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The key to downsizing is to rid your life of the things you really don't need. In balance, keeping the things you really do need. It sounds simple, right? But I can tell you, it’s not. Somehow in downsizing you may find yourself with 7 forks, 2 knives and 1 Rubbermaid container top. Organization is unfortunately not my strong suite.
Granted, I’d like to think this isn’t the norm – most people won’t mistakenly get rid of their silverware. But if the old adage, “Three moves equals a fire” is true, you’re likely to get rid of a few items during a downsize (whether or not you’re actually moving), that you should probably hang on to.
Downsizing effectively comes down to time and thoughtful consideration. If you’re short on time, or if you’re not thinking about the end result, you’ll end up making mistakes.
Luckily, with a few tips you can get smarter. Life is definitely better more streamlined, even if you are not moving. Here are a few tips for quality downsizing, whether you are moving or simply decluttering your current home.
1. Downsize the Big Stuff If You’re Moving
If you know you’re moving from a three-bedroom home to a two-bedroom home, there’s absolutely no reason for you to move three beds, three dressers, and three bedside tables to your new place. It costs money to haul big furniture, and if there’s nowhere to put it, you’ll just have to pay for a storage unit.
Things get a little trickier when you’re downsizing space, but not bedrooms – for example, moving from a 1,800 square-foot, three-bedroom home to a 1,200 square-foot three-bedroom home. You may need all your bedroom furniture, but you may not be able to fit all your living room or dining room furniture. Look carefully at the floor plan of your new space, or do a walk-through with a tape measure to really get a feel for where you can place your tables, chairs, and sofas. You may realize you can keep your dining room table, but you need to sell your breakfast table; or, you may find that you can keep your sofa and a chair, but it’s time to give away your loveseat. It’s better to make these big decisions before you move so you don’t end up paying for the expense to haul or store the excess furniture.
For instance, you know space will be at a premium. Ditch that large chest of drawers, which wouldn’t fit easily into our space, and opt instead for on-wall shelving to store clothing or other items.
2. Take the Small Stuff With You
If you’re moving, or if you’re just fed up with the clutter in your home, you may be tempted to give away or sell a lot of small items, such as clothing, knick-knacks, dishes, and home decor. However, you may want to take this step slowly. It’s a good idea to go through your stuff to get rid of the general junk that tends to accumulate in a home, but don’t start getting rid of items you regularly use or enjoy just yet.
During our first downsize, we assumed we needed to get rid of just about everything. As a result, we ended up selling or giving away items we actually needed, including silverware, cookware, and cleaning supplies, and then ended up repurchasing them after our move. Part of the problem was that we didn’t really know how much space we would have in our new home for these items, so we just got rid of it all. Had we conscientiously separated the must-keeps and maybe-keeps into designated boxes before the move, we could have waited to give away or sell items until after our move based on the space we had in our new home. Ultimately, this would have saved us money, as we ended up repurchasing a fair amount of stuff.
Keep any item you currently use or use seasonally. Also, keep items with sentimental value or a practical purpose, even if you don’t use them regularly. For instance, if you’re done having kids, it’s a great time to get rid of baby clothes, old toys, or maternity wear. However, if you feel sentimental pangs about some of your children’s onesies or blankets, go ahead and hang onto the item, at least for now. Sell or give away any item that no longer has a practical purpose for you.
3. Go Through Every Box
One person I know said, "I am amazed at the number of boxes that have followed me multiple times across the country without me even looking inside them. Many of these boxes were filled with “keepsakes” my parents gave me at some point. Eventually, though, I went through all of them. What started as five large boxes and crates of my childhood art projects, photographs, cards, and scrapbooks was quickly pared down to two boxes mostly filled with photographs and a few knick-knacks. I was able to discard three full boxes worth of stuff that I never really knew existed and will never miss".
When space is at a premium, every box matters. So take some time to go through each area in your home, from your attic to your closets to your garage to your cabinets. There’s so much stuff that lands on shelves and gets tucked away in storage just because it “might be useful someday,” or because you simply don’t know what to do with it. If you haven’t used it in over a year, or if you see no immediate use for it in the coming six months, purge it from your life and give it away, sell it, or toss it in the trash. You may even want to have a garage sale, or sell items to a thrift store.
4. Plan Your Storage Before Downsizing Further
Once you’ve separated the items you no longer need or use, you may still be left with more stuff than you think you have room to store. This is the point where it’s tempting to start giving away items in an effort to free up space. However, before you start giving away things you actually use, need, or want, assess and plan your storage.
The best way to do this is to decide where and how to organize your things. Once the storage was in place, I could fold and hang clothing and linens as planned, then determine whether we needed to pare down further. I did end up needing to give away a few more pairs of yoga pants and tank tops than I’d originally planned, but the end result was perfect – our new “closet” was filled with the best items we owned, and purged of rarely-used or beaten up, older items.
We proceeded to use this same formula to separate and organize our tech gear, tools, books, kitchenware, and other equipment. By planning our storage first, then fitting our must-haves into the storage second, we were able to make sure we could keep the most important items. Then, if we did need to pare down further, we could easily select the least important or least used items from what was remaining.
In your home, determine how you can make space go further by implementing more effective storage solutions. For instance, you can hang additional shelves and hooks, and you can seek out organization tools that expand your storage in closets and cabinets, such as wire racks, behind-door shoe storage, vertical clothing hangers, or under-bed storage boxes.
5. Follow the One-Year Rule
I know how tempting it is to hang onto items you once loved but no longer use, or items you think you might use someday. But the truth is, if you haven’t used a particular item in the last year, you’re unlikely to use it in the next year. And if you’re unlikely to use something in the next year, then you’re unlikely to use it at all.
This means it’s time to give up your high school skinny jeans, your paint and yarn from old crafting projects, your workout equipment that became a clothes hanger somewhere along the way, and most of your kids’ old shoes, toys, and apparel. Of course there are exceptions to every rule – if a particular item serves a specific purpose, or is particularly nice or high-dollar, use caution before giving it away.
For instance, I live in Texas, where it’s hot nine months of the year. Also, I work from home, which means my wardrobe consists mostly of yoga pants and tank tops. I have little need for suits or nice coats, so I got rid of most of my old work clothes. However, I decided to hang onto one nice cold-weather coat and one suit, even though they haven’t been worn in over a year. On the rare occasion when a cold front comes through, or when I need to dress nicely for a professional event, I won’t have to go out and buy new clothes. The items I kept serve a specific purpose and will prevent me from spending unnecessary money on new items should I need them.
The point is to be a realist when separating the stuff you keep from the stuff you don’t. Be realistic and ask yourself what you use and what you need, both now and in the future.
6. Remember It’s All Just Stuff
It’s easy to go overboard when you get into the decluttering groove. At the core, all the things filling your home are just things – they may spur memories of a person, place, or event, but they’re not actual memories. But before you become a minimalist who subsists on next to nothing, think about what you’d want to save from a fire. Maybe it’s photographs, a few of your favorite books, or an item that reminds you of a special day in the past. Don’t let yourself start thinking of everything as “just stuff” – not all items are expendable.
When paring down your life, get rid of as much as you can, but don’t get rid of those things that are especially important – the things that you’d like to share with your children or grandchildren someday.
7. Re-home Special Items
What you may discover is that you come across things from your past that are in a “no man’s land” in terms of best fit. They’re nice, they hold value and memories, and you don’t really want to give them away – but at the same time, you have no use for them and they are just taking up space.
In my case, a few toys from my childhood, were a few of these special items. After thinking about it, I realized I had people in my life who could benefit from and enjoy each item, and I would enjoy knowing they were being used.
How you re-home your items is a personal decision, but if the item holds meaning to you, try to keep it in the family or with friends who understand the meaning behind the item.
8. Digitize Whatever You Can
CDs, DVDs, cassettes, videos, pictures, and important documents can all be digitized and saved to the cloud or a computer hard drive to free up important space. While we kept hard copies of important personal documents, such as birth certificates and social security cards, we scanned and saved all of our other records – financial and personal. We also transferred all of our DVDs and CDs to digital files. We were able to get rid of four boxes of paper, discs, and videos with this simple step of going paperless.
Most documents can simply be scanned to a computer and saved as a PDF file, or uploaded to the cloud using services like DropBox or Google Drive. You can transfer DVDs and CDs to digital files by using free computer programs, such as Movavi, WinX DVD Ripper, or Freemake Video Converter. Just be aware that some DVDs and CDs are copyrighted, which may prevent you from making a copy, even though making personal copies of products you’ve purchased should fall under “fair use” laws.
9. Set Limits!
Once you’re settled into your smaller space, it’s important to keep your clutter under wraps. It’s amazing how quickly things can accumulate, which can make a small home feel even smaller.
Clothing and paper are the clutter culprits in our house. What I’ve decided is that if I receive or purchase any more clothing or shoes, an item I already own must be given away to accommodate the new item’s space. I’ve also instituted a rule regarding mail – it’s dealt with immediately. It’s read and recycled, or otherwise handled as soon as it comes so that it doesn’t start piling up on counters. You can also opt out and reduce the amount of junk mail that comes to your house.
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