There comes a time when downsizing is inescapable. It's a passage we need to take when we no longer need the two-story home where we raised the kiddos. They've married, moved away and are raising babies of their own. But, the empty nest won't seem so empty if we adjust our attachment to "things" that are bookmarks of our lives.

If you've ever been to an estate yard sale (as opposed to an upper-crust estate sale where they auction paintings, fine jewelry and silver sets), you'll have noticed a lifetime of collections that interest few people. Teapot and garden gnome lots are sold for pennies on the dollar. It's heartbreaking to see the hand-crochet dolls, hand-carved whistles, and other unique accumulations that have been loved and saved for decades, now just hoarders' junk. If you inherited grandma's doilies or great uncle's old push lawn mowers, this article is for you!

The bigger the house, the more is stored in the attic, the basement, the garage, and the storage shed out back. We just keep filling empty spaces with items we don't need. Baby clothes and the family crib that got passed back and forth between sisters-in-law in the 70's are probably not up to safety standards of the 21st century. Old electrical cords (yes, people save these) and broken lamps can be fire hazards.

So, where to begin? If you're lucky to have an apartment or condo ready for move-in, it's easy. Just furnish it with your very best and call a charity to pick up everything that won't fit. Don't look back. If something tugs at your heartstrings, take a photo or video for a reminder of the "good old days".

If you need to ramble around that empty house until you find a place you'll fall in love with, here are some bona fide ways to trim the stuff from your life, not necessarily in order of importance.

  • If your children aren't interested in passing their preschool toys or clothes to their own babies, box them up. A homeless shelter would love to pass them out to the needy.
  • Yard equipment won't be needed in an apartment complex. If your mower is in good shape, sell it to a maintenance company. Also have them look through the garage for any garden tools they can use.
  • Clothes that are the wrong size, shoes that pinch, those old bridesmaid dresses, or winter coats and boots not needed in a sunnier climate can all be donated to a charity.
  • Kitchen appliances that are bulky, like juicers, food processors, mixers, huge bowls, and extra sets of dishes are unlikely to fit in smaller digs, so give them to the grown children or donate to a soup kitchen.
  • Books that won't be read again can be donated to the library. Books take up a lot of room and are meant to be shared, anyway. Think of it as your contribution to Literacy.
  • Christmas decorations and outdoor holiday decor can be given to family members who still have small children to enjoy them.

Molly Mettler, a VP at Healthwise Inc. affirms that sentimental reminders can overtake our space and our lives. Learn to let go and live in the present. When downsizing, only take stuff you'll absolutely need to continue living the rest of your life. It's time-consuming, so start planning now. Try to avoid looking at every faded vacation photo and crying over each layette you come across. Keep your eyes on the finish line. Think about how much less burdened you'll feel when you're enjoying the hot tub and exercise room at the condo complex. You won't even remember what you got rid of after a few months on the golf course. Ditch the minivan and drive something that'll raise eyebrows. Remember, when the kids are away, the parents can play!

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