Rightsizing 101

The process of rightsizing can happen at various life stages—before going off to college, while buying a first home, or when combining households with a spouse or life partner. Many people consider the choice to rightsize as they get older and start to think more critically about the type of lifestyle that best fits their desires going forward.

To learn more, we sat down Heidi Lane, Certified Senior Move Manager with Discover Goodwill, to discuss the best practices for rightsizing after years of accumulating belongings in a family home.

How does rightsizing differ from downsizing?

Downsizing usually refers to simply reducing your belongings in order to fit everything you own into a smaller space.  Rightsizing comes into play when you’re looking to optimize your living situation. If you currently live in a five-bedroom house, you are most likely rightsized for a five-bedroom house. However, when you move from that house into a two-bedroom apartment you need to rightsize your belongings for that two-bedroom apartment.

How far in advance of a move should someone start rightsizing?

Getting started is different for everyone, but typically we suggest you start as soon as you know that change is coming. The more notice you have, the more time you can take and the less stressful the process will be.

In order to keep as much control over your move as possible, we always recommend starting the process while you’re up for the challenge. The recommended timing for preparation also depends on how much “stuff” you have. If, for example, you live in a 5,000-square foot house that’s packed to the gills and you’ve been there 30, 40, or 50+ years, you should probably start the rightsizing process 3-6 months in advance. In contrast, if you’ve already started making changes to rightsize your home over the past several years prior to a move, you might only need 2–4 weeks to prepare.

What type of planning is involved with rightsizing?

 The type of planning involved really depends on each individual’s unique situation. For example, if you’re moving into a space that is significantly smaller, we make a floor plan to a ¼-inch scale, measure all the furniture you want to take with you, and lay it out on something we call a magnet book. This allows you to rearrange the magnets as you see fit without having to do it in person, making multiple trips to remove items don’t fit in the new place.

After we’ve settled on a furniture layout, we work on sorting through belongings to make sure you have what you need and want. From there, we work to sort through items to be consigned, donated or thrown away, and items that you are keeping.

What methods do you recommend for individuals who are interested in rightsizing?

We recommend starting with the easiest area of the house first. For many homeowners we start with the kitchen, because no one needs eight spatulas, and the kitchen usually contains items that don’t typically have a sentimental value and are therefore easier to get rid of. Next up would be linen closets or bathrooms, because sheets and towels are easy to sort, and when you move into a space with fewer bedrooms and fewer inhabitants, you really only need a couple of sets.

What we don’t recommend doing is starting in an area that’s emotionally overwhelming, such as the attic or crawl space that’s full of your children’s things from when they were young. That is simply too overwhelming and can dissuade anyone from moving forward with the process. If you tackle the easiest areas of the home first and then move on to the more challenging areas, you can build up confidence in your sorting process, which can help you push through the more difficult spaces later.

What advice can you offer for someone struggling with letting go of items?

 We encourage you to start by identifying the must-have items, like the bed, dresser, nightstand, and other living essentials. Then you move to the things that are most precious to you, like your mother’s china set or quilts that she made. Then, you tackle everything else.

We find that many people have formed collections over the years—like porcelain dolls, model cars, stamps, etc. In these cases, we always suggest making a memory book. Take pictures of the items and write short paragraph about them including the item’s age, significance, where and when you received it, and anything else you want to remember. There are companies that specialize in turning your pictures and comments into beautiful hardbound books, so that instead of a massive collection of model trains boxes in the attic, you have an elegant coffee table book you can flip through on a regular basis.

Another recommendation is bestowing legacy gifts sooner than later. Legacy gifts are things you would usually leave to someone in your will. However, to assist with the rightsizing process and to create a memory for you and your loved one, you can consider gifting these items earlier than originally planned.

When, if ever, should someone consider a storage unit? Or does that go against the purpose of rightsizing?

We don’t encourage you to rely on storage units unless there’s a case in which you need a temporary space to store items that will eventually be rehomed with a friend or family member. For example, we worked with a family whose son was living overseas at the time of their move and wouldn’t be able to collect the items that he was receiving from them until a year after they sold their home. In this case, a storage unit was a perfect solution for their temporary problem.

The process of rightsizing involves a conscious choice to create a lifestyle that aligns with your values and priorities. If you’re considering a change and want to learn more about the benefits that independent living could offer, schedule a tour today.

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