Big life changes often go hand in hand with cleaning out a home — but it doesn’t mean it’s the same every time. Downsizing a home for retirement is a different process than decluttering after someone dies. How a person cleans space for the next chapter should be known as “rightsizing,” one author said.
In her latest book, “Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow,” Marni Jameson explores the concept of “rightsizing,” after having downsized homes after losing loved ones, going through a divorce and blending families with her husband, who is a widower. Jameson is also the author of a syndicated column, “At Home With Marni Jameson.”
“I became very good at getting rid of stuff,” she said.
Everyone approaches retirement differently, as they do with moving between homes. Some people think they will stay in their current home by default, or may feel an emotional attachment to it because of the years spent there raising a family, Jameson said. But retirees should ask themselves instead if their current home is really the best place for them in their later years, and if not, where would that perfect place be instead?
Jameson spoke with MarketWatch about “rightsizing,” and how to approach this task.
MarketWatch: What exactly does ‘rightsizing’ mean to you?
Marni Jameson: I define it as moving to or creating a home that is perfect — physically, emotionally, financially. All of those pieces have to click. People don’t take the longest view enough. They just stay put and do the same thing every day. I think they’re missing an opportunity to move on and have a better life.
MW: Can you expand on that?
Jameson: I think many people are in denial, and don’t want to think about it. They say it’s too much trouble to move, and I have to say, that is not a reason to live less than a best life. Push through what those troubles are and dream a little bit. That’s what my book outlines on paper. What would your best life look like? Where is it? What kind of house do you want to be in – a lock-and-go condo, or a single family where the grandkids can come home? On the water, the golf course? What would you love to do and what’s stopping you?
The four things that stop people are: first, is their stuff. If furniture is standing between you and a better life, think it through. There are a lot of places now, like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist. There are folks you can hire to sell your nicer items. Don’t let that be an obstacle.
People say their memories and all the great times. You can have great times in the next house, and your memories stay with you. You get to take them, so memories are not a good reason to stay in the house that is no longer serving you.
People fear change. Everyone does. Change is coming to you anyway. So again, we never know how many days we have on this Earth.
And complacency. Just being lazy. I like to say, don’t let laziness and fear of these things hold you back. I try to dissect it one obstacle at a time.
MW: What do people who have gone through this process and are on the other side have to say?
Jameson: It is amazing — 26% of people who moved in the last five years moved to a new state. Not just in the same state — they moved to a new state. That’s pretty brave. They left everything they knew. And 88% of them were glad they did. That is pretty affirming.
I really believe in course correction. Sometimes change is right but the change you make is wrong, so you should always be nimble and allow yourself the ‘what if’ plan. What if it doesn’t work out? So I moved from Colorado to Florida 10 years ago. I said, what if it doesn’t work out? I knew I could move back to Colorado. I knew I could make a U-turn. Fortunately, Florida liked me and my daughter and it worked out. But just know you can course correct.
MW: From your experience, have you found the processes for getting rid of things change based on the situation, such as after a death, divorce or just downsizing for retirement?
Jameson: The thinking and the filters are a little different. When cleaning my parents’ home, which everyone has to do for their own parents, or in-laws or grandparents, it is a different process because these are people you loved who held onto things and because you love them, you have to be the judge of what was important and why. Find out what’s valuable, not financially, but to your family, and what really can be turned into something more useful, like donating a wedding dress to a local theater department. When you have that extra dimension of wanting to respect their life, that becomes more arduous than going through your own things.
I got divorced after a 24-year marriage, and married someone who was a widower. Going through his things, there were more landmines because there were things of his late wife. He didn’t want her ghost living with us but also wanted to respect her. I do cover it in another book. What to keep and what to let go change with circumstances and stages in life.
MW: Is there any step a person can do now to rightsize?
Jameson: This is not one-and-done. Rightsizing is a lifestyle. You don’t just get your house in order and then expect it to stay that way, because things are always coming in and life is always changing. So you need a mindset of what you want to have around you. I think it is something you need to consider all of the time. Just continually whittle away at the garage or kitchen cabinets.
I like to have a trial separation — it makes it less painful. Put a bag in the garage and closet and put things that are borderline in there. I see what it’s like to live without them, and when it’s full, I take one more look and then bring it to Goodwill. It is a little less final and more transitional, and it helps people with the breakup. Most of us will find the fewer items we have, the less we have to maintain and keep tidy, and we can move more simply with less. It is a lifestyle.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.