Most people who have empty space tend to find stuff to fill it. The larger the house and the longer you have lived in it, the more likely you are to have furniture, clothes, dishes and whatnot that haven’t been used for decades. As you consider downsizing, you have to face the reality that you can’t keep it all.
I asked Gayle Gruenberg of Let’s Get Organized (LGOrganized.com) to share some thoughts on how to approach the task of decluttering and preparing for the eventual move to a smaller residence. She mentions a number of tips, including:
Have a plan. She suggests giving yourself a year to avoid making decisions in a crisis. Even if selling is not on the horizon, you will benefit from having less stuff cluttering your home. “You don’t know when unforeseen circumstances cause you to sell before you had planned,” she added. “Better to have already worked through the decluttering project when you had the time and energy.”
Be realistic. What do you really need and use? Why are you saving all of this stuff? Many people have great difficulty throwing out old mementos, birthday cards and souvenirs from memorable times of people and activities from their youth. “If you decide to let go of something,” Gruenberg explained, “you’re not letting go of the person, memory or experience. You’re just letting go of the item. The memory is always there. Take pictures of cards you might want to remember.”
She highlighted the 80/20 rule: People tend to use 20% of their stuff 80% of the time. “Do you want to be beholden to your stuff or out there making new memories? You have to decide to decide. It can cost a lot of money to store and protect these items.” She said that certain people come to her with the conviction to declutter while others have difficulty doing so.
Start early. As mentioned above, Gruenberg encourages people to start early. Start with big items and things that tend to be easiest, like clothing, books and stuff that’s been in the attic for the last 20 years. There are organizations that will take items and give you a charitable donation. Vietnam Vets is one option (1-973-278-6021 and https://pickupplease.org/). They come to the house, take the items away as long as one person can carry each item, and leave a receipt. (Discuss with your CPA any tax benefits you may be able to claim.)
Going through smaller items, like greeting cards and photos, will take longer. She suggests taking photos out of the frames and taking pictures of them so that you can have digital access to them at any time. I think I will keep one box of the originals because I’m old school, but I agree with the frames idea.
Talk with family and friends. Especially children. They may have feelings about losing the family home. It’s important to get them on board early or at least help them understand why you’re making this decision. It’s also important that they have time to go through their old rooms and decide what to do with their old clothes, books, trophies and mementos from their childhood. They may not have felt a need to go through them because they were safe and sound in their rooms, but now they may be holding you up from your process. Give your children a deadline so they understand they have to make decisions. Also, give them time to absorb the loss they will feel, especially since it is not their decision that is causing this change.
Put your affairs in order. Gruenberg’s role is not just to throw things out but to organize your life. At our age, that is wise regardless of whether you’re downsizing or not. You’d be surprised at how many things you will find that you thought had been lost. Gruenberg suggests making a Grab and Go box of important documents. Have all of your important docs, login info and IDs in one place so that others who may need to care for you will have easy access.
Consider the cost. It’s easy to avoid the hard decisions if you’re just going to place items in storage units, but it can be expensive. Too often, when people plan this as a temporary option, they find that after a lengthy period of time they just throw those items away. Go back to the earlier paragraph. Decide to decide and try to weed through items this one time so you don’t spend money and then have to do it again.
Purge. Shred and recycle. Your town likely has a free shredding day. Find out when it is and plan around it. It’s quick and easy. Gruenberg also offers a value-added service to her clients: She collects their documents to be shredded in a large bin and then calls a shredding company when the bin is full. Donate items. It won’t be as easy as you think, and you will be surprised at what charities won’t accept. Gruenberg can help with the names of charities in addition to those noted above. Libraries typically will accept books.
Shaimos will likely cost you money to give away. Aryeh Wiener has helped many people ([email protected]). He might pay for some of the items you give him, but there is likely a cost to address pure shaimos. Another source is Capital Seforim in Monsey (https://capitol-seforim.edan.io/).
Estate sales. If you have furniture, dishes and other items you hope to sell, you can engage an estate salesperson. Typically, they will promote the sale to their database for several days. They will likely want discretion to sell at whatever price they can secure, and as the sale winds down they will drop the prices. They take a portion of the proceeds, which at times can be negotiated. Expect 30-50%. You can typically designate minimum prices for some items, but some estate sales firms truly want discretion. We will discuss this topic and storage in more depth in a future article.
So, open the first closet door, the first drawer, the first cabinet, and start the process. By focusing on one item at a time, the job won’t seem so overwhelming. Maybe you’ll find that long-lost item you thought was gone forever. However, you will surely find one thing: empty space. If and when you do sell, this will make moving so much easier.
David Siegel is a vice president of mortgage lending with Guaranteed Rate Affinity (GRA), a leading national retail mortgage lender. He has over 15 years of experience at both major banks and mortgage bankers and understands the guidelines of different lenders to help direct his customers to the best loan type for their needs. David will help you find the right choice for you. He is located at 16 Arcadian Avenue 3rd Floor, Unit C-6, Paramus, NJ 07652. Contact him via email [email protected] phone 201-725-9527.NMLS 277243 Guaranteed Rate Affinity NMLS 1598647 Equal Housing Lender.
For licensing, go to nmlsconsumeraccess.org, 16 Arcadian Avenue 3rd Floor, UnitC-6, Paramus, NJ, 07652. Licensed by the NJ Dept. of Banking and Insurance. Licensed Mortgage Banker- N.Y.S. Banking Department
By David Siegel