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How to Downsize Your Home: 13 Tips to Declutter and Get Moving (to Your New Home)

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If the kids have all left the nest or you’re just tired of all of the upkeep on a large house, you may be thinking about how to downsize your home. That may sound easier than it actually is though, especially if you’ve been in the same home for a long time.

Whether it’s learning how to declutter or the process of moving from one place to another, we’ll discuss some ways to make the home downsizing process flow more smoothly.

What is downsizing a home?

Downsizing a home is when you reduce the amount of stuff you currently have in your home in order to eventually move from a large home to a smaller home. The process often starts by decluttering your home and figuring out what belongings fill the space you have.

In some cases, your current home may be downsized simply by clearing the items that you no longer use or need. The ultimate goal of downsizing is typically to get used to living with less square footage. However, before you start clearing out your closets and buying storage bins, you need to answer some initial questions about why you want to downsize your home.

What’s your downsizing “why?”

Take some time to honestly ask yourself why you want to downsize. It may help prevent you from tackling too many downsizing projects at once.

  • Do you need to save money? Big homes usually come with big repair bills and monthly payments. A smaller home may give you more money at the end of your month, and allow you to stash more money away for emergency savings or retirement.
  • Is your space cramped? Sometimes downsizing is just about having too many things packed into the space you have. Maybe it’s time to trade in the huge sectional couch for a small sofa and loveseat. Or you might need to go through all the boxes stacked to the ceiling to see what’s in them, and more importantly, whether you should keep any of it.
  • Should you convert kids rooms to guest rooms? Maybe you just need a new color scheme and to retire the teenager furniture for something that works as a guest room or office.
  • Are you getting a divorce? If you can’t afford the payment on the home you lived in when you were married, it makes sense to sell the home and use the money to buy a home within your budget.
  • Is the space safe for you? Aging homeowners may find a large home more challenging in which to get around. In addition, maintaining a larger home is more expensive, making it a financial burden for seniors living on fixed incomes.

How to downsize your current home

Knowing tips for decluttering and downsizing will help keep the process organized. Remember, it took years to fill your home with the belongings you have, so it may take awhile to go through everything you have to decide what you’ll do with it.

1. Start now

If your home could compete in a hoarder reality show or you’d like to park both cars in your garage, start sooner rather than later. Giving yourself weeks and months to sort through your house will help you get into a groove and avoid tossing something you’ll miss later.

2. Learn how to declutter

If you’re not sure where to start, try some of these “minimalist” tips.

  • Give one item away each day. With 365 days in a year, you could make headway faster than you realize.
  • Speed fill a trash bag. Grab your stopwatch and the nearest pile of stuff and start filling the bag. Once it’s done, head straight to your local charity’s donation drop-off.
  • Try the reverse-direction clothes hanger trick. Hang all the clothes in your closet backwards, and only correct them when you wear them. Get rid of the ones that are still reversed after a month or two.
  • Share your before and after photos on social media. Pick a space, and post the before and after pics in your feed as you clear it out. You’ll see your progress and who knows – maybe your story will go viral.
  • Give the four-box method a shot. Label four boxes as trash, donate, keep or store. Each day, make sure one thing goes into each box. Speed things up by increasing the number of items that go into each box until you fill them up, then start over.

3. Take an inventory of what you have

Once you start decluttering, you’ll probably see a pattern to the items you plan to keep and those you plan to get rid of. That will make it easier to start making an inventory list room by room.

You may be surprised by how many duplicates and unused items you have – that extra non-stick pan hidden behind the crockpot you got a few birthdays ago, or the popcorn popper that you haven’t used in years because you microwave your popcorn these days.

4. Have a plan for getting rid of things

Sort your belongings in four piles, or better yet try the four-box method with the following categories: keep, trash, donate or store.

  • Keep. Your keep box is for those items you know without thinking you’ll be hanging onto. Make sure you clearly label this box so you don’t inadvertently send it with the donation box.
  • Trash. There should be no “maybes” in the trash pile. You know these items are done, and you may want to make it a habit to add the trash box items to your regular garbage pick-up bins to avoid the temptation to go back in the box and second-guess what you’re throwing out.
  • Donate. Whether it’s Goodwill or your favorite church charity, the donate box should be clearly marked.
  • Store. If you don’t have the heart to get rid of some belongings, give them a new home in storage. You may find the emotional pull you felt for the “store” box wanes after you’ve paid the storage bill for a month or two.

THINGS TO KNOW

There are a number of creative ways to convert old clothes or photos to thoughtful gifts that can be passed down to your kids or grandkids. A quilt created from the swatches of clothes your kids wore growing up may bring a smile on those nights when they get homesick. Photos can be converted to photobooks perfect for a coffee or end table.

5. Sell your extra furniture

Large furniture pieces like hutches and sectional couches may not fit well in a small home, but may fetch a pretty penny if you sell them online. Consider setting aside the sale proceeds to pay for new items that take up less square footage in your home.

If you plan to downsize to a smaller home, check out small-home open houses or model homes to get an idea of the mix of furniture pieces that will fit. You may even want to bring a measuring tape and notepad to keep track of the furniture dimensions you like.

6. Pick your storage options

If you’re just not ready to part with the bulk of your belongings, start looking at storage options in your area. The more space you need, the more you’ll spend. Depending on what you’re storing and where you live, you may need climate-controlled space to preserve items that might be sensitive to weather extremes, which will add to your monthly cost. This is especially important in humid climates – an air conditioned unit might protect your belongings from extreme heat and cold, but a climate-controlled space protects your wood and leather furniture, artwork and other humidity-sensitive items from damage.

7. Take your time

Unless your downsizing needs are urgent, pace yourself with one space or room at a time. If your home is filled with boxes and piles of stuff everywhere, you’re more likely to give up if you try to sort through everything in a short time, rather than if you set a schedule to focus on one room, closet or even just one box at a time. If you’re downsizing due to the death of a spouse, reach out for help from family or friends – it may be especially difficult to make decisions about what to keep if you’re still grieving a loss.

How to downsize before a move to a smaller home

If you need to downsize to a smaller home due to affordability, safety or lifestyle changes, you’ll need to add a few extra items to your downsizing to-do list.

8. Do you have enough equity to sell?

Ask a real estate agent how much it will cost to sell your home to determine if you have enough equity to purchase a smaller home without financing, or with a mortgage and monthly payment you can afford. Use a mortgage calculator to figure out how much you can afford at current mortgage rates.

9. Measure the space in your new home

It might seem obvious, but one way to move your furniture into the “must go” category is to measure your current furniture pieces against the room-size dimensions of a handful of smaller homes you’re interested in. Room count may also help your decisions along – a two-bedroom house needs less furniture than a three- or four-bedroom home.

Formal dining tables, large sectional display hutches or armoires may need to be moved to the donate or store category.

10. Get your current home ready to sell

If you’ve followed the steps above already, your home may be ready to list for sale. That means personal pictures and knick knacks are removed, your closets and storage spaces are organized, empty or at least don’t have clutter and buyers have enough space to picture their belongings in  your home. Some additional tips for selling your home include:

  • Ask someone to do a sniff test. You may be used to the smells in your home, but buyers prefer a fresh new-home scent. Clean carpets and a fresh coat of paint on the walls may help.
  • Light up the space. Open window coverings and turn on lights to give buyers a better idea of the size and space of each room.
  • Clean up the curb appeal. Overgrown grass or weeds and dirty exterior windows may be a red flag of poor maintenance to a buyer, so keep the outside of your home as clean as the inside.

11. Wait to buy new furniture until you move in

Try a minimalist approach to your new home for a little while, using placeholder furniture from your current home to get a feel for the new space. You may need a little extra room in your head to manage the stress of buying and selling a new home at the same time.

12. Get preapproved for a mortgage

If you don’t have enough savings to pay cash for a new home, you’ll need a mortgage preapproval. You may even want to open a small home equity line of credit to cover unexpected new home expenses. Even if your mortgage is smaller, you’ll need to qualify. Here’s a quick refresher of standard loan guidelines:

  • Down payment. Make the largest down payment possible to keep  your payment low.
  • DTI ratio. Lenders divide your total monthly debt by your income before taxes to look at your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. While 43% is the benchmark standard, exceptions may be possible with a large down payment and high credit scores.
  • Credit score. A credit score above 740 will typically get you the lowest rate.
  • Income. You’ll need to provide paystubs and W-2s or tax returns for two years in most cases. If you’re receiving social security or retirement income, the retirement mortgage guidelines may require some extra documents like award letters.

THINGS TO KNOW

Homeowners aged 62 or older may be eligible to buy a new home with a reverse mortgage. Unlike a standard mortgage, there is no monthly payment, but the closing costs are often higher than standard mortgages.

13. Plan your smaller home budget

A smaller home can come with a lower monthly payment. However, if you’re buying a condominium or a home in a neighborhood that’s managed by a homeowners association (HOA), there may be additional monthly ownership costs. Monthly condo and association fees can get expensive quickly, especially if you’re buying in a community with a lot of bonus features like pools, work-out rooms and recreation centers.

Picking the right mortgage for a smaller home

Some small home mortgage financing options include:

Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs). A HELOC is like a credit card secured by your home. You can use the funds and pay them off as you need them, and your payments are based only on the amount you use. A HELOC may come in handy if you find a good deal on new furniture or appliances for your new home, but you don’t have to have cash to pay right away for them.

Home equity loans. If you need a small loan for a short term and prefer the stability of a fixed monthly payment, a home equity loan could do the trick. You’ll get all your funds in a lump sum and make the same payment until the balance is paid off.

Fixed-rate traditional mortgage. If you prefer a 30-year or other set term, a fixed-rate, conventional mortgage may be worth a look. However, you can expect a much higher rate for a small mortgage loan (less than $100,000) because lenders have to mark it up to cover the fixed costs of making the loan. You may be better off with a HELOC or home equity loan if you need to finance $100,000 or less.

Pros and cons of downsizing your home

  Less space to maintain. A smaller space is easier to clean and maintain, which gives you more time to spend on the activities you really enjoy.

  Lower monthly bills. Smaller homes usually come with lower costs for utilities like electricity, gas and water.

  More cash flow for other goals. If you spend less on housing costs, more money is freed up for other financial goals, such as boosting your retirement savings or emergency fund, or paying down debt.

Cons

  Can be overwhelming to get started. The sheer magnitude of what you have to go through, especially if you’ve lived in a home for decades, may cause you to throw in the downsizing towel early.

  Will need to adjust to having fewer square feet. The walls will be a little closer in a smaller home, and you’ll need to stay organized to keep it tidy.

May need to sell your existing home, which can be costly. The cost of selling your home can add up to tens of thousands of dollars subtracted from your sale profits. It also may be hard to find a home in your price range.

 

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