Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Downsize Before a Move

A woman of 27, an assistant at a Los Angeles investment firm, has long dreamed of doing an MBA on the East Coast and now has several offers from top programs. Though she’s yet to decide on the university, she’s certain to make a long-distance move. And that will mean drastically reducing the accumulations in her spacious L.A. apartment.

“Downsizing isn’t just for empty nesters. To meet their goals, many millennials must go through this challenging process too,” says Tyler Whitman, a New York real estate agent who specializes in helping young adult clients.

During her four years in California, the young investment assistant has acquired a lot of stylish furniture. She’s also purchased countless items of clothing and shoes, along with numerous books and pieces of cooking gear.

Of course, the young woman could always hire a moving company to transport her belongings across the country. Or she could stash them in a paid storage unit. But to save money, professional organizers urge her to do neither.

“Average millennials have a bright future with many moves ahead. Hauling all that baggage with them or paying to store it slows them down and isn’t either wise or cost-effective,” says Tanya Whitford, a former actress and certified professional organizer whose clients include many in the entertainment field.

Some millennials are tempted to store their belongings at the home of their parents. But Whitford says this too could be a flawed strategy.

“Maybe your parents will refuse to house all your stuff or they’ll need to downsize themselves in the near future,” says Whitford, who advises downsizers to streamline their material lives whenever possible.

“Usually, the only things you should keep are cherished memorabilia and things you’ll need in the immediate future,” she says.

Here are a few other pointers:

-- Liberate yourself from extra furniture before you move.

For most people, one major step toward downsizing involves dispensing with large pieces of furniture. Beyond precious antiques and family heirlooms, many find this process relatively easy because they don’t have sentimental attachments to most furniture.

Sid Davis, a longtime real estate broker and author of several real estate books, suggests one way to clear space and furniture quickly is to put it up for sale. If you have valuable antiques to sell, you’ll probably want to find a reputable dealer. But more routine items of furniture, as well as household belongings, can be effectively sold through Craigslist or an informal sale.

“People are surprised at how much money they can make through a local garage sale,” says Davis, who recommends that downsizers work with neighbors to attract more interest to their event.

He says downsizers often make enough money selling their oversized furniture to buy new, more appropriately sized pieces for their smaller home.

“After you’ve moved, it will be a pleasure to buy fresh furniture,” he says.

--Dispense with as many superfluous items as possible.

Beverly Coggins, the author of “Three Steps to Downsizing to a Smaller Residence,” suggests that those who must pare their possessions dispense with any clothing they haven’t used in a year or longer. The same applies to many other household items.

She says many people feel especially anxious about letting go of things given them as gifts from relatives or close friends. But she says such guilt feelings are needless.

“It doesn’t mean you love the person any less because you can’t keep everything they give you,” she says.

Coggins also suggests you take photos of treasured items that are too large to move. These could be hung up in your new domain.

-- Look to pickup services to hasten the giveaway process.

Many downsizers find it easier to let go of extra belongings if they know they’ll go to good use. That’s why Coggins and other professional organizers often advocate contacting charitable organizations interested in collecting serviceable items.

Very often, charity groups will pick up items from your home, a convenient way to free yourself of clutter quickly. Also, with a pickup appointment, you’ll have a definite deadline for your work, which can serve as a motivating factor.

-- Stay focused on the positives in your future.

Nowadays, the reality is that many are downsizing to cut expenses. Yet many who must move to a smaller home find that doing so has its favorable points, including less financial stress.

Coggins also notes another benefit of downsizing: With fewer home upkeep demands, you’ll have more time to focus on the people most important to you.

“After clearing through all their extra things, many folks realize what’s most important to them is not all those inanimate objects, but their close relationships,” she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at