Navigating your next move: Tips for decluttering, organizing, and downsizing

Posted by Samantha Haas on Friday, June 8th, 2018 at 7:44am.

One of the biggest concerns people have when downsizing is figuring out what to do with all of their stuff. That’s why decluttering, organizing, and making other preparations for selling your house can go much more smoothly with the right help.

To empower people to begin this process, Capitol Lakes retirement community in downtown Madison recently hosted an educational event with representatives from local businesses, followed by a question and answer session and building tour. Presenters included Kathy Rounds of Trusted reLocation Consultants (TLC), a full-service moving and organization company; Marianne Gariti of Moving Forward, which specializes in senior move management; and Chris Venden, an experienced Realtor with Mad City Dream Homes.

The following tips can help people sort through their items and plan to make the best home improvements within their budget and timeline for a smooth move.

Decluttering and organizing

1) Remember the 80/20 rule. If you’re thinking of reorganizing your space, moving, or downsizing, this is a good rule of thumb. Only 20% of your stuff is used 80% of the time, which means 80% of your stuff is rarely being used. Ask yourself if you can eliminate some of what you don’t use, if you can find a substitute for an item instead of keeping it, or if you would really miss it.

2) Set the timer and start. Once you’ve selected an area of your home to work on and gathered the bags and cleaning supplies you need, set a timer and start decluttering. It can be helpful to work clockwise around a room or do a specific area at a time. Try to set aside a certain amount of time each day or week to get this effort started, and feel good about the progress you’re making. 

3) Throw away or give away. Remember that it’s okay to throw things away. For example, if you’ve had a chair that hasn’t been repaired for 10 years, you’re not going to get to it now. Donation centers don’t want broken items, but they do want things that are useful or wearable, such as dishware, furniture, or clothing. Some donation centers will pick up items for you, and there are consignment stores and estate sale companies throughout the city who can help you sell your items, too. If you’re undecided about clothing, try this simple closet trick: Flip everything on the hanger in the opposite direction for awhile, and once you wear and wash something, hang it back up in the right direction. Then you’ll have a good visual of the clothes you’re actually wearing and what can be given away.

4) Pass along specific items to relatives. Depending on the item, family and friends may be interested in your gifts. But these days, grown children are pretty settled with what they have and are telling parents they just don’t have the room or the desire for that dining room set, for example. It’s okay to offer items to them, but if they say no try not to take it too personally. You could also offer small momentos, such as a piece of jewelry or a medal, that they could put in a shadow box as a memory of some of your belongings rather than a whole box they would store and not open. And instead of offering an entire photo collection to relatives, ask if they would like to look through them together and take the photos that are special to them.

5) Make a memory book or video. Consider making a video recording of you talking about certain items that you will be getting rid of, which relatives and friends will appreciate for years to come. You can also take pictures of the items and journal about them, possibly creating a digital album, which will make it easier to let the items go. If you’re looking at an item for more than 20 seconds and trying to decide to keep it or throw away, it’s best to let it go and move on to the next item.

6) Shred your personal items. Your personal, household, and financial information can be shredded for a nominal fee, or at free shredding events throughout the city. Check with your accountant to be sure, but you should be able to shred tax returns after a maximum of 5-7 years.

7) Purposefully put items away. Now is the time to neatly organize and put away items you’ve decided to keep, but be sure to follow the following three rules. Visibility: For items you don’t use on a daily basis but still want to see, consider using transparent plastic storage bins on a shelf. Accessibility: Items used most should be at eye-level and easy to get at. Flexibility: Make sure this plan can adapt to your changing needs. And for the sake of safety as you age, it’s best to avoid cluttered hallways, cords in the middle of the room you could trip over, or step stools you could fall from.

Preparing to sell

Before or during the decluttering process, take the time to interview real estate agents to see who is the right fit for you. While many homeowners may hire a friend or relative to sell their home, it’s best to do your research to ensure you choose the right person. Here’s a list of 8 questions to ask listing agents, and the 13 Mad City Dream Homes team values that are centered on customer service.

“Our goal is to become a consultant in determining the best approach for you,” said Chris Venden. “You always have resources available, no matter what stage you’re in.” She shared the following recommendations to help sellers take advantage of the market, have a successful sale, and increase their home’s value. The best part is that the whole team is there to help every step of the way, from paying for your home staging consultation and as many professional photos as needed to referring you to reputable contractors who do great work at a fair price.

1) Make a plan. During the initial planning meeting, we learn why and when you plan to move. We walk through the property and talk about what your home is worth, keeping in mind that prices have increased a lot in the last few years. Then we outline the key steps for making your move happen.

2) Understand the market. Because Madison has more people wanting to buy than owners willing to sell, we expect the seller’s market trend to continue. And while some people think that means they don’t have to do anything to improve their homes, we are also seeing a trend toward finicky buyers who want move-in ready homes. We help you use your money wisely, price your home accordingly, and navigate any difficult decisions that may arise.

3) Increase your home’s market value. We understand that every house has its own charm or character. To get the best price possible while maintaining its integrity, you’ll want to show your home at its best. The following steps can give you the biggest bang for your buck: hiring a professional home stager, updating paint colors, lighting, fixtures, and flooring, having your home professionally cleaned, and getting professional photos taken.

4) Get the negotiating advantage. Homes are going for well over asking price in this market, and often that’s because there were competing offers. By pricing your home properly for the market, using “coming soon” marketing, holding an open house, and allowing several days to a week for showings, you can attract multiple offers. We help you determine which offer is really in your best interest in terms of timing, price, and other contingencies so you can successfully negotiate your home sale.

Retiring in style

If you’re nearing retirement age, it would be beneficial to start thinking about downsizing and your next move -- or what Capitol Lakes likes to call your “best” move.

Capitol Lakes is a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in downtown Madison that offers on-site health care for seniors, a vibrant lifestyle with programs and classes, a fitness and aquatic center, tasty dining options, and other fine amenities. Apartments range from about 500 to over 2,000 square feet to fit your needs, including a high-rise building with expansive views of downtown. This continuum of care features independent living, assisted living, a memory care unit, and a skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit for whatever stage you or a loved one might be in.

“It’s never too early to start looking at what a move here would look like,” said Holly Johnson of Capitol Lakes. “It’s important to start downsizing earlier, too.”

Since Capitol Lakes is a premier wellness and retirement community, she described the two different waitlist options people can sign up for. The “social” waitlist is for those looking to move longer than two years out or don’t know their timeframe but want to secure their name when they’re ready to join the “priority” waitlist, which is for those ready to move in two years or less who are offered apartments as they become available. When you’re notified, you will have 60 days to move in, get your home on the market, finish downsizing, and get your move set up.

That’s why Capitol Lakes recommends working with local downsizing, moving, and real estate companies like the ones at the presentation. Norma Madsen, a Capitol Lakes resident, said the downsizing company she worked with helped her decide who got the dishes, where to donate books, and how to ship items to her family. She created three piles: What she was sure she wanted to take with her, what she hadn’t looked at in a long while and could easily pass along, and a maybe pile. “As I got going, the ‘weeding’ became easier,” Madsen said.

“We are every day rearranging a few things that catch our eyes,” she added. “And we will be doing a bit more downsizing in the months ahead, but in the meantime, we are living here and enjoying our new place.”

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