Managing the Emotional Stress Downsizing Your Home

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Managing the emotional stress downsizing a home can be a very difficult time in your life.  The reasons for downsizing a home are many, including financial, health issues, empty nest syndrome, or moving to be nearer family members.  The experience of downsizing a family home can be overwhelming.

Tackling the process of dispersing unneeded personal possessions during downsizing can be a major source of emotional trauma. The best suggestion for managing the emotional stress of downsizing is recognizing what is causing your stress and developing an action plan for handling the downsizing process with minimal added emotional trauma.

Causes of the Emotional Stress:

  • Memories—breaking the emotional attachments to your possessions.  This is a big hurdle and causes a lot of stress thinking about getting rid of the possessions that represent your achievements and past experiences.  The question, “How do I depart with these mementos that I have spent my lifetime collecting?” becomes difficult for some to answer and can cause guilt and emotional stress, as well.
  • Difficulty leaving the family home—is it the beginning of the end?  Ending this phase of your life may make you feel less vibrant, rather than considering that with less stuff, you have a chance for greater flexibility with less financial and home maintenance responsibilities.
  • Change is scary.  People are often afraid of the unknown. Clear planning, as best you can what the future will look like, helps diminish the emotional stress.
  • Your kids don’t want your stuff (you still have theirs in the basement).  All along you have thought that the family members would gladly take those heirlooms, yet, to your dismay, you find no one wants them.  Lifestyles are different and the items don’t fit.  Got a baby grand piano?  You might do better selling it.

Create An Action Plan for Downsizing.

Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash-A Step-by-Step. This fellow Pittsburgher has many years of experience helping families and individuals learn to relocate, sort and shed their possessions, as she offers a compassionate perspective on downsizing. This reference is a must read for anyone involved in the transition of downsizing.
Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash-A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move

The key is to give yourself plenty of time for the process of sorting through your possessions.  The Mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a great starting perspective for the process.

  1. Identify your goal for downsizing. Identify exactly why you are downsizing, and revisit this goal often as you continue through the process.  View this process as a positive time when you are creating a new chapter in your life and it is a time to re-invent your lifestyle and your surroundings.
  2. Organize relevant and contributing pieces.  Maintaining unused possessions may keep you connected to your past, but they also prevent you from making healthy changes transitioning into a new phase of your life.  Sort items into three categories, sell, donate, retain.  If no family member wants an item that you are not retaining for yourself, consider selling it or donating it.  You may find someone else who could benefit from this item.
  3. Why am I attached to this item?  Often items retain their significance because someone special gave them to you or they remind you of a special event in your life.  Consider giving these items to others who would appreciate these items because of this past significance.
  4. Can I make money from this?  If you have possessions that you would like to sell, have their value assessed and decide if you want to have them sold, rather than donated. Stuff is worth only what someone else is willing to pay you for it, and the people who get rich from Internet auction sites are few and far between.  You can sell your items at yard sales but you don’t make much profit.
  5. What is the worst that will happen if I get rid of this?  Are you putting off the decision to downsize because you may need these items some day?  Or your kids may need these items?  If you have memorabilia from your kids’ lives, set a firm deadline by which the stuff must be picked up. If it isn’t, trash it! If it’s not worth space in their homes, it’s not worth space in yours. 

The goal of downsizing is to keep items that reflect who you are now, not who you were then. By downsizing, you minimize your emotional stress by having fewer responsibilities, a smaller workload, an increased cash flow, and greater flexibility with less to overwhelm.  Take, sell, or give away.

How to Handle Change and Avoid Emotional Stress

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