If you’re overwhelmed with panic at the thought of moving to a new, smaller place, it’s likely stemming from uncertainty about how to downsize your home.
Not only do you have to face a whole new epoch in life, you likely have more possessions than you can take with you when moving to a smaller home. Whether you’re an empty nester, downsizing for financial reasons or simply want less upkeep, being smart about how you downsize is critical.
Luckily, we’ve got plenty of tips (and a free downsizing checklist) for making wise decisions throughout the downsizing process. Here’s your step-by-step guide to paring down, packing smart and downsizing your home.
How to Downsize Your Home, Step By Step
Step 1: Make the biggest decisions first.
The best way to downsize is to go room by room, making the big decisions first and then the small ones. The following questions should help. Discuss the answers with your partner (if applicable) and think carefully about larger or more complicated items before you decide what stays and what goes to your new home.
Questions to Ask Before Getting Rid of Large Items
- Does your new place have washer and dryer sets, or just hookups?
- If it just has hookups, are your current washer and dryer nice enough to take with you, or should you buy new?
- Does your new home have a fridge already?
- If so, is it a nice one, or would you like your current fridge in your new home?
- Is it worth it to you to move appliances? The cost of moving out of state is about 50 cents per pound… is that affordable?
- If you’re moving in-state, poundage matters less. The question becomes, do you like your appliances enough to pay movers the $25-$50 an hour it will cost to get them from A to B?
- Do you have any large sentimental items you’ve been holding onto, such as Aunt Bertha’s Civil War-era armoire? If so, would you be happier taking them with you, passing them on to family members, or selling them on eBay and shipping them off to new owners?
- Do you have any large collections you care about? If so, would you prefer to keep, gift or sell them?
- Ditto furniture, china sets or fancy light fixtures?
- That classic car is your pride and joy, but should it stay or go?
- What about your hobby space–woodshop/sewing room/craft closet… Will space allow for all equipment and supplies?
- Do you have any other large gifts or sentimental items you can’t live without in your new home? If so, are you truly able to make space for them?
These are hard questions, especially if you’re moving into a condo or apartment. If you’re moving into a smaller single-family home, they’re a bit easier – but will still require thought.
Step 2: Create stations for giveaway items, donations, items for resale and trash.
It makes sense to know where you’re moving before you start a full pack job. You don’t, however, have to wait before you start decluttering your current space. Whether you’re planning your downsize or already mid-pack, you can use a simple four-pile system to make the job much easier.
The Four-Pile Sorting System for Downsizing
- Giveaways: These possessions will go to friends and family who can use them.
- Donations: Anything you/others don’t want but still has utility or beauty can head to Goodwill or The Salvation Army.
- Sale items: This pile is optional, but if you’re looking for some extra cash to grease the move, this is a good way to do it.
- Trash pickup or dump: No matter how much we want to think otherwise, some things just don’t have a second life. They go in this pile for a scheduled drop-off or pickup.
Choose distinct corners or rooms for each pile. When you come across possessions that meet one of these descriptions, immediately place them at the designated station so you can dispose of them in batches, saving major time.
Step 3: Start in little-used nooks and storage spaces.
When downsizing, you can find some easy wins in those holes and crannies you rarely enter, or that tend to accumulate junk. This includes spaces such as:
- The basement and attic
- Sheds and garages
- Spare rooms
- Out-of-the-way kitchen cabinets
- Linen closets
- Bathroom cabinets or shelves
These niches often contain a) unused items (AKA junk), b) memories and c) larger items for sale. Refer to the steps above for big decisions: place the junk in designated piles and set the memories aside. We’ll deal with them in a bit.
If you decide to keep items that won’t fit inside your new home, make sure you have enough storage at your new place or consider renting a storage unit. Often it’s easier to pare down further once you have a little time away from possessions and can tell what’s truly useful.
Step 4: Downsize your furniture collection next.
Obviously you’ll need furniture in your new home. The question is: What furniture will fit in your new, smaller home?
It’s important to measure your new space and your furniture to see if the latter fits. Make sure to account for doorways; sometimes even if your furniture would fit inside the space, you can’t get it in there to begin with.
Most likely you’ll have to eliminate some pieces. Instead of focusing on what to get rid of, though, set your sights on what you can’t live without or what you would replace if it were gone. That means über-cozy beds, antique furniture or the wonky side table from your kid’s middle school shop class.
For everything else, starting finding new homes for excess furniture pieces, whether that means offering them to friends and family, selling or donating them, or sending them to your storage unit.
Step 5: Head to the kitchen for everyday items.
The kitchen, more than any other room in the home, contains items you use every single day. Even your clothes don’t see the type of loyalty you bestow on, say, the cast iron pan you heat up morning, noon and night.
Again, don’t focus on what to eliminate. Instead, go through your drawers and pull out the pieces you really can’t live without: your food processor, your well-loved pans, your silverware.
Remember that it’s okay if your kitchen is disproportionately represented in your piles of moving boxes, especially if you like to cook. If your move to a smaller home means moving into a smaller kitchen, though, these posts may come in handy:
Step 6: Comb through bedrooms and living spaces one by one.
Now that you’ve made tough decisions about big items, done some serious decluttering and pared down your furniture, it’s time to deal with the thousands and thousands of smaller possessions that make up a home.
More than anything else when downsizing, we get stuck in nostalgia. The macaroni art! The college tee shirts! The art supplies from that oil-on-canvas phase!
Decluttering sentimental items can be tough, but with a few targeted questions, you can make much better decisions about what you love and what can go. Check out our list of questions to ask yourself while decluttering sentimental items here.
When it comes to paper keepsakes such as special art projects, certificates and other paper milestones, Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project has a brilliant system for filing sentimental items. Any time she has to sort through papers, she pulls out truly special pieces (best-in-class artwork, special family photographs, momentous b-day invitations). Then she files them in a special accordion folder dedicated to nostalgia and discards the rest.
She also recommends choosing one representative item for collections. So, one college tee shirt and one snow globe from your every-state-in-the-continental-U.S. collection. Ditto one pair of baby shoes, one item from the costume jewelry you no longer wear, one amazing trophy from your golf days.
Still stuck? Ask if each object “sparks joy,” as Marie Kondo explains it in her fabulous book. If you can’t honestly say it adds measurably to your life, let it go.
How to Downsize Your Home: A Free Checklist
Sometimes, when you’re overwhelmed, you just need someone else to tell you it’s okay. That’s what ye olde spouse is for, of course, but we’re here to offer you another tool as well:
Go ahead and download it right now to keep you on track and reveal your progress. Not only will it reduce the confusion, but it will provide a good reality check when you feel like “you’ve accomplished nothing.”
While downsizing may initially seem a frightening prospect, both physically and emotionally, you can make the task much less daunting by breaking it into the above steps. By starting with the big items and getting increasingly granular, you’ll soon create a simplified yet cozy, decluttered yet significant set of possessions just perfect for that new, smaller home.