Downsizing and clearing out the family home is no small task. Circumstances are never ideal and usually involve one of “the four Ds” — downsize, debt, divorce, or death.   With 10,000 Americans turning 65 everyday, there are plenty of folks considering downsizing options.  No matter what your circumstance, there are loads of decisions to be made and lots of physical work to be done.

But don’t stress!  Here’s what you need to know:

Step 1 – Establish a Timeline and Plan

It takes time to do it right. Whether it is a couple’s decision to downsize or a family/estate representative that has been charged with the task of liquidating the assets of a house,  I encourage clients to articulate their goals and to create a specific plan which, in the end, will save time and money.  Use a calendar and back into your schedule.  Create a detailed To-Do list to track activities.  

Questions to consider:  Do you need to sell the property and its contents quickly to avoid continued expenses or do you have the time and financial resources to take your time?   What is your budget?  Who is going to do the work – family members or hired help?  How much time can family members dedicate to the project?  How do you keep the workload equitable without resentment?  If you decide to hire help, educate yourself on the options such as professional organizers, senior move managers, estate sale, or auction companies.  Understand what they do and don’t do for you.  

Step 2 – Know What You Have

This may sound silly but it’s common for folks to lose track of what is actually in their own house especially stored away in an attic or basement. This is especially true for estate representatives or children who may have never lived in the house or at least not for many years. So, before you get too far along, you need to know what you have so you can decide the best disposition.  I recently found a box full of sterling silver that almost went out with donation.  Even if it looks like a box of junk, it pays to take a few minutes to look at everything! Also, think about any unique items you may have that require special handling – such as a piano, large art collection, or medical equipment. Such items may be harder to move or donate and take more time and effort.

Step 3 –  Create Categories of Value

Every home has items of value and how you define the value guides your “Disposition” plan or, more simply, what are you going to do with everything?  What are items worth? Read our blog postHow to Assign Value When Downsizing Your Home.”

Step 4 – Understand the Liquidation/Disposition Options

There are lots of companies that offer disposition services so make sure you understand what they do and at what cost.  Take the time to meet with various service providers and check references and qualifications. Read our blog post “How To Downsize Your Possessions When You Move.”  A professional organizer is generally familiar with all the options and can help you sort out the differences.

Step 5 – Create a Process for Tracking Disposition

The process can extend over a period of months so it’s wise to track what you have sold and donated. This data will support any estate or tax-related reporting and assist with accounting for or sharing any proceeds with the family.  Include photos. Take note of money received or paid, any related contract details, and dates. For donations >$500, you must file IRS form 8283 and for donations > $5,000 you need an Appraisal with IRS Form 8283 so it pays to plan ahead and know the implications of your decisions.

Step 6 – Manage the Clean-Out

This is the process where you execute on the above decisions. This entails packing and moving the “keep” items, selling items via auction, estate sale, or buy-out, and, finally, clearing out the donation and trash. Proper planning and preparation for this process will lead to success. An organized, step-by-step process will result in the best outcome. 

It’s important to note that peace of mind is the goal here. No one wants to accidentally donate a valuable painting or carelessly trash treasured family photos.  Working with experienced, trustworthy partners and taking the time to do it right will make this overwhelming process “doable” and eliminate any regret or second-guessing. It always takes longer and involves more work than you can imagine. However, if you have a clear understanding and agreement of the process, then set specific  goals and have realistic expectations, you will have a smooth and successful experience.

If you want to learn more feel free to call or email me at or 917-846-9953.

It’s the smartest move you’ll ever make…

Certified Professional Organizer® Andrea Walker is passionate about helping her clients. As owner and founder of Smartly Organized, LLC, a professional organizing firm headquartered in New Jersey, Andrea has been helping discerning clients accomplish their organizing goals since 2010. Her attention to detail and high level of service set her apart from her peers. Contact her at 917.846.9953 or

A Smartly Organized move is the smartest move you will ever make™.

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