I have learned a couple of valuable lessons from the process.
First, like losing weight, getting out of debt, giving up smoking or being more assertive, it’s easier said than done.
The amply proportioned know that there may be more to shedding the pounds than simply eating less. Anyone contemplating downsizing or urging someone else to do so should know that the process is not simply a matter of phoning the estate agent and hiring a removal service.
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Be physically and mentally prepared
The process needs determination and a degree of good humour to cope with the awfulness of it all. You’ve not only got to cope with the emotional side of leaving the home where you brought up your family; the practicalities of shedding years of accumulated "stuff" are also going to take their toll. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s hard.
In my case I was leaving a five bedroom family home that I and my family, including three now grown-up children, had occupied for the past 26 years. It was never going to be easy – not least because the children left most of their belongings behind when they moved on to their new lives.
In 26 years you can collect more than you ever realised. Not just your own things, such as a wedding dress, holiday souvenirs and antediluvian ski equipment.
Cash in on clutter
There are the mathoms gifted by other family members – Granny’s tea-set that you’ve never taken out of its box, and the nesting tables that your mother was getting rid of and was sure you would have use for.
Not to mention five decades of family photographs that you’ve never looked at for the past four, plus assorted hockey sticks, swimming trophies and school blazers that your children have abandoned in remote recesses of their wardrobes, bookshelves and chests of drawers.
In my case, my daughter moved to a job in America, leaving the contents of her room that filled five cabin trunks.
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Prepare for complications
Our move to somewhere smaller was further complicated by the fact that the purchase of our dream home fell through when the survey revealed that around £30,000 needed to be spent repairing the roof and chimneys. By that time we were committed to our sale and ended up in rented accommodation while we looked for another house to buy.
This means we weren't able to chuck out as much furniture as we’d have liked to, in case we needed it when we eventually moved again. The garage of our temporary roost was piled from floor to ceiling with furniture and boxes, and we had to pray that it didn’t go mouldy over the winter if we were still here when the cold weather set in.
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It's worth the pain
The second lesson I learned from the downsizing exercise is that the whole process was definitely worth doing. As my husband and I piled up books from our student days, Barbour jackets in strange sizes that can never have fitted anyone in our family, and assorted kitchen equipment, from bean slicers to rumtopfs, to take to the charity shop, we decided we were actually glad to be doing it.
Not only is decluttering quite liberating, it’s also a favour to your own children. We could only think how cruel it would have been to have continued to live in our big house full of memories, but also full of our old junk, and left this job of "chucking out" to someone else when we finally shuffled off this mortal coil.
So, having long urged older people to downsize rather than stay in a house that is too big for them, I’m going to continue to do so.
I will sympathise and cluck and assure you that I feel your anxiety and pain because I’ve made the move myself. But I will also continue to be quite stern and say that staying in a large house that you don’t really need because you are afraid to make the move is not just selfish, it’s madness. Moving out and moving on could be the best thing you do in your later years.
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Tips for downsizing
- Do move while you are still fit and healthy and can make new friends if moving to a new area.
- Move to somewhere practical. Don’t let your head rule your heart. That little seaside cottage with winding stairs is not going to be suitable when you are 80. Likewise, how would you manage a big garden in old age? Can you afford a gardener or will the garden go to ruin, devaluing your property? Is the location suitable if you can no longer drive?
- Declutter as much as you can. It makes sense not to pay a removal firm to shift stuff that will ultimately end up in the charity shop or town dump.
- Don’t get carried away. The only thing worse than paying to remove and store old junk is finding you have parted with a treasure. Take your time over sorting out your old stuff.
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