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Feature Story: Downsizing

Managing a life-changing move when you can't take it with you.

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"I thought, this is ridiculous living in the house by myself," he says. "If I get sick, my children would have the same problem I had [in trying to get my wife into assisted living]."

There were other factors as well. Fisher was tired of cooking for himself and cleaning his large home. And he'd always wanted to move into a studio apartment at Westminster after his retirement.

"Now I can live a comfortable life with a lot of people around," he says.

The move meant that Fisher would have not only to sell his three-bedroom home, but also unload a great deal of furniture and belongings. He estimates he parted with 75 percent of the items in his home.

"I made up my mind that the children would get what they wanted, and I brought what I wanted from the things I had in my home," Fisher says. "I kept some furniture that I made, and I bought some new furniture."

Because of his if-you-don't-need-it-get-rid-of-it attitude, Fisher says he wasn't saddled with any emotional issues attached to the move.

"I keep memories in my brain and I enjoy reflecting back," he says. "If I had a piece of furniture for fifty years, I figured the money was more meaningful than a chair collecting dust. You have to let go if you are thinking about leaving your home. Some people just get hung up on this stuff."

Not everyone's thinking is in line with Fisher's. Susan Campbell, president of Moving Made Easy Inc., a senior-move management company, and Susan's Selections, which conducts antique sales and consignments, believes that anytime you sell a home or downsize, there are emotional matters that have to be dealt with.

"Some people are ready to move and want to move," Campbell says. "Others know they have to move, but are more emotional about it. They're leaving the home where they raised their family, perhaps where their spouse died. Plus, moving and downsizing is another step toward getting older."

Sentimental folks have the most difficult time downsizing, she says. "Things have memories for them. I tell them to make a photo album of the things they can't keep so they can keep the memories. Usually it's the memory that the item evokes that we want to keep. And the memory is smaller than the actual item."

Campbell thinks most people tend to feel better after they are settled in. "It just depends on the person," she says.

In her work, Campbell helps people get rid of items they don't need. She suggests they first give items to family and friends, like Fisher did, then look at consigning, having an estate or yard sale, or donating items to places such as Goodwill.

"If you think an item has value," she says, "call in someone who may be interested in purchasing it or selling it for you."

Campbell advises her clients to start thinking about the items they want to take with them as soon as they have made the decision to move. She also suggests drawing a floor plan and measuring furniture. "You know you will have less space for everything," she says. "Storage will be smaller."

Before moving, Fisher drew a floor plan. He figured out what would fit and what wouldn't. After his children took the furniture they wanted, he hired two people to conduct an estate sale. "We had a three-day sale, and I sold everything that wasn't going with me," he says. "After the third day, the house was pretty empty. I donated the items that didn't sell to the Salvation Army and Goodwill."

Campbell encourages her clients to think about how their lifestyle will change. "After the move, most people don't cook as much," she says. "So don't take that big roaster pan. You'll need a lot fewer pots and pans and dishes. You'll probably have half the cabinet space, so pay attention to what you use all the time."

Judy and Sheldon Markowitz started paying attention to their lifestyle and how it was changing, especially when their youngest child was in high school.

When they became empty nesters, they felt it was time to move into a smaller home. So they sold their five-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot home in western Henrico where they had lived for four years and purchased a cluster home — a single-family home on a smaller lot — in Goochland County's Randolph Square.

"When we built our perfect five-bedroom house, we thought it had all the things a home should have," Judy Markowitz says. "We designed it to accommodate our three children and guests — we had frequent visitors. Now we wanted to design a house that met our needs for the present and the future."

Sheldon Markowitz is retired; his wife continues to work as a branch manager for Long & Foster. The couple searched for a comfortable home that would be easy to manage in their retirement.

"We wanted something that suited our lifestyle," Judy Markowitz says. "We still had space for our children to visit, but it was a home for us. When we were raising our kids, they were the center of our universe. We did everything to accommodate them. This was about us."

Judy Markowitz started downsizing by emptying out the attic, keeping what was important to her and her family. She laid out a floor plan before she began eliminating items. "That made the move easier," she says.

Some items were sold at a yard sale and others were donated to the Hospitality House. "We had bedroom furniture that the kids didn't want or need," Markowitz says. "We were glad we found an organization that could use the items. That made us feel good about downsizing."

The Markowitzes moved into their cluster home three years ago. "It wasn't a big emotional issue for us," Judy Markowitz says. "We were downsizing, but not to the point where we had to get rid of everything. Our kids were surprisingly OK with it."

The move, Markowitz says, was part of the process of planning how she and her husband wanted to live the next chapter of their lives.

Because downsizing can be tiring, both emotionally and physically, Campbell suggests that people take their time to sort out the items in their home. "You want to do it slowly so you can be as ruthless as possible," she advises.

Fisher agrees. "I only took what I needed," he says. "It all comes down to attitude. You have to have the right attitude and not get hung up on a piece of furniture. You have to stop the excuses."



Tips for Downsizing

by Susan Campbell

Moving Made Easy Inc.



Start today! Do a small amount every day.

Pack things now that you won't need before the move, particularly as you're sorting. Number and label the boxes. Keep a log with the box number, the room to which it belongs, its contents and its size.

Measure the closet-rod space in your new home. Set aside that amount of space in a closet, and as you sort through your clothes, begin to fill that space with the clothes you're taking with you. When it's full, so are your new closets.

Do the same thing with your kitchen-cabinet space. For a month, cook with only the items you've set aside to move. If you find that you haven't used something in that month, perhaps you don't need the item, unless it's the roaster you use only during the holidays. But don't take the roaster unless you're going to use it.

When possible, choose furniture that can serve more than one purpose. Have a cedar chest that you can use as a side table or a chest of drawers that might hold sheets and towels.

Get accurate measurements of your new home and measure your furniture. Create a scaled floor plan. Remember to account for outlets, telephone jacks, emergency call buttons, heating vents and other things that might end up behind furniture.

Most movers will move chests of drawers and dressers with clothes in them, so fill them with clothes you want to keep. But don't pack anything breakable or valuable in the chests and dressers.

If you are planning a moving sale or estate sale, choose a place in your home that is out of the way to store the items you plan to sell. Get rid of real trash, but remember that "one man's trash is another man's treasure." You might be surprised by what will sell. Consult with an estate-sales person or an appraiser, or check on eBay.

If you enjoy using the computer, consider selling things online.

Take items to consignment stores, or list them in the classified ads in the paper.

Check out www.freecycle.org, where there is no charge to list items you want to give away.

Check with libraries, charities and other organizations to see if they take donations. Some organizations will pick up donations.

Pack a bag or box for moving day with your medication, important papers, checkbook, calendar and phonebook, your new phone number and address, remote controls, extension cords and other essentials for the first day in your new home.

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