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The Emotional Side of Downsizing


By Amy Durbin, Proctor Place

In the mid-1800s, British designer and poet William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Over 150 years later, these words are still applicable, especially to those looking to downsize. Downsizing consultants estimate that 80 percent of what we own, we never use.

Anyone can make a decision to downsize but most often we think of someone downsizing after retirement, either to a smaller home or condo, or to a retirement community. As we age, our needs, abilities, and health can change, sometimes very quickly. Maintaining a home and yard is sometimes a physical and financial burden. Safety can be a concern depending on the size of the home and the surrounding neighborhood. Other reasons people may downsize include not wanting to be a future burden to family and friends, a desire for social interaction, an inability to drive, and overall health and
wellness needs.

Whatever your reason for downsizing, it is a task that can be daunting. To some, downsizing is not simply sorting through a house full of “stuff.” Downsizing means sorting through your treasures, your essentials, and often an entire lifetime of memories. Over time, we develop emotional connections to things, especially if they were passed down to us from loved ones. Our possessions and our memories can become intertwined. Maybe you feel as though giving away your grandmother’s china is going to lead to losing those precious memories of your grandmother. According to Nan Hayes, founder of, “People tend to cling to their possessions to avoid dealing with other issues like stress or fear.” During a time of transition to a smaller home, a condo, or a senior living community, stress levels can be high. This can make sorting items even more difficult.

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand, the authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, theorize there are two kinds of people when it comes to downsizing. There are the “throwers” who tend to work quickly and enjoy clearing out spaces and un-cluttering rooms. Then there are “keepers” who tend to linger on each item and really struggle to decide what to do with each item. They may even put off the process because it is too emotional for them. While the “keepers” may delay and slow down the process, the “throwers” may miss valuables and even money tucked away in pockets of clothing or in between pages of books. It can be beneficial to find both a “thrower” and a “keeper” to help in the
downsizing process.

Downsizing may be a difficult decision but it is almost always beneficial in the long term. Focus on yourself and your needs and values. If you have a favorite chair that makes you feel safe and cozy, be sure to take that wherever you go. If you have a hobby you are passionate about, be sure to set aside even a small amount of space for that passion. Look at your trinkets and treasures from years gone by and decide which will fit into your new lifestyle. If you have to leave them behind, take photos to help you remember the story behind each item. According to Hetzer and Hulstrand, “Successful downsizing is coming to the realization that the most valuable thing in the house is the life that has been lived there.”

For more information about Proctor Place or to schedule a personalized tour, please contact Amy Durbin at 309-685-6580. Visit us online at