Here's an excerpt from my book, Downsizing Your Life for Freedom, Flexibility and Financial Peace:
Downsizing your life isn’t just about getting rid of a lot of stuff you don’t use. It’s also about looking at your life, including everything you surround yourself with, and removing the extraneous while considering what would make you happy and what would make more sense for the life you’re living today (not last year or two decades ago).
This often requires a move. So the first step in downsizing is deciding what to do about where you live now.
Should You Move?
Is your home too big for you?
Can you no longer afford it?
Are you tired of taking care of it?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you need to decide about moving before you start going through your things. It can mean the difference between just whittling down your belongings and doing a great purge.
If the idea of moving scares you, yet keeps nudging at you, it’s probably something you need to do. To get past the fear, arrange for a trial downsizing. Rent a small cottage or cabin somewhere and take only daily necessities plus a few things for entertainment, such as a music source, tablet, eReader or a few books. Go for a week. (If you can’t afford to rent a place, ask friends or acquaintances for a line on someone who might own a place that would let you stay there free for a week.)
Afterwards, note how you felt without your home, without your possessions, away from your current living situation and living in a smaller space. Most people who temporarily downsize like this are surprised to find that they become quite relaxed; they especially enjoy the lack of stress they experience during their time away from their life and their stuff. (This is part of why vacations are so much fun, too, don’t you think?)
Making the decision to move is just the first step. If you’re downsizing primarily for financial reasons, make sure the math works out. Do you know where your money goes now? Figure that out first, and then determine whether the place you’re thinking of moving to will actually cost less than your current situation. Chuck neglected to do that before he sold his house in the suburbs and bought a condominium in the city. But within a few months he realized that the condo owners’ association fees and parking garage fees made his new lifestyle more expensive than the old one. Not wanting to take a loss by selling so soon, he took a second job instead to help cover his added expenses. Remember, numbers don’t lie, so do the math first.
If you’re looking for a cheaper place to live, or wondering whether you can afford a certain place, check out http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/savings/moving-cost-of-living-calculator.aspx. Another great site for learning about new places to live is the forum at www.city-data.com.
Some people believe a downsizing move is only worthwhile if it will reduce your annual expenses by at least 25%. But there are intangible rewards as well, so keep that in mind by considering both your budget and your desires.
Costs of moving include movers or truck rental, and the realtor’s commission if you have a house to sell. Be realistic when you estimate the proceeds of a house sale; you may not get as much for your house as you once hoped, thanks to the housing crisis of recent years. You can check out recent sale prices of homes in your neighborhood at www.zillow.com for comparison purposes.
If you’re single and money’s tight, consider moving with someone else. A good friend or a sibling or cousin who’s also looking to save money and live somewhere new can split costs with you.
Finally, if you decide to move, don’t buy a house or condominium. Our economy is unstable, and the housing market has varied wildly. Buying something could trap you somewhere. Besides, part of the fun of downsizing is knowing you’re free to move if you want to go somewhere else or if you find a new job. You’ve likely spent your adult life doing what was expected of you. Now it’s time to relax a little and stay flexible. Renting lets you do that. And when the heat won’t come on or the refrigerator stops working, it’ll feel so good to call the landlord and know you won’t be getting the repair bill.
It may take a while to find a location that’s right for you. After we sold our house and downsized, we rented a house in one town for two years, then moved to a different town and rented there for two years. The first experience taught us that the first town wasn’t for us; we sure were glad we didn’t have a house to sell before we could leave. The second experience taught us that the second town was for us, so we felt good about eventually buying a house here. But we also knew (from experience) that there’s a tight rental market in this town; should we get the urge to move somewhere new, we can easily rent out our house and increase our monthly income. Since we work from home, we can live almost anywhere.