Downsizing and Decluttering 101 | Help for Empty Nesters

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell

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One way or another, you’re going to have to do it. At least once. But probably more. If you’re an empty nester, you know what I’m talking about: Downsizing. Bob and I haven’t done it yet, but we know it’s coming. When our last child went off to college, we promised her that we wouldn’t move until she was out of school. We wanted her to feel like she had a warm, familiar refuge to come home to on weekends, over breaks, and in the summer. She’s a junior now, and we know this whole downsizing thing is imminent. I’ll be honest — it feels pretty intimidating. If you’ve been hanging around here for awhile now, you know I’m big on reaching out for help when you feel like you don’t have the skills, emotional fortitude, or mindset to handle a situation yourself. Whether you’re struggling through the empty nest transition, trying to get fit and healthy, or working on becoming a better parent to your adult kids, I’m all about tapping into experts and utilizing resources that can help you wade through a challenging, complicated situation. Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to my friend, Anita Sisler. Anita is an empty nester, a certified professional organizer, and the owner of The Declutterbug. She’s helped many empty nesters downsize and declutter, and she kindly agreed to let me interview her on this important topic.

(Suzy) What does downsizing look like for most empty nesters?
(Anita) Most of the empty nesters I work with are actually downsizing within their own homes with the goal of preparing for their later decades. They want to have less stuff to maintain and less for their kids to deal with after they’re gone.

What are the most challenging aspects of the downsizing/decluttering process?
Just beginning is usually the most challenging thing, because of the sentimental memories attached to items. Often, empty nesters decide to move, and when it’s time to declutter, they realize that their home is full of memories — both good and bad — of raising a family. It can be an emotional process. 

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What suggestions do you have for dealing with especially sentimental items?
1. Investigate ways to save memories with technology. (For example, digital photo storage.)
2. If your children live nearby or they’re home for a holiday, use the time to ask them what they would like to have.
3. Make a “keepsake box” for each of your children, filled with a few items you cherish the most.
4. Recruit a family member or friend so that you won’t linger too long over any one item.

What are some tips for empty nesters who are decluttering in preparation for downsizing to a smaller home?
1. Ask for help.
2. Make a plan and a schedule (with flexibility) so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
3. Keep only the items that you deem useful, that you love, and that make you smile. (The less you have, the less you have to pack!)
4. Use this time to secure your memories. (There are professional organizers who specialize in this.)
5. Make sure you’re clear on the layout and room dimensions of your new home in order to make better decisions about what to bring with you.
6. If you’re unsure about whether a piece of furniture you love will fit or look right in your new space, bring it along. If it doesn’t work, you can always sell, donate, or give it away.
7. Know that your mindset is critical. Take time to reflect, nourish your body and soul, and get proper rest during the entire process.
8. When it’s time to leave the home, take some time to say “goodbye” — either privately, with your spouse, or with other family members. Go from room to room, envision a memory, say thank you, and say goodbye.

How can a professional organizer be helpful to empty nesters who are downsizing?
1. An organizer can help you cope with the overwhelming feeling that tends to happen before starting.
2. An organizer can help you make a plan, figure out where to begin and keep you on track throughout the process.
3. An organizer will keep you feeling motivated and energized as you work through the process.
4. If you’re moving, the organizing team can do your packing, box labeling, etc. This can be really helpful.

Thank you so much, Anita, for sharing such practical information with us today! How can people get in touch with you if they want to know more?
It’s my pleasure! People who want to talk further can go to my website or contact me at 469-298-9077. I’m based just north of Dallas, but I do phone and Skype consultations with clients throughout the country. Also, if people just need help at the beginning of the process, I offer Jumpstart Plans. Those consist of an initial consultation with a walkthrough of the rooms they need help with, and then a specific plan to help them get started. Finally, I’ve got lots of great organization ideas on my Pinterest page, so people can follow me there.

I hope Anita’s insight was helpful to you! Have you downsized yet? What are your best tips for those of us who haven’t? Please hit me up in the comments below, and share your experience!






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  1. Very motivating interview, Suzy! I recently started going through old pictures from college to early marriage and tons of pictures of my 3 kids at each stage. I noticed how many double pictures I had, thinking that one day I would scrapbook. Plus, back in those days, we took pics without knowing if anyone had their eyes closed, or a weird look on their face! I threw away a huge tub worth of pictures that don’t make me smile. The toughest pics to weed out are of my parents who have passed away. But my siblings and I had to clean out their house and we all said, let’s not make our kids go through thousands of old pictures and keepsakes. My kids aren’t attached to anything. So now I constantly throw out or donate things that I think my kids would do the same with. It’s nice to open drawers and closets and NOT see a cluttered mess anymore. But it’s a work in progress since I’m a recovering pack rat ????. Love your blog, you keep me going!!

    1. Oh Jan, what great comments and thoughts. I hadn’t even considered all of those things about old photos. Wow. You are so right about our kids – they aren’t really attached to material things as much as we are, it seems. In fact, nationwide consignment businesses are thriving because kids don’t want their parents’ stuff!! I’m so grateful for your sweet words about Empty Nest Blessed. Thank you! xoxo Suzy

  2. Very timely as I need to prepare to sell my house. Thank you! The tip that helped me the last time I moved was to look at everything in my house as though I was seeing it for the first time in a store and ask myself if I would buy it today.

    1. Ellen,
      Oh my word, that tip is brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing that. Great wisdom there. Our tastes do change over time. Sometimes I’m like, “Why in the world did I buy that?!” Thanks so much for reading and taking time to leave a comment that will definitely be a blessing to others. xoxo Suzy

      1. Ellen that is a great tip! I’m definitely going to remember that!
        Thanks for sharing!

  3. Helpful ideas! Thank you Anita! When I downsized it helped me to think how much easier it would be to find my glasses when I was finished and I’m happy to say that is true! In addition, it helped me too remind myself of what the Bible says about our Treasures”! (Matt 6: 19-20).

    1. I love you, Mom! Wise words, OF COURSE!!! Thank you for sharing them. xoxo Suzy

  4. Very informative! My last child is a junior in high school. The other three have all finished college. I’m looking forward to emptynesterring ( I think I made up a new word)! My kids all keep coming home for short stints here and there and it will be hardest on My Bob is a bit glued to this house and We will become snowbirds eventually. A couple months out of the year we will go somewhere warm. Do you talk about snowboarding? A good topic for you to investigate. Thanks for the info.. love the picture tips.
    Brigit BZgallife

    1. Brigit,
      I LOVE your new word and my just have to borrow it! You are nearing the finish line since you have a HS junior. Thanks for the tip about snowbirding. We go to Florida often, so we know all about snowbirds, but I’d never thought about doing a blog post on them. What a good idea! Where do you usually go? I’d love to know. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! xoxo Suzy

  5. Great info! Currently, sorting my daughters’ things. It is so difficult. The hardest part is letting go, but it’s a new chapter! I like to think of it as repurposing my space ????

    1. Cynthia,
      I think your positive attitude is awesome! Good for you. Letting go is always so challenging, but it’s an ongoing part of life. I always think of it as part of just being an emotionally healthy person. That means having to let go is kind of like working out at the gym. It may not be super fun, but it does make you healthier in the end. Thanks for sharing those good thoughts with us! xoxo Suzy

  6. Don’t your kids come home to visit? Are you not planning to have grand kids visit? Family holidays at your house? Your kids+ their spouses + their kids + their dogs coming to stay. Decluttering to fit them in the guest rooms I can understand. However, life also has a way of throwing curve balls. My mother had to move her mother in with her for five years. Now at 75 she is raising her grand daughter because of High School shootings in the country, and a divorced parent that moved in with an abusive loser. My niece is wearing a lot of my old high school quality sweaters my mother saved. My brother moved all his stuff into her basement 18 years ago and left it there do to downsizing after a job loss. That type of thing he should declutter or donate. So, your job is not done. I bought two new mattresses so my kids want to visit. I saved the best important kids toys and books to entertain my increasing family. It’s better to clean the garage, basement, and attic out. The wealthy pay off houses and continue to live in them. They donate only what will not need again to Good will. Write it off on your taxes if you own a home or rental property. I cleaned each child’s room out and repainted their freshman year of college. Things I got rid of were paper clutter.

    1. Tamara,
      Wow! That is a lot of good information. Like you, we’ve made it a point to save things that we think will be meaningful to our kids as they get older, and to their kids. You are so right that we never quite know what the future holds. When our middle son got married, we realized we didn’t have a queen size bed for the newlyweds, so we repainted and redecorated our oldest son’s room to make it into a guest room for the happy couple. (The oldest was fine with that.) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice! xoxo Suzy

  7. Suzy,
    This was a very helpful post! Both of our boys are out of the house and have families of their own. This past Christmas I decided to start decluttering just a bit, not starting off too aggressively because I\’m SUPER attached to my stuff! lol I started with my Christmas decorations. I have purchased an ornament every year since the birth of each boy and I decided to box them all up along with any Christmas keepsakes they\’ve made throughout the years. Neither of the boys wanted to take them yet, one due to space issues (tiny apartment and a newborn on the way) and the other the ornaments don\’t match the specific decor of their tree (I\’ve always had a mix-match home tree, not anything consistent and uniformed in color or themed)… 🙁 My fear is that if they take them they\’ll get thrown in a closet somewhere and eventually get thrown out or lost. It\’s hard to let go….something I\’ll still consider going through and letting go little by little though. 🙂

    1. Jana,
      Thank you so much for sharing all of that! I’m using the same method for my kids Christmas ornaments. If they don’t want them, I’m going to put them in their keepsake boxes. I have to think at some point when they have kids of their own, those ornaments will be more meaningful to them. I keep having to remind myself that it’s the relationship that’s important, not the stuff. (But I’m still having a hard time with it all!) Thanks for echoing my sentiments. So sweet of you! xoxo Suzy

  8. My husband and I built our retirement house in Alpharetta north of Atlanta last year. We did a lot of research on various cities and viewed a lot of model homes. We came to the conclusion that we could NOT downsize to a home with less square footage inside but that we did want a smaller yard to maintain in a gated, non-retirement community with lots of amenities. We built a new home with the same square footage as our last family home with ample space for visting family and all of the furniture that we love. The extra furniture is stored in a mini-warehouse for our twins’, who will graduate from college in May 2020. We hired Junk in the Box at our old house to bring us a huge dumpster to dispose of old household items we no longer needed and that helped a lot. This is our 8th house in almost 27 years of marriage and hopefully, the last!

    1. Andrea,
      Wow! Thanks for sharing your story! Bob and I have no plans for downsizing either! We built this house 14 years ago with the idea that it would work for grandkids too! Your house sounds lovely, and I’m so happy for you! A thoughtful, intentional decision, for sure. xoxo Suzy

    1. Bob,
      So glad you enjoyed it. I’m sorry to hear about your wife. Praying for all the best for you! Suzy

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