Downsizing: Freeing yourself from “stuff.”

When most people think about downsizing, they imagine endless piles of their possessions to sort through and nail-biting decisions about what to do with Grandma’s good china. Because downsizing is often thought to be a daunting task, it’s easy to procrastinate and put it on next year’s to-do list, which will quite possibly slide onto the following year’s list of projects. Making decisions is difficult, and it takes courage to face your discomfort and move forward.  



People downsize for lots of reasons, but most frequently they begin the process to reduce the quantity of things they drag around with them from home to home, year after year. The book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter,” written by Margareta Magnusson, describes “döstädning,” which is the process of getting rid of the clutter in your life, especially as you approach your later years.

Magnusson is Swedish and promotes the concept of embracing minimalism and clearing out those items that no longer serve you—it’s also a way to get rid of many of your possessions, thereby saving your family from having to go through your belongings after you pass away. You don’t have to wait until you are approaching your golden years to begin living a more calm and ordered life—Swedish death cleaning can be done at any stage of life. 


Professional organizer, Sara Lohse, owner of The Rescued Room, says, “Life transitions seem to be the common denominator for downsizing. The children have moved out, and the big house sits ‘too empty.’ Retirees want less home maintenance and more travel/life experiences. Downsizing is an obvious solution to so many of these situations.”

People frequently downsize in preparation for a move to a smaller home. Realtor Laurie Mangen is a senior citizen real estate specialist at Keller Williams. She teaches people about the process of downsizing and helps them get started. Mangen says the people who attend her classes are “going to be moving eventually. It could be six months to three years.” She advises clients who want to begin downsizing to “pick one out-of-the-way room—the attic or a spare bedroom, for example—to start out with and work for three hours tops.”


There are numerous advantages to downsizing. Lohse explains, “The benefits of downsizing are clear… saved time, money, energy and fewer headaches. After downsizing, there are fewer bulbs to replace, faucets to fix and rooms to vacuum. Property taxes go down, and free time goes up. Less time maintaining ‘stuff’ equates to more time to do something meaningful!”

It can be difficult to part with items that have sentimental value. That’s what keeps people stuck—they don’t know what to do with those items they hold dear. Mangen adds, “It all comes down to the guilt. The reason people keep those things is they hold the memory. I tell people to take a picture…that really releases the guilt and they feel good about it.” Taking a picture allows people to still see the item, show it to others and enjoy the memory without having it take up precious space in their home.

After a thorough purging, a very significant benefit for folks, Mangen says, “People feel cleansed.” Most people, after getting rid of their many possessions, often feel lighter and wish they had done it sooner. Getting over the emotional hurdle of starting the process is often one of the biggest challenges.

In an upcoming issue, we will explore more tips from the experts, walk through the process of downsizing and meet some people who have already gone through the downsizing process.

Cindy Mennenga, owner of MedCity WordCraft, LLC is a freelance writer and editor based in Rochester.