How to effectively downsize your home

How to effectively downsize your home
There are loads of benefits to downsizing your house - lower bills, less maintenance, less time spent on cleaning, and hopefully a fair amount of money from the equity released from your old home!  

Even so, leaving your old home and downsizing can be difficult, emotionally. As well as leaving behind a house where you’ve made lots of memories, you may be leaving behind lovely neighbours, and will probably have to say goodbye to many of your possessions as you won’t need as much furniture or furnishings in your new, smaller home.

You can focus much more on the positives, though, by maximising the benefits you’ll get when you downsize your home effectively. Here are our top tips to help with downsizing your home successfully.

1. Choose the right time to downsize your home

We mean this in two ways - firstly, make sure you’re downsizing your house at the right time in your life, and secondly, choose the right time during the year to do so.

The most popular - and financially viable - times to downsize during a lifetime are:

     a. When your children and/or grandchildren have flown the nest
If your children/grandchildren have grown up, you won’t need as many spare rooms. Just bear in mind what you’ll do to accommodate visits.  You could maintain a spare bedroom for visits, and/or your children/grandchildren may have the means to pay to stay in a hotel or won’t mind sleeping on the settee!  Talk with your family and check that they’d be supportive of the new arrangements when you downsize, so that they know you’re thinking about them and still want them to visit even if you don’t have as much room.

     b. Upon retirement
When you retire, you might want to spend your free time doing something other than cleaning and tidying a large house!  Releasing some equity from your old house to enjoy it (or supplement the income from your pension) is a great reason for downsizing your home.

     c. In anticipation of being less mobile as you reach old age.
Reduced mobility isn’t an inevitable part of ageing, but as you get older you might want to move into a bungalow to reduce the risk of accidents on the stairs, and generally to make life easier for yourself when you want to get around the house.

What month should you downsize?

In terms of the best times to move house during the calendar year, July and August are the most popular times for people to move house.  That’s mainly because of the summer school holidays, when most parents time their moves to enable their children to start at their new school at the start of the academic year in September.  If you put your house on the market in spring, hopefully you’ll secure a buyer and get all the conveyancing done in time for the summer holidays!  

If summer won’t work for you, try to aim for late spring or early autumn, because removals companies tend to offer cheaper rates at those times due to reduced demand.

2. Think about what you need from your new home

Once you’ve decided the time is right to downsize, create a list of features your new home must have and a list of what you’d also like it to have.  Use those parameters to find a home that will meet all your basic needs, and hopefully quite a few (if not all) of your wants, too!

Things you might need from your new house:
  • Proximity to local amenities, such as shops, library and parks/walks;
  • A small garden;
  • A driveway and/or easy access to public transport; 
  • Proximity to family or friends;
  • Nice neighbours;
  • Wide doorways, access ramps or handrails (though these can be fitted by the local authority if mobility becomes a problem later on), and perhaps few or no stairs.
Things you might want from your new house:
  • Not overlooked by neighbours;
  • An en suite;
  • Enough storage space for anything you can’t part with from your old home.
Storage space will inevitably be less available in a smaller property, and you’ll need to be quite ruthless about what you keep or dispose of.  

Don’t let the lack of storage space deter you from buying a property that otherwise has everything you need and want.  

There are many other ways to deal with your excess belongings: perhaps your children or grandchildren, or your friends’ children could make good use of them.  You could also always rent a self storage unit to store items that won’t fit in your home but might come in useful later on. 

3. Choose the type of home you want

Do you want a bungalow, to avoid stairs in later years?  Or is it enough to find a smaller property?  A smaller property would free up more equity from your old house, as bungalows tend to be just as expensive as larger houses (as they have a large footprint and require more land - plus, they’re always in high demand).

An alternative to either of the above is to buy a park home, which is akin to a static caravan on a residential site where you can live all year round.  Or you could move into a retirement village where you can live independently in a small house or flat whilst having easy access to services you might need (like housekeeping) and a fully accessible home.

4. Downsize your belongings

If you start decluttering now, it will be much easier - and you’re less likely to make hasty decisions you may later regret - than having a big clear out when your sale and purchase are going through. 

There will be some clutter that you can clear without much thought - you could sell things online (on sites such as eBay or Vinted), gift them to charity, or see if your family could use them.  For other items - particularly your furniture - that you’ll continue using until you move, it’s important to mentally allocate which items will be coming with you, and which ones you’ll probably part with.  Don’t forget the items you currently store in your shed or loft!

That emotional detachment from your belongings will help you to get rid of excess belongings when you move, whilst ensuring that the items you take with you will be useful, wanted and needed.

Don’t make any final decisions about larger items, though - particularly furniture - until you’ve secured your new home and know (from careful measuring) how much space you’ll have.  Smaller homes don’t just have fewer rooms - their rooms are smaller, so your 3-seater settee might be too large for your new living room.  

Once you’ve completed your purchase, you could pop your main furniture into your self storage unit and spend a few days measuring up your new home.  Use masking tape to mark out the measurements of your settee, beds, wardrobes etc on the floor of your new home, and see how everything will fit.  If you then decide that you need smaller, or fewer, items, you could either keep excess belongings in your self storage unit or rehome/sell/gift them and replace them with smaller versions.

5. Don’t take anything you don’t use

We’ve all got boxes or bags of belongings that we don’t actually use but can’t bear to throw away.  Items such as our children’s baby clothes or childhood artwork can be difficult to part with.  If these items take up a lot of space and you won’t have room for them in your new house, you could do one of three things with them:

     a. Photograph them and then dispose of the original item (this is great for artwork);
     b. Have patches of clothes/blankets made into a quilt or memory bear, to keep the fabric without the bulk;
     c. Offer them to your children, in case they want to keep them.

Downsizing house is a big undertaking and there’s a lot to think about, but it’s usually the most practical thing to do.  Focus on the money you’ll release from your existing house, and on the time you’ll save when you don’t have such a large house to clean and maintain.  There are plenty of more interesting ways to spend your time, and the money you’ll save on utility bills will be a further boost to your income!

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