How to Downsize

Moving boxes in the foreground, couple sitting in a room in the background

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Downsizing your home can be both an overwhelming and an exciting time, and it's one that often comes with a big lifestyle change. People downsize for many reasons; perhaps they no longer need as much space, they want to save money, or they're entering a new phase of life and they want to change their living situation. Whatever the reason may be, this guide can help you learn how to downsize in an organized and stress-free way, with tips and tricks on everything from how to make decisions about what to keep and what to toss or declutter to how to deal with sentimental possessions.

What Is Downsizing?

Downsizing is moving from a larger house or space to a smaller one. It typically involves getting rid of possessions that are no longer needed or that will not fit into the new house and can be a large lifestyle change. Common examples of downsizing include a couple moving into a smaller home after their children have moved out or a family moving from a larger home in a rural or suburban area to a smaller home in a large city.

The key to downsizing is to start early, pace yourself, and stay focused, and to remember that what may seem like tedious and time-consuming tasks will eventually save you time and effort once you get to your new home.

Get Started Early

It's a good idea to reset your mindset and adjust the way that you think about your current house and possessions as soon as you decide that downsizing your home is in your near future. While this doesn't necessarily mean you need to start packing and organizing immediately, it does mean that you can start making mental note of everything you have, consciously stop purchasing items you know you don't need and probably won't ever use, and begin to declutter as the seasons change. This way, you begin to prepare yourself and your home for the process of downsizing and won't be as overwhelmed when it's time to really begin.

Take Inventory of What You Have

While it may seem tedious, taking inventory of everything that you have is a crucial pre-packing step. There may be items you forgot you had, things that are broken and need to be thrown out, or multiples that have accumulated over the years. This exercise will also give you an idea of how many moving boxes you will need, whether you need to rent a dump truck or hire a removal service, and how much time you should give yourself for the packing process. This is also a good time to measure furniture to see what will fit inside your new home and what won't.

Sort and Declutter

To stay organized and focused during what may seem like a very overwhelming task, come up with categories to sort everything into. For example, set up separate boxes for items you will keep, donate to charity, get rid of, sell, or give to a certain person. This way, as you go through all your possessions, you can simply ask yourself which of the categories the item falls under, then either place it inside the designated box or, if it's too large, simply label it with a post-it note or sticker.

Consider Sentimental Items

Going through your possessions and deciding what to keep and what to toss can be challenging and emotional, especially when it comes to sentimental items and family heirlooms. Start early and give yourself plenty of time so that you don't make any rushed decisions you may later regret.

There are several ways to approach sentimental items; if you have boxes and boxes of old photos but don't have the room to keep them all, think digital! Keep the originals that have most meaning and value to you, then go through and scan all the rest. That way, you still keep all your pictures, they just take up way less space. The same applies to postcards, greeting cards, and other things, like tickets or playbills, that you may have kept as mementos.

As for items such as a piece of furniture or an accessory like a vase or a painting, evaluate how much it means to you personally and whether you would actually have it out on display or if it would just sit in a box stored away. If the answer is the latter, consider giving it to a family member or passing it down to a child or grandchild. This way, the item stays in the family and you can still see it, just not necessarily in your own home.

How to Decide What to Get Rid of

Even when it comes to items that are non-sentimental, deciding what to hold on to and what to toss can be difficult and overwhelming. To help you with the process, there are a couple of questions you can ask yourself as you evaluate each item. Have you used it in the past year? Do you see yourself using it in the future? Do you have space for it in your new home? Do you have duplicates of it? Is it in working order, or is it broken? Looking at items through the lens of these questions will help you stay focused and make hard decision easier.

Don’t Do It All at Once

Downsizing is a process and should be treated as such. It didn't take a week to collect all your possessions, so it is only natural that it will take longer than a week to go through them. Giving yourself time is important both mentally and physically so that you don't run out of steam before you even get to your new house, and so that you can stay organized and do as much sorting and purging as is necessary.

Divide tasks over a period of time and recruit help if needed. Others may not be able to help you decide what to keep and what to donate, but they can help you clean, wrap fragile items in bubble wrap, carry boxes from room to room, or prepare items for a yard sale.

Sell What You Don’t Need

Make a plan to sell non-sentimental items that are in good condition but you're not keeping, giving to someone, or donating to charity. For larger collections of items, an estate sale or yard sale may be a good way to go, while for fewer items, listing them for sale on your local social media marketplace, Craigslist, or local town social media pages is a good choice.

Think About Your New Lifestyle

If your move to downsize also involves a major lifestyle change, such as becoming an empty nester or moving into an active adult community, considering your new lifestyle will help you make hard decisions. For example, if you are moving into a community where some of your daily meals will be provided, downsize your kitchenwares to only what you really need. Similarly, if you know you won't be needing to do any cleaning, you may want to part with all your heavy duty cleaning appliances and tools that would just take up room and clutter your new, smaller space.

As long as you give yourself plenty of time and get started early, stay focused and organized throughout, and are willing to get rid of everything that takes up too much space, the downsizing process can be surprisingly smooth and simple.