Use a simple floor plan of the new home, with dimensions noted, to determine what furniture will fit. Picture: PxHere

Washington - If you had asked John Weis last year whether he and his wife were going to move out of their Vienna, Virginia, house, "I'd have said absolutely not," he says.

But Weis started thinking about the fact that he's 72 and that at some point, the couple would want to switch to one-story living, and that they did not want to burden their kids with the big old house and sorting through all the belongings they had amassed over the years.

These realizations pressed Weis into action. In December, he and his wife bought a one-story, 1 762-square-foot house to be constructed in the summer at Trilogy at Lake Frederick, a 55-plus community near Winchester, Virginia.

In mid-February, they moved to a small, two-bedroom rental apartment they are occupying while their new home is built, and they began readying the old house - a four-bedroom, 4 100 square-foot place with two stories, plus full basement and garage - for sale. That meant contending with all the belongings in it.

Most homeowners accumulate more and more belongings, often not realising how much - or even what - they have. They delay going through everything until they have to, and then, under pressure to get it done, might keep or toss too much instead of making focused decisions.

Some people get into the groove quickly - often with the help of organising consultants. Widower Bill Blumberg, for example, plans to move in the fall from his four-bedroom suburban home to a smaller, more urban one that he is in the market to buy.

The hardest step is often the first one. For Weis, that meant beginning to chip away at the mountain of stuff, including items handed down from relatives, things acquired by four sons when growing up and curiosities harvested during extensive travel.

"I used to go around the world on business, and would pick up some of the weirdest stuff" to bring back as souvenirs, Weis said. The mountain of belongings also included furniture, books, photos and office supplies. "The basement was filled to the brim. The pool table was stacked high," Weis said. The two-car garage housed "every tool known to man."

Before disposing of things, many homeowners tell their children to take what they want. It's wise to "touch base with the kids" regarding their mementos from childhood and to be sensitive to their wishes. 

As for other belongings in the house, get a decision from the kids early in the purging process regarding what they want to have. This saves the expense of moving and perhaps storing items pending a decision.

"Re-homing" of some items, however, might benefit from the insights of a pro. 

The key to successful transitioning of homes and belongings is planning. Use a simple floor plan of the new home, with dimensions noted, to determine what furniture will fit.

Label the contents of all boxes to be moved. To keep tabs on things and guide the moving company, White used color coding for Weis's boxes: She put yellow stickers on boxes to go to the apartment and blue ones on those to go to storage. 

Make the labeling specific enough to be helpful. Identify contents as, for instance, pots and pans, rather than simply "kitchen." Boxes destined for the new home can be ranked. Label them by room, Middel says, adding, "kitchen No. 1" to boxes that should be the first to unpack in the new kitchen, and "kitchen No. 2" for boxes that contain less-used items that can be stored away.

If using a self-storage unit, "be strategic". Set up shelving to keep things organised. Put items that are less needed in the back. Up front, place things more in demand, keep the labels visible and don't stack too many boxes atop one another. Leave access space.