Retirement often goes hand in hand with downsizing your living quarters, whether that means relocating to a warmer climate retirement community or buying the downtown condo in your present area. In either case, most senior attorneys are faced with the issue of finding a place for all of their “stuff.” It can be difficult to throw away items that represent so many sentiments from the past even when you know there is no room for it where you’re going.

Welcome to the quandary of downsizing. To begin, we’ll go over some of the conventional wisdom. Then I’ll throw in my own two cents based on recent personal experience. (While I’m not quite ready to retire, I did recently downsize since my children are now all launched.)

What the experts say:

  • You have 4 choices for every item: Keep? Chuck? Sell? Donate (don’t forget to keep the receipts)? As you go through them, remember the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of these decisions should be no – brainers. Don’t succumb to the temptation of second and third guessing. The quality of decision-making will not improve and only waste time. Give yourself ten seconds to decide on each item you go through and then move on. Remember this: there is only a minuscule chance of ANY bad consequences from an ill-advised decision. Sure, you may accidentally throw something away that you would have liked to keep, but the reality is that you may not ever notice or care years down the road.
  • And what about the 20% that may not be no-brainers? OK. There really is another choice; “I’m not sure.” But exercise restraint here; don’t abuse it. If you do, 20% will soon be 50% or even 75%. Before you know it, you will have accomplished nothing. Put the “I’m not sure” items in a separate pile and try again later. Practice makes perfect. The second time around should be easier to decide among the other 4 choices and the “I’m not sure” pile will soon be gone.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. Just getting through the basement will likely take days. But you don’t have to do it all at once. Let yourself break it up into a few hour chunks. This way, when you work on it, your entire day will not be ruined and you can still feel a sense of accomplishment. But don’t get lulled into thinking that you’re making progress if you see that your basement still looks the same after 8 chunks of 3 hour intervals. Step up your game. Progress at your present rate will have you ready to move in 10 years.
  • Don’t be afraid to hire an expert. People have hired you in the past because of your expertise. Moving companies have people who provide downsizing advice for a very reasonable cost. They can be especially helpful if one spouse is a pack rat and the other is not, or when dealing with sensitive items in general. A neutral third party is money well spent compared to the expense of potential future marriage counseling.

Personal tips:

  • Both my grandmother and my mother slowly gave away many sentimental items while still alive to their children and grandchildren. This seems to me a better way than having the kids divide up the personal items one by one after passing. This way, you can personally witness the appreciation of the recipient – what’s better than that?
  • For those items you’re not quite ready to give away, get a good idea of who wants what. I remember seeing my grandmother’s look of content and accomplishment when she showed me the labels on pictures, nicknacks, and the like, of who will be getting what in her small apartment. She knew that all of her belongings would end up in a worthy home, and that meant the world to her.
  • My in-laws, unfortunately, took none of this advice and literally and figuratively left a mess for the children clean up. This, of course, provides even more incentive to practice what I am preaching. I didn’t think it was fair to have to deal with my in-laws’ mess and want to do better for my own children’s sake.
  • Finally, for those items that you remain unsure about, pack it up in boxes and place them in storage. Preferably the type of storage that you have to pay for. Chances are good that after paying a few months of those bills, you’ll realize that you are wasting your money which will give you the kick you need to finally dispose of those tough items.

Downsizing your home may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these simple tips and you’ll be happily enjoying a clutter-free home in no time.