Downsizing + Moving Tips

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Downsizing + moving tips from empty nesters who sold their family home after 28 years. Information about hiring help, purging, and breathing through the emotions!

dumpster being delivered downsizing + moving tips

After I shared our moving story, I received some emails asking for more details, especially about the cleanout process that I had mentioned, but didn’t elaborate on. At the time, I couldn’t get my thoughts organized enough to actually write about it! Now that life has settled down, I decided to give it a go. What follows are my own personal thoughts, ideas, and advice. Our method may not work for everyone, but hopefully you will take away a nugget or two that will help make your move easier.

Downsizing + Moving Tips

Hire Professional Help

The weekend after our offer on the new house was accepted, my daughter came home to help me figure out everything that needed to be accomplished before the move. After we brainstormed, we made a list. The first and second floors of the house were in good shape, so the list consisted of emptying and cleaning the following spaces:

  • basement
  • attic over garage
  • garden shed

Everything in these three spaces was going to be a.) thrown away b.) donated or c.) put in storage. There were a few things that stayed at the house until the big move, but not much. Due to the fact that we were downsizing, I knew everything in these three spaces would not fit into our new house. Purging was necessary, and I also obtained a storage unit. There were quite a few things that we weren’t ready to part with, but there was no place for them at the new house. So those are the things that went into storage. The bottom line is this: if you are downsizing, you can’t take everything.

After we narrowed down what needed to be done, we turned to Google to find the help we needed. From the very beginning, I was under no illusion that we could accomplish this task without professional help. We found a local business that did basement and garage cleanouts, but they didn’t pack. After striking out a few more times, we hit the jackpot. The business we hired was called Firestorm Movers & Cleanout.

downsizing + moving tips dumpster and moving van in driveway

When I initially spoke to the secretary, I was completely honest, and told her exactly what was involved. I even admitted that I hadn’t been in the attic for years and had no idea what was up there! They provided a dumpster, 4 packers/movers, and moving supplies. I was always available to answer questions and guide the sorting. This cleanout phase took almost two full days.

As they emptied each space, they sorted and packed. They put everything going to storage on one side of the garage, the few pieces going to the new house on the other side, and of course, what we didn’t want went in the dumpster. At the end of the whole process, they moved all the storage items to our storage unit.

We all have budgets, and as always, things need to be prioritized. The cleanout of these three spaces had to be done in a timely manner, so it was placed at the top of our priority list. We thought the pricing was very fair, but the cost will vary depending on where you are located, and what kind of help is available.

downsizing moving tips boxes in garage

It Takes A Village

OK…it doesn’t exactly take a village, but it does take the whole family! I’m 100% sure that our move would not have been successful if it weren’t for the involvement of our two adult children. Our daughter, along with her boyfriend, came home often and helped in countless ways. She kept me organized and was the extra brain I needed. Our son came home (from New Jersey to Ohio) for two long weekends, and what he accomplished was amazing. Our daughter-in-law was a trooper, and I was very grateful she encouraged him to come.

Family help is important. If you have adult children, involve them from the very beginning. Ask their advice, and listen to what they have to say. Even if they aren’t available to physically help, they can offer moral support and guidance. The whole process of downsizing and moving is, at times, overwhelming. It’s nearly impossible to handle everything without help. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but having help makes everything much easier.

If family help isn’t possible, ask your friends. If family and friends aren’t an option, consider making room in your budget to hire a handyman.

installing shiplap in bedroom

Give Yourself Time

I’ve had so many of you write and ask how we got this move accomplished in just two months…and the answer to that is mostly luck and a bit of planning. I talked about the way things fell into place in this blog post, and even after we sold our house, it continued to happen. But if I could do it over again, I would definitely give myself more time.

One thing to take into consideration is the time of year your move will take place. I wanted to be in our new house before Thanksgiving, so that’s a big reason I moved things along so quickly. Looking back, from where I am now, I can see that decision put added pressure on all of us, and it really wasn’t necessary.

When it comes to downsizing + moving tips, a very important thing to plan for is allowing extra time for painting and installations. If your painter says the job will be finished in one week, allow two. Our painters didn’t finish on time, and our stove wasn’t delivered until two days before Thanksgiving! In the end, it all worked out, but there were sure some stressful moments.

shiplap installation over fireplace

Breathe Through The Emotions

Even though I knew our decision to move was the right thing to do, the emotions I felt during the process were varied and many. There’s a line in the song “I’m Movin’ On” by Rascal Flatts that goes like this: “I never dreamed home would end up where I don’t belong.” That’s exactly how I felt, and I had to work through the sadness and guilt.

For a little while, I thought I might be giving up by walking out on a house that had given me so much. I’ve never been one to “cut and run,” but at times leading up to the move, that’s exactly how I felt. The only thing I knew to do was place it all in God’s hands, and by the time we moved, I had worked through everything and the guilt was gone. I was very happy to be handing our house off to a young couple who would care for and love it.

fresh flowers in kitchen sink

It was our turn for a home that required less upkeep, and that better fit the needs of our family. There was absolutely no reason to feel guilty about that, but I had to sort through some baggage to get to that point. The worst thing you can do is push your emotions to the side…so let them come, and just breathe through them.

Thank you for hanging in there and making it to the end. As always, I welcome your comments, especially if you have any downsizing + moving tips of your own.

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  1. What is the wall color? I am looking for a very soft gray. That is beautiful!

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Do you mean the color on the fireplace wall? If yes, I’m afraid I don’t know. That was here when we moved in, but we painted over it!

  2. We are in this process now after 54 years in the same house! It is excruciatingly overwhelming to me. Kids out of state. Even if they were here I cant imagine how they would help, thinking I personally have to go through everything to know where it will ultimately end up. I am 2 months in and have so much more to do. The more I dump the more it seems to multiply. I am not breating through as you say, but crying through the sense of loss and grief. thank you for your input.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Sona…I’m sorry you are having a tough time. Try to look to the future, and life after you move. It will be so much easier, and what you are going through now will be worth it. Plus, you are taking care of things so your kids won’t have to. Keep your chin up! ~Ann

  3. Thank you for your tips on downsizing and moving. I’m in the process of doing the same thing and I’ve found this information to be extremely valuable to me. It’s a big undertaking for sure, but it will definitely be worth it in the end.

  4. Thank you for all this information, suggestions, and help. About three years ago, many, many items in my home were removed without my consent. I was very ill at the time and had no control over what was removed. (They thought they were helping me, they were not!) When I recovered and was able to realize all the things I lost during that time, I was very heartbroken. I have been trying to bring those things back into my home. Not the same things, but similar items. I am almost 80 years old and you gave me a wake up call. I need to rid myself of these things instead of trying to replace them. I am again ill and I know that I need to be downsizing soon. You have great suggestions and I will be following some of your ideas. So thank you very much for letting me see the light!

  5. Thank you for sharing. After a house has been home for “ever” it is very emotional to go through a move. I think that a good thing to keep in mind is that those memories we made we take with us.

  6. Excellent article and much needed. My husband passed away unexpectedly in 2020 and I am now left with a very large home with lots of stuff and no one to help. I definitely need to eliminate clutter so I can eventually move. Do you have any suggestions on how to attack this stuff and what you discovered wasn’t worth keeping?

  7. jeannette says:

    All these comments are so very helpful to me. We downsized 12 years ago now, still not a small house and too big of a property. We are looking at going smaller again and definitely little upkeep outside.

  8. I know downsizing is in my future, but how do you downsize Christmas, Easter and all the items that allow you do make the holidays special. And what about all the dishes and entertaining items? It seems impossible to end that aspect of your life.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Sheila…I think you have to get to the point where letting go of all those things is a good thing. If you aren’t there, I imagine it would be very hard. We were ready for a simpler home, that was easier to take care of. I wanted a smaller space, so I was able to let go of our dining room furniture with no problem. We will still entertain, but in a more casual way. Just take your time, if you can, and wait until it feels right. Good luck!

  9. Hello Ann,
    My husband and I have been in our home for almost 37 years and we are getting ready to do some upgrades again. You said Snowbound is the color on your new fireplace, and I’m assuming the trim. Is that color more in the cream family or more towards the white family. Sometimes Pictures can be deceiving. What is the wall color? I love the combination. Thank you for all your advice on downsizing and moving. I know for us it is the inevitable. We are in our early 70’s. OH, btw, are you going to have your pretty blue front door at your new home? Prayers that you make many new memories and that you will be blesssed in your new home. 🙏🏻

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Paula…the walls in our new home are Snowbound in a satin finish. The trim and fireplace are Snowbound but in semi-gloss. The color is definitely white, but I mix it with ivories and beiges and it looks wonderful. And yes…our door is blue, but a bit lighter shade called Distance by Sherwin Williams. We love it!

  10. Mary Alice Kenley says:

    Ann, thanks so much for these details. I had a full year to pack and plan, so my situation was different. I didn’t know where we were going, but we knew the 3500sf lake house couldn’t remain home for much longer.

    Because my husband had been in ministry, we’d moved a lot, but we always were packed and moved by the church we were going to. This time, we were on our own, because we were retired.

    My key things:
    1. Start in the most remost parts of the house–attic, garage, etc., and take everything to storage as you go.
    2. Keep the boxes small, except for lightweight things like lampshades and bedding. We ended up with 305 boxes, but they were all small.
    3. Keep a spreadsheet on the computer of every single thing you pack. Using the “find” feature keeps you from digging through endless boxes.
    4. Keep a sweet spirit! It was easy to do because I had so much time. I did a couple of garage sales during the process, but still had lots to donate from the new place.

    It’s worth the effort; we love our newer smaller place!

  11. Lucia Donahower says:

    Hi Ann
    Your advice and tips on packing and moving is invaluable!
    Thank you for detailing the entire process.
    I’m sure you will make the new home as comfortable and beautiful as Sutton Place.

  12. I can appreciate everyone’s comments as I’ve read them all. Hubby and I have lived in our second home already 26 years! My how time flies! I’m the one to review house contents periodically and either donate or save for a future garage sale. Nevertheless, hubby is a saver of stuff that is in the basement and in his room….what he’s saving these items for I have no idea. ha If he should die first, I know exactly what will go, and if I should die first, he will be dealing with his stuff because there won’t be that much of mine. lol One other thought to share which is so true……..years ago I helped a friend pack her home in a weekend (spare story). My mantra became if you cannot pack your home in a weekend, there’s too much!! That’s been my new approach since that day! =)

  13. Hello! We moved into our “new to us”home three days ago so we’re in the big middle of boxes and trying to figure out where everything goes. I know we’ll love it as soon as everything is put up. We had one month to pack up and move so Christmas was somewhat absent this year, especially when our daughter and son-in-law came down with Covid these last two weeks. There went our help. However, our grandsons and professional movers got us in this week so what a relief! It’s all good! I just bundled up in our 30° weather and took a walk in our new neighborhood! God has richly blessed us! Happy New Year to all!

  14. You did a great job of moving. sorry the painters let you down. I love Wow-One-Day painters, they do a beautiful job. They come the first day to prep everything, and bring a painter for each room to finish everything with two coats the next day.they are all over the US and Canada.

  15. We knew we would need to move to a one story at some point so when our son’s family moved an hour away we started planning. It took two years before we found the right home which gave us time to decide what really needed to go with us. I sold quite a bit of furniture and household items and used the money to purchase new items that better fit our new house. Focusing on the future helped me get through the emotional goodbye.

    1. I love this “focusing on the future”…wise way to approach it. When we sold the dream home we built and moved into a much older home that needed work, I was depressed. My sister said “you had one dream and now you have a new one” and that helped me. Now I love this home.

  16. Bobbi Palmer says:

    My father in law passed away Christmas Day (he was 98) so we have started the process of cleaning out his house to sell. This has definitely got us thinking about cleaning out our home. We have no intentions of moving but this has showed us we can certainly clean things out so our kids won’t have to. I did a lot of organizing at the start of the pandemic but I now see I can do more, you don’t have to move to clean out.

  17. As I entered my 50’s I started reading about minimalism and began decluttering our home, attic & even the backyard shed that was packed to the rafters. Good thing we did at the time as my husband now has a disability and is unable to help with anything except for some light cooking. We hope to “age in place” but if the house & yard become too much of a hardship in the coming years, or my health changes, we will need to move. My advice is to declutter now while you are in good health, even if you are not planning a move. I am much more content with less things to look after & clutter. It would be much harder to do now if we had waited. Life can change quickly.

  18. Hi Ann, so happy for you! This is never easy and it sounds like everything went well for you! So nice to hear. In looking at your pictures I’m wondering what color paint was used on the shipman fireplace? Beautiful!!!

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Gwen…the color is Snowbound from Sherwin Williams. Happy New Year!

  19. Four years ago we sold our house and moved to an apartment—a wonderful move in every way. I would say to anyone that is considering downsizing to do it sooner than later. The physical demands will become harder, the emotional changes will be more difficult to cope with, and moving while you can be in control is far better than waiting until you HAVE to move! Stuff is just stuff!! And, while some stuff is quite precious and memorable, relationships and the time to spend with family and friends is most important!!

  20. We did the same as you 6 years ago.My husband wanted to retire early so we sold our home in New Jersey and moved to Florida.The process is very overwhelming and stressful the older you get.We did the packing and decluttering ourselves and hired movers.I think it helps if things fall into place which isn’t always the case.I’m still getting rid of things that I thought would fit or that I would use in this house.You always seem to be editing, it’s all a process.

  21. We had to move my dad from his home of over 25 years when he needed to go to a retirement home. This man never threw anything away and what a job!! So as my husband and I age into our 70’s I know that one day too we will need to downsize. I’ve been making small stabs at the process now so later it won’t be so overwhelming. I’ve always said, lots of storage is a blessing and a curse. It allows you to put things out of sight as in your case, the attic. We did a massive clean out of our attic a few years ago. And I want to do even more now. So my advice to anyone listening is begin now. And surprise…your kids don’t want your stuff! LOL. I so understand the emotions of moving..I went through the same thing when we moved to this house. And I’m sure it will be emotional when I move again. Part of life is loss and gain.

    1. It is very true that your children don’t want your stuff! When my father-in-law died, most of his 4 children didn’t want much of what he had, so it was left to my husband and I to deal with. Much was given to thrift stores. It has given me a good basis for decluttering my home too. I just need to get a good crack at it now. My two eldest adult children have recently sold their homes and are moving their families to a tiny home (albeit it large one) and a large caravan so they certainly don’t want my clutter!

  22. In June of 2019 we made the decision to move from San Diego to NE Indiana after I retired. We wanted to live near some family, decrease our cost of living and live in a 4-season environment. On May 1, 2021 at 3:30 pm, we pulled away from the curb in our Penske truck packed with minimal items to carry us through apartment living and our 2 cats. Our mover had packed all our furniture and family heirlooms. In spite of what I considered copious donations to thrift shops and the city dump, we still had stuff! We moved into our new house in NE Indiana on Thanksgiving day. Almost immediately I started a donation box. While I love my family heirlooms I am struggling with a desire for a more simplified home. I have a whole winter ahead of me to sort it all out! And yes, we love living in NE Indiana!

  23. Sue Daugherty says:

    Thank you for this post. We are building our retirement home this year in another state. When the adult kids were all here at Christmas they were all a bit sad this would be their last Christmas in their childhood home but I was thinking thank God. I am ready for a lot less upkeep. I started seriously cleaning out last year and have a running list of tasks to be completed before we list this house for sale. Our timeline has moved up a bit because of the current situation. We had hoped to put this house on the market after our new home was done but the financial reality is we need the money out of this house for the closing on the new one as prices have risen so much. I have faith it will all work out but it does add additional stress to the situation.

  24. Wow! You had lots of changes in your life this past year! Congratulations on your new home! I would like one just like it! We made a rather sudden decision last spring to sell our house to our daughter’s family which meant we needed to find ourselves another, smaller home. We are experiencing buyer’s remorse. It is a 1500?sq. ft. house built in the 50’s that was “flipped” to look fresh, but has a lot of old house needs. I think you are wise to get a newer home. I found downsizing difficult b/c I am so attached to the belongings inherited when our parents died several years ago ( 2015, 2016, 2017). We are adjusting to being very close to houses on both sides. Therefore, we are also keeping an eye on Zillow for possibly a better match for us. But, like you, I am taking a step back and getting out of God’s way b/c he knows best our needs. This house may be what we really need, after all. And, as someone reminded me….we are not downsizing. We are rightsizing to best our needs at this time in our life. Question: How is your father doing? I’ve liked your inclusion of him in your posts. It reminds me of my relationship I had with my Dad before he died in 2017.

  25. Nancy Slate says:

    We did the same thing 18 months ago. However, my husband was not in agreement. I had to force it. He is disabled, and the home maintenance of our large home was consuming all my time and energy. He also didn’t want to part with “stuff”. I didn’t have any help except movers for the furniture and boxes I had packed. I gave away and sold about 1/2 of the contents of our home. I moved small loads to the new house (3 miles away). I put things away as I moved them. I donated a lot of family “heirlooms”. I haven’t missed any of it. I knew that someone who bought them at a thrift store would be thrilled to find such a “treasure”. I’m so much happier with less house/yard to manage and more time to enjoy my friends and grandchildren. p.s. my husband is very content here. He hasn’t mentioned the things he fought to save since we moved-they’ll probably end up in a donation box before long!

  26. What great advice! We are almost through the same process of downsizing to a smaller home, but we are moving 1000 miles. Circumstances made it possible for us to do it over an eight month time period. The upside of the longer time is I have more time to process the emotions which is so important! Some things I put in the “donate” pile and yet every time I looked at them my heart hurt, and so I moved them to our new home. Several of those things eventually got donated, and several are in our new home. The downside of the longer time frame is procrastination; by setting and keeping deadlines, I avoided the pressure of crisis decisions. It is hard, emotionally and physically, to downsize, but getting help, being realistic with what you can keep, trusting God’s help and giving yourself time are great tips. I can’t believe how quickly you got your move done!! If I was to do this again, I think four months would be the right amount of time for me. Thank you, as always, Ann, for your encouraging advice. I love your blog and look forward to every post!

  27. Nancy Sharp says:

    My husband and I keep debating sizing down. We actually built this house for our retirement. We built enough space for family to come and visit. But our family moved close to us so we don’t need the extra room now. Your story has been helpful to me, especially all the clearing out part. It’s a hard decision and you were very brave through the process.

  28. So true about the emotional ties to a place where we raised our family. We love our new home we built. Even though we downsized, a priority for me was to continue to have family dinners so our plans had to include a large enough dining area to accommodate our growing family…We will add another grand baby in January. I’m enjoying making this house our home. May you enjoy making memories in your new home. Happy 2022!

  29. We have been planning for a downsizing move to either a smaller home or townhome for several years. I started by eliminating a few larger pieces of furniture that we knew we wouldn’t want – large hutch, big over sized chairs, etc. We paid someone to come in and carry them out and take them away. I started going through things and either packed them up, donated or recycled them. Even though I started this process a while ago we just went through the basement again – got rid of a lot of older Christmas decorations, then the pantry – I don’t need several bundt cake pans, spring form pans, other things that I haven’t used in years!! I think by starting early it’s less stressful, and as I told my husband it won’t get any easier over time. Unfortunately, since the Covid situation there are fewer homes on the market and nothing yet has fit the bill in the small historic community where we are relocating to. The good thing is, when a home does come on the market that we like we will be ready. We plan on buying the new home and then selling our present home after, and we want to be ready to put it on the market and this will make the process easier. We do not have the emotional ties to our present home so no worries there. My husband was transferred to this area after our family had already started college, so we had to leave our family home years ago and we are looking forward to this move and a different lifestyle, also we will be just a few streets away from our daughter and her family. As we have gotten older, stuff does not matter to us – it’s the people in our lives makes us happy.