The need to declutter can happen at any time—maybe your kids have moved out and you’re ready for a smaller space, or maybe you’re moving into a new home and you don’t want to take everything with you. Maybe you just want to get organized. Whatever the reason, knowing how to declutter and downsize is a powerful skill. This can also be a daunting task, which is why we’ve broken it into easy steps.
How to Declutter and Downsize: Step by Step
There are many benefits to decluttering and downsizing, even if you’re not actually moving into a smaller space. Downsizing might mean clearing storage space for better use, getting ready for a room renovation, or reorganizing your existing space. There are both mental and physical benefits of decluttering, including
- Better organization
- Letting go of old habits
- Starting a new lifestyle
- Reducing anxiety
- Reconnecting with things you love
- Mental toughness
- Better concentration
- More flexibility
- Starting and continuing new goals
By surrounding yourself with things that are truly useful or meaningful and decluttering the rest, you highlight the things that you love, instead of hiding them. This not only includes the object itself, but also anything it represents; a hobby, a special trip, part of your personality or a life-changing moment.
You probably already have a good reason why you want to declutter. But how do you declutter and downsize?
Step 1: Picture Your Lifestyle
It’s easy to be carried away by the same feelings that made you hold on to items in the first place. To combat this, create a solid picture of why you’re decluttering, and what you want to do or accomplish. Do you picture a streamlined lifestyle filled with chic organization? Maybe you want to transform an unused room into your creative workshop. Or maybe you simply don’t want to move another room full of boxes.
Before you start your decluttering, have a strong idea of what you want, including the experience, appearance and function you’re looking for. You might even sketch your new room or new home, or describe it in words. Form a strong idea of things you like to do and pastimes you enjoy. Keep hold of this idea as you start to go through old items.
Step 2: Start with Unemotional Items
Start with things that you’re fairly sure that you don’t need. This might be the whole reason you started your decluttering project--cleaning out a drawer, closet, or even a room that you seldom use. Get rid of the things that are no longer functional, things you haven’t used in several years, or things you’re not sure what they do. This will put you in the cleaning, decluttering and downsizing mindset.
Here are a few things you’ll probably find that should probably be thrown out or donated. Remember, only donate something that you could actually see someone else buying.
- Stained, torn, or worn-out clothing, bedding, or curtains
- Electronic cords or old remote controls without a use
- Small appliances or tools that no longer work, or don’t work well
- Documents or records from several years past
- Outdated things such as VHS tapes, CDs, old toys etc.
- Anything expired or almost empty, like old cosmetics or paint cans
Step 3: Move to the “Maybes”
In the first space you tackled, you probably developed a “maybe” pile—things that you might want or need again, but you weren’t sure. Move to another space that will probably have more “maybe” items. Bring back the image that you formed in step one. Does that image include those “maybe” items? If not, remind yourself that your new lifestyle doesn’t require these items anymore. If so, set aside a box for these items and label it. If you’re not sure how to label these items, it’s a good chance it doesn’t have a solid place in your new lifestyle, so try to reassess.
Step 4: Let Go of “Just in Case”
Now that you’ve thrown away the miscellaneous items, it’s time to approach items that will be a bit harder. We keep a great deal of items for “just in case” scenarios, which helps us feel like we are prepared for anything. That may be why we have three “back up” hair dryers, or two dozen coffee mugs.
However, our belongings don’t really protect us from uncertainty. There will be times that we are unprepared, where we don’t have the right item at the right time, and that’s okay. Often, when we store a hundred “just in case” items, it becomes very difficult to find the right item in the right situation anyway, defeating the purpose.
Some “just in case” items might really be necessary. Most are not. Consider the item’s rarity, usefulness, and value when determining whether or not to keep it. If the item is very difficult to find or very expensive, and it also has a known use, it’s a good idea to keep it, since it will be difficult to replace when you need it. For example, you might need an outfit for formal occasions, even if you don’t often use it. However, you probably only need one or two. Or, if you are keeping a large collection of books or movies “just in case” you want to read or watch them again, ask yourself if you could find these at the library or in electronic format instead.
Step 5: Treasure What You Keep
Many items remind us of bygone times and good memories. Some of these are important to keep and treasure. However, it is also important not to keep so many items that they start to obscure each other. For example, if you have 10 photo books, are you actually looking at any of the pictures?
Emotional items are the most difficult ones to downsize. We may feel guilty or worried about getting rid of them, but at the same time we don’t have the space to keep them. There are several strategies that may help.
- New formats: Can you scan your pictures or documents and convert them to an electronic format that is easier to store?
- A new home: Would a friend or relative enjoy the item just as much or more? This can be especially useful for things like heirlooms or children’s toys.
- Consolidate: Would two pictures, displayed in frames, allow you to enjoy a memory as much or more than twenty pictures in a book?
- A small piece: Could you turn a lost loved one’s clothing into a quilt to continue to keep them close?
- Repurpose: Could memorable items be captured in an artistic shadow box to hang on a wall? Maybe a hope chest could be protected with a glass covering and used as a coffee table?
As you learn to declutter and downsize step by step in a way that makes sense for you, hold on to the lifestyle or vision you pictured in step one. If you’re having trouble, ask a friend or family member to help you stay on track. Take on the process gradually, and focus on progress you’ve made rather than what’s still left to do. Whether you’re decluttering a single room or your whole house, you’ll complete the task with the vision you pictured at the start.
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