Decluttering for Downsizing  – What You Need To Know

Inside: You’ve decided to downsize and now need to declutter. Check out these downsizing tips and steps to decluttering your belongings.

Stuffed animals from my childhood, a faded high school letter jacket, and an outdated Encylopedia set are just a few things taking up space at my parent’s house.  Their next move will be to downsize and deal with the clutter that has accumulated over a lifetime.  

Are you in the process of downsizing?  It happens all the time!  You may be motivated to have a smaller home that requires less maintenance.  Or you may want to spend less money on your mortgage.  You may have retired and don’t need the space you once did.

While the reasons for downsizing vary, one thing remains the same.  Everyone who downsizes needs to declutter BEFORE the move. 

This can be overwhelming and you may not know where to start.  Don’t worry, I have tips that can help you get unstuck and make a plan to declutter before you downsize your home.

Step 1: Make a List of the Things You’ll Need In Your Downsized Home

You want to be sure to keep the things you need as you downsize.  Make a list of the furniture you’ll need for each room in your new but smaller home.  You may also want to make a list of the things you need to get rid of.

Let’s say that you have a king-size bed, but know that it won’t fit in the size of your new room.  You could add it to the list of things to get rid of.

Go through room by room and make your list of general items you want to keep.

woman decluttering before downsizing packing boxes before the move eith text decluttering before you downsize what you need to know

Step 2: Make a Decluttering Action Plan

In order to create your action plan, you need to identify your priorities. Many of us have rooms that overwhelm us, a closet we’ve ignored, or categories like books, clothing or sentimental items we’ve held onto for far too long.

1) List your top 5 rooms or categories that need attention.

2) Indicate the size of the challenge: small, medium, or large.

3) Finally, indicate how important a priority it is for you – high, medium, or low.

Now write down the action steps you need to take to declutter each space.  Get as detailed as you need. The larger the step, the more likely you are to get stalled. The smaller, the step, the more likely you are to accomplish it.

Big Action Step

  •  Clean out and organize the kid’s rooms.

Bite-Size Action Step

  • Clean out Johnny’s Closet
  • Organize Johnny’s Drawers
  • Donate Johnny’s items to the Salvation Army

As you make your list of action steps, put a target date by each item. 

Step 3: Deal with Other People’s Stuff First

Outside of the people living in the home, make a list of anyone else that has substantial stuff in your home.  This could be an adult child, an old roommate, the friend that stayed at your house “temporarily.” 

Contact them to see if they want you to discard their things or if they could come over and get them.  Set a date if they choose the latter.  If you really want to expedite the process, go ahead and box their items, so that you can put it all in their car and nothing remains.

Do not have them sort through the things at your house.  This will only prolong the process and you will more than likely end up with the things they don’t want.  Creating another problem for you.

If they are ok with you discarding them, then box them up and take them to a donation center. The goal is to avoid spending too much time sorting through the items.  Get them out of your house as fast as possible.

Step 4: Declutter Your Most Dreaded Space

You likely have a space in your home that you dread decluttering.  Even when you make progress in other areas, this dark cloud hangs over your head.  This sort of thing can encourage you to procrastinate…and then make the decluttering process take twice as long as necessary.

Focus on the gratification you’ll feel once you’ve conquered this space!

Set aside the required time…1 day…5 days (whatever you need) to conquer it!  Be committed.  Part of the battle is your mental stance.   Put mind over matter and commit to accomplishing it. 

Decluttering Process

Start with one category in the room.  For example, if you’re decluttering a bedroom, start with the clothes.  Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need this in my new space / do I have room for it in my new space?
  • Is it a duplicate or do I have something like it that fits the same need?
  • When’s the last time I used/wore this?
  • Do I like it? E.g. is it still my style or taste?
  • What would I do if I didn’t have it?

Keep in mind, when downsizing, your goal is to get rid of as much stuff as possible. 

How to Get Rid Of Decluttered Items

Discard doesn’t mean “throw-away” you have many options.  Some require more effort than others.  As you identify things to get rid of sort them in the following piles:

  • Keep
  • Donate
  • Sell
  • Trash
  • Recycle

>> Make Money Decluttering <<

If you have large things like furniture or valuable items like jewelry, handbags, or electronics, selling them is a great option.  However, small items like clothes, books, etc.  can take a lot of time for little financial return.  It’s better to donate those items and get them out of your house instead of selling where you risk them piling up in another space.

Check out this post for more details on what to do with unwanted items.  It contains a helpful list of items that donation centers will typically accept.

 >> 5 Options for Getting Rid of Unwanted Stuff After Decluttering <<


sentimental items including books and photos that need to be decluttered before downsizing.
Stack of old family photos and photo albums

Decluttering Sentimental Items When Downsizing

When decluttering and downsizing, you are faced with parting from things that are special and meaningful but that you no longer have space or use for.

This can be difficult.  Don’t rush this process and don’t try to get rid of it all.  Give yourself a specific amount of time.  Thoughtfully sort through and keep only your prized possessions.  Consider if there are family or friends that would appreciate it just as much.

Allow yourself to keep some of these items.  One option is to keep the things that are the most important to you.  Get a plastic bin and dedicate it to your sentimental items.  The goal is to only keep things that will fit in that container.  When it is filled, sort through and reprioritize discarding the items that are not as special. Time helps bring clarity to what you really want to keep.

Every family member can have their own box.  As an example, I have a container for my kindergartener.  She brings home school projects every week.  The projects that required more effort go into her memory bin.  Right now, the pile is a couple of inches thick.  But, she’s only in her first year of school. As each year goes on, we’ll need to reprioritize to keep her sentimental items to the one box.

Also, consider if there are other formats for the items.  For example, if they are photos or documents, can they be scanned?  If they are material, could they be made into a quilt?

Lastly, give yourself permission to let go of things.  Some times we hang onto things we think are sentimental because they were passed down.  Maybe you have a china set, crystal vases, or wooden furniture that was handed down to you.  They aren’t your style, you don’t really like them…you just like what they represent or who gave them to you.

Truly, the value for you isn’t in the item, it’s in the memory.  You don’t need that item to keep the memory.  Give yourself permission to pass it on or sell it.

For more ideas check out How to Deal with Decluttering Guilt.

Plan Ahead

If possible, plan ahead and give yourself time to declutter before you downsize.  Downsizing may be an emotional process for you.  So, do a little decluttering at a time.  Take on one space a month.  Commit to going to the donation center once a month. 

Of course, you can do it all at once, but that may be more emotionally draining for you.

You’re now ready to get started!  Mentally commit!  Make your Action Plan!  Remember your options for discarding.  And give yourself permission to keep some sentimental items while getting rid of others. 

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