Thursday, May 9, 2013

3 Tips for Downsizing Your Space

There's nothing quite like downsizing to make you realize how much stuff you actually have, and how much stuff you don't really want. People often equate downsizing with an empty nest or retirement, and while that is often true, the decision to move into a smaller place can happen at any time in your life. Downsizing doesn't always mean moving to a smaller home. Moving in with a significant other after living alone also means downsizing - for both of you - as your space effectively gets smaller and the other person's space is shared with you. Of course, the longer you've lived in your home, the more possessions you've probably accumulated, as well as those of your children, your parents, and other family members.

So, you've decided to downsize. Let's assume you already have the new space identified. Where do you start in your current home? How do you actually fit into that smaller space?

1. Choose a system -  Having a system to sort and label EVERYTHING is key to keeping the chaos under control. The system can be labels, colored dots for each category, or even physical relocation of items to spaces associated with each category (e.g., all the items moved into garage will go to storage) Categories to consider are "Going to the new place", "Give to someone else (adult children, friends, neighbor, etc.)", "Move to storage", "Donate", "Sell", and "Trash". I often suggest clients add another category for "Think about it." Depending on the circumstances of downsizing, it can be a difficult time. If you find that you're overwhelmed or feel like you're getting rid of too many things, and you come across something you're just not sure about, put it in the "Think about it" category and wait until the entire process is essentially complete. By then, you'll have a better idea of what you're keeping and whether you can/should keep the item in question. Be kind to yourself.  If something makes you feel more comfortable, keep it for awhile. You can always revisit that decision when you get to the new place. Sure, it's not the most efficient method, but it can ease the transition and lessen the feeling of losing all of your "stuff."

2. Assess the situation- Using the system you identified in the first step, you can now assess the situation by determining the dimensions of the new space. While it's important to measure each room itself, it's just as important to measure the length of each wall, even the narrow ones. It's also helpful to measure the furniture you have. Write down the dimensions of each piece of furniture. Then, take a good, long look at your furniture to figure out what you want to bring with you. Start by determining where you're going to put it in the new place. Keep only the items for which you actually have a place. Be realistic. You may love all of the chairs in your house, but if you can't fit them all in the new space, something's gotta go. When determining what to keep, view your possessions with a fresh perspective. Try to think of multiple purposes for the same item. Smaller spaces require items to do double duty. For example, can you replace an old dining room hutch and a hall table that you don't really love with an antique dresser that you really want to keep, giving you a place to keep your keys and store entertaining items?

3. Sort and label -  This is the exhausting step. Sort everything you own. Pictures, wall hangings, tchotchkes, mementos, holiday decorations and other decor items on display will not all have a home in the new place. Ask yourself, "Do I love this? Do I need this?" If you answer yes, these items will find a spot in the new home. If no, it's time to donate or sell it. If there are items that you love and can't part with, but don't need everyday, put these aside for storage/archives. A similar process takes place in the kitchen. If you are no longer throwing large dinner parties, perhaps your collection of serving platters is no longer needed. Not cooking for a crowd? Maybe it's time to donate the extra sets of plates. Finally, go through your clothing. Now is the time to be brutally honest with yourself. If you don't love it, don't keep it. If you're not going to wear it, donate it. When you can afford the extra closet to store old prom gowns and jackets with huge shoulder pads, that's fine, but are they really going to occupy prime closet space in the new home? Probably not.

Of course, continuing this process is the key to keeping your downsized space organized. Before you bring a new item into your home, determine if you love it, if you need it, and where you can keep it. Yes, downsizing can be stressful, but once you get to the point that you have just enough of the things that you want and need and everything has its place, it can actually be quite a relief!


  1. I got rid of a lot of books before downsizing from a house to an apartment a few years ago, but once we'd moved, I realized I still had far too many for the smaller space, and ended up getting rid of just as many again. On the one hand, it was easier emotionally to do it in stages, but on the other hand, it would have been more efficient to be more thorough in the beginning.

    1. Exactly, doing it in stages is inefficient, but at least it keeps the process moving. I find that getting rid of books is a particular challenge for many people.