Whether you’re helping an older parent downsize or you’re the one paring down, Downsizing the Silver Tsunami: Who to Call and Where Does the Stuff Go by Sharon McRill offers a step-by-step guide to the typically overwhelming process.

McRill, who wrote the book based on 16 years of experience assisting individuals and families with the downsizing, moving and home selling process, owns The Betty Brigade, a personal assistance and concierge company in Ann Arbor, MI.

Here are some of McRill’s suggestions for downsizing a lifetime of possessions without throwing away your sanity, too.


Make Sure You’re Ready

Before sorting through clothing, photos, kitchen stuff, tools and other items accumulated over decades, consider three important questions:

  1. Where are you moving? If you haven’t decided, start looking immediately, especially if you plan on moving to a senior community, which may have a waiting list.
  2. When are you moving? Set your timeline far in advance, three to six months, not a couple of weeks. “Time allows you to make good decisions and possibly recoup value for things you are ready to let go,” says McRill.
  3. Who are your team members? Decide if friends and family will help or if hiring professional movers or downsizing professionals will get the job done faster with less stress. “It’s great to include family, but sometimes family members don’t have the physical ability to help or can’t take time off work,” says McRill. Using an outside service offers a more neutral approach and typically gets the job done faster, she says.

Get an Outside Assessment

Ask a friend, realtor or move coordinator to walk through your home and give feedback on how much stuff there is to deal with and what the home needs to make the sale process go well.

Decide What you Need, Love or are Keeping “Just Because”

Walk through the house and label everything with different colored Post-It notes based on what you need, love or are keeping “just because.”

“Many people keep items that they are on the fence about,” says McRill. “For example, lots of men keep power tools even though they know they will never do another project again.”

Let Things Go with an Eye on the Future

When downsizing, base choices of what to keep on your new life ahead. Acknowledge that the life you led decades ago when you moved into the home is no longer the life you live now.

Make Downsizing Choices Based on Your New Home

The most common roadblock to downsizing is that people get overwhelmed deciding what to keep or let go, says McRill, who  recommends letting the “where” element help with decisions about what to take to your smaller home. For example, if you’re moving into a senior community where meals are provided and you have only a microwave in your apartment, there’s no need to keep pots, pans and bakeware.

Decide How You’ll Get Rid of Your Stuff

What can you sell on an online marketplace? Which items do you want to donate? McRill prefers estate sales and consignment shops and sites over garage sales, which are several days (or weeks) of work for a small amount of money.

Weigh the Cost of Hiring a Professional

Fees for an average 2,000 square foot home can run $10,000 or more for combined services of a relocation coordinator, mover, handyman, cleaners and landscapers. But you’ll save time, reduce stress and get the job done in a few weeks rather than a few months or years.

“When you hire people who know what they’re doing, it usually costs less in the long run because they can keep you from making mistakes that are expensive,” says McRill. Mistakes like unwittingly throwing away hidden cash, for example.

That’s why the Betty Brigade team is trained to look for cash and valuable items and return them to the family. “We have recovered more than $100,000 in lost assets for our clients over the years,” says McRill.

Want to learn more? Order a copy of Downsizing the Silver Tsunami: Who to Call and Where Does the Stuff Go today. You can also follow the Betty Brigade on Facebook here.

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