How to ease the task of downsizing

Moving from a single-family home to a condo or apartment can be stressful for empty-nesters who must purge their belongings

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It’s a prospect that many homeowners dread. The thought of downsizing from a single-family home into a condominium or apartment can be daunting and stressful.

“Empty nesters who have been in their homes for several decades tend to have a lot of stuff,” says Samara Wigdor, a real estate broker with Royal Lepage Heritage in Westmount. “Sometimes, they have to make peace with the idea of downsizing because it can be overwhelming. They have so many beautiful memories tied up in their homes.”

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As a broker who helps clients downsize, Wigdor understands that it’s an emotional transition that takes them from homes where they may have raised families to smaller, unfamiliar spaces. She says the process—from her first contact with her clients to the move—can take several years. And that’s fine, she adds, because downsizing should never be rushed.

The first question downsizers should ponder, she says, is where they want to move. “Depending on their financial situation, they can buy or rent,” Wigdor says. “What is more important? Location, lower condo fees, amenities? You narrow it down based on lifestyle and budget.”

One misconception that owners of single-family homes may have is that moving into a smaller space will enable them to pocket the extra money from the sale of their property. However, downsizing to a costlier location—such as moving into the city from a suburb—can cancel out those monetary gains. “You may end up paying the same or more for less space if you move into a more upscale area,” Wigdor says. “It’s not such a problem when you stay in the same area.”

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Given the stress of downsizing, many homeowners turn to professional organizers to manage the process. Tamara Elias Liebmann, a Montreal professional organizer and owner of A Simplified Life, works with empty-nesters to reduce their belongings before they make the move. Parting with beloved items can create anxiety for many. “Everyone has something that is incredibly important to them,” she says. “My approach is that what’s special to someone stays with that person, whether it’s a painting, photos, music collection or china.”

Elias Liebmann says that many empty nesters discover that their children don’t want those china collections and antiques that they’ve cherished, even if they’re of high quality. “So I have lists of places to donate to,” she says.

donation boxes
It’s important to declutter and purge your belongings when moving to a smaller space. – GETTY IMAGES

The process of parting with possessions is fraught with emotion, so this organizer assures her clients that “anything they love is coming with them.” She recalls one homeowner who had a “massive painting that occupied a wall and was moving to a condo. We kept the painting by finding space for it.”

But when there are simply too many possessions to transfer to a smaller space, she employs several techniques to help her clients purge. “With clothing, for instance, we create three piles: yes, no and maybe,” Elias Liebmann says. “Whatever decision doesn’t take time or create stress is a ‘yes.’ We deal with the ‘maybes’ last. The ‘no’ pile can be either donated, sold, recycled or given to someone they know.”

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Elias Liebmann says that many possessions hold memories for her clients. “Sometimes, they need to hold an item and tell a story about it. Sometimes, after holding it, they say ‘that’s nice’ and then let it go.”

She advises her clients who are unable to take certain possessions to the new home to photograph them and save the pictures in a memory book.

For many, there is an emotional wrench to parting with belongings. However, Elias Liebmann says, the process is easier if people donate their excess possessions to others in need, such as refugees.

Like Samara Wigdor, she counsels her clients to take their time. “It can be done in tiny increments,” she says. “In a kitchen, for example, you start with one drawer. If you can do more, you continue. The idea is to cause the least stress possible.”

Measuring floor space in a new home can inform homeowners of how many possessions the new space can accommodate. And they can have a sense of continuity by arranging items in a way that’s similar to the home they’re leaving, Elias Liebmann says.

She counsels against putting excess belongings into storage units. “If you do that, you’ll end up paying twice to move the stuff. Financially, it makes more sense of get rid of stuff before you move.”

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Samara Wigdor says one way to decide on what to discard is to assess how much use an item gets. “If you didn’t use something within the previous 12 months, get rid of it,” she says. “And when you have trouble parting with something, visualize it helping someone in need. Tell yourself that it has served its purpose for you.”

When the process of downsizing is not rushed, she says, her clients are more able to make decisions that serve them well. “Flexibility is the best negotiation tool you can have when you’re buying a property.  I can best serve my clients when they agree to meet with me early in the process and show me their current lifestyle.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division.

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