what goes and what doesn’t.  Shut doors to rooms they don’t need to go into.  In your new place, don’t worry about unpacking a lot initially.  Find your toothbrush and toilet paper and go focus your energies on getting the rest of your possessions cleared out.

Step 5:  Pack/ship/load/distribute items that need to be kept in the family.  These may be heirlooms, family photos, your grown son’s favorite childhood toy, or other items that are important to your family’s history but you can no longer have the space to accommodate.  If no one in the family is interested in the item, it’s time to part with it.

Items for our Yard Sale

Items for our Yard Sale

Step 6: Have a yard sale/estate sale/auction.  Sell as much as you can.  You may not have time to have things appropriately appraised but if you’re in a situation like ours, any extra funds are helpful.

Step 7: Box up any leftovers from the sale and have a charity pick them up.  Anything that isn’t appropriate for a charity (soiled furniture, general trash) can be taken by a junk hauler.

If you have sufficient funds, you may find the need to move things into storage so you have a more appropriate time to sort and make decisions.  Professional Organizers are also incredible resources for those going through the downsizing process at any speed - consider bringing one in if you can.