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Downsizing and Decluttering: Where Do I Start?

By Mary Holmes

This is definitely not an easy question with a one size fits all answer. There have been hundreds of books written on this subject, with many different suggestions. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo recommends decluttering your whole house at one time to ensure the project doesn’t drag on for years. Many other books, including Zen Habits by Leo Babauta, suggest starting with five minutes a day. How you go about this process may also depend on whether you are decluttering to live more simply or you are downsizing to a smaller home. One thing is for sure, getting started is the hardest part. Once you figure out what strategy works for you, it may get easier as you make progress. Here are a few suggestions:

Be Organized About Organizing

Having a sorting system will save time and aggravation. Decide whether you want to gift, sell, donate, recycle or dispose of each item and group each category together. Use large trash bags, boxes, or color dot stickers to keep yourself organized. For example, use masking tape to label trash bags “trash” and “recycling”. Use moving boxes to accumulate items for Goodwill or other charities. Lastly, purchase colored dot stickers and use different colors for gifts, items to sell and for larger items for donation, recycling or trash.

Organize By Category

Downsizing by category versus by room is a strategy that allows you to see how much of each item you have accumulated and will save time by keeping you more focused on one type of sorting. This method works well with clothes, books, kitchen items, papers/documents, linens, hobbies, etc. Gather all of each type of item into one area (from closets, storage boxes, basements, etc.) and have your sorting system described above ready.

Preserving Memories

One of the most difficult parts of the downsizing and decluttering process is to let go of items that have sentimental value. Children’s art work, gifts from friends and family, items that have been in the family for many years are all difficult to let go of – even if they have been stored in the basement for a decade. One strategy that may work for some of these items is to take a photograph that you will have forever. Also, finding a new home where these items can be enjoyed by someone else may make you feel better.

Rising Above the Paper

If you feel buried in paper, you are not alone. It is common to feel uncertain about what should be saved, shredded or thrown away. The first strategy that should be employed is to handle mail as it arrives. Have baskets ready for junk mail to be recycled, for bills and other mail that needs action, and for items that need to be filed. Also, understand how long you should keep each type of document and what needs to be shredded. Here is a link from Consumer Reports that may help: How Long to Keep Documents. Lastly, consider digitizing documents that you need to save. Scanning and saving these documents to the Cloud will save space and help keep you organized. There are services that can do this for you if you need help.

One Item In, One Item Out

Once you finish downsizing and decluttering, you want to make sure you don’t start the accumulation process all over again. One way to avoid this is to remove one similar item from your house for every item you acquire (whether it was bought, inherited, or received as a gift).

Don’t Wait

If you know for sure you will be downsizing within a year or two, now is the time to start. In this way, you can be sure you have time to determine what you really want to bring with you to your next home and to find good homes for all your other possessions. By only bringing what you really need, you will save money on both moving costs and potential storage costs when everything doesn’t fit in your new home.

Let us know in the comment section below if these tips are helpful! Stay tuned for the next installment in this series - all about finding a home for things you no are no longer using.

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