How to Prepare to Downsize Your Home: What Stays, And What Goes?

One of the “Basic Laws” in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Organizing Your Life states that “Stuff expands to fill the space available.”

Admit it: You’ll gladly hang onto that collection of Mardi Gras beads or buy “one more sweater” when you’ve got the space to store it comfortably. The average American home has nearly tripled in size over the past half century, so you can imagine there’s now also three times the junk, clothes, and furnishings behind closed doors.

No harm, no foul… until the time comes to sell the house and downsize. With all that stuff weighing you down, you won’t be going anywhere unless you learn how to prepare to downsize your home before the moving trucks arrive. In this case? Preparation = purging.

But it’s a tricky balance. Impulsively toss the cleaning supplies, and come time to disinfect the new place you’ll have nary a Clorox wipe. Can’t part with your oversized couch? Good thing it’ll make a great lawn display, cause it ain’t getting through that doorway.

Buck up, grab some trash bags, and put your decision cap on. From the throw-away items to the for-sure keepers and everything in-between, we’ll help you figure out what stays and what goes.

Plastic kitchen supplies that will be tossed while preparing to downsize.
Source: (Pxhere)

Toss these items and you’ll be better off for it.

Not every item is a keeper. Don’t think twice about getting rid of items like these when you’re figuring out how to prepare to downsize your home.

1. Awards collections from your glory days.

You don’t need large volumes of metal and plastic to remind you of the way it felt to swish a basket during the state championship game.

Though old trophies, medals, plaques, and certificates from your high school and college glory days do have sentimental value, your memories of the times won’t be erased if you decide to toss out at least a portion of your awards collections.

That goes for sports as well as any hobbies or pursuits you’ve had throughout your life, whether it’s half marathons, debate team, mock trial, or bike racing.

If you’d like to save a few commemorative items, pick the most meaningful ones (that remind you when you got the Gold over your arch nemesis—sweet victory!)

Or another good test to see whether a piece of award memorabilia is worth keeping: ask whether you’d be proud setting the item on display somewhere in the house—imagine a real spot, not a hypothetical place—or if it would realistically end up collecting dust in a box.

For example, it’d be better to hang onto that framed newspaper clipping as opposed to a bobblehead that just takes up space on your desk.

2. Random kitchen gadgets.

We all have the drawer. The one stuffed so full of kitchen utensils that, quite frankly, you aren’t even sure what each one is for anymore.

The fact of the matter is, unless you do a lot of niche cooking in your day to day life, you don’t need a melon baller. Or an egg slicer. Or most of the kitchen items you might have accumulated over the years that could be best characterized “as seen on TV”.

You’ll be able to pare down your kitchen clutter drastically by getting rid of assorted gadgets that you don’t need or regularly use. When you’re downsizing your space, these should be among the first casualties of your minimized lifestyle.

Also be on the lookout for duplicates in your cupboards or cabinets. If you don’t use two blenders in your current space, you definitely won’t need both of them in your new, smaller residence.

Decluttering countertops (by removing items such as mail baskets, banana hammocks, paper towel holders, and bread boxes from surfaces) will also help you get a leg up on staging the kitchen for buyers when you put your house on the market. Since one of the top complaints from potential buyers is that the kitchen is too small, you’ll want to achieve a minimalist look in this space rather than give off hoarder vibes.

3. Excessive, old, or outdated clothing.

Tackle your clothes collection and you’re bound to make a big dent in the purging process. The average person only wears about 20% of their entire wardrobe, so there’s no doubt plenty of room to get rid of some unworn or unnecessary items in your house.

Make an exception for the worn or beloved clothing items you actually wear (we’re looking at you, comfy old concert tees that double as PJs), but you don’t need to bring along old or out of style clothing when you’re moving to a smaller home.

For the most part, if you haven’t worn an item in the last six months, you won’t need it going forward (but hang onto your funeral wear, swimsuits, and job interview power suit).

“First, purge what no longer fits or is no longer loved,” advises Melisa Celikel, an NLP-certified clutter coach and founder of Let’s Get You Organized.

“Second, grab some giant black contractor trash bags and get to donating…Third, organize what is kept by sorting like with like, color coding, and creating cohesion with hangers facing the same way.”

A good place to start in the clothing purge is your casual T-shirt collection. It seems that by the time we reach 30, we’ve collected a thousand different T-shirts just because they came free or you made an impulse airport buy.

Think about how much space you’ll be able to reasonably dedicate to T-shirts in your new space, whether it’s one dresser drawer or a pull-out box under the bed. Fold your shirts like origami using the KonMari method so you can see each one you decide to keep, rather than lose sight of how many you have in a stack where only the top shirt is visible. There’s more accountability with yourself that way!

4. Books sitting in boxes or that you don’t have a purpose for.

Bibliophiles love their books and should never have to part with them. If books are part of your heart and soul, make space for them in your next home, no matter how small it is.

But since the average American realistically only reads 4 books per year, there are many households that could stand to cut back. That’s not to mention the latest interior design trend of buying books for their color or decorative value, which could be low priority when you downsize. Plus, with the abundance of eBook readers, you can store all of your favorite tales digitally.

We’re not suggesting you purge your entire library. However, now’s the time to be honest with yourself about which books should have a place in your home and on your bookshelf. Try to keep only books that you find to be worthy of display, are so good you have to have a copy on hand, or that you’d like to read someday.

Old textbooks, books left behind by exes, boxes of books collecting dust, instructional manuals, and even that old stash of trashy romance novels may be examples of books that don’t make the final cut.

While you’re at it, recycle the old catalogs, magazines, and newspapers that have been junking up the house for years.

5. Anything your kids should have taken off your hands years ago.

Give your kids a chance to claim any artwork, memorabilia, CDs, trinkets, clothes, figurines, or any other items you’ve been storing on their behalf long after they moved out of the house.

Set a deadline for when they’ll need to decide if they want something, and then toss anything that you’ve only chosen to keep for their sake once it passes.

You don’t have to throw out the imprint of their baby hands just because you’re downsizing—but you likely won’t have room to set up their childhood bedrooms like they once were when you move to a smaller place. Now’s a great excuse to ask the kiddos to take responsibility over their own stuff.

Old photographs that are kept while downsizing a home.
Source: (Kaboompics)

Don’t part with these items—you’ll regret it!

Amid the chaos of moving and selling the house, stuff gets lost and you could accidentally toss something you regret in the rush to get packed in time. Mistakes will happen in any move. But these are the items you don’t want to trash or give away in a haste.

1. Important paperwork.

Excess junk mail and random papers are major clutter culprits in American homes. It’s reported that we don’t even look at 80% of the paperwork and information that we keep and that the average person accumulates 15,000 pieces of junk mail over a lifetime.

This guide to sorting paper clutter from The Spruce, a site that advises more than 30 million readers each month on top home improvement projects, will help you sort through old papers, scan what you can, and organize the ‘in between’ papers.

But be careful not to get toss-happy, or you might end up accidentally throwing away vital documents that you won’t want to be caught without down the road, such as:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Marriage/divorce certificates
  • Social security cards
  • Vet vaccination records
  • Property deeds
  • Passports
  • Wills and other legal documents

Since you’re also selling the house, consult HomeLight’s guide for how to organize paperwork related to the sale of your home.

2. Family heirlooms.

Emotional attachment is one of the most difficult parts of the process when you’re figuring out how to prepare to downsize your home. However, be careful not to go overboard when it comes to sentimental family heirlooms, or you may end up experiencing rearview-mirror remorse.

Irreplaceable items like your great-grandpa’s watch or your grandmother’s sterling silver mirror are worth far more to your family than the space they take up. However, if you find yourself with more precious heirlooms than you can accommodate, don’t send them to the landfill or recycling bin. Pass them down to another family member who might enjoy the connection to the past or find out what their value is.

3. Old photographs.

There’s nothing like real photographs to stand the test of longevity when it comes to maintaining memories. When you keep prints of photos, you have something tangible to pass down to younger generations that doesn’t require a hard drive.

That doesn’t mean you need to keep every last overexposed, blurry photo (ah, the dark days before digital), but it’s always nice to have the option of opening up a photo album for a stroll down memory lane. Take the time to transfer loose photos from boxes to photo albums, and store them under the bed for easy access.

4. Anything you’ll need to get through the moving process.

It’s the moment that you feel like you can’t pack one more box that you’ll be tempted to toss out all your cleaning supplies and throw out your half a box of granola bars. You’d rather do a Target run later than deal with these miscellaneous items.

But you’ll be glad you have your bleach, scrub brush, and a snack pack to keep you from fainting on moving day. A couple of checklists, in this case, can help. HomeLight has a few already made for you: one for preparing for the big move, and another to help you make your new place instantly feel like home.

A sleeper sofa in a downsized home.
Source: (Pixabay/ Pexels)

Stuck on the fence? Try these tips to figure out what you should (and shouldn’t) keep.

1. Use the 20/20 rule.

Take emotions out of the equation by approaching each item with the 20/20 rule.

“If it can be replaced for $20 or less in 20 minutes or less, let it go,” says Ann Zanon, a certified professional organizer from Houston, Texas. This is an easy, pragmatic way to look at each item objectively, eliminating the struggle many of us have with agonizing over every piece of clothing or furniture.

There are some cases where this is an oversimplification—you wouldn’t toss out all of your silverware or coffee mugs just because they’re cheap and easily replaceable—but this advice can act as a valuable litmus test when you’re going through your household items to downsize.

2. Multipurpose items are the organized homeowner’s best friends.

When you’re downsizing, it’s super important that every item serves at least one clear purpose. If it serves multiple functions, that’s even better. Murphy beds, ottomans that double as storage, and multipurpose furniture like futons or sleeper sofas are the downsizer’s best friend.

“Prioritize furniture that does double duty,” says Kealia Reynolds of House Method magazine. If you’re moving to a smaller space, you’re going to want furniture that provides unexpected storage space and serves multiple purposes. This could mean investing in a trunk that doubles as a coffee table and blanket storage, or buying a pull-out sofa to function as a bed and lounge space.”

Hungry for more ideas? Review our guide to downsizing your home in style with multi-use furnishings—product inspo included!

3. Ask yourself what each item brings to your life.

There’s no doubt that downsizing can be emotionally taxing. However, being practical about the role each item plays in your life can help you figure out how you really feel about it.

“When working with clients to downsize their lives, my rule of thumb is as follows: relinquish what has served you in the past, and retain what will serve you moving forward,” says Amy Bloomer, a professional organizer serving the Baltimore area.

Thinking about your belongings this way allows you to take a good, honest look at which items you should bring into your future, and which ones should be left behind.

4. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

When you’re moving to a smaller space, every square inch matters. You’ll need to be prepared ahead of time with an idea of what you will—and won’t—have room to bring with you.

“Have a plan in terms of the new space that you’re seeking to move into,” says Collis Clovie, a top-selling real estate agent in Atlanta, Georgia. “In terms of furniture, what size furniture the space would accommodate, because what you have may not fit into those spaces.”

If you’re moving from a farmhouse with four bedrooms to a ranch with just two, you’re almost going to need to find a new home for some of your extra furniture.

Take careful measurements of every room in your new space, as well as measurements of the furniture you absolutely don’t want to part with. The leftover pieces that won’t fit into your new space can be donated or gifted if they’re in good shape.

Don’t forget about doorways when you’re figuring out what will fit in your new home and what won’t. Many a homeowner has made the mistake of neglecting to measure doorways, resulting in disappointment at best and damaged items or door frames at worst.

How do you prepare to downsize your home? Strategy and planning.

Downsizing can be stressful, but having an action plan can turn an overwhelming task like decluttering into easily digestible bite-sized pieces. Make the decision to clear out your excess stuff, and get started on your journey to a more manageable space. You’ll be glad you did.

Article Image Source: (Chanikarn Thongsupa/ Rawpixel)

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