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Our decision to downsize wasa therapeutic feeling of freedom

by John Levan | Contributor
Feb 25, 2020

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It's something that many older Americans consider as they approach retirement or have already reached that milestone. It's called downsizing, and if there is a more descriptive word in the English language, I haven't come across it.

Of course, the word “downsizing” has more than one meaning, and many of us have come to associate it with corporations that fire workers to reduce the size of their companies. But in the context of the homeowner who decides to downsize, no one gets fired or let go - only frustrated and confused!

It's been almost two years since we downsized. My memories of many of the things that have happened since then have begun to fade. However, the experience of eliminating much of the stuff we had accumulated over a 50-year marriage is still fresh in my mind.

It all started with a summons

It was a warm summer evening when my wife suggested we retreat to our back deck for a glass of wine and a discussion. "Bring the bottle," she said. She had my attention.

As it turned out, she wanted to talk about moving to a smaller property in a more convenient location. For the last 20 years, we had owned a stone home on two-and-a-half acres in the country. The house was situated on a somewhat remote mountain miles from stores, entertainment and my wife’s business.

Over the years, we had added many plant beds, which required edging, weeding and many yards of mulch each spring. There was grass to mow in the summer and an 80-foot-long driveway to clear of snow in the winter. I was fit and healthy then, but at 70, who knows?

Taking a bite of the reality sandwich … and nearly choking

We had been able to accumulate our possessions unabated simply because we had all kinds of room to keep them. There was a 1,600-square-foot storage building, a two-story garage, a large attic and a full basement — and they were all pretty much maxed out.

We were moving to a townhouse with a homeowners association. While there would be no more mowing grass, planting flowers, trimming shrubbery, killing thistles, mulching beds, dealing with autumn leaves or removing snow, there would be no storage, either. The home came with a small one-car garage – no attic or basement.

Practically everything we had ever owned would have to go. Other than our furniture and a few treasured items, we would only be taking our clothing to the new house.

Lots of decisions to make

Deciding what had to go was not all that difficult. There were no options for keeping our things. Where to go with them was another story. There are mainly four choices for getting rid of something:

  • Throw it out
  • Sell it
  • Donate it to charity
  • Give it away

First off, we asked our children what they wanted. They have houses and families and have long begun accumulating their own hoards, so we couldn’t offload much on them. But at least we now knew they weren’t yearning for anything that we would sell, so at that point, we could take a systematic approach to the process.

Step one: Rent a large container

We called our trash collector and ordered a 20-cubic-yard container. When you look at a huge empty bin, it seems like you’ll be trying to fill the Grand Canyon. But all of those items that I had kept on the off-chance that I would need them someday (and never did) rapidly filled up the large receptacle.

One thing I discovered during the process of purging was that there is a feeling of freedom that accompanies letting go of possessions you’ve held onto for no good reason. Ridding myself of all this stuff was cathartic, maybe even therapeutic. I have yet to miss any of it, and even if I do, I would have no space to store it should I decide to replace it.

Sell your things locally

I’ve always believed in buying the right tool or piece of equipment for the job. So, I had purchased almost everything imaginable to maintain my property. The list included:

  • A tractor for towing various implements
  • A zero-turn mower
  • Trimmers
  • Pull-behind lawn vacuum to remove a mountain of leaves
  • Wood chipper for grinding up fallen branches
  • Any power saws and hand tools that I needed to tend the property

Also, I owned two snowblowers to save my back during winter storms and a generator for when those storms took down the electric lines. None of this equipment would be required after we moved, so the decision to sell it was easy.

Taking my daughter’s advice, I used only local sites to sell our things. Since we had a tight deadline for vacating the property, I priced everything to sell quickly, and there was a minimum of haggling. The buyers picked up their purchases at the house and brought cash. It couldn’t have been simpler.

Those who are experienced at buying and selling online will scoff at my unsophisticated methods, but my goal was to jettison most of our possessions in the shortest time possible and pick up some cash to offset our moving expenses.

Donate it to places like Goodwill

I lost count of all the trips to our local Goodwill store, each time with a car filled with everything from Christmas decorations to clothing. It’s the best way to let go of those usable items that you hate to throw away. Plus, it’s gratifying to know you might be helping someone else in the process.

Of course, there are other ways to give away your things, and some of them also help others and make you feel good about your decision.

Give stuff to your family and friends

As I mentioned, I had plenty of equipment to help me manage my property, but now I was moving to where there would be nothing for me to manage. At first, I was filled with delusions of significant amounts of cash rolling into our bank account as we sold those expensive items in the storage building. That only lasted until I found out that my lawn and garden equipment had been ravaged by depreciation.

At that point, we decided to give most of these things to our son-in-law, who has a large property in South Carolina. He and my daughter were most appreciative, and that’s worth considerably more than cold, hard cash.

There’s little doubt that downsizing will be a unique experience for everyone. It was quite an undertaking for us, and it was a work-in-progress for some time, even after the move. We visited the Goodwill store, sold other items and tossed things out until, about four months after we moved in, I was able to park my car in the garage.

We have no regrets. It would have been wonderful to spend the rest of our lives in a beautiful country setting — just not very practical. So, we spend our time doing what we please, unencumbered by the responsibilities of a large property — or too much stuff!

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