- - Friday, July 22, 2011

Dreaming of ditching your McMansion in favor of a cute condo downtown? If so, be sure you consider the downside of downsizing: You will need to get rid of some, if not most of your possessions.

Once you move, the challenge will be to maximize the efficiency of your smaller space with supreme organization. Professional organizers offer tips to help make both sides of the empty nest equation easier to handle.

“The first step is to get a sense of the homeowners’ goals and to find out if they already know the size of the next place where they will live,” said Nancy Ilene Quinlan, owner of Must Get Organized (www.mustgetorganized.com) in Arlington.

Scott Roewer, president of Solutions by Scott (www.SolutionsbyScott.com) in the District, said while most people wait until they have a signed contract for a new home, some people wait until they actually get to their new home to sort their belongings.

“People don’t realize that they can start downsizing earlier,” Mr. Roewer said. “Editing some of your stuff before looking for a new home can help you figure out what to buy. It’s important to plan six weeks to two or three months in advance of a move, to think about how you want to use your new space and how your furniture will work there.”

Alexandra Koneff, co-owner of Orchestrated Moves (www.orchestratedmoves.com) in Bethesda, said empty nesters need to set priorities to determine what to get rid of and how to get rid of it.

“If something would have meaning to another family member or close friend, you can give it to that person,” Ms. Koneff suggested. “People have an emotional attachment to things, so we have to ask them, ‘Does it make you smile when you see it?’ If it does, then maybe they can think of a way to keep it in the family or use if in the new place.”

Mr. Roewer suggested that people start in the perimeter rooms of the house, such as the attic, basement, garage and storage closets.

“Not only do you keep things there that you have forgotten about, but you also store things like a lawn mower that you won’t need in the next place,” Mr. Roewer said. “These rooms can also be more challenging because of the emotionality involved. I recommend that people get everyone involved in the decision making, including grown kids who may or may not want their stuff.”

Mr. Roewer said decisions can be made long distance, with the homeowners photographing items for their offspring to look at.

Once the sorting process is complete, the homeowners need to determine how to get rid of items responsibly.

“County websites have information about how to recycle items, and consumers can also decide whether they want to take the time to sell possessions or donate them,” Ms. Quinlan said. “Goodwill is a perennial favorite, but I also like Joseph’s Coat in Annandale. Many local groups need household items, books and toys.”

Ms. Koneff and Mr. Roewer both recommend A Wider Circle for donations because the items are placed in a warehouse and made available to formerly homeless families.

“Clients can also sell items on eBay and Craigslist, but they need to be aware of the potential complication of shipping or having things picked up,” Ms. Koneff said. “A consignment store is another option, or an estate sale can be arranged. If there are not enough items, sometimes a shared sale can be arranged.”

Organizers recommend measuring every space in the new home to evaluate where furniture and other possessions will fit before moving day.

“We actually had a client come to us after they had paid movers to move everything into their new home, only to discover half of it didn’t fit,” Ms. Koneff said. “They had to pay the movers to move their belongings back to the old house, and then they called us to help them.”

Proper organization in the new home can maximize efficiency and storage options.

“I always recommend that people go vertical, creatively using their wall space,” Ms. Quinlan said. “You can even hang a bike from the ceiling. You can use the back of closet and bathroom doors to store things, and places like the Container Store and Target have designed all sorts of items for those spaces and under the bed.”

Ms. Quinlan uses milk crates for closets and basements because they can be stacked easily, as well as sturdy cardboard boxes and plastic storage boxes. Benches with built-in storage or trunks can be used for storage as well as for extra seating or as a coffee table.

“Everyone needs to think about their lifestyle,” Ms. Koneff said. “If you intend to entertain a lot, then you need to create space for people and for all your platters, but if you intend to eat out more often, then that isn’t a priority. You might want a dining table with leaves that can be folded away to a sliver and to look into a multiservice piece of furniture like a TV cabinet that has a drawer for serving pieces.”

Mr. Roewer recommends slide-out shelves in the kitchen and plate holders that hang from the bottom of regular shelves to use the dead space in between the shelves.

Closets can be reorganized to meet the needs of individuals even without going to the expense of professional customization. Mr. Roewer recommends the Elfa system available at the Container Store because it is easy to install and relatively inexpensive.

“Closet systems can double your space and even just adding a second clothes rod can be helpful,” Mr. Roewer said. “It all falls into putting thought into what you are doing and really planning all the dumb details of where your belongings should go.”

Ms. Quinlan suggests browsing the storage and closet departments at Target and similar stores to get ideas for what works best for your needs, such as hanging shelves for sweaters and shoe racks for the inside of a door.

“Go through your closets first and purge them,” Ms. Quinlan said. “You may have a clothes or shoes problem, not a closet problem.”

If your downsizing seems too overwhelming, paying a professional organizer or moving consultant may be the ticket to an easier lifestyle shift.

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