The Downsizing Decision Matrix + Your Personal Inventory


Face it, everyone downsizes their worldly possessions at some point, either voluntarily or involuntarily. You either do it before you die, or after you die. And you either do it yourself, or someone else has the burden of doing it for you. Which do you choose?

Here is a tool to help you decide.

We all downsize sooner or later. Who will make the decisions for YOU? Click To Tweet

Click here to print full-sized PDF.

Do you have a Personal Inventory? Handy for you now, and handy for your family later. Click To Tweet

My Personal Inventory

My own Personal Inventory was born from having moved to Albuquerque from Los Angeles in 2005. Rather than label boxes and plastic bins with their contents, I like to number them and create a searchable spreadsheet that I can refer to. This is based partly on it being no one else’s business what’s in the containers — movers, primarily, but also visitors to my home – and the fact that maybe not all the boxes will get unpacked right away, or ever. So, later, if I wonder what’s in Box #5, or if I need my college diploma for some reason, and can’t remember where I put it, I consult my spreadsheet.

When I started thinking about legacies, and what would happen to my stuff when I die, I added items to the list like my grand piano, and a column that tells who (if anyone) I would like to give them to.

Your Personal Inventory

Here is a partial sample chart. Mine is in Excel, but you can just as well use a Word table, like I have below. Learn how to search it (Command F for Mac, Control F for PC), and you’re in business!

For that matter, you can make your inventory on paper, and keep it on a clipboard.

Keep in mind that there are only so many choices for the disposition of any given object: Gift, Donate, Sell, Trash, and Recycle.

You don’t need to list every single item of clothing or individual kitchen gadgets. You can lump them together like I did for furniture and household goods in this example:

Make decisions now, while it's easy, not later when it's hard. Click To Tweet

Click here to print full-sized PDF.

The Family Auction

When my mom died in 2001, we all gathered in Boise to help my aunt (with whom she lived at the time) decide what to do with her stuff. We went around the house putting sticky notes with our names on them on the things we each wanted. (Actually I think we each had a different color….either way, whatever works…) There were remarkably few things that multiple family members wanted, and there was little discussion needed to resolve the conflicts that arose. But not all families are so congenial, and not all families can get together to do this in person. So, there are apps – of course there are! – to help you do this. I haven’t personally used any of them (have you?), but Fair Split is one example.

Who gets it?

I recommend, when designating who gets what, that you write the person a note. Keep the notes with your will. (You do have a will, right?) Explain what the item is, why it is special to you, and why you chose them as the recipient. Make it clear that you are not trying to burden them in any way. Let them off the hook and tell them they don’t have to keep it forever. Make it clear if it’s something of great monetary or historical value. Give them options: Keep, sell, give to another family member, donate to a historical society, etc.

What’s it all worth?

There’s no putting a price on sentimental items. However, when it comes to selling, or even divvying up material items fairly (after a death, or well before a death), people tend to think their things are worth more than they really are. Here is a link to a wonderful article about how to determine the worth of your stuff (or your parents’stuff) and what to do with it.

Don’t panic — you don’t have to get rid of anything today!

The beauty of creating Your Personal Inventory is that you don’t have to get rid of anything today! You’re just evaluating your stuff and making decisions now while it’s easy, instead of later when it’s hard. Whenever I want to create space for something new in my home I refer to my inventory and think: “Hmmmm…..maybe it’s time to donate Box #7 full of the books I never unpacked, am not reading, and am not even displaying on my bookshelves.” Easy. Decision made. And if I get to Box #2 in the example (unsorted old papers) before I die, I will simply cross it off the list. So, Your Personal Inventory also doubles as a To-Do list!

What about you?

Have you had to downsize yourself? Someone else? What was your experience like? Do you think you’ll create Your Personal Inventory?

Please share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
Social media links directly to this page are encouraged!
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  1. Janet Barclay on August 7, 2017 at 7:10 am

    I love love love this idea – including the list of what should happen to various items. Not everything needs to be put in the will, especially if you know there won’t be any disputes about it.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 7, 2017 at 7:22 am

      Also, you don’t want to have to update your will every time you acquire or get rid of something. Sure, it depends on how substantial or valuable it is. Glad you love it!

  2. Sara Skillen on August 7, 2017 at 7:12 am

    I love the Personal Inventory idea, and hope to get something similar to it completed for myself in the coming year. Even if family members ultimately decide they don’t want something that has been “gifted” to them, at least there is a starting point for them to grab onto. I think I found one of the apps you mentioned: It looks like a great tool!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 7, 2017 at 7:25 am

      Hi Sara! I think, in fact, that I will add a statement about it still being completely up to the recipient whether or not to keep the item. My difficulty with the apps was not being able to find them on my iPhone. I think I’ll go back and include that link. Thanks! (Nothing like crowdsourcing to put the finishing touches on a blog post, lol!)

  3. Seana Turner on August 7, 2017 at 7:15 am

    Everything looks better in a matrix! This is so simple to follow and understand. I love it, Hazel. Going through the exercise of a personal inventory is a GIFT to those who will come after you. I recently worked with a woman on a smaller version of this for her jewelry collection. Knowing her family had reviewed and made decisions brought her peace. Well worth the effort!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 7, 2017 at 7:26 am

      Ha ha, I think so too! Glad you approve, Seana. And thanks for sharing your client’s experience. 🙂

  4. Sabrina Quairoli on August 7, 2017 at 9:36 am

    This post is very dear to my heart, Hazel. I have downsized many clients, businesses, and family members. Sometimes it was a sad experience, and other times it was enjoyable. I have always reverted to paper lists to create the individual box content. Many of my clients felt more comfortable keeping track of a clipboard with their list attached than anything electronic.

    Downsizing is stressful but it can also be freeing and uplifting. I’m looking forward to doing this more when my kids are in college only a few short years away. =)

    • Hazel Thornton on August 7, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      Good point that I forgot to make (and am adding now), Sabrina. This can TOTALLY be done on paper! Depends on how much stuff you have how hard it becomes to find on a paper spreadsheet. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Pam Huseman on August 9, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks Hazel, great information and I love the form. Shared on my FB page!

  6. Jennifer Manefield on January 10, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    Hi Hazel. This is so relevant to many of my clients. Have shared it on FB.

    • Hazel Thornton on January 16, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Hey, thanks Jennifer!

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