For many Australians over 50, downsizing represents a rare opportunity to reduce a lifetime’s worth of unwanted clutter.

A major research report, published in February, revealed that many people decided to downsize because they wanted to declutter. The decluttering theme emerged during dozens of interviews undertaken by the Australian Housing and Research Institute.

“Doing the downsizing is getting rid of the clutter, working out what furniture you really need,” one report interviewee said. 

Another interviewee said “getting rid of your clutter and reducing your living space and your collectable items” was a benefit of downsizing.

Professional decluttering experts - officially known as ‘professional organisers’ - have now sprung up across Australia to help time-poor downsizers tackle the decluttering challenge.

Downsizing.com.au has spoken to a range of decluttering experts across Australia, to better understand how they work, what they charge and what tips they give clients.

All Sorted Out (based in New South Wales)

Jo Carmichael (pictured above) is the Director of All Sorted Out. Ms Carmichael coaches her clients through the decluttering process and shows them the short cuts she’s gleaned after 15 years in the industry.

For this, Ms Carmichael charges $90-$120 per hour (current as of February 2020) with a minimum of four hours.

“I work with the client; they don’t need to read a book, they don’t even need to follow a tip sheet because I’m going to be there or one of the ladies who works for me will be there,” Ms Carmichael said. 

“We will coach them through how you go from a six-bedroom home which is full of things – sentimental, useful and non-useful – down to a much more compact arrangement.” 

Ms Carmichael also focuses on sustainability, such as using recycled bags instead of rubbish bags or utilising bags clients already have at home.

“As much as possible we make it sustainable – we donate – people can sell it on Gumtree or online. If they’re valuable items of course we will also sell it with an auction house.”

Ms Carmichael has the following tips to downsizers:

  • Decluttering enables downsizing. You can’t downsize without decluttering first, it’s like you can’t run a marathon if you don’t train first.
  • Imagine yourself being somewhere else, visualise being in this more compact apartment as opposed to just feeling like you can never leave your existing home.
  • Decluttering will save you money in the long run, and it helps you to settle into your new home more quickly.

Downsized Living (based in Gold Coast)

Debbie Buckley is the Proprietor of Downsized Living. Her fees vary from client to client, with a minimum of 3-4 hours sessions, unless there are “extenuating circumstances”

Ms Buckley began working for herself after 25 years’ working as a manager and nurse in general practice in Benowa on the Gold Coast.

Most of her clients are over 70 and are moving into retirement living or aged care.

Debbie Buckley

She arranges a complimentary meetup to plan the move and see their homes.

“I remain flexible to the client’s needs and will do as little or as much as it takes to ensure a safe and smooth move. My aim is to reduce the stress associated with downsizing and moving as much as I can. Every job is centred around the client’s needs,” Ms Buckley said.

As Ms Buckley explained, the cost varies depending on each situation.

“Some clients are very clear and realistic about what to take and what to leave, others not so clear. Some couples have assistance from family members, so the work is shared, yet others don’t have family at all and rely on my service to coordinate everything for them.

“Some clients want assistance developing a timeline and are prepared to do most of the work themselves.”

Ms Buckley’s tips are:

  • Start early
  • Plan, review and plan some more so there are no nasty surprises
  • Always measure every wall, doorway, etc and individual furniture pieces before making decisions on what to take. Never guess things will fit.

The Urban Organiser (based in Victoria)

Britta Reinecke is the Founder of The Urban Organiser. Ms Reinecke charges $90 per hour, with a minimum of three hours or $450 for a day

Ms Reinecke says careful coordination goes hand-in-hand with being a support person.

Britta Reinecke

“This would typically start with decluttering and sorting through all their belongings, helping them decide what to take with them and then coordinating items for sale, for donation or for the rubbish,” Ms Reinecke said. 

“I don’t typically pack up a house for my clients but will help them select a suitable company to assist with this process if they need it, and I help them select a removalist.”

As both her father and mother-in-law are preparing for the transition, she understands how emotional the process can be:

 “I do offer an unpacking service, as this can be quite difficult for some people,” Ms Reinecke said. “Starting a new life in a smaller, unfamiliar space is often too overwhelming and I can help them get everything into place.”

Ms Reinecke has the following tips for downsizers:

  • Recycle old linens: for instance, Sheridan accepts old towels, sheets, pillowcases, and quilt covers, and not just Sheridan brands, in each of their stores.
  • Prepare well in advance! This is critical for allowing enough time to make good decisions about what to keep and gives people time to adjust emotionally to the challenges of moving/relocating/downsizing.
  • Seek help - from a professional organiser such as myself, or from family and friends. Trying to do it alone might be too physically and emotionally challenging and having someone with an unbiased/objective view can make the process so much easier (and quicker).

On the Shelf Organising (based in South Australia)

Kristina Mudge is the owner/operator of On the Shelf Organising.

Ms Mudge charges $75 per hour, with a minimum of three hours, plus potential travel costs. She also has special session packages.

Kristina Mudge

Ms Mudge services the North & West of Regional South Australia. She supports and works alongside her clients.

“Building rapport is at the forefront of our service as we are helping clients with their personal possessions and, more often than not, it is a very emotional journey,” Ms Mudge said.

Ms Mudge begins by assessing the situation to see which furniture can go into the new home, that’s followed by the more difficult process of decluttering personal items.

“This is the part that takes a lot of emotional energy as the client may not be happy to let go of family items that just won’t fit into their new way of life.”

Ms Mudge’s tips are:

  • Don’t assume that your children will want your old furniture/items. Expectations can lead to disappointment – so if you don’t expect them to take things off your hands, you won’t be disappointed.
  • When in doubt, try the Marie Kondo method - hold each item and “see if it sparks joy in you”. If it doesn’t then let it go!
  • Remember, it may have taken 40 years to collect what you have, it will take some time to declutter, so be gentle with yourselves

General advice from industry association

Sarah Cottman

In an interview with Downsizing.com.au, the Institute of Professional Organisers CEO Sarah Cottman said there are clear benefits to decluttering for downsizers.

“If you are clutter-free for the move, unpacking is quicker and easier,” Ms Cottman said. 

“You are not bringing past issues along with you to your new life, enjoy life to the fullest with a clean slate.”

By the same token, Ms Cottman says downsizers should realise that decluttering is not always an easy process. “Decluttering can bring up issues that you have tried to ignore. Emotional memory can be a big hurdle to letting go,” she says.

Ms Cottman advises using an Institute of Professional Organisers (IOPO) Professional Organiser and making the time to declutter before the big move.