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5 Things To Remember When Downsizing For Retirement

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “downsize” as “to make smaller” or “reduce in size.” That’s easy if you’re halving a recipe for lasagna or, say, finally getting rid of that old VHS video collection.

But how do you downsize your entire home… your life?

The prevailing logic for retirees is that downsizing is the first step on a journey to carefree living and lots of freed up cash. Get rid of everything, sell the big house, and downsize into a tidy cottage or condo that fulfills your dreams of the next phase of your life.

But for most people, the major sticking point is that very first step: getting rid of stuff. And no two people go about that task in the same way, with the same mindset, or even the same goals and values.

Here are five tips to help you when downsizing for retirement.

  1. Goals, like people, are personal.

Downsizing means different things to different people, including your spouse and children.

Take my own experience, for example. When Nancy and I launched our own downsizing plan, we had some very concrete expectations. Those expectations turned into five goals, which ambitiously turned into the following:

  1. Simplify life.
  2. Lower monthly expenses.
  3. Reduce maintenance and upkeep.
  4. Make more time for visiting family.
  5. Remain in Valparaiso where we work, love our community, cherish our friendships, and support charities and a great university.

You may recognize some of these goals as some of your own. Your own list may be shorter or longer, but whatever your hopes and dreams entail, you’ll need to start downsizing your possessions first.

  1. Be prepared for a lot of decision making and a lot of trips down Memory Lane.

As much as Nancy and I loved our home, we were excited about living a more care-free life, free from the duties of yardwork and extensive upkeep. Our biggest obstacles were the accumulation of items over 31 years of marriage and 21 years in the same home. Raising five children within those walls forced that home to become command central for seven people for a long time.

Nancy and I were pretty sure we could cope with the emotional side of moving, but we had no idea that we had so much stuff! Nancy is not a pack-rat, and she prided herself on clearing things out over the years, yet we still found ourselves swimming in decisions about what to keep, what to donate, and what to toss.

How could we create a simpler life without sacrificing boxes and boxes of cherished memories?  With all five kids living out of state, how do we sift through their treasures they accumulated during those years? When the kids moved out, did they forget their clothes, knick-knacks, trophies, pictures and other items that help define their identities and tell the story of their pasts? Did the kids want us to save their things for them? Do they care?  Should we take this change slowly or tear the band aid off quickly?

  1. It helps to have a list.

I generally need a list for any task, so I researched and discovered that most of the good downsizing lists are published by senior care communities.  Have I become their target audience?  A common theme in the various articles was to sort everything into four categories:

  • Items you need: Documents, photos, files and beloved possessions
  • Items you’d like to keep: My Bavarian beer mug collection got demoted to the basement storage space when Nancy and I married in 1985.  I’d like to keep the collection but… This list included things we enjoy but aren’t essential or sentimental.  I had several items move from need, to like and back again.
  • Items to donate: Then there are items that we thought our kids would want like their 2nd grade YMCA basketball trophies, seven years of volleyball history (yes that’s you Brigid), extra mattresses, lots of picture frames, bike parts, and classic clothes. It turns out they didn’t want any of those treasures, and we donated at least fifteen pick-up truck loads of boxes to local charities.
  • Items to toss: Some things appear to be treasures, but end up in the garbage. We realized we don’t need the tickets stubs to great concerts, and we recycled stage bills to great plays – including Billy Elliott, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables.
  1. It’s important to keep Your eyes on the prize.

Once we committed ourselves to downsizing, the search for a new home, condo or townhome began.  Both Nancy and I found this to be incredibly motivating during the weekly task of cleaning out closets. Imagining our cute, tidy townhome or our new cottage kept us going through even the most difficult parts of the process where we had to make tough decisions about our belongings.

Online property details, photos, videos and even drone movies made the initial search much easier than when we house hunted over twenty years ago.  After searching for over a year we decided to buy a “tear down” and build a simple smaller home with the details we wanted – like less maintenance. Once again, the internet was full of floor plans that fit our lot size and allowed us to tweak with variations and customized basics. Once we selected the house plan, our awesome builder worked with us to create a vision complete with colors, lighting, cross ventilation, patio, and other details.

It turned out to be a lot easier and more fun than we anticipated. We feared the project would entail too many decisions, and after sorting through our six bedroom home, we wanted freedom from trying to be Solomon. The house building process turned out to be a breeze, and it connected us as we collaborated on this new phase of our lives.

  1. Don’t go it alone.

Nancy and I couldn’t have moved this far into the process without talking to friends and clients who have gone through it already. I hope that by sharing our experience, you can avoid some of our mistakes.

As Nancy likes to say, “Let me tell you what not to do because we made that mistake.” We also could not have navigated the process without the support and advice from professional realtors, movers and contractors. I am an entrepreneur and love working with and supporting others.

Scannell Wealth Management Group: Informed, Knowledgeable, and Experienced

When managing wealth for clients and preparing plans to protect and grow that wealth for future generations and favored charities, we think about the effect of where and how you choose to live will have on those plans and the families we work for.  We think about the cost, network of friends and family, access to healthcare, lifestyle and support for lifelong learning among other things.


Your goals and dreams change. Financial products do not. Clients work with us because we don’t sell products – we create customized plans based on each client’s individual goals, and we continuously reevaluate client plans to ensure they are aligned with changing needs. Our clients rely on us to protect their futures, and we take their trust to heart.

Tim Scannell, CPA, CFP® provides Personal and Business Tax Planning, Estate Planning, Investment Management, and Generational Wealth management to his clients. “We strive to deliver transparent, proactive, independent, and comprehensive planning and communications to the families we work for”.

Scannell Wealth Management is a team of investment professionals registered with HighTower Securities, LLC, member FINRA, MSRB and SIPC & HighTower Advisors, LLC a registered investment advisor with the SEC. All securities are offered through HighTower Securities, LLC and advisory services are offered through HighTower Advisors, LLC.

HighTower Advisors LLC, its affiliates and HighTower Advisor’s Financial Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice.  You need to consult your legal and tax  

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Scannell Wealth Management is registered with HighTower Securities, LLC, member FINRA and SIPC, and with HighTower Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor with the SEC. Securities are offered through HighTower Securities, LLC; advisory services are offered through HighTower Advisors, LLC.

This is not an offer to buy or sell securities. No investment process is free of risk, and there is no guarantee that the investment process or the investment opportunities referenced herein will be profitable. Past performance is not indicative of current or future performance and is not a guarantee. The investment opportunities referenced herein may not be suitable for all investors.

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