Downsizing is both freeing and stressful. It’s never easy to pare down a lifetime of memories, and most of us tend to associate our belongings with events and the people we love.  Here are some downsizing tips to help make sure you don’t make any mistakes, but pare down enough to happily move to a smaller home or apartment.

Browse beautiful rooms & contemplate simplicity

You can simply thumb through magazines and books, or peruse the beautiful images of  Pay attention to how little clutter you see.  Pay attention to the positive feelings you have about those simplified rooms.  Get yourself mentally prepared – if not excited – that you have the opportunity to live in a simpler space, a space filled with ONLY the things you love.

Hot Tip: Tape a photo of a beautiful, simplified room into each room of your home; they can inspire you during your purge.

Think, too, about how many things you own that you haven’t actually used, touched or even seen in over a year. Focus on the joy you will feel by donating, selling or giving those items away. No matter which option you choose, you win.

Ask who wants some of your belongings

Ask family members and close friends if they would be interested in any of your belongings before you start to sort.  Ask them to list what type of items they might be interested in, or to make any specific requests (in case someone loves a particular painting, memento or piece of furniture). If you don’t get a reply – especially from those under the age of about 30 – make a mental note to save a few things for them ANYWAY. They might be too young to know the value of sentiment.

Buy Rubber Tubs for Items You’ll be Gifting

These are your gift tubs; we recommend rubber tubs with lids that seal tight. Think of them like a lovely gift, because they are. With each piece of jewelry, photo, letter, memento, homemade quilt or old letter jacket, you are filling this box with treasures that are sure to elicit a smile. Picture future generations of your family enjoying or telling stories about these items. Label your tubs and put them in one room of the house.

If you have lots of family pics, consider one galllery wall of favorites and ask your kids to take or digitize the rest.
If you have lots of family pics, consider one gallery wall of favorites.  Ask your children to take or digitize the remaining images.

Identify items you absolutely LOVE or CHERISH

Picture having to quickly evacuate your home.  What few items would utterly devastate you if they were lost? (We’re not talking about collectibles with value; we’ll get to those in a minute).  These are likely photos, letters, artwork, handmade gifts or things you made, jewelry, a small family heirloom, perhaps an item or two from your travels.  What sentimental items would you save from  a burning house?  Gather or identify these items first (sticky notes might help, or start a list).

Keep this selection deliberately small.  It’s special. There’s another level of belongings you can keep which are non-critical. But a ‘personal treasure’ pile should fit in your backseat.

sort belongings for downsizing

Room by Room: Gift, Sell, Donate or Trash

Now you’re ready to go room by room and learn the extraordinary feeling of lightness that a purge can bring.  There are the four categories that matter most to you now: gift, sell, donate, trash.  The more items you can identify for each category, the happier you will be (and the lighter your load at moving time).  Tackle your home room by room; you’ll have a larger feeling of accomplishment that way.

If you have the space to do so, move items you plan to sell or donate into dedicated spaces, like the garage or a spare room.  Fill your rubber gift tubs.  And think about how you’d like to sell other items.  There’s ebay (yourself or through a hired seller); consignment stores; online apps and Facebook sale pages; a garage sale; or – if you amass enough items – an estate sale or auction.  It won’t be long before you get a rush from filling your trash cans.  You can do it!

It also helps to have a floor plan of your new home, with the dimensions on it.  Measure your favorite furnishings and figure out which pieces will comfortably fit into new spaces, and which should find a new home. There’s fun in acquiring a few pieces for a smaller home, and selling, auctioning or consigning older furnishings and collectibles might well cover those expenses.

Hot Tip: Many cities have thrift stores and organizations which will pick up items if scheduled on the day the truck goes to your neighborhood.

high school letter jacket
Don’t throw out a high school letter jacket or other special personal items without giving your children a chance to claim them.

Where to be careful

There are a few mistakes you can make. One is getting rid of your children’s items without telling them. Give adult children a deadline by which to claim their left-behind items. Send them pics from your phone if they’re far away.  Offer to ship them a box but don’t consider moving their items to your smaller home. The time has come. You are no longer obligated to store their old school yearbooks or letter jackets, cheerleading uniforms or trophies.

If you’re downsizing after a tragedy, don’t go overboard. You might consider putting some things in storage for a year, or having a friend help you decide what to keep. Emotions run high after unexpected events, and if you’re depressed, you may get rid of things you’ll want later. Don’t, however, use this as an excuse to keep everything.

The last warning: don’t be sloppy when it comes to collectibles. Set them aside until you can get them evaluated by an expert, or at least a friend or relative with a computer. These might include baseball cards, signed memorabilia, vintage toys or artisan crafted pieces.

Items you only need ONE of

Here’s a quick list to help you pare down some things of which we all accumulate extras.  these are items you likely only need one of

Set of dishes
Set of glassware
Set of tupperware
Set of mixing bowls
Large serving platter
Household tools (hammer, screwdriver, tape measure)
Extra blankets  (keep one heavy and one light, per guest bed)
Large winter and summer purse
Coat for each type of weather (extra warm, lighter weight, rain jacket, windbreaker)
Umbrella (one travel size, one oversized)
Cooler (you might keep a small one for car trips or picnics with grandkids)
Set of small tools, measuring tape

Hot Tip: Remember that donations will be a tax write-off.  Always get a receipt.  

Items you won’t need in an apartment or smaller home

Ladders larger than a step-stool
Garden tools
Large power tools
Excessive outdoor Christmas decorations

Hot Tip:  If an item’s been in a box for more than a year, it’s very likely time to let it go. 


Ask a friend or professional to help

If you have trouble with decision-making, ask someone impartial to help you, someone who embraces your goal. A friend won’t have the same emotional attachment to your items, and can help you narrow down your belongings, while ALSO helping make sure you keep what you love. A professional or aspiring home organizer is a great investment. They will be efficient while also being kind.