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If you’re like most people, you accumulate possessions as you stay settled in your home. Unless your junk closet overflows, that’s usually not an issue – until you make the decision to downsize for retirement. Although de-cluttering can be an emotional process, most retirees who finish the downsizing process say it’s a liberating experience.

De-cluttering to move from a five-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment is no small task, so it’s best to start early and work in stages so you’re not overwhelmed with a herculean downsizing project. Several strategies can help make the process more manageable.

  1. Take Inventory: You won’t have a clear picture of how much you have to sort – and, in turn, get rid of – until you take inventory of everything in your home. You don’t need an item-by-item list. Instead, group items into manageable units: Kids’ old toys, china and dishware, clothes. Once you understand the amount of possessions you’ll need to shed in your move, it will be much easier.
  2. One-Year Rule: When you begin to evaluate your possessions, note if you’ve used an item in the past year. If you’ve gone a full 12 months without using it, there’s a good chance it’s not really necessary.
  3. Claim, It Take It: You’ll likely need to divest yourself of a lot of furniture and other cherished items. Invite children and grandchildren to visit and place color-coded dots on items they’d like to have. Knowing some of your possessions will end up in family homes can make the decision to get rid of them easier.
  4. Tackle Manageable Amounts: You’re not going to be able to adequately sort and downsize for retirement in a weekend, so plan time accordingly to complete the task. Take on small sections of your home such as a room or a closet, making a clean sweep of each area before you move forward.
  5. Take, Donate or Toss: After your friends and family have taken their possessions and your possessions they want, you’ll still likely have a lot to sort. Start with a frank evaluation of its value and its place in your life, sorting items into three categories. “Take” items come with you to your new life. “Donate” items are still useful, but not with your family; give them to charity so others can enjoy their utility. “Toss” items are items that have outlived their usefulness, and should be trashed or recycled.
  6. Digitize, Digitize, Digitize: Electronic storage can help eliminate much of your physical media without having to sacrifice its content. Scan photographs, scrapbooks and kids’ art to eliminate the need to store them. Books, music and movies are largely available in digital formats, and companies offer digitization services for many media. Keep a copy of your data local on a hard drive, but make sure to store a backup copy off site, such as through Dropbox.com or Amazon cloud storage.
  7. To Store or Not to Store? Public storage can be a tempting solution to your downsizing dilemmas, but it’s typically not sustainable long-term. Storage costs accumulate over the years – often just to hold onto items you don’t need or use.

For many, downsizing for retirement is one of the most difficult parts of starting a new chapter. It’s worth the effort, though: Retirees who successfully downsize typically report feeling free, casting off the weight of their last chapter in life.

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