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Decluttering to Downsize Part II: How to Declutter


Welcome back to the Decluttering to Downsize Series! If you are thinking about downsizing your home, or you know a loved one who is considering it, then this blog series is for you.


As a reminder, last week we talked about the first step in the downsizing process — planning for downsizing.


Downsizing your home is a MAJOR life change that’s both extremely emotional and physically demanding. That’s why I’m addressing this as a series, to give you a deeper dive into each step in order to help remove some of the overwhelm surrounding downsizing. Having a plan in place, along with the right support will help you move forward in this process as smoothly as possible.


There are six steps for successful downsizing:


  1. Plan for this move.

  2. Declutter.

  3. Address your memorabilia.

  4. Pack.

  5. Move.

  6. Create supportive spaces in your new home.


Today we’re taking a deeper dive into step #2: Decluttering. Specifically, how to declutter for a downsize.


Decluttering to downsize takes a different approach than decluttering for another move, or to just declutter in general. This is because you have to prepare to let go of A LOT more stuff. When you’re decluttering to downsize, not only do you have to consider the smaller space you’re moving into, but safety becomes a primary concern.


This is a clutter rating scale that is used by first responders across the country:



In most average homes, the clutter level is between a #3 or #4 on this scale. But as we get older, and plan to downsize, safety takes a higher priority. In this instance, your goal is to maintain your home at a #1 on this scale. Because in downsizing, having less stuff in your home is safer.


Downsizing also means having fewer options for storage. For safety reasons, it’s extremely important to keep items you need within reach. You should avoid having to climb on ladders, or stools to reach for things. Make sure nothing is stored on the floor to remove any tripping hazards. In general, you want to have fewer items in the storage spaces that you have available.


Typically, when people downsize they assume they need to let go of about 50% of their stuff. Of course, everyone is different but for some people, the reality is they need to let go of 60%-80% of their stuff!


It’s important to fully understand how much stuff you currently have versus how much storage space you’ll actually have, while storing things safely, in your new home. If you’re moving into an apartment or into assisted living, these are very important things to consider and start planning for in the beginning stages of the downsizing process.


The goal for decluttering to downsize is to make sure that you’re not only able to live comfortably, but safely in your new home.


How to Declutter for Downsizing


Identify the categories that you have and assign ownership.

Let’s use the tool collection in the garage as an example. Who has ownership over these tools? A child, a friend, or a spouse? Figure out who is responsible for that collection of items, and then open up lines of communication with that person to plan for removal of these items from your home at a specific time.


Know your local charities.

Know where you can bring furniture, or better yet — who will pick up the furniture at no cost. Where can you recycle electronics locally? Linens can typically go to homeless shelters or humane societies. Identify where you can donate household items and clothing. Call your local charities to make sure they’re accepting the items you have to donate. If you’re unsure of who to call or what resources are available, post the question to your Facebook page! Utilize social media to connect with people in your local area who can help you find these resources.


Create a staging area for decluttering.

Dedicate one clear space for you to really go through and sort items into clearly marked boxes, bins, or bags. Use this area as a sorting station. It’s best to have this area close to the front door, to make it easier when it’s time for people to come in and take their assigned things.


Remove other people’s stuff first.

If you have adult children who still have stuff in your house, ask them to remove their things first, early on in the decluttering process. Your main focus is decluttering YOUR stuff, which means you need adequate space to do so.


Start with physically large, and emotionally easy collections.

In any kind of decluttering, you always want to start with emotionally easy and finish with emotionally difficult. This is one cardinal rule of decluttering! It’s no different for decluttering to downsize. Start with a collection of items that you’re not emotionally attached to, but can easily free up space in your house. Linens are a good place to start. Most people have a lot of linens and aren’t super attached to them.


If going through your clothing, for example, is emotionally difficult, then don’t start there. Or, if you HAVE to start with clothing, then start with the easiest, least emotional sub-category of clothing. Possibly socks. Unless you’re a sock person, of course! Figure out the best place to begin for you.


Put sentimental items aside to deal with later.

This is the biggest emotional category that should come absolutely last. And it’s a complex topic, so this will have its own blog and podcast coming soon!


Locate important papers, make copies, and keep them in a visible location.

As you’re decluttering, locate all of your important papers and put them in a convenient, visible location. If you have healthcare proxies, living wills, medical papers, etc. store them in a location where you (or a loved one) can easily find them. That will be how you store these documents moving forward — all together in one spot, in a very obvious location in your house.


Let go with love and gratitude.

Often when we’re decluttering to downsize, we deal with complicated, complex emotions. It’s easy to forget to have love and gratitude in this process. All of this stuff in your life was a blessing. When decluttering feels overwhelming, remember to pause and just feel grateful for the opportunity to have owned these items, and for the incredible home that served you. This is all a blessing.


Letting go only creates more space for you to continue to live a full life in the future. What does that look like for you? Maybe it’s being surrounded by family, making time for hobbies you love or travels with friends you enjoy. The more you let go of this stuff, the more you have space for the activities that are fulfilling to you.


Next week we’re diving into memorabilia — how to actually go through memorabilia, how to store it, how to let go of it — the most emotionally complex part of decluttering.


If you’re looking for decluttering support to help you (or a loved one) with downsizing your home, please join Clutter Bootcamp. There is a whole community in the Prioritize Your Sanity group who are going through downsizing, and they’re ready to support you!


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Subscribe to my YouTube channel for my weekly podcast, “It’s All Clutter,” to follow more tips in my Downsizing series!


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