Downsizing Series: Sorting Your Life

Elizabeth Marcano

Downsizing Series: Sorting Your Life

What are you waiting for?

Downsizing can seem like a daunting prospect.  Sorting your life with a lifetime of mementos and memories, and the stress of finding a new home and moving, can make people delay a decision that can make your golden years easier, less stressful and more fun.  Instead of feeling isolated and exhausted with keeping up with a large house, downsizing allows you to find a more manageable space closer to friends, family and activities you love.  But how to get from one place to the other?

Here’s the secret: it doesn’t have to happen all at once! It can be a step by step process that leads from clutter and chaos to a happier and more manageable life. In this series, we hope to give you concrete advice for how to prepare for and accomplish a low-stress downsizing process.
Let’s start with: sorting your life! Taking the time to look at all of your possessions and make decisions on what is important is popular recently for a reason. Taking the clutter and debris from your life relieves stress and makes moving exponentially easier. But you don’t have to wait until right before you move! In fact, the more time you give yourself, the less stressful it is.
First step:
Collect your supplies.  A roll of painter’s tape, a sharpie, and a computer or notebook will be your best friend in the sorting process. The tape and sharpie marker will both help you delineate your sorting areas, but label anything you decide to store (or if you are moving, label everything to help with the unpacking process).

The computer or notebook will help you create an inventory of your items.  Have you ever wondered, “Do I have [random item]?” or “Where did I store [important thing]?”  In the sorting process, the goal is to eventually touch every item you own.  Why not create an inventory that will help you with locating and organizing in the future at the same time?
Second step:
Choose and prepare your sorting space.  Find an open space that will hold both your current batch of unsorted items and your sorted stacks. Favorite spaces for this are large tables, basements, and guest rooms.  Designate a space where you will bring the items to be sorted, and then use your painters tape to create the sorted areas- Keep/Pack (depending if you are moving soon or not), Sell, Donate, and Dispose.
Keep / Pack:
If you are moving soon, these are the items that will go right into boxes.  You can have moving supplies like boxes, bubble wrap and styrofoam ready for the items in this category.  If moving isn’t going to be immediate, these items will be the items returning to the room, closet or storage area where all of the items in the current sorting batch came from.
These are items that you no longer want or need and that you believe have enough value to take the time to sell.  With online resources like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, many items can be sold, but it is up to you to determine if selling is worth the time it would take.  If you are not familiar with these resources, this is a great job for a younger family member- and giving them a percentage of what they sell is sure to be a great motivation to assist.
If you have items that you believe are more valuable, old collectibles and antiques, perhaps, finding a local appraiser to help appraise and sell these items could be worth your time.  Your realtor could be a great resource to find reputable local appraisers for the specific items that you possess.
These are gently used items such as clothing, furniture, and toys that could go on to have new life in another home. These are items that would probably not be worth the time to sell, or that you would prefer to donate to a good cause.  And Goodwill and the Salvation Army, while popular, aren’t your only options! Consider donating business clothing to Dress for Success or another charity that empowers women by providing interview clothing, or donating books or toys to your local school or Ronald McDonald House.
Even this pile can be further sorted into Recycle and Dump.  But really give a careful eye to items that you have decided that you want to let go. A former favorite threadbare t-shirt or cracked mug may have meant a lot to you, but as much as you might like to donate it, charities won’t sell unusable items. And many charities spend precious time and resources disposing of items that are donated with the best intentions, but are in no shape to go to a new owner.

Unfortunately, many items of fast fashion (think clothing from Zara, H&M, Forever 21, etc.) fall in this category and aren’t suitable for donation. But some stores are starting recycling programs for their clothing.  Check out the store website to see if this is an option.
Third Step:

Let the sorting begin! The task of sorting your life may seem enormous, so make it easier by breaking it down into manageable pieces.  If you have a smaller home, you could decide to go room by room. Or if you have a larger home, or less time per sorting session, you could break it down further- only one closet or one cabinet or one chest of drawers at a time until a room is complete.

If you start this task to prepare your house for sale, the first items to sort and pack are the items that make your house personal. Items like family photos, souvenirs, trophies, and collectibles.  Though important to you, they can prevent buyers from imagining themselves in the home, a crucial step toward putting in an offer. Packing personal items away first allows your home to show buyers what it could be for them.

Strategies for sorting:

As you are sorting your life, ask yourself, “Does this have emotional value to me? Do I have more than one? Do I use this? Or is this an aspirational item?”  Aspirational items are things we get because we think we will use them, or want to be the type of person who will use them (kitchen gadgets, or exercise items, for example) but end up collecting dust because we never use them.

For items with emotional value, there are a couple strategies.  There are absolutely items you will keep. But if you are unsure, think “Would a picture of this item be enough to evoke the memory? Is it worth the effort it takes to store or move it?” If you are still unsure, give yourself time.  You can have a TBD box- a box of things that wait to be sorted until the end.  After making many other decisions, you might find that it is much easier to let go of items that you couldn’t at the beginning.

Also, beware of decision fatigue!  Be sure to take breaks, and break the task down further if necessary.  If you catch yourself getting angry or frustrated, take a break!  This is where giving yourself plenty of time comes in handy.  Sorting your life, going through a few years, never mind a lifetime’s, worth of accumulated items is a very emotional task for many people.  Going slow and being mindful will make the task much less stressful.

And don’t forget your inventory!  Everything you decide to keep, make a note in your notebook or computer spreadsheet, of what it is and where it is going- either in your home or in a box to go to your future home.  Your future self will thank you!

End Goal:

At the end of the task of sorting your life, hopefully you will feel a huge weight has been lifted from your home- literally!  If this is close to your move date, you can celebrate the number of items that you will not have to bring to your new home.  You can be sure that your home is ready for staging, and ready to put it’s best face forward for buyers.

If you live in Northern Virginia, Geva & Jane Real Estate has regular events throughout the year with 123Junk that will do some of this work for you! Bring almost anything you don’t want to keep- furniture, clothing, household items, and 123Junk will donate what they can, recycle as much as possible and dispose of the rest, taking the guesswork off of your hands.  Keep an eye on our website for the next event!

As we continue this downsizing series, we will talk about what to do with giving items to family, staging, what to consider when looking for your new home, and more!  If you have any questions, call us at 571.249.4382.

Elizabeth Marcano, Writer for Geva and Jane Real Estate

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