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The Empty Nester’s Guide to Moving On and Letting Go

Your kids have moved out for the last time (or so they say), and you’re ready to downsize. But doing so is all about getting rid of what doesn’t matter, holding on to what does — and knowing the difference.


Julie Morse, a resident of Lake Bluff, Illinois, knew from her experience as a Realtor that using space wisely is tantamount to downsizing. But as a mother of six grown children, she sought to strike a balance between tossing everything and saving cherished childhood items.


So when Morse and her husband moved from a 2,000-square-foot house to a 1,200-square-foot townhome, they downsized gradually by renting a storage unit. “I think it’s good to ease in, which is where the storage unit is helpful,” says Morse. “Have things in a keep pile, a maybe pile and a get-rid-of pile. The maybe pile becomes important, because you should think through it. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”


Deciding what to keep often comes down to determining if the item is useful and personally significant, sentimental but not really useful, or easily replaceable and taking up space. When Cynthia McIntyre and her husband downsized following a move from Indianapolis to Hastings, Minnesota, they donated or sold some of the furnishings and stuff their three adult children had left behind, but saved the furniture that McIntyre’s father-in-law had built for the kids when they were young. She stored additional heirloom items in a curio cabinet, giving them an organized home. “We kept what was most precious,” says McIntyre. “The youngest two don’t have kids yet and they don’t want it now, but maybe they will once they have kids.”


Both Morse and McIntyre were able to create space for the things they (and their kids) valued by installing closet organizing systems and additional storage. Morse carved out space for a closet in a bathroom, while McIntyre added large cabinets to her laundry room. Both women say they felt the effort was worthwhile.


“Downsize with a deliberate sense, but also with a sense of caution that you don’t go too far too fast,” says Morse. “I love living in our condo. It’s sleek, uncluttered and extremely organized. But if I had to get rid of the posterity stuff — things that were the maybes — I think I would have gone too far.”

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