How to handle your emotions when downsizing your home

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Key insights

  • Downsizing your family home can be emotionally complex. Be sure not to rush the process.
  • Whether you’re overly sentimental or tend to throw away everything in sight, it’s important to pair up with your opposite to balance your efforts.
  • Part of downsizing is letting go. Even if your loved ones can’t take some items with sentimental value, you can still ensure they go to a loving home.

Whether you’re downsizing to an active 55+ community or laid back one-level living, making the decision to leave your home after years (or even decades) can be emotional. Follow these insights and resources from downsizing experts as you navigate both the emotions and logistics of downsizing.

Give yourself time to let go

Downsizing experts Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand agree that the main regret from those who have downsized was that they felt too rushed. If you’re planning to sell your home in the upcoming months or even a year from now, you’ll want to start the process of downsizing now.

Set aside one weekend a month to tackle a different room or area in your home, knowing that any storage spaces (where you may keep everything from report cards to rarely used heirlooms) may take the longest to tackle. If you need an easy win, the bathroom and family room tend to house the least emotional clutter. Be gone, years of shampoo samples! We won’t miss you, M*A*S*H reruns on VHS!

Pair up with a “keeper” or “tosser”

Most of us tend to fit into two categories when it comes to decluttering:

  • Keepers are overly sentimental, and they often keep too many items because of perceived emotional connections.
  • Tossers are overly practical, and they throw away items without considering the emotional value they may have to others.

You probably know which type of declutterer you are. So as you downsize the rooms with the highest number of emotionally valuable items, be sure to pair yourself with your natural opposite. Remember, you both bring value to the process. Keepers may slow things down, but they ensure that nothing important is tossed out. Tossers keep you on task, but may throw away Granny’s priceless candlesticks because they seem unfashionable.

Create five piles — no exceptions!

As you move from room to room, it’s important that you separate items into five distinct categories:

  1. Keep: Items to keep and bring with you to your new space.
  2. Gift: Items you can’t keep, but you hope will remain in the family.
  3. Sell: Items with value that can be sold to consignment stores, or on Facebook Marketplace or eBay.
  4. Donate: Items with value that should be donated.
  5. Discard: Items with no value that should be thrown away.

Have the hard conversations early

It’s important to know in advance that your children or heirs apparent may not want to keep the items you’ve designated in Category 2. To ensure you find the right home for these objects, ask your children, grandchildren or other friends early on if they’d like them.

If you can’t find anyone to take something that bears a lot of meaning to you, consider that donating the items may be better for everyone involved. While it may seem odd to give away the trunk your grandfather traveled over with from Ireland, it’s surely better for it to be cherished by a stranger than to be stuffed in an attic corner by a family member who sees no use for it.

And keep in mind that if you are struggling to find a home for priceless local art, you’re not alone. As the Minnesota Historical Society told The New York Times, they are seeing a surge of donated artwork from baby boomers who are downsizing.

If you are overwhelmed by the number of items you plan to donate, consider hiring a company like Empty the Nest. This local organization takes everything you leave behind — from furniture to non-perishable food — and repurposes it to ensure those belongings avoid the landfill.

Prepare for pricing and negotiations

Of course, the act of downsizing isn’t only about finding new homes for your old possessions. It’s also about the act of saying goodbye to a home you may still love. It’s normal to feel conflicted when it comes to putting a price on your property, or in accepting what you deem to be a fair offer.

There’s no way to completely remove your emotions from this seller phase. But by having open conversations with your REALTOR®, you can prepare yourself and know what to expect:

  • Listing price: Your Realtor will provide you “comps,” which offer the prices of nearby, comparable properties that have recently been listed or sold in your area. From these numbers, you and your agent can compare your home’s condition and location, and come up with a sales price that makes you comfortable (and excited).
  • Timeline to reduction: While many homes in our market are selling quickly, there is no guarantee that your home will follow a swift timeline. Prior to listing, have an open conversation with your Realtor about how long you will keep your home listed at its original price before making a reduction.
  • Multiple offers or negotiations: Whether you’re lucky enough to get multiple offers, or you need to negotiate a counteroffer to one set of buyers, there will likely be a back-and-forth process any time there is interest in your property. By knowing in advance what to expect, you can prepare your emotions and work to keep your nerves calm as your agent negotiates on your behalf.
  • The path to closing: Once you accept an offer on your home, it will be inspected and appraised in preparation for closing. Your agent will explain each of these steps and their implications as the appointments are scheduled.

Prepare yourself for the home selling process by downloading our "Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Home." It’s an approachable, comprehensive overview of everything you've ever wanted to know about the selling process, but didn't know to ask.

Ready to sell?

Getting rid of your cherished belongings is the first difficult step of downsizing. If you’re ready to sell your longtime family home, be sure to work with a local expert who understands that the process may be emotionally complex. Contact Edina Realty or your agent to start down the path of downsizing.

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