Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

First deal with emotions, then the stuff

by Harriet Edleson, AARP, August 8, 2019 | Comments: 0

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

Gael Conrad, Corbis / Getty Images Plus

En español | The nest is empty, the mortgage is paid off and you’re thinking of moving to a smaller home.

Wherever you go — across the country or across town — retirees, or those headed toward retirement, will not be alone in seeking change.

In fact, almost 4 in 10 retirees have moved, according to a 2018 Transamerica Center for Retirement Research report. And among retirees that made a recent move, 51 percent downsized, according to a Merrill Lynch study. Downsizing and dismantling a home filled with possessions from the past 20 or 30 years can be emotionally difficult, experts say.

“Items can be sentimental or there can be some other important meaning to them,” says David Mischoulon, director of the Depression Clinical Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Just finding old cards or letters can trigger memories that overwhelm, experts say. Though downsizing is not an area that’s been formally studied, it is a life transition. .

“There are certain developmental milestones as we go through life,” says psychiatrist Gary W. Small, founding director of the University of California at Los Angeles Memory Clinic and director of the UCLA Center on Aging. Finding a livelihood, finding a mate and having a family are among them. “For a large part of our life we’re building, creating, amassing,” Small says. “When we’re downsizing we’re going in the opposite direction. We don’t need as much space; there’s an empty nest.”

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, John Mahoney

Tune into a two-part webinar from AARP on Aug. 13 and 15 at 7 p.m. ET. with clean-up expert and TV personality Matt Paxton, featured on the A&E series Hoarders. Part 1 covers managing emotions we attach to physical items. Part 2 focuses on locating important documents and how to declutter digitally.

Changing direction can create unease or feelings of sadness, grief, even anxiety. “Your life is contracting,” Small says. “A lot of people don’t like that.”

If the move is a good one, the transition and feelings that go with it will be faster, Mischoulon says. There are ways to think about the process that can make it easier, even exciting. For example, if you “think of downsizing as a new adventure,” Small says, you are more likely to enjoy it.

Being part of the process is the key to a good outcome.

Downsizing tends to be more successful when the downsizers are making a conscious decision about how they want to live their lives. In your 60s, “there is still a lot of life left,” says gerontologist Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, a membership organization that helps manage transition trauma and the downsizing and relocation process. “At 88, there’s less of a choice,” she says. “It’s almost always a mandate. The ‘choice’ piece is an important part of the success” of a move.

Guidelines for a Smoother Transition to a Smaller Home

  • Recognize your feelings, whatever they are. “Talk to a friend or if that doesn’t work, speak to a counselor,” Small says. The feelings that surface could be some unresolved conflict from your past, he says. Maybe when you were a child your family was constantly moving, and you lost friendships in the process. While downsizing, that unresolved conflict can resurface. “Identify it and understand it.” That “detoxifies” the feeling, he says.
  • Focus on what you’ll gain rather than what you’re losing. For example, if you sell your home, and move to an active lifestyle community with an indoor and outdoor pool, pickleball courts, and an art studio, become involved in new activities and interests rather than dwelling on the past.
  • While sorting, enlist help from a family member, trusted friend or professional. “They’re more objective,” says Mischoulon. “They don’t have the same sentimental attachment,” and can help you stay focused on the task rather than just the memories and your feelings.
  • Start with the least emotional area of your home first. “The kitchen can be a well of emotions,” Buysse says. Leave enough time. “You don’t want to have any regrets,” she says. You want to touch everything. People find money in “all kinds of nooks and crannies” when they sort their possessions, she says.

Though downsizing can bring painful memories to the surface, finishing the task brings its own satisfaction. “The sensation of freedom is quite powerful,” Mischoulon says. “That will be the reward at the end of the road.”

It had to go. My piano, a big, black upright, weathered eight moves, three amateur musicians, one actual copycat and climates ranging from semi-tropical to sub-Arctic. Every mover had to maneuver its bulky fragility through various combinations of layouts, steps, elevators and driveways. A mediocre player still emotionally invested in my “Great Songs of the Sixties” music book, I never questioned the place of the piano in my household, always looking for the right space, an interior wall, a local tuner, a place for the sheet music from Broadway musicals. The piano’s glossy lacquered finish made it an elegant addition to the décor. It was always “there” and we liked it that way.

Until, contemplating an early downsizing campaign, I realized the piano had to go. I was hardly playing it anymore; my daughter plays the bassoon; my husband took lessons but could switch to a digital keyboard. And although there are many other big, bulky and heavy downsize-worthy items in our house, the piano appeared to be the emotional linchpin.

And then I put it off. For all my knowledge of aging at home. for all my love of organizing and tossing things out. this one was hard. It gave me a new appreciation of the hurdles faced by older people. I investigated various sales and donation options. My daughter suggested that her high school music program, from which she is about to graduate, was in dire need of something that could hold a tune. The Music Department said it would be most grateful. It was the right thing to do. And suddenly, I found myself so, so sad.

Luckily, I came across downsizing experts Janet Hulstrand and Linda Hetzer, authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. Maybe they could treat my separation anxiety. The resulting conversation with co-author Hulstrand turned into a three-part look at the feelings, facts and intergenerational concerns pertaining to this common later-in-life transition.

As with so many things, success rests in the emotions.

Hulstrand says they’ve talked to quite a few professionals who say that it is not uncommon for people to postpone moving out of their homes simply because the prospect of dealing with all their accumulated stuff is just too daunting. “It keeps people from moving even when they know that is the best thing for them to do,” she reports.

Then she confirmed my hunch that the piano was more than a piano: “Some items have special sentimental meaning; perhaps they represent unfinished business or an unfulfilled dream of some kind. That can make letting go of certain objects really hard to do.”

Sounding more like a great therapist than downsizing expert, she says if that’s the case, “It might be time to realize that your life went a different way than what you envisioned originally or that you actually never are going to have the time to do x, y, or z. And that’s OK.”

To make it easier to let go, she suggests that people find ways to honor, capture and safeguard the memories. “For many people, it’s not about the objects themselves but rather the memories connected with them,” she says.

Tactics include talking about the memories with family or friends and maybe recording the memories through writing, taking pictures, recording audio/video and so on. That way, says Hulstrand, “The stories that we treasure can be passed down long after the item has gone to a new home.”

Hulstrand further reassures reluctant downsizers that, “Asking yourself why it’s so hard to do and allowing yourself time to acknowledge and deal with the emotions can help resolve those unsettling feelings.”

I wondered about the increasing number of people who say they plan to stay where they are, to have room for a live-in caregiver. Are they cleverly avoiding the work or does that reasoning make sense? Hulstrand says it depends. As the aging-in-place movement gains strength, she finds it another option to consider.

“In this case,” she points out, “to make a home safe and functional for a person who needs live-in care, there might need to be structural or other changes made.” It’s hard to avoid downsizing to some extent; adapting the home might still require the removal of excess furniture and other items.

“These are personal decisions,” she reminds me, “and individuals and their families have to take all kinds of factors into consideration.” Generally, she believes that people should be supported in making decisions that will allow them to live out their lives in the way that will make them happiest.

Hulstrand and co-author Hetzer learned the demands of downsizing when clearing out their late fathers’ longtime homes, filled with three generations of “stuff,” from inherited treasures to toxic household cleaners. Having worked through the process, they know it’s an emotional journey, one they continue to follow in their blog, Downsizing the Home: Lessons Learned. Still, Hulstrand reports that even those who were at first reluctant to leave their homes are happy and relieved once they do so.

“If the people doing the moving are ready to move and are not being pressured, either by others or by a too-rapid timetable, most of the time it ends up being a good thing,” she says. “The main regret that we heard was about having rushed, or been rushed, through the process.”

That suggests an early start and maybe phasing the process over time. Put another way, tears now or tears later. As my piano decision attests, I’m opting for tears now and freedom later.

Indeed, “freedom from the burdens and responsibilities of maintaining a house and yard can be very liberating,” says Hulstrand. She adds that for many people, moving to a place that provides health-care assistance as needed gives “enormous relief both to those who moved and those who care about them.”

Whatever the choice, she says the important message to convey is that downsizing — or “rightsizing” for a more positive spin — can be a joyful thing, the next step forward in someone’s life. So once my piano is in its new home, we can both make a joyful noise.

Next up: Downsizing in practical terms.

Does the thought of downsizing sound depressing or fun? Do you have items that you know you “ought” to shed but find it hard to do? How do you plan to handle the question of “stuff?”

What is Downsizing ?

Downsizing or layoffs is the term used to refer to the practice of firing employees for various reasons in organizations. These reasons can range from poor performance by the employees, the poor performance of the organizations in economic downturns that necessitates laying off employees to save costs, and for disciplinary reasons. There are other reasons as well which include the shuttering or the closing of the organization.

Whatever be the reason, downsizing is a painful process for both the employees and the organization and more for the former. Therefore, the Human Resources Function must handle downsizing with utmost care and caution and with sensitivity.

Payment of Compensation

For instance, when laying off employees, it is usually the case that the organization pays severance packages and some additional pay to compensate the employee for the sudden event or occurrence of losing his or her job. Of course, when employees are laid off for disciplinary reasons, there is usually no severance pay since the employee has violated the code of conduct and hence, is not liable for any compensation. Having said that, it must also be noted that the law mandates payment of compensation in the other forms of downsizing. However, the reality is that very few companies follow the law because in gloomy economic conditions, even the government which is eager to please the businesses does not really enforce the laws.

Policies and Procedures to Handle Downsizing

In addition, when the employee is informed that he or she is going to be laid off, most organizations have set policies and procedures to handle such occurrences. It is usually the case that the employee is called to a meeting with his or her immediate manager and the HR manager along with additional people depending on the rank and the role of the employee. This meeting is usually tricky for both the employee and the other attendees since breaking bad news is painful as well as traumatic for the employee.

Downsizings must be Handled with Care

Therefore, it is indeed the case that downsizings have to be handled with utmost sensitivity wherein the reasons for the layoffs are explained clearly and the employee is given a sympathetic hearing. Moreover, the organization must also take into account the fact that the employee can sue the company if the reasons are not convincing enough.

The history of Corporate America is littered with examples of how the HR botched up the downsizing process which led to the employee(s) taking the organizations to court and in some cases, if the evidence is strong, winning Multi-Million Dollar lawsuits against the organizations for wrongful termination.

Lack of Communication might Lead to Good Employees Leaving as Well

Now, let us see how downsizing can also lead to exceptional employees leaving the company in case the organization does not handle the process well. It is the fact that if layoffs are being announced or there are rumours circulating about them, many employees start to feel jittery and begin looking out for other jobs.

If the organization does not handle layoffs properly, it is at the risk of losing even those who are not likely to be downsized. This is because these employees who are good performers would decide that they would anyway get jobs elsewhere and instead of sticking around in an organization that is on the verge of economic debilitation, they might as well move jobs. Therefore, any organization that is planning to downsize must approach the same in a calculated and careful manner.

Downsizing due to Poor Performance of the Employee(s)

Turning to the downsizing related to poor performance of the employees, it must be mentioned that unless they are given sufficient notice that they have to pull up their socks and ramp up their performance, the organization might not have sufficient grounds for laying them off.

All organizations have something called a performance improvement plan wherein the employees whose performance is suspect are told about the same and their performance put on watch. During this period, they are monitored by their immediate managers along with the HR manager and if they do not improve even after the mandatory watch period is over, they are then let go with the reasons for the same being stated clearly and in writing.

Organizations have to be Humane but Firm

As mentioned in the introduction, downsizing is very painful to the employees since their source of livelihood is being taken away from them. Especially in these gloomy economic times when everyone wants job security and assured income, downsizing can be extremely traumatic to the employees. Therefore, it is indeed the case that a humane approach must be adopted so that the employees do not feel that they have been treated unfairly. Having said that, no organization exists for charity and hence, they too need to be firm on when to downsize and whom to downsize. These are complex challenges that need creative and humane approaches and this is where the personality of the HR manager comes into question since he or she must be responsible and balance the competing needs of the employee and the organization.

As we age, we are often looking to downsize or eliminate clutter and excess. Many of us embrace the concept of living with fewer things to maintain and that tie us down. The reality is that actually releasing our things can be challenging.

When my husband and I decided to sell the house we built and raised our family in, we moved from a four bedroom, three bath, 4000 square foot house to a tiny two bedroom cottage. I knew that with less space I would need to remove more than half of our possessions. At first, getting rid of things was difficult; I liked my things. Out of necessity, however, I learned to let them go.

If you are struggling to get rid of years of accumulation, consider some of the following strategies which worked for me.

The Solution: Sort one small space at a time.

When I was moving, the thought of clearing out every room in the house was overwhelming. The garage and basement alone were mammoth tasks. Remember Klinger on the TV show M*A*S*H? He declared he was going to eat a jeep. How could he accomplish such an impossible task? By taking one small bite at a time.

The same principle works here. Chose one closet or one drawer. Sort, clean and immediately remove unwanted items from your home.

I tried to do one smaller space, such as a box or drawer, each day and one bigger space, such as a closet, each weekend. If you are consistent, you will make progress. The key here is to physically remove the items regularly or you will build up more piles of unwanted things that will sit around until you have to go through those piles again. Every time I left the house I had books to donate to the library or clothing for the shelters or something to drop off at the thrift store.

The Solution: Ask yourself, does this item represent how I wish to show myself to the world now?

Your possessions should enhance your life. Many of our things were perfectly good and maybe even expensive, but wrong for us. Everyone has received gifts that didn’t quite work, ended up with decor that is not their style or been given clothes that don’t represent who they are right now. No matter how well-intentioned, that ultra-modern lamp is never going to be happy in your coastal cottage.

Even if the item is in great shape, if it isn’t useful to you or doesn’t help you feel great about your life, out it goes. Have a yard sale or donate it to a charity you care about. What you will be left with is all the stuff you really love and use. I may have gotten rid of half of my things, but now I love being surrounded by only my favorite things.

The Solution: Be realistic.

This one is tricky. Who knows what you will need someday? I got rid of a pair of crutches. It turned out that I needed them six months later. I bought a new pair for $16.00, hardly the end of the world.

I am also a little embarrassed to admit that I had five coffee carafes. In my new little cottage, I am not likely to have a party large enough to need five coffee carafes. I kept one. If I ever need more, I will borrow them.

Consider the cost in space and money to store excess things you may never need. It is likely the cost of extra square footage or a storage warehouse will far exceed replacing something if you find you really do need it.

Clearing out clothes can be difficult, especially if you are changing your lifestyle, because as your lifestyle changes, your clothing needs will change. Eliminate the clothes that are for a life you don’t have now or know you won’t have in the future. For some of us, it is business suits, for others ski wear.

This also works for clothes you are going to fit into “someday.” If you lose a lot of weight, you are going to want to buy new clothes, not wear your former smaller ones.

Get rid of things that are past their prime, duplicates – I had a closet full of black sweaters – and anything you have never liked, doesn’t look good on you, or isn’t comfortable.

If you struggle with getting rid of clothes, go shopping, not to buy, but just to look at all the great new clothes. Seeing what is available to you in the future will make it easier to get rid your old clothes. There are always better clothes available than the two sizes too small ones you are hanging on to.

The Solution: Give things you care about to people you care about.

I couldn’t take my grandmother’s china to a thrift store. I kept it for years, even though I never used it and couldn’t imagine that I ever would. I didn’t want it to end up in boxes in the basement for my children to have to get rid of someday.

My solution was to give things I cared about to people I cared about. My daughters didn’t want Grandma’s dishes, but my niece did.

This opened the door for me to give away other things. My daughter took my leather furniture; my nephew took my favorite dresser and several tables. I gave most of my large children’s book collection to new teachers. I gave furniture, lamps and rugs to college students who were very grateful. I found I didn’t mind giving away things when I knew they would have a good home.

As for the sentimental keepsakes of childhood, each of my daughters has a large plastic bin with the best of the baby quilts, first photo outfits and special childhood memorabilia. I saved the handmade Christmas ornaments because they were small and easy to store.

If your children’s or grandchildren’s school projects are important to you, take pictures and let them go. I will proudly hang children’s artwork on the refrigerator, but I don’t need to keep it forever. I think of it as a revolving gallery. If you ask them, you will find that most adults do not want the salt flour map they made in fifth grade.

Now that the dust has settled, I have found that I really don’t miss the things I left behind. A little breathing space, it turns out, is good for the soul. I am conscious of the things I add to my home, and living with less has made me desire fewer things in my life.

What about you? What are your struggles with downsizing? Have you mastered the art of eliminating things? How have you dealt with the sentimental and childhood items? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It is inevitable. One way or another, you’re going to downsize. It is part of letting go and moving on. Some even do it more than once! Downsizing is a physical, emotional, and mental act. Sometimes it is even a financial act. Because downsizing effects so many parts of life, it can feel intimidating or even daunting but with a little preparation it can be both a fluid, and perhaps even an enjoyable, process.

In a 2018 article published on Investopedia, Tim Parker notes, “As a retiree, you hope to be able to make some choices about how you live that don’t center on money. If you love your home and all the memories it holds, you might stay even if it makes little financial sense. Why? Because you can.”

Is A Tiny Home Right For Me?

How do you know if you should sell? Crunch the numbers. Calculate the upfront costs of moving and compare them to the yearly savings you’ll realize.” Whatever the case, be it for transitioning into empty nesting, becoming a better parent to adult children, learning to live with less, or just downsizing for a smaller, more manageable home, there are tips, tricks, experts, and resources that can help.

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

The first step is simple recognition. I need to downsize!

The second step, and sometimes the most challenging, is preparing emotionally. A home is filled with memories – both good and bad – and those memories are typically attached to tangible items. Emotional downsizing can be a major transition that happens way before one item is packed in a box or donated to charity.

Tammy Strobel is a long-standing blogger and author who speaks up for having bravery in the process of downsizing and living more simply. Says Tammy, “In many ways, being brave is more expansive than the traditional definition. Particularly, when dealing with heavy emotions. Bravery can mean reconnecting with a person who hurt you in the past or saying, “I love you” instead of being critical.” Here are a few more solutions for managing the more sentimental parts of downsizing.

  1. Research ways to save memories through technology. is a digital preservation company that offers to maintain your photos for hundreds of years so they can be passed on through generations. Your paid permanent content will be available for your lifetime plus 100 years.
  2. If your children live nearby or they come for a visit, use the time to have a candid conversation asking them what they would like to have from your home.
  3. Make a “keepsake box” for each of your children, filled with a few items you cherish the most. You can even jot down a story about each item to better explain the object.

Some Helpful Downsizing Tips!

In addition to presenting some emotional hurdles, downsizing can bring about practical challenges too. Here are a few basic but effective tips to help you manage the process.

  1. Ask for help.
  2. Make a plan and a schedule so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  3. Keep only the items that are useful, that you love, and that make you smile.
  4. If you’re unsure about whether a piece of furniture you love will fit or look right in your new space, bring it along. If it doesn’t work, you can always sell, donate, or give it away.
  5. Take time to reflect on items and enjoy them one last time.
  6. Stay rested, don’t overdo it.
  7. When it’s time to walk out the door for the last time, say goodbye. Take time for yourself (or your spouse or even family members) to walk room to room, making one last memory. Say thank you and move on.

Downsizing is not easy but it can be a great step towards enjoying the next season of life. Find a way to embrace the experience and prepare for the exciting adventures that await you.

Simple Life recommends the following resources to help you with downsizing in order to live your best life! Consider the tiny homes for sale in North Carolina and Florida built by Simple Life if you are interested in downsizing!

The Upside of Downsizing: Getting To Enough

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

A Simpler Space: The Sane Guide to Downsizing and De-Cluttering Effectively

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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Moving to a smaller place? Over time, we tend to accumulate stuff – lots of stuff. We have drawers full of stuff, gifts that we have never used (and never will), furniture we don’t really need but keep “just in case” and items that we’ve had for years may be difficult to part with due to nothing more than familiarity while serving no functional purpose.

Now is the time to get rid of excess baggage (literally!) and pare down to the essentials.

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

Measure your furniture. You will need to know how your furniture will (or won’t) fit into your new space – particularly large items such as your sofa and your bed – so measure everything.

You will also need to get the room measurements of your new space. Ask if you can take measurements or if there is a floor plan available to you. Don’t forget about the location of doors and windows as this will be a factor in furniture placement. Once you have these measurements, make a floor plan using your furniture’s measurements. Try using Better Homes and Gardens’ Arrange-A-Room online software to simplify the process (requires registration but is free). This will give you a much better idea on what you can keep and what will have to go. [2] X Research source

In the past fourteen months time we have gone from a 3,500 sq ft home to a 1,100 sq ft rental apartment and in ten days we move into our new 1,800 sq ft condo. It has been a lot of packing, selling, and donating. Downsizing is hard, plain and simple. I don’t care how attached or unattached you are to your belongings, it’s a huge amount of work and a boat load of emotional struggles. The absolute hardest part of downsizing is dealing with family memorabilia. I have seen many articles that talk about decluttering in reference to downsizing. Now let’s get one thing clear, decluttering is not the same as downsizing. Decluttering is something that should be done on a regular basis, not just when getting ready to downsize. Getting rid of old clothes and extra muffin tins is not the same thing as letting go of an ancestral desk or grandpa’s hand painted decoy collection.

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

Letting go of family memorabilia

For me, the most difficult part of downsizing has been dealing with the family memorabilia. For reasons I won’t go into, my husband and I became the sole inheritors of the contents of both his mother’s and my mother’s home. Both of our moms were children during the great depression. I assume because of that, neither of them ever threw anything away. Their homes were crammed full from the basement to the attic of family “treasures”. A good amount of that stuff eventually ended up in the basement of our previous home but now that the house is sold it sits in storage. When it was out of sight in the basement it was not an issue. This past year, packed away in a storage unit with high monthly rental fees, it has become impossible to ignore.

Looking at all the boxes of artwork, china, photographs, books, and furniture was overwhelming. My sons have already made it clear they don’t want anything other than some family photos. So why was I holding onto all this stuff other than some self imposed feeling of obligation…or guilt? There really was no valid reason to keep everything yet I was struggling to let it go. That is until one breakthrough moment involving a set of old books.

My watershed moment

Since I can remember, my mother told me a particular set of books was very valuable (although to her everything was “very valuable”) The thing is, these books, although very old (1710) were in terrible condition. The covers were decaying, the spines were broken and the pages were stained. Even so, I can still hear my mother’s voice, “Don’t ever get rid of those books, they are very valuable. Your great great grandfather brought them over from Scotland”.

I have been the care taker of these “valuable books” since my mom’s passing in 2006. Do I care about these books? NO. Will I ever read these books? NO. Do I want to have them in our new condo? HELL NO! Although I knew my mother would be spinning in her grave, I decided to sell them. I think you can guess where this story is headed. I took them to a rare book appraiser. He carefully looked them over and said if I was lucky I might get $50 for the set on eBay. He told me, just because they are old doesn’t make them valuable. Whaat?? Years of finding a place in my home for these tattered and decaying books and they are worth next to nothing? Well that was it. What I did next opened the flood gates for letting go of all the family heirlooms that had no meaning to me.

Letting go

As soon as I got home, I put those “rare and priceless” books into a trash bag. I then walked directly out to the apartment complex dumpster and unceremoniously chucked the bag as deep into the dumpster as I could throw it. I felt almost giddy. The very next day I went to the storage unit and loaded up the car with boxes of family china, artwork, and furniture and drove it all to a local charity. The curse of feeling obligated to keep all this family stuff had been broken. Now my sons won’t have to go through this same struggle when the time comes.

Dealing with downsizing how to prepare

Three questions to ask to help let go of the family memorabilia

These are the three questions I asked myself with everything I was having difficulty letting go of.

  1. Do I love this or will I use this in my new home? I liked a lot of the things I inherited. That doesn’t mean I used or needed these things. Did I really need twelve cut glass champagne glasses or a dozen oil paintings? In thirty five years of marriage we have never once had twelve friends over for champagne. My great uncle was a Boston artist and had done the oil paintings. They all hung in my childhood home but I had never hung them in my house because they were dark and depressing. Why was I holding onto them?
  2. Is this item of true value to the family history? We inherited a lot of paperwork. Most of it was trash but we painstakingly went through everything and only kept truly important documents. We narrowed down about ten boxes of paperwork to one. Birth certificates, historic letters, and newspaper articles referencing our relatives made the cut. Old Birthday cards, letters, old house deeds and ledgers went out.
  3. Will my children want this someday? Even though my kids say they want nothing, I do think there are some things they might want or should have one day. I kept their great grandfather’s WWI metals and a family Christening gown. I kept two large family bibles and two pieces of family art work. One oil painting I kept is of my mother, painted when she was three years old. I also kept a pastel drawing done by my grandmother of three dogs in a field. China, glassware, furniture and old books went out.

Closing the chapter on downsizing

Our downsizing is now almost complete. It took close to three years to get to where we are now. My biggest take-a-way is that downsizing is a process and the more time you can give yourself the better.

If you are thinking of downsizing and are not sure where to start you might find this post I wrote worth reading on the The three phases of downsizing.

If you are going to start your downsizing process by decluttering check out my tips and strategies for decluttering part one, decluttering part two and decluttering part three.

Letting people go is an emotional event — not just for those being laid off but for those who remain. Of course those who are let go need help with the transition to new employment. But the employees who survive the cutbacks also need reassurance about their own future — and an understanding of the […]

Letting people go is an emotional event — not just for those being laid off but for those who remain. Of course those who are let go need help with the transition to new employment. But the employees who survive the cutbacks also need reassurance about their own future — and an understanding of the […]

Letting people go is an emotional event — not just for those being laid off but for those who remain. Of course those who are let go need help with the transition to new employment. But the employees who survive the cutbacks also need reassurance about their own future — and an understanding of the strategic goals behind the cuts.

The following guidelines will help companies handle layoffs in a way that affords dignity to those let go and reassures survivors that the downsizing decision wasn’t made arbitrarily. It will also help the remaining employees feel positive about the organization, optimistic about their future, and committed to working toward a better day. Keep in mind that employees who resent how their laid-off colleagues were treated and are fearful about the company’s direction are not productive employees.

Communicate widely and often

Managers often think they shouldn’t let employees know when things are going poorly. They don’t want their workers to become discouraged. But people aren’t stupid; they know when things aren’t going well. Even if top managers spin the circumstances positively, the message comes across through unclear goals, a decrease in resources committed to ongoing projects, and other subtle clues. Discussing and acknowledging the company’s position is the first step to keeping people involved — and committed to solving problems they understand.

Fill in information gaps for your employees
If layoffs become necessary, people won’t be shocked if they have been able to see them coming. To that end, share market data and competitive information. Don’t proclaim layoffs without need, of course, but don’t undermine trust by lying or being unrealistically upbeat two months before a layoff. It’s impossible to regain trust once people know you’ve lied to them.

Give the most pressing information first
When the question on everyone’s mind is “Is there bad news ahead?” let them know. Don’t bother starting with a discussion of the competition, market forces, or the financial environment; no one will pay attention until their most critical question is answered.

Never delegate pain
The most delicate challenge is letting someone know that he or she has been let go. Don’t delegate this painful mission to the HR department. Most people are loyal first to their manager, then to their company. The person’s manager should deliver the message. Companies need to allow managers a realistic timetable to have one-on-one conversations with the employees that are being let go.

Deliver the message personally and respectfully — and listen
It does no one a favor to lay off employees with a note on their computer saying, “Don’t turn this on today!” Deliver the message in private, and give employees time to react. People have different reactions — some need to vent, some need time to think, and some need facts and explanations. Be prepared to give each person what they need to reach a stable emotional keel. Then, as quickly as possible, get them thinking about their future rather than the company’s. The primary message should be “How can I help?”

Provide outplacement support
The question everyone asks after a layoff is, “What do I do now?” Few people have a resume at hand and a job-hunting network mobilized. Outplacement helps them land on their feet. You’re offering help at a high-stress, emotional time. It sends a signal to them and to the remaining employees that you’re treating the ex-workers as people, not as line items on a budget.

Along those lines, give people the chance to pick up and immediately begin moving toward their future. Letting people go on a Friday afternoon, for example, is a terrible idea. Employees have all weekend to stew and won’t be able to do any job-hunting until Monday morning.

Exit interviews can also be useful, but may best be performed by a third-party firm. Employees can provide valuable information that they might not be willing to share with an insider. Make sure that they’re asked: “How do you feel the layoffs were handled?” This will help them vent and may also reveal important tips to make the process a little less painful.

After a morning of layoffs, no one is in an emotional state to work. Give people the space to deal with what just happened. Accept that you’ll lose (at least) a day of productivity, and do whatever it takes to help people cope with their emotions quickly.

Support survivors, too
Employees who survive the layoffs will struggle with doubts about the company’s future. They want to know how their jobs will change. Will they now be expected to do their jobs plus the jobs of their ex-coworkers? Or will their goals be changed accordingly? What is the precise state of the company financially? Are further layoffs imminent? Their doubts will begin with their own roles and expand outward to their teams and to the company as a whole. You must address each level of concern with as much rational discussion as possible.

CEOs: Be front and center
The CEO must be there for the managers as well as the terminated employees. One company planned to shut down an entire branch without coaching its managers in delivering emotionally troubling news; instead, the CEO was to come make the announcement. The branch manager and her employees gathered for the CEO’s visit, but he didn’t show. Instead, he sent the branch manager a FedEx box with termination packets and no instructions whatsoever. After an unsuccessful attempt (in front of the assembled employees) to get the CEO on the phone, the branch manager opened the box and proclaimed, “Today is my last day with the company and I’m so selfish, I’m taking you all with me.” It was a horrible moment for everyone, and the no-show CEO was instantly detested for his callous behavior. Each one of those terminated employees became an ambassador of ill will in the marketplace. You can bet that story was widely told in the months and even years after the event.

In contrast, another CEO helped his managers by giving them his prepared, written statement to read. It covered the relevant facts, including logistics concerning health insurance and other benefits, and outplacement options. After each manager conveyed the news to her employees, she directed them immediately to the outplacement center. This was a good way to orient them toward the future and help them feel supported as they started their new life as a job seeker.

Rebuild & Resize

  • Develop a Succession Plan
  • Plan for Retirements
  • Address Employee Turnover
  • Conduct Exit Interviews
  • Handle Terminations
  • Deal with Downsizing


Knowing how to deal with downsizing is important for any organization because it’s not just empty desks, it’s a radical change that also affects those that stay. The remaining staff will experience various emotions and employers need to make a concerted effort to keep morale up, can reduce issues with poor productivity and job dissatisfaction. Those who leave will often take to social media and other outlets to share their experiences (good and bad) and your company’s reputation can be quickly affected. It is also important to explore all of your options to see if there are other cost-reduction methods that could be implemented instead.


When your organization is faced with tough times, there are many cost-reduction strategies that you can explore before turning to downsizing. In his Ivey Business Journal article, HR Strategies that Can Take the Sting Out of Downsizing-Related Layoffs, Franco Gandolfi lays out these popular approaches that emerged from his research.

HR practices for short-range cost adjustments (a business slowdown of up to 6 months)

  • Hiring freeze
  • Mandatory vacation
  • Reduced workweek
  • Cut in overtime pay
  • Salary reduction
  • Temporary facility shutdown
  • Soliciting cost-reduction ideas from employees

HR practices for medium-range cost adjustments (a business slowdown of 6-12months)

  • Extended salary reductions
  • Voluntary sabbaticals
  • Employee lending
  • Exit incentives

HR practices for long-range cost adjustments (a downturn exceeding 12 months)

At this stage, layoffs may be unavoidable, but firms take measures to be able to re-attract and re-gain layoff victims in a post-downsizing phase by looking at:

  • Rehiring bonuses
  • Maintaining communication with laid-off employees
  • Internal job fairs


The federal government’s Work-Sharing program can help your organization avoid permanent layoffs. Service Canada describes the program an adjustment program designed to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity that is beyond the control of the employer. It provides income support to employees eligible for Employment Insurance benefits who work a temporarily reduced work week. Employees must agree to a reduced schedule of work and to share the available work over a specified period of time. Implementing this program can help the company reduce salary costs without resorting to layoffs.


The Alliance of Sector Councils provides the following tips for dealing with the uncertainties of downsizing:

  1. Increase communication: Open and honest communication with employees- by sharing what you know and what you do not know about how the economy is affecting the organization will help reduce employee uncertainty. Use regular staff meetings for employees to have an opportunity to ask questions and diffuse employee stress.
  1. Invest in training: Continue to plan for the future and show your employees that they are important. Opportunities such as e-learning, lunch and learn sessions, encourage employees to join trade associations, and mentoring programs.
  2. Involve your employees in decision-making: Employees may suggest alternatives to layoffs such as pay cut, closing at noon on Fridays, or other cost-saving measures. Increase the amount of employee buy-in if they are involved in the decision-making process.
  1. Stay positive: Maintaining a positive outlook by sharing good news widely.
  1. Try to keep the little things:When budgets get tight, the first impulse is to cut everything that seems non-essential. If you can, try to keep the small perks that don’t cost very much you can really boost morale in the workplace.


The Alliance of Sector Councils also outlines four basic principles that are excerpted here:

1. Plan layoffs carefully. Take the time to ensure your layoff plan is in sync with your business plan. Look at your current projects—particularly those that are critical to the business. Make sure you have a clear idea of the projects that will be underway once the crisis is over.

2. Be prepared. Consider writing up and practicing a script and make a list of questions that might be asked with answers ready. Get to the point and remember that much of what is said in a layoff meeting will not be retained, so have resources available for affected employees, such as information on benefits, separation terms, and important contacts and other written information. Finally, make sure you have fully planned the necessary post-layoff logistics.

3. Know the law. Know your responsibilities as an employer. The law stipulates that employees must get either some notice prior to dismissal or be compensated instead. There are also certain rules that apply when laying off groups of individuals, Speak to a lawyer or contact your provincial labour board to make sure that you are meeting your obligations in accordance with the law.

4. Treat people with dignity and respect. Distancing yourself because you feel bad won’t make anyone feel better; remember that this is not your fault, and avoiding people will not minimize feelings of guilt or hurt, but will make them worse. Be kind and compassionate andgive people the respect they need.


The Canada Labour Code outlines the procedures to follow when a group termination involves 50 or more employees from a single industrial establishment who are dismissed simultaneously within a four-week period. Because of the number of employees involved, it is unlikely to apply to small and medium sized enterprises; however, if you would like to find out more, see Mass Terminations at the Ontario Ministry of Labour website.

The November 2008 U.S. job loss report was staggering. More than 500,000 jobs shed in one month, the worst one-month job loss since December 1974. That brings the 2008 job loss total to 1.9 million.And according to a New York Times report on the job loss situation, deeper cuts will probably happen in 2009.

The HR department isn’t always involved in making the decision to downsize; however, HR is in the driver’s seat when it comes to orchestrating a smooth transition for everyone who’s affected. And although you may not make the layoff announcement, there are many things to consider as you prepare to deal with the anger, grief, and stress often associated with downsizing.

Emotionally prepare yourself. Recognize the fact that you may grieve along with the employees. Part of this step means getting ready for the psychological effect the layoff will have on everyone, including the “survivors.” Employees who are left behind are often sad and anxious because they have lost friends and are concerned about their own job security. Some feel guilty that they are still with the organization when others are gone. In addition, they will be required to do more with less, a challenge that may initially seem impossible.

Prepare for the downsizing announcement. You may not actually make it, but you will be asked to explain to the employees what to expect. Always focus on layoffs with respect and dignity. Write down what you plan to say in describing your roll in assisting the employees who will lose their jobs. Then practice out loud until you feel confident. Expect anger and sadness in response to your message. The more prepared you are, the easier your job will be, and the more helpful you can be to the employees.

Consider how you can help. In-house outplacement services can assist those who must find other work. Find out what is available in your community to meet the needs of the unemployed. Be empathetic and willing to go the extra mile in helping your laid-off population. Keep in mind that your “survivors” are watching you and the way you handle those who are leaving.

Minimize the effect of downsizing. Do whatever it takes to win back the trust and commitment of your remaining employees. Show the “survivors” how to be change-resilient; it’s essential to overcoming the obstacles. Define exactly what is changing and what isn’t. It’s not uncommon for your “survivors” to believe that everything is changing when, in reality, most everything is staying the same. You need the “survivors” on your side more than ever now that you are, in many cases, short-staffed.

Communicate early and often. Honesty should play a major role in everything you do and say. These are the people you depend on to keep you in business. Tell them what you know and what you can share. If you aren’t allowed to tell them some of what you know, try to explain why.

Be accessible to those who are left. As busy as you are, if employees feel they can’t get your attention, you are in trouble. Commit to returning e-mails and phone calls, and make sure employees know when that will happen. During the time of uncertainty, the more accessible you are, the easier it will be for everyone to adjust to the changes.

Be a cheerleader. HR has a major responsibility in redesigning, training, and employee engagement, especially after a major layoff. Employees are looking to HR for guidance in filling in the gaps and getting the right people in place to do so while managing the social pressures that are inevitable with layoffs. Remain positive, set goals, and help others who are struggling with what they are being asked to do.

Carol Hacker is an HR consultant and seminar leader who ranks among the experts in the field of recruiting and retention issues. She’s the author of 13 highly acclaimed business books. Carol can be reached at (770) 410-0517.