We all live in different seasons of life. My guess is that you’ve spent the last few decades in the season that is filled with work and family.
You were in the season of “collecting.” You’ve accumulated belongings over the years. You have collected keepsakes, photographs, and albums. You’ve purchased or been given items that have special memories attached to them. You’ve been too busy to sort through them.
Now, you are entering into a new season. You or someone you love may be downsizing to your forever home, a nursing home, assisted living, a smaller condo, or to live with family.
The time is right to declutter and downsize. You want to be intentional and only take the most essential things with you for this next season. This process may feel stressful or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here are my tips to make downsizing easier.
10 Downsizing and Decluttering Tips for a Smooth Move
I. Consider the Big Picture
To get into the right mindset for this life change, have a vision for this next chapter of your life. It will help you know what to bring with you and what to leave behind.
Focus on what you are gaining, not losing, and imagine what your new organized, decluttered space will look like and the calm it will bring.
Life will be simpler. (Taking care of stuff takes time and can be a burden.) Without spending so much time on housekeeping, you’ll have more time to do what you enjoy.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself. The answers will help you know how much to keep:
- Will you be entertaining? (If so, what is the max number of guests you’ll ever have. Only keep that many glasses, plates, etc.)
- Will you have guests stay with you? (If so, keep one extra set of bedding.)
- How much storage space will you have? (Your space may determine how much you can keep.)
2. Start Early
Give yourself plenty of time, because it will always take longer than you expect. (It’s never too soon to declutter!) Take it slow – one room at a time – to avoid decision fatigue. Touch each item and channel your inner Marie Kondo. Ask yourself if it is something that you really use, love, or need.
(See the timeline linked at the very bottom of this post for a complete roadmap to downsizing.)
3. Begin with Easy Small Spaces
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! It can be overwhelming feeling like you have to declutter an entire house! You’ll see more success sooner if you start in the areas that have the least emotional attachment. Another technique is to go from smaller spaces to the bigger, more difficult ones to build up your “decluttering muscles.”
The easiest spaces to start with are often:
- Linen closet
- Laundry Room
- Coat Closet
- Under the Kitchen Sink
- Cleaning Closet
Save the hard stuff for last. The hardest spaces are:
For larger rooms, break it down into several, small manageable projects. (Make a list.)
4. Have a Sorting System
Create a system to sort your belongings, and keep it consistent throughout the decluttering process. Have bins for keepers, things to pass down, items to donate, things you want to sell, and trash/recycling.
For larger items that you can’t move or physically sort into bins, assign each category above a different color and use stickers to label. (Don’t forget to make a key.)
Remember to make the process as enjoyable as possible: Put on some music you like or ask a friend or family member to join you.
5. Be Ruthless when Decluttering
You may need to be a little tough on yourself when decluttering. Don’t have a “maybe” pile or a “deal with later” pile. Force yourself to decide only once yes or no BEFORE the move. Be honest – if you weren’t using it, don’t bring it with you. (Even if it was expensive or someone gave it to you as a gift. We give you permission to LET IT GO.)
Don’t keep duplicates. (You don’t need 3 staplers! I promise.) Also, don’t keep more than you’ll need in your new house. (If you are moving into a 2-bedroom condo, four sets of sheets is enough. The rest can go.)
If you are wavering, put it in one of the no piles. (Whenever someone asks us the question, “Should I get rid of this?” I always say, “YES!” If they loved, they wouldn’t have asked the question.) Don’t talk yourself into keeping things.
Check out this flowchart from Rocket Mortgage to help you decide what to keep.
6. Pass it on!
Now may be the easiest time to pass on special heirloom pieces to family members and friends. Have conversations about what family and friends might be interested in owning. If you planned to leave an item to your family in a will, gift it now. If you still need the item until right before the move, schedule times the month prior for pick up. Give deadlines.
Remember to give without expectations or strings attached. Don’t check to see if family members still have the item a few years later. Assume they may sell or donate it one day and recognize that the younger generation may not use or value the same things you do. (They may not need full sets of china or crystal. Trends change and your style of furniture may not match their current home décor.) Don’t take it personally!
7. Give Unwanted Items New Life
You can feel good about giving things away: Your trash is someone else’s treasure and can be a blessing to others. Be sure to schedule a donation pick up to make the process as easy as possible. It will also give you a deadline for going through everything. Buy Nothing groups on FB are also a resource to take advantage of!
For items you would like to sell, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Email consignment shops photos of furniture to see if they will sell it for you or post items for sale on Facebook Marketplace.
- Ebay is often the best place to sell collections. If you spent a lifetime collecting certain items, reduce your collection to a few of your favorites and only bring those. (You can take photos of the rest so you can remember it without the clutter. Keep in mind that the joy of your collecting was the process of doing it over the years. The hunt and search is what made it fun.)
- When it comes to clothing and accessories, consignment shops can be picky. The Real Real is good for high end luxury clothes and accessories.
- For high value items, get it appraised so that you can get the full value when you sell it or for your tax deduction.
- Make sure any technological items you sell or donate are in good working order and that you have the correct power cord. Otherwise you may need to recycle them. (Take old phones and technology to Mac Medics or Best Buy’s Genius Bar. They will wipe them clean and recycle them for you.)
When selling items, be sure to manage your expectations. People often overvalue what they have and forget that because of changing styles, there may no longer be a market for some of your items. You can realistically expect to get approximately one third of the original value. (Search online first to get an idea of the value of a particular item.)
Don’t forget to keep your donation receipts for tax deductions and assign an amount of value.
Visit my moving blog for a full list of donation/selling resources. (This is an especially great list if you are local to the Annapolis area.)
8. Take the Time to Reminisce
Your house literally has a lifetime of memories! Give yourself the time and permission to pause and be nostalgic about your items. Our possessions can spark memories and by thinking and talking about them, it preserves that memory and allows you to release the physical item.
This is why you start early! It takes more time and mental energy than you think to declutter and downsize.
Use downsizing as an opportunity to bond and pass on family stories. Invite your kids or grandkids over for a few hours to help you pack. Tell them about your family heirlooms or the history of your jewelry collection. If you can’t do it in person, do it virtually.
9. Go Digital When Possible
Get out your camera and scanner! Take photos of sweet cards and notes. Scan paper mementos like postcards, tickets, playbills, certificates, photos and artwork. Once you’re done scanning and taking photos, create memory books online. You can sort them by year or by category.
Go through your file drawers and scan as much paperwork as you can. Only keep the actual papers for the most important documents.
If recipes are something you love, create and collaborate on a Family Recipe Cookbook. Give them out to your kids and grandchildren. Instead of taking all your cookbooks and stacks of recipes, you’ll have your favorites all in one neat place.
10. Ask for Help
This is probably the most important tip I can give you. Know yourself and enlist help when needed. Decluttering can be physically, mentally, and emotionally difficult, and sometimes an outside perspective can make letting go of certain items easier. As a bonus, when you schedule for someone to help you, it holds you accountable and forces you to make progress.
Ask an organized friend or family member to help or hire a professional organizer. There is ZERO shame in outsourcing the things you don’t enjoy – like selling items, packing, photo organization, scanning or shredding documents.
Often we think of moves in terms of timelines and countdowns. If you are someone who finds deadlines helpful, look over the Downsizing Timeline I have created (linked below, click on the photo to get a PDF version you can print).
One of my team’s favorite jobs to do is unpacking a family in a new home. We love setting you up for success right from the start! Please reach out for a free consult if you could use help with this sometimes difficult process. We are here for you!
Each of my career choices-wedding coordinator, event planner, and teacher — gave me the creative freedom to organize everyone and everything. I have always thrived on to-do lists, planners, and systems! Now, I lead a team of organizers to help me on my mission. Read more…