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How to Downsize When You Retire: Tips and Tricks for a Smooth Transition

Modern minimalist apartment

Are you starting to think about downsizing as your retirement years approach?

Or maybe you’ve already moved to a smaller home or apartment after retiring.

Either way, downsizing can be an overwhelming process. But with some planning and the right approach, it can also be liberating – allowing you to simplify your life and focus on the things and activities you truly cherish.

At Atlantic Shores, we understand the challenges and rewards of downsizing in you retirement years. We want to help make your transition as smooth as possible so you can start enjoying the coastal retirement lifestyle you deserve.

This guide shares tips and insights to downsize with less stress.

The Event: Downsizing Your Life in Retirement with Ann Armistead

The idea of downsizing has been on the minds of many of our residents recently. This is due, in part, because of an exciting event held here.

Ann Armistead, an expert in aesthetics and safety in the home, shared her expertise gained from years of experience in interior design and senior move management. Ann’s journey into downsizing began in 2006, and since then, she has helped numerous individuals navigate the transition to smaller living spaces.

Ann’s personal experience with downsizing serves as an inspiration to many.

At age 54, Ann and her husband made the decision to downsize from a spacious home to a smaller residence near the ocean in Virginia Beach. The move allowed them to reclaim their time and embrace new adventures, from leisurely walks on the beach to long-delayed vacations. Ann’s passion for downsizing led her to establish Downsize Designs, a business dedicated to helping others plan, sort, and unpack their belongings when transitioning to a new space.

Attendees of this event gained valuable insights into the downsizing process, and now, we want to share some of that valuable information with you.

Why Downsize in Retirement?

Downsizing offers many benefits that support an active, fulfilling retirement:

  • Lower living expenses – One of the top reasons to downsize is to reduce housing costs and monthly bills. This allows you to maximize your retirement savings.
  • Less maintenance – A smaller home or apartment requires less upkeep. You’ll avoid hassles like yardwork and have more freedom to pursue hobbies.
  • Safety & accessibility – Look for a space designed for senior safety and accessibility.
  • Social connections – Relocating to a retirement community provides built-in social activities and friendships.
  • Simplified lifestyle – Less space means fewer possessions to clean, organize and manage.

Those are just a few of the many positive reasons to downsize. But it’s important to remember that downsizing is not just a physical task; it’s also an emotional and mental one that requires commitment.

The Mental: Motivation for Downsizing in Retirement

The decision to downsize in retirement can be driven by various factors, including a desire to simplify life, reduce maintenance worries, and eliminate burdens for loved ones.

By keeping what you love and use, you can create a living space that enhances your quality of life and allows for more freedom and flexibility. But, before you dive into this process, you have to be mentally prepared to do it. It can be taxing, lengthy, and, at times, stressful. If you go into this process mentally prepared to handle those types of scenarios, you’ll be more likely to succeed.

The Emotional: Overcoming Barriers

Parting with belongings collected over many years can be an emotional process.

Sentimental items hold beautiful memories, and it can be hard to let them go. But, this part of downsizing is important, and because of that, preparing yourself emotionally for it will be helpful in the long run.

Here are some tips to work through the feelings:

  • Focus on the future – Stay oriented to the lifestyle you want in retirement rather than past attachments.
  • Take photos – Capture keepsakes digitally before passing them on.
  • Share stories – Recording an audio or video history of special possessions creates a lasting memento that doesn’t take up additional space.
  • Offer to friends and family first – Seeing cherished items go to loved ones can provide comfort rather than donating them or selling them.
  • Donate generously – Allow others in need to enjoy belongings you no longer use.
  • Practice Mindfulness – Having a mindfulness practice can help you stay grounded and decrease your stress throughout the process of downsizing.

Heirlooms, gifts, and sentimental items can pose challenges when downsizing. Still, it’s essential to prioritize your own well-being and lifestyle.

Let go of items that no longer serve a practical purpose or bring you joy, and consider alternative ways to preserve memories, such as taking photographs or creating digital albums. You’ll still be able to hold on to your precious memories while also downsizing and decluttering your life.

Where to Begin with Downsizing

Once you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for the downsizing project, it’s time to start.

Facing the task of downsizing an entire household can feel overwhelming at first. To help you feel less overwhelmed by all that needs to be accomplished, break it down into manageable steps:

Set a Timeline

  • Give yourself ample time for sorting, selling, donating, and resettling.
  • Consider setting a move-in goal date for your new home and then work backward to set sorting deadlines.
  • Recruit help from family or friends for sorting days. Many hands make light work.
  • Consider consulting an appraiser or dealer to help assess the value of your belongings and identify items worth keeping or selling.

Two Main Phases of Downsizing: Decision Making and Disposition

Downsizing typically involves two main phases: decision-making and disposition.

During the decision-making phase, you’ll need to determine what items to take to your new home and what to part with. To navigate this process effectively, it’s essential to establish clear parameters, such as space constraints and lifestyle priorities, to guide your decision-making.

Additionally, setting time limits for each decision and seeking assistance from trusted friends, family members, or professionals can help alleviate overwhelming feelings and ensure that you stay focused on your downsizing goals.

Once you’ve completed the decision-making phase, the next step is disposition, where you determine what to do with the items you no longer need or want.

This phase involves implementing your decisions by selling, donating, or discarding belongings thoughtfully and sustainably. It’s essential to approach disposition with a strategic mindset, considering factors such as the value of items, environmental impact, and potential tax implications.

While parting with possessions can be emotional, focusing on the benefits of downsizing, such as decluttering your living space and simplifying your life, can provide motivation and clarity throughout the process.

By embracing the decision-making and disposition phases of downsizing, you can create a smoother transition to your new home and embark on the next chapter of your retirement journey with confidence and peace of mind.

Downsizing Room by Room

Sorting through years of accumulated belongings can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Make it more manageable by tackling one room or area at a time.

Here are some room-by-room tips to help you get started:

Living Room

  • Evaluate furniture for size, comfort, and sentimental value. Will it work in your new home?
  • Keep only your most beloved decor items and art.
  • Donate books/movies you won’t read/watch again or replace them with digital versions.


  • Assess which small appliances and gadgets you actually use regularly. Retire the others.
  • Take an inventory of dishes, glasses, and utensils. Keep only daily essentials.
  • Check expiration dates on food items and spices. Toss anything past its prime.


  • Be selective about sentimental textiles like quilts or pillows, and choose only your favorites to keep.
  • Sort clothing by season. Donate items you haven’t worn in over a year.
  • Clear out under-bed storage boxes and retain only the essentials.

Garage & Storage Areas

  • Hold a garage sale to clear out tools, sports equipment, decor, and furniture.
  • Donate or recycle any chemicals, paints, or other hazardous items.
  • Shred/recycle old documents and files you no longer need.


  • Carefully curate collections like photos, albums, awards, etc. Keep only your very favorites.
  • Digitize items by scanning or taking photos. This creates a lasting record while reducing physical items.
  • Record audio or video reminiscing about special mementos as you sort through them.

Selling, Donating, or Gifting: Options for Disposition

Once you’ve identified items to part with, consider giving them to loved ones or selling them online, through estate sales, or consignment dealers. Donations can be an efficient way to declutter while qualifying for tax deductions.

Another fun idea is to host a “take an item” party with friends or family to pass along cherished possessions and create space for new memories.

Plan for Leftovers

Even the most diligent downsizing effort will likely leave you with items that don’t sell or donate.

Don’t let things pile up!

Have an efficient system in place for disposing of remaining items responsibly. Some options are waste removal services, junk haulers, recycling centers, and community drop-off days.

Remember Your Goals for Downsizing

When the process feels daunting, remind yourself why you’re downsizing in the first place.

Focus on the lifestyle you want in retirement, whether it’s freedom from home maintenance, easier travel, or simply a cozier home filled with your favorite things. Your ideal retirement is within reach!

Downsizing and moving to a new home is a significant undertaking, but taking it step-by-step will make it manageable. With some advance preparation, guidance from professionals, and help from loved ones, you can thoughtfully curate the perfect next residence. Soon, you’ll be settled into your new community and ready to start this exciting new chapter.