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BEACON Senior News

13 tips for radical downsizing

Oct 05, 2020 11:51AM ● By Sally Henry

Living with less freed up my life

My husband Kim and I have always been fascinated by the tiny house movement and the idea of living with less, although we never thought we’d actually do it. 

We’ve moved a number of times in our married life and pared many things down in the process. We left the Grand Valley in 2009 when I went to seminary in Pittsburgh. That’s when we finally got the last of the kids’ stuff out of our house. When you know you’re going to be somewhere for only three years, you definitely think twice about what will come and what will go. 

With the recent Marie Kondo craze of going through belongings and asking how much joy each item brings, it seems there is a definite movement to simplify and not have too much stuff. Yet the self-storage industry is making $39 billion annually, with 1 in 10 people paying around $90 a month for a 10-by-10-foot unit. We like our stuff and we struggle to let it go!

After seminary, I didn’t receive a call to a church right away. So we put all of our belongings in storage and lived with family members for the next nine months. As I was packing our things, I remember going through them and thinking, “How would I feel if I never saw this again?” We had no idea when our income would be restored, and yet, I found that when it came down to it, I could let go of quite a bit. Pictures and some Christmas items from my childhood were the things I held dear. 

That downsizing process has served me well over the years, but probably never more than in 2020.

Our tiny house

 After a few more moves we landed in Montrose, then back to Grand Junction in a home on a cul-de-sac with lots of stairs. I started to feel isolated when I quit driving months earlier due to low vision. Kim was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that made him unsteady and at risk for falling. We needed a smaller, ranch-style home sooner rather than later.

Our son and daughter-in-law proposed tearing down the detached garage behind their house and building a smaller home there. That way, we could be close to them both for help and the occasional ride. We started scouring floor plans online and sorting through every single thing in our home. 

Our contractor tweaked the floor plan I found. We added a 12-foot ceiling with a single-slope roof, lots of windows and handicapped accessibility. We broke ground in January.

A few months later, we ended up with an amazing one-bedroom one-bath home that is 780 square feet. It’s full of natural light, spacious and airy, and even includes some storage. We took advantage of the tall ceilings by creating more storage space above the coat and utility closets and putting as many cabinets as we could pack into the kitchen/living room area. It’s still a small space, but it doesn’t seem like it.

Brutal honesty

The process of moving felt crazy because the building schedule went much faster than expected. We tore down the garage at the end of January and moved in by April 11, in the middle of the pandemic. I spent hours going through boxes of seminary papers, old doilies and small quilts that my mother and grandmother had made (but had mainly been packed away). I sorted everything into three piles: keep, garage sale or ask the kids. Through all this, I asked myself:

• Have we used this in the last year or two?

• If I’m truthful, will I use this in the next year? Does the style match how our home is currently decorated?

• Is this something I should see if one of the kids would like?

Thinking about how small our space was going to be was also a big motivator for being brutally honest in the process. (Truth be told, we still have stuff that probably needs to go.) 


But we did it! With the help of family and friends, we were able to move everything in and even have some kitchen cabinets that are still empty…for now. 

We are loving our new home and especially having the help of our son and daughter-in-law literally just steps away.

Certainly, downsizing is an adjustment. It can be really hard, but it’s worth every ounce of effort. Each time we’ve decided to downsize and live with less, we’ve experienced more freedom, more time for fun, less time cleaning and more time with the people we love.

13 tips for successful downsizing

Take photos of your home before you downsize.

It’s nice to have a reference of what’s in your current home when looking at what will go in your new space.

Measure your new space. 

There’s no sense in moving the big stuff if it won’t fit. 

Take with you only what will fit your future lifestyle. 

Don’t save a ton of dishes if you don’t plan to entertain a lot.

Purge things you don’t use regularly. 

Don’t hold on to things for when you’ll need it. If you don’t use it regularly or can’t find a purpose for it, ditch it. 

Use the good stuff now. 

No need to store it for a special occasion.

Don’t save things for your kids. 

If they don’t want it now, they won’t want it later. 

Let go of the “guilt gifts.” 

If you have a lot of souvenir glasses, pick your favorites and let go of the rest. Don’t hold on to things because you think you have to.

Purge paperwork

Get rid of tax returns after seven years. Don’t keep bills and statements you can access online.

Label photographs. 

If you don’t know who’s in the photo, toss it.

Create safe passage for your possessions. 

Getting rid of items of value or sentiment can be tough, especially if your kids don’t want it. Some seniors are concerned with “safe passage” of their possessions, wanting to ensure the new owners share the same appreciation for them. Research clubs and organizations that might value them as much as you did.

Stop buying more stuff. 

If you buy something new, let go of something old.

Start slow. 

Pick a drawer and go from there!

Accept help. 

When in doubt, get an objective opinion from someone else.