How to Downsize, When to Start and How to Prepare

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Downsizing Couple with Boxes

Every day, a new study is published about the benefits of living a simple life. They say we should strive to have a serene, uncluttered space to inhabit that allows us to focus on accumulating experiences rather than buying goods. Evidently these are words to live by, and wonderful mantras, but for most people faced with downsizing, that simplicity can seem unattainable.

For seniors with a lifetime’s worth of possessions, downsizing can require going through a momentous amount of stuff and all the memories associated with it. However, these attachments to the past and to a way of life, may no longer be compatible with how you want to live in the future. Although many seniors want to keep their homes, for as long as possible, there are good reasons for downsizing. 

The decision to move and downsize from your home, is a big one, but it doesn’t need to be a hardship. Downsizing can be a fun process that actually brings you closer to family and friends, and will bring you peace of mind along the way.

What is Downsizing?

In Downsizing: Confronting Our Possessions in Later LifeDavid J. Ekerdt notes that the term “downsize” only became common in the mid 1970s. Today downsizing means simply the act of reducing a volume of possessions or the size of a home.

Downsizing is one of the most concrete signs that life is changing. It can be an exciting, grief-filled or even a necessary transition but many other things too. What is certain is that downsizing usually comes in a web of emotions and memories. But your stuff should not be seen as an impediment to living how you want. 

Contrary to popular belief, not all seniors see downsizing as a surrender to aging and mortality. In Ekerdt’s book, it says that many seniors have positive feelings and a sense of gratification through the process.

In their retirement years, many seniors do actually edit their belongings periodically. This helps to alleviate the burden of material possessions from their children or to ensure that specific items are passed along to certain relatives or a friend in advance. 

Downsizing Across the Generations

We live in a world in which three generations of seniors co-exist. In the next ten years, there will be more than 10 million more seniors in North America at any given time.

More and more Boomer retirees plan to sell their homes and rent. It alleviates the responsibility of home ownership and frees them for travel and leisure, rather than home maintenance.

Multigenerational living is also becoming more popular. Older children are moving back in after college. Retirees and seniors are choosing to live with their adult children and super-seniors are moving in with their senior or nearly senior children.

A good reason to get ahead of life’s possessions is simply that it makes transitions easier. 

Downsizing across generations

Emotions and Empathy in the Downsizing Process

“Downsizing is not without emotions,” says Rita Wilkins in her TEDxTalk “Downsize Your Life: Why Less is More.” In fact, emotions are a huge part of downsizing. Our possessions literally surround us with memories and are invested with emotional attachments especially when a loved one has been lost.

Downsizing of generational possessions

Downsizing can evoke these compound memories of generations past that span centuries and tap into family history. Going through mementos can be just as adventuresome, which is why many people advocate for including family and friends in the process. When done right, downsizing can bring people together in an incredibly meaningful way.

It is important to be sensitive to the fact that a person might be having an emotional response when assisting the elderly or even when downsizing yourself.

“When you release possessions, you free yourself to look forward,” says Mia Danielle in her book Downsizing: The Five Step Method for Life Transitions Big and Small.

Downsizing Tips

There are many great workbooks and guides to approaching a downsize. Every one of them suggests creating four categories for your items: keep, sell, donate and toss. 

Before you get to that process there are some recommendations for planning and goal setting worth considering. These recommendations will ensure the process of going through your possessions doesn’t actually create more clutter and chaos.

Moving and Downsizing Your Home

It makes sense that decreasing the square footage of your living space also means decreasing the volume of goods. Therefore, divesting one’s self of possessions is necessary in these transitions.

Relocating is also a time that is full of hope and possibility; it promises new beginnings. How do you want to use your new space? What activities do you envision yourself doing there? 

There are three basic timelines for downsizing:

Three Basic Timelines for Downsizing

Anticipatory downsizing allows people to part with possessions that no longer have value or meaning in everyday life. Look at areas of the home that can be cleared out: the back of the closet, the basement or garage.

Home downsizing usually happens when a move is on the horizon. This scenario usually gives people between six weeks and three months to downsize. People sometimes begin the process before they’ve purchased or rented a new home; engaging in a process of getting rid of items they no longer want or need. Alternatively, people might know exactly where they are moving to and can outfit their new space with select items from what they already own, leaving the rest behind.

Post move downsizing takes the pressure off selecting the right possessions. It allows for revision based on lived experience, and informed choices once the new space is occupied. Many people force moving and downsizing to happen simultaneously. However, depending on one’s situation, this can be an unnecessary stress on an already quite rife circumstance.

The New Retirement

Getting old ain’t what it used to be! And that’s a good thing.

According to a study by Edward Jones and Age Wave, 55% of retirees see retirement as a new chapter in life. Happiness and contentment also increase in retirement compared with middle-age where responsibility and work tend to be more central. 

Retirement no longer means the end of work. For two-thirds of respondents, it means choosing the quality and quantity of work that one wants. In fact, the study found that there are four pillars to the new retirement: health, family, purpose and finances. Being healthy means being able to do the things you want to do–often that involves not spending time with house maintenance and upkeep. Financial security also might mean downsizing in order to live within a fixed income for a longer period of time. 



Whatever your circumstances, downsizing is a great way to rid yourself of unwanted items and to prepare for a new reality–whether that’s just a tidy home or a whole new way of life.

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