The benefits of downsizing early: more freedom, a simpler life and less financial stress

Story by Marni Jameson

Special to | The Times-Picayune | May 27, 2014

I don’t know about you, but I am not getting any older. Despite all evidence to the contrary — that not one but two of my kids are now in college, that my skin suddenly has about as much rebound as a 20-year-old bathing suit, and that the only thing getting stronger is my eyeglass prescription — I am not aging.

Is that clear?

However, since others out there are aging, or so I’m told, I am passing on this good advice to both older adults with grown children and grown children of older adults: It’s not too soon to think about downsizing. In fact, it’s hip. Click here usfinancer

“Parents always say they don’t want to be a burden to their kids,” said Kay Morrison, owner of The Occasional Wife, a New Orleans-based company that helps people clear out and organize their homes, “but you’re burdening your kids by not going through your stuff.”

“One of the best gifts parents can give their children is to take care of all this while they are capable and healthy and can make decisions,” Morrison said.

“Fat chance,” I said. “Parents are more stubborn than kids. Whenever I brought up the idea of purging stuff to mom, she would clench her fists, close her eyes and shake her head.”

That resistance is changing, said Morrison, whose downsizing clientele keeps getting younger.

In 2006, when she started her company (which now also is in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Morristown, N.J.) most of her downsizing clients were in their late 70s and 80s. “Now more are in their 60s,” she said. “They want to get this done sooner, to simplify their lives, relieve some financial stress, have more freedom and leave less for their kids to deal with.”

“Isn’t that morbid? I mean, doesn’t all that letting go and living smaller make them feel as if they’re, well, winding down?” I asked.

“No, no,” Morrison said. “They don’t see this as the next step to death.” (Aach! She said the D word.) “They see it as the next step to freedom. When they’re done, they’re ecstatic.”

Because not everyone who wants to lighten their load can have Morrison on the job, here is her best downsizing advice:

Create a vision: Picture what a great downsize looks like. Morrison described it this way: “Everything is easier, simpler, more enjoyable, less hectic and less stressful. And you have the things around that you love and enjoy most.”

Bring in an objective party: Invite someone who brings an unbiased, clear head in to help. Besides an abundance of energy, Morrison said she brings the ability to see the big picture and the end result. “I don’t get overwhelmed.” Find that someone.

Colored stickers are your best friend: Get packs of them and make a key. Purple is keep. Yellow means give away. Green goes to a family member. Red is for the garage sale. Go room by room and put stickers on everything. “When you’re done, you will have completed the hardest part of the job, making the decisions,” Morrison said.

Give deadlines: It’s easy for family members not living in the home to put off claiming what they want. Meanwhile, the person on the front lines doesn’t want to get rid of stuff because he fears someone later saying, “I can’t believe you got rid of that!” Issue a deadline. Tell family members the date you plan to have the house cleared out,and to let you know by then what they would like or otherwise hold their peace.

Use technology: Face Time or Skype with family members. Walk them through the house as you apply colored stickers with their names on what they want. On little stuff , like tools or jewelry, put items on a table or in a bag that bears a sticker with their name on it.

You are not your kid’s attic: When kids move out, the family house often remains a repository for all their memorabilia: baseball gloves, ice skates, school pictures. “It’s not your job to save everything from your children’s lives,” Morrison said. “Box up what belongs to each kid and send it to them.” If it’s furniture you no longer want but your children do, tell them to claim it now or never. Don’t be the family storage locker.

Do the math: If you are moving to a smaller place, say from 3,000 square feet to 1,500, figure you’ll need to cut your stuff by half or more. To picture what will and won’t fit, sketch a floor plan of the new place, then makes cut outs of the furniture and arrange it in the sketch. Similarly, Morrison suggested making a diagram of the kitchen cabinets. Use sticky notes to indicate where such items as glassware, dishes and small appliances will go. “When I show clients this is the only shelf they will have for glassware, they get it.” she said. “When they become active in the process, their anxiety disappears.”
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through

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