Downsizing: a personal journey THE MOVE

Have fun with your packing supplies!

Have fun with your packing supplies!

Most military families take advantage of the moving services provided. In this, our second and final military move, we opted again to move ourselves. When you are doing the packing, loading, unloading and unpacking yourself, you're very motivated to minimize the volume of stuff you bring. Forced to examine every object in our Georgia home during the packing process, we turned up in New York with just what we needed - and what our new, smaller space could comfortably accommodate. 

You also have a lot more control than you do when you hire movers. We chose our move dates, for instance, and unloaded the truck in an order that made unpacking easy - breaking down and exiting boxes as we went to make space to maneuver in the apartment. You can do that when you're not paying an hourly fee. 

One of the things we did that made for a smooth move was to order new furniture instead of bringing our old things with us. Obviously, this doesn't always make sense financially. When we left our DC apartment for our house in Georgia, we took every stick of furniture we owned. In downsizing, however, we found that the proceeds from our estate sale exceeded the cost of ordering a few essential pieces (a new mattress set and 3 chests of drawers). Our coffee table and 3 occasional chairs accompanied us on our journey - but they took up very little space on the truck. We saved a lot of money not having to transport major pieces up the coast, and we were thrilled to have our new pieces delivered to the apartment rather than having to move them ourselves. 

We were sad to trade in our antique wooden dressers for pre-fab Ikea ones, but the new look works well in our contemporary-sty;e apartment. We didn't have to worry about damaging our furniture and there's actually a lot more room in these drawers than in our old ones.  

Downsizing: a personal journey SPACE PLANNING

Planning is essential to a smooth move. As soon as our apartment-hunting trip was complete, and we'd signed a lease on our new place in New York, I sat down to plan out exactly what would come with us to New York and where it would "live." 

Walking through our home in Georgia to be sure I didn't leave anything out, I made a list of all the categories of stuff we would need. These included clothing, accessories and shoes, toiletries, linens, cookware, serveware and pantry items, and pet supplies. Also included were cookbooks, paper files, memorabilia, office supplies, electronics and cleaning supplies. 

With that comprehensive list, I mapped out our apartment on paper and assigned "homes" for each category. Only then could I estimate how much space we'd need for each category - and order furniture and organizing products appropriate for each area. 

As you might guess, this process took several hours. But it paid off. Within 24 hours of unloading our truck, our new home was unpacked and organized. 

Downsizing requires some tough decision-making. Here are some of the choices we made to ensure we'd be comfortable in our small space: 

Enjoy the china - I sold our set of everyday, white plates and bowls, and instead packed only my grandmother's china for use in our new place. Having two sets of dishes didn't make sense with our limited kitchen storage - especially since entertaining is not our top priority in New York - and I decided I'd rather risk damaging the china in the process of enjoying it, than pack it away where it would be "safe" but out of sight. 

Reduce, reduce, reduce - I also halved our numbers of serving pieces and linens. Although we welcome overnight guests on our extra-large sofa, we only needed dishes and glasses for 6, and a single extra set of bed and bath linens. (That's what laundry and dishwashing are for). We also thinned out our wardrobes significantly. A versatile wardrobe that suits our lifestyle is easy to store, and means laundry never gets too piled up. 

Prioritize - You may have noticed several categories "missing" from my list of items. We choose spaciousness and ease of access over owning holiday decorations, sports equipment (except our yoga mats), tools (except a hammer), and gifts and gift-wrapping, to name a few. Rather than supplementing our large kitchen island with a dining table, we chose to use the extra space in the living area to house our files and electronics. Once again, the primary function of our apartment is to support our daily routines - not to host dinner parties. 

Your choices may look very different from mine, but the bottom line is that prioritizing high-frequency-use items makes for a beautiful, practical small home. 


Downsizing: a personal journey THE ESTATE SALE

When my husband's job took us from our hometown of DC, where we shared a charming one-bedroom apartment, to Augusta, we chose the smallest home we could find: a beautiful, historic four-bedroom "cottage." There was a lot of furniture to buy to properly outfit the house but the enjoyment we derived from it in the four years we've spent here were well worth it. 

But tomorrow we throw our pets in the car and move to Manhattan, where we'll be back in a one-bedroom apartment - one quite a bit smaller than our first place in DC. We are thrilled to be returning to city life and, as luxurious as our home has felt, we're also eager to live simply with only the essentials. It'll be less to move, to manage, to maintain, to clean. And we'll spend more of our lives out in the streets than curled up at home. 

In preparation for smaller living, we gathered the 3 pieces of furniture we decided to bring to New York, our minimalist wardrobes and kitchen supplies, our crucial paper files and a couple other odds and ends into our upstairs sunroom. Everything else was left out to be sold in an estate sale. 

Estate sale: the bottom line

  • Hire an expert. Kara Chavous of Antique Unique Estate Sales knew how to price and market our sale. She would have laid out everything for display but, as the Type A control freak I am, I did most of that before she arrived. 
  • Sell EVERYTHING. We were told not to throw anything away, that people will buy anything and everything. We were skeptical, but listened and it paid off. People walked away with things we'd have surely trashed. Half a can of bug spray? Someone wants that. 
  • Get out. On the day of the sale, we did our best to stay away from the house. This is more comfortable for buyers and less stressful for sellers. Unlike most, we weren't emotional about parting with our stuff or sensitive to comments about it, but we sure didn't need to witness firsthand the stream of strangers parading through our home. 
  • Build a barricade. We were warned that estate sale buyers show up early and often, and try their hardest to access the off-limits areas of the home. I was still surprised, though, to walk downstairs at 7am in my pajamas and find two men on our front porch rocking chairs. And shocked when, twice, buyers tested the door handle on our bedroom door, which sported a giant "X" in duct tape and sign that said, "Do NOT enter. NOT for sale." Luckily, the handle locked from the inside. It would've been awkward to be barged in upon in my bed watching Hulu. The next day, I added to the sign, "Seriously." 
  • Cash in and move on. Today we will receive a check that does not match the total amount we spent acquiring our belongings but it's 100% more than if we kept this stuff. Instead of dragging our past along with us or spending thousands on storage, we will purchase a new bed and sofa in New York, and keep chugging. With money in the bank and a very small UHaul, we're ready to start living large (small!) in the next phase of our lives. 


Smooth Moves: Taking the path of least resistance into your new home

According to the Employee Relocation Council (and as anyone who has ever moved surely knows), "moving is the third most stressful event in life, following death and divorce."

Moving requires managing many logistical challenges - and life doesn't halt for you while you get it all done. You still have to face the daily grind of work and home life, when all the while you're drowning in boxes. In addition to all of that, you also encounter the nostalgia of ending one era and the anxiety of beginning a new one. Downsizing is particularly stressful, not only for the labor and planning involved in reducing your possessions but also for the emotional difficulty of parting with your stuff.

I can't promise that moving will ever be much of a picnic but, having assisted with many moves, I can share some universal advice that can make the process a lot less painful.


Planning is critical to a smooth move.  There are several spaces, dates and vendors to manage so first think through all the details and write out your plan, including when each step will occur. Start with your deadline for being settled in the new place and work backwards, accounting for packing and unpacking time, utility appointments, address changes, bill deadlines, furniture deliveries, car or truck rentals, cleaning service visits and walk-throughs.

Carefully plan your new space. Floor plans are not always reliable so take your own measurements, not just of walls and ceilings but also of counter tops, and inside closets and garages. Use a free internet space planner to map out how your furniture will fit into the new space.

Then decide where you will store your belongings. Take a visual inventory of all the categories of items you will bring with you and designate a room, closet or area where each will be accessible. Don't assume you can replicate your current home in the new one. Perhaps you keep your extra linens in the guest closet at your current house but it might make more sense in the new space to keep them in your master bathroom. It's important to have a realistic plan for where everything will go, especially if you're downsizing and might not have enough space for everything you expect to bring along.  It also saves time during the move process and means you'll be completely settled in from day 1 (or 2) in the new house.


Movers pack with only 2 goals in mind: a) getting everything on the truck and delivered to the new house as quickly as possible and b) covering their liability by ensconcing everything - even your Tupperware - in bubble wrap. Hire movers that you know to be honest and reliable. Then work with them to pack smarter.

  • Use large, easily visible color-coded stickers to indicate what stays and what goes. Make sure they are adherent enough not to fall off.
  • Take photos before packing begins for reference when unpacking, especially of bookcases and other decorative spaces.
  • Keep a list or take a photo of the contents of each box.
  • Pack items in groups according to where they will go in the new space, NOT where they are in your current space.*

*This saves a huge amount of time and effort in the unpacking process and prevents your having to drag heavy boxes from one room to another on the delivery end. Don't let movers pack "unlikes" in a single box. The office papers in your kitchen should be packed with other office papers - not with coffee mugs.

If you're moving yourself, leave plenty of time and start early by packing things you can do without for a few weeks. Leaving too much to the last minute adds a lot of stress and disorder.

Move day

Get help! You can't be everywhere doing everything so recruit a trusted friend to lend a hand.  While you field questions and direct movers, he or she can record box contents and start unpacking some of the crucial items.

Be sure to set aside the personal items you'll need for the 24-hour move cycle. In addition to a change of clothes and a day's worth of toiletries, don't forget:

  • Keys
  • Wallet, checkbook (with some cash on hand)
  • Cell phones and chargers
  • Medications
  • Alarm clock
  • Food and water for the day - for you and your pets (remember a couple of bowls, spoons, forks, etc.)
  • Keep some toilet paper and hand soap with you so that it's available at both the old and new locations

You should also hand carry valuable or very fragile items, and plan to transport any open toiletries or cleaning supplies yourself. Movers won't load these in their trucks for fear of damaging spills.

Take care of yourself on move day. Be sure to get a good night's rest. Take breaks throughout the day, and remember to eat and drink. Make special arrangements for young children and pets so that no one gets hurt or lost.


Despite movers' preferences, unload and place furniture in the new house first - before bringing in boxes. Otherwise, the boxes block the way. Once you have your furniture in place, start unpacking one area at a time, clearing as many boxes as possible to make more space. I like to start with clothing and then unpack toiletries and kitchen items. That's usually enough work for one day. Less critical areas, including office items, cleaning and laundry supplies and books, artwork and accessories, can wait a day or two.

Starting out in a new space is an opportunity to set up a more organized home. Rather than rush through the process, take time to plan, downsize your possessions and strategically place items in your new home. It's a lot easier to start off right in a space than to purge and reorganize later on.

One final plea: if, while preparing to move, you unearth boxes still unopened from your last move, do not open them. Do not load them on your moving truck. Barring the remote possibility that they contain bundles of cash, take them straight to the dump.