The first step in avoiding Granny Flat Syndrome is to understand what it is. In a nutshell, Granny Flat Syndrome occurs when someone – not necessarily a grandmother or grandfather – moves from a larger house into a smaller one. What usually happens is that the person tries to hang onto all the possessions that fitted very nicely into the big old house and crams them into the new small one. The end result is cluttered, with very little empty space in a room and every single flat surface covered with photo frames, vases and knick-knacks. And the room and the house seem even smaller than it really is.
The answer here is to declutter and think carefully about what is really important to you. What the answer isn’t is to build extra rooms, fill the garage or hire out extra storage space to put all the stuff in.
The good part of this sort of decluttering is that most of the items you get rid of are usually in good condition and can be given away to charity or sold online (or in a garage sale) rather than thrown away… or even recycled.
* Get rid of anything broken that you are unlikely to fix. The exception here is clothing that you love and is easily mended (e.g. dropped hem, split seam, missing button, dead elastic, etc.).
* Any ornament bought to decorate a space in the old home should go. You no longer have that space that needs decorating and brightening.
* If you’re moving house because you have had family members leave home, think carefully about how much bed linen, towels, saucepans and plates you really need.
* Old bank statements, receipts and similar documents only need to be kept for 10 years maximum. If you still have cheque book butts and receipts dating back to 1975, you won’t get in problems with the tax man if you recycle them (shred them first).
* The same goes for expired warranties on household appliances. Especially if you no longer own that appliance.
* Resist the temptation to keep absolutely everything related to special days in the past. You don’t need to keep every single old exercise book from your (or your children’s) school days. Pick a few keepsakes from the special times, and say goodbye to the rest. For example, keep your old wedding dress and your dried bouquet, but don’t keep the ornaments from the cake (unless you have the tradition of putting these ornaments on a cake each anniversary).
* Consider downsizing to be a chance to get rid of uncomfortable furniture that you don’t really like. Unless you’re downsizing because you’re feeling the financial pinch, you don’t really need to keep ratty sofas with frayed arms, kitchen chairs that fall to bits if you don’t sit on them or move them using that special knack you’ve developed over the years or the desk that has to be propped up with a brick.
Incidentally, you can help older relatives avoid Granny Flat Syndrome buy wise present selection at birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries. Choose presents that involve experiences (e.g. tickets to the theatre, a day renting out an exotic car, champagne breakfast in a hot air balloon) or which are consumables (perfume, home baking, flowers, stationery, candles). This will allow you to honour your family member without giving them the problem of finding a place to store whatever you’ve given them in space that is probably already limited.