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Small is Beautiful: The Key to Right Sizing is Knowing What to Keep and What to Toss

Small is Beautiful: The Key to Right Sizing is Knowing What to Keep and What to Toss

By Barbara Ballinger - San Jose Mercury NewsApril 10th 2009

Moving into less space? Take a hard line on purging belongings. Whether you're moving to smaller quarters to decrease your cost of living or because you simply have made the transition to another life stage and don't need as much space, you're in for a tough assignment: Figuring out what to do with all your stuff.


Should you keep, sell, give away or donate that 20-year-old couch that needs reupholstering? Same with the 12-piece fancy dinner service you never use anymore. And what about Grandma's favorite crystal chandelier that you inherited? The latter can be a particularly thorny problem wrapped in the name of guilt since she wanted you to enjoy it and pass it on to the next generation.


In most cases, you should purge before you move since you may not be able to fit everything into your new, smaller home. Moreover, it will cost a lot to move boxes and furnishings or store them in an off-site facility. But the best reason to get rid of stuff methodically is that doing so can be exhilarating. It's like taking a load off your shoulders. “Almost everyone is resistant at the beginning, but they come around. I've never had a client tell me, 'I didn't bring enough,'” says Barry Izsak, a certified professional organizer and certified relocation and transition specialist. Izsak is the former president of the National Association of Professional Organizers and also works as a senior move manager in Austin, Texas. He is also a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.


Julie Morgenstern, another professional organizer based in New York City and author of When Organizing Isn't Enough Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life (Simon & Schuster, Fireside, 2008), offers another advantage to right-sizing, which some call downsizing: “You have less to take care of so you have more freedom to pour your energy into relationships and pursue bigger dreams,” she says. “Yet doing so isn't easy,” she continues, “since our identities often are wrapped up in our stuff.”


Good purging requires effort and time. Consider the following steps and, when you're done, stay organized so that your new home doesn't get cluttered and make you start all over again:

Analyze and measure your new space. In the best scenario, you know where you're moving and have floor plans with dimensions, so you can determine what will fit where and what most go. Professional organizer Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers in New York City and author of Can't I Just Shred It All? 101 Quick Tips to File and Find Your Important Papers, recommends having a 25-foot tape measure, cutting out shapes to the scale of your furniture and plotting what goes where first on paper.


Define your theme. This is part of a process Morgenstern developed, which involves envisioning what your life will be like so you know how you want to live during the next stage. Inventory your home's contents room by room and tag everything that is stagnant and shouldn't move, she says. If you have walls of books but never take some off the shelf, they shouldn't move with you; they're no longer relevant to your life.


Engage in Morgenstern's four-step shed process. This involves separating your treasures from everything else in one big swoop, heaving things you can live without, embracing your new identity and driving yourself forward to experiment with your new theme, such as taking new classes or volunteering.


Be ruthless about what fits and doesn't as you shed. Izsak agrees with the heaving part of Morgenstern's plan and adds another way to judge an object's worthiness. “Is it useful, beautiful or loved? If not, sell, donate or give it away,” he says. “And if none of those strategies work, consider retaining a small portion of something, a few pieces of a dinner set or one example from a great collection.


Avoid storing stuff. Don't stash things in an attic, basement or off-site facility, these experts agree. If you do, it will likely stay there. And if it's in storage, you're probably paying hundreds of dollars to keep it there, particularly if it's a clean, safe facility. A better tactic is to start building up your identity apart from your accumulation, says Morgenstern, who moved from a four-bedroom to a one-bedroom apartment and is thrilled with her new quarters as well as her more carefree lifestyle. Another tip from her: Don't rush to fill up your new space.


If you can't make these changes yourself, get help. There's nothing wrong with hiring a professional to guide you, from purging to settling in. Other professionals like an estate liquidator help clients earn cash for possessions they want to discard.


Also, avoid the five most deadly mistakes. The following don'ts will keep you from making a smooth, non-stressful move:


1. Don't leave the purging process until you're ready to move. If you do, you'll end up taking more stuff than you need or panicking and tossing too much too fast. Work far in advance.


2. Don't be stubborn about doing it all on your own. Get good advice from the get-go about what you have that's valuable but also what's not, so you don't become emotionally attached to stuff you should get rid of.


3. Don't focus too much on giving items a good home instead of getting rid of them. That 20-year-old appliance that's been sitting unused in your basement because you think someone could use it should be tossed. Quickly.


4. Don't forget to label boxes on all four sides in case the moving company tosses them here and there and neglects putting them in the right room.


5. Don't forget to pack everything up systematically so things like towels all go together for the linen closet.


The Arranging it AllSM team is mentored and trained by a Certified Professional Organizer.

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