Joyful Downsizing: Five Ways to Mentally Prepare for Downsizing in Retirement

Kim Kubsch

Can less be more? Is it still possible to have a home that you love after purging your long-treasured belongings and significantly downsizing your home? Yes, you can! Here are a few essential steps you can take to make this process easier.

During times of transition, you are already coping with a variety of complex emotions. Paring down your life may feel monumental and overwhelming. Keep in mind, downsizing your life can be great for your lifestyle and potentially easier on your pocketbook too!

1. Express your emotions. Your family home can represent a lifetime of dreams and experiences. As you sort through a lifetime of possessions, give yourself the gift of time to adequately process your feelings and reflect on your most meaningful belongings. It’s only when you can let go of the past that you can prepare yourself for a new future.

2. Getting started is the hardest part. I often work with clients who are overwhelmed at the prospect of moving to a significantly smaller home. They described feeling “paralyzed” at the prospect of sorting through a lifetime of accumulated belongings. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, and professionals like myself as a downsizer and transition facilitator. Once we break through the “paralysis,” we gradually gain momentum. Then we can create a system of sorting belongings in a way that makes sense to us.

3. Sentimental items are difficult to let go of. Objects, photos, and treasures from the past are symbolic of memories that we hold dear. Sometimes we believe that memories are the only thing we have left, so we cling to the “things” that invoke those memories. As a result, parting with family memorabilia can be a challenging process.

4. How to release attachment to material things. Sorting through your belongings can be like a walk down memory lane, a chance to re-visit and savor your family history. Take time to curate your collection of sentimental items and give away what you don’t want to the right people or places. Start early, start small, and don’t try to do it all at once. It can be helpful to share your memories with family or friends, take pictures of your things, record memories in a journal or electronic photo frame, or perhaps even record a video. Your family stories can be passed on in these forms for generations.

5. Don’t feel guilty—be positive. Some people express guilt over letting certain things go. It can be hard to part with a gift from a loved one or toys you have saved over the years for future grandchildren. Giving away items that you always wanted to pass on to your children is tough, especially when they don’t seem interested in any of it. It is time to accept that many of these items just aren’t relevant to them.

Focus on the positives—your life in a smaller space will probably be easier to maintain, and you will likely find that a smaller, uncluttered space will be liberating. While the process of downsizing may be emotional, once it’s done, you can look forward to creating a fresh set of memories and experiences in your newly updated home.