7 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Downsizing

Mistake #1: Underestimating how much stuff you have. 

After years—or even decades—of living in the same home, it is easy to accumulate lots of, ahem, "stuff." All that stuff we buy can quickly fill closets, garages, attics and storage units.  

We all love all our stuff...until it comes time to move or downsize.  

I always insist on looking at all the nooks and crannies of a house prior to working with a client on a downsize. I'm not trying to be nosey. It is simply because chances are, you don’t realize how much stuff is tucked away in the back of the closet or a corner of the attic.  

If you are preparing to downsize, take time to go room by room and look into each closet, drawer and cabinet to get a clear picture of everything you have to pack, donate, store or sell.  

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that one in four homes with a two-car garage don’t park their cars in it. 

Mistake #2: Saying: “I’ll see if it fits once I get to the new place.”  (AKA: Not downsizing enough stuff prior to moving).  

It can be difficult to part with our possessions. The process of sorting and letting go of things can be emotional, especially if you attach sentimental value to particular objects {See related Songbird Story: Selective Sentimental Value}. While some things are easy to let go of, other items may make their way into a murky “maybe” pile. This is totally normal and expected. It only becomes a problem when the “maybe” pile morphs into the “keep” pile with the rationale of: “I’ll see if it fits once I get to the new place.”  

Unfortunately, many things that clients insist on taking with them when downsizing to see “if they fit”.... don’t actually fit. That means packing and moving all of those end tables, kitchen gadgets and knickknacks twice: first they’re packed and moved to the new home; then they’re re-packed and left to clutter your new home before being moved again—either to be donated or to be put in storage. Once you add up the time and effort required to “see if it fits once I get to the new place” it becomes a costly endeavor—especially if you are hiring people to help you.  

If you plan to downsize, do as much purging as possible before you move, not after. This is definitely one of the biggest mistakes people make when moving to a smaller home: they regret not purging more stuff. In all the years doing this work, I can’t recall a single client who thought they downsized too many things.  

Learn how to achieve a downsizing double win

Mistake #3: Failing to create a floor plan of your new space prior to moving.  

Your furniture may fit perfectly in your current home, but will that buffet table fit on the wall without overlapping the door frame at the new place?  Is that big bookshelf going to block part of the window or obscure the light switch? Are you sure the hallway is wide enough for that entry table? Before you go to the effort and expense of moving your existing furniture to your downsized home, measure each piece of furniture you plan to take and map out where each piece will “live” in your new space. Without a detailed floor plan, it is easy to make your space feel cramped or cluttered, especially if you have a lot of large furniture and décor. Don’t fall into the “I’ll see if it fits once we’re in the new place” trap (see Mistake #2 above). If your furniture doesn’t fit in the floor plan, it may be time to let it go.  

Mistake #4: Not taking note of the number of cabinets and drawers of your new home.  

Your current kitchen has 8 lower cabinets and 10 large drawers. The kitchen in your new home has 5 lower cabinets and 7 medium-sized drawers. It should not be a surprise that not all of your serving bowls and kitchen gadgets are going to fit in your downsized home...yet a surprising number of people miscalculate or totally overlook this fact when packing.  

I get it. It's easy to dump all the contents of a drawer into a moving box. What’s not easy, however, is finding a place to put all that stuff once you open up that box in your new place. Before you start packing, be sure to note how many drawers (and cabinets and closets) you have and take time to pare down the contents before you move.  

Easy things to purge include any pantry items that have expired and any duplicate kitchen items, such as spatulas, towels, hot pads, and serving dishes. Be realistic about how many place settings you really need. Let go of the things you rarely, if ever, use. If you don’t sort through things before you move, your drawers will fill fast and you’re going to be frustrated when it comes time to unpack.  

Mistake #5: Miscalculating how much time it takes to move.  

Whenever you move, and especially when you downsize, it takes a considerable amount of time to sort, donate, sell, dispose, store or pack each item in your home. 

When creating your moving timeline, be sure to budget in some buffer time. Prepare for a few detours down memory lane as you sort through your things.  

If you are a do-it-yourself-er, be sure to budget in the time—and the number of trips it may take--to drop off things you aren’t taking with you. And don’t forget that electronic waste and household hazardous waste have special disposal requirements that often involve specific drop off times and locations. Once you calculate how much time and effort it will actually take to do it all: ask yourself if you have enough energy and bandwidth or if it would be beneficial to enlist the help of a professional downsizing company like Songbird Transitions.  


Mistake #6: Not having enough support for your downsize. 

If you are accustomed to being fairly self-sufficient, it can be tempting to want to tackle a downsize all by yourself. But unless you are highly disciplined and have a long lead time prior to your move, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed, distracted, or off track by making one or more of the mistakes above.  

Enlisting the help of a supportive family member, trusted friend or professional downsizing company can make all the difference in the world when it comes to moving.  

Whether you get help to pack boxes, draw a floor plan, or simply support you while sorting what to keep and what to let go, don’t be afraid to ask for support. (P.S. This is Songbird’s specialty!) 

Mistake #7: Not scheduling some down time after your move is complete. 

Moving is tiring at any age, but it becomes increasingly exhausting as we get older. It is important to take some time to rest and recover after a move—even if you hired someone else to do all the heavy lifting! Moving to a new place is exhilarating...but it can also be emotionally exhausting. Set aside some time and space after the move is complete to unwind and relax and enjoy your new, downsized home!  

If you are ready to downsize, consider calling in a professional to assist you. Songbird Transitions specializes in helping older adults downsize and move into senior living communities and smaller homes. Our goal is to make the transition into your new space as smooth and stress-free as possible. If you are in Central Ohio, contact us for a free consultation

If you live elsewhere in the country, consider Downsizing Done Right, our comprehensive toolkit that includes step-by-step downsizing videos, a resource book plus a Q&A session with Songbird.

For personalized downsizing consulting and coaching services, please book a Songbird Support session.

Discover more downsizing resources from Songbird Transitions


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