I’m not sure if it's the time of year or if being stuck in our houses due to Covid has made all of my clients want to downsize and declutter but this is my most requested advice right now! Whether you are an empty nester about to put your house on the market, heading to the Big City (small apartment), or are just trying to learn how to live with less, here are my tips for downsizing and decluttering!
Do One Room (or Closet!) at a Time
If you have to go through a whole house, you’re going to have to break that into smaller pieces.
Ideally, you can do one room or even one closet at a time to make small noticeable progress. Many of my clients feel overwhelmed at the prospect of going through a lifetime of items; you do not have to go through it all in one weekend. You do not even have to do a whole room in one weekend. Sometimes, setting a timer for 15-30 minutes is plenty of time to make a small dent and give you momentum to keep going. Push play on your favorite podcast or upbeat playlist and see how much you can accomplish. Don’t Keep Things You Don’t Need
Do not spend the money and effort to move and/or store items that no longer serve you. Whether it is a closet full of clothes that no longer fit or wedding china you haven’t used since your first anniversary 30 years ago, do not keep anything you don’t need or will not use.
Do Identify High Priority Items
Think about the things you would bring with you if you had to relocate temporarily; what are those items? In a perfect world, these are the only items you need to survive your day to day life. For just a week or two, try to be cognizant of the clothing you wear, appliances you use, and items you like to have within reach. When determining what items to keep, these are priority. Then determine what items you use weekly, monthly, yearly, or never. Be honest with yourself on the frequency of usage and the purpose of your items. If you truly haven’t used something in months or years, it’s time to let it go. “But I spent money on it/It's valuable/What IF I need one later?” If it’s truly valuable, you should have no issue selling it in a yard sale, Facebook marketplace, or other channels. You can put that money earned in your savings for the hypothetical day where you MIGHT need to purchase a new one.
Don’t Keep “Maybes”
A phenomenon I see with a lot of my clients is that the largest pile when sorting is the “Maybe” pile. If something is not an absolute HELL YES, do not keep it. Think about how great you will feel in your new or current space if every item was a hell yes item. Maybes become clutter.
Do Be Realistic
If you are moving from a 5 bedroom family home with a 2 car garage, full basement, den, living room, formal dining room, and attic to a 2 bedroom townhome, you HAVE to reduce your volume by over half. If you live in a small apartment, row home, or have limited storage and everything closet, nook and cranny is full, you have simply run out of space and need to declutter. This is a hard thing for a lot of people to grasp especially when you’ve been living with more space. So often I see people moving into homes with half the space and storage, but they have only reduced their volume by 10-20% and wonder why they feel claustrophobic and cluttered. If you are going through your items and have to reduce by 50% or more, realistically every other item you sort should be tossed, donated, sold, or rehomed.
Don't Get a Storage Unit
If you need to get a storage unit when you are between homes, that is one thing. But do not get a storage unit after you have permanently relocated. You are just asking to collect unwanted items that you likely will not miss. I urge you to let go and learn to live with less.
Don’t Feel Guilty Letting Go
I don’t care what your mother-in-law says, letting go of gifts is OKAY. If that gift is something you never use, doesn’t fit your style, is taking up space, or my favorite, you don’t remember who gave it to you, TOSS IT. I give you my permission and blessing and you are still a good person. Similarly, I have a lot of clients who have a hard time getting rid of items from people who have past, items from a different phase of their life, and so on. They often feel an immense sense of guilt releasing these items. You still have all the memories and love associated with that person without keeping the item. I promise.
Don't Pass Your Clutter Onto Someone Else
Parents, your kids do not want your stuff or even their old stuff from childhood. Your friends do not want gifts you didn’t want. And Goodwill doesn’t want your broken appliances. Obviously, you can give people the opportunity to take good condition items they may need or want or let your family have sentimental items and memorabilia, but if they tell you no thank you, please listen. If you are getting rid of an item, think of the reason why. If you think that reason is universal and not personal (ie item is broken, recalled, decades out of style, personal but not sentimental) toss it (or dispose in a responsible way such as recycling or researching where to drop the item(s) off)
Do Start Fresh
Think of downsizing and decluttering as a chance to start over, clear your canvas, have a blank slate. It's hard to reimagine yourself in a different place (mentally or physically) especially if you have had the same furniture, items, layout for years. But how exciting is it to get new things that match how your design preferences and tastes have changed and evolved as you have?! There is a real possibility that your current items simply may not fit in a new space and that is okay! Release them, possibly allow someone else to love them, and reinvent your home. There is also the real challenge of budget for some people; you don’t have to spend a fortune on a refresh! Think of how nice your current furniture might look with a new coat of paint. Unfortunately, you can paint furniture covered in clutter.