Maybe your kids moved out and you’ve found yourself with too much space, or you’re ready to exchange your maximalist ways for a minimalist lifestyle. Whatever your reasons, downsizing to a smaller home or apartment can save you money and give you the financial freedom to travel or buy that vintage Porsche you’ve been dreaming of. It can offer independence, new opportunities, or simply a change of scenery. If you’re part of the recent downsizing trend, these tips will help you shed some of the clutter you’ve accumulated over the years and start off light and fresh in a smaller place.
What to Consider When Downsizing Your Home
You’ve decided to downsize but…what’s next? Moving out of your current home and into a smaller space is exciting, and it can greatly improve your quality of life. Before you start looking for a smaller place, here are a few things to consider to help you decide what kind of space you want to downsize to.
How many people will be moving?
Is it just you who will be moving, or do you have a spouse and children coming, too? Downsizing with your family means adjusting to less privacy, so it’s important to consider how much space everyone will need to live comfortably. If you have pets, make sure they’re allowed before you make the commitment to move into a rental.
Whether you’re moving into an apartment building from a house or to a smaller house in a new neighborhood, you’ll want to keep in mind what amenities are offered in or near any prospective home. Consider things like laundry facilities, green spaces for kids or pets, and nearby grocery stores, dining options, and entertainment venues. Decide what your deal breakers are and what you can live with if you find the right place.
Downsizing to update
Many people downsize with hopes of finding a more manageable space — and one that better reflects their current tastes and priorities. Maybe you’re dreaming of a small loft with a balcony in the middle of a busy city, or perhaps a little cabin near a lazy river is more your speed. Maybe you’re hankering for a low-maintenance suburban house you can customize — or you’re finally jumping on the tiny-house or van life bandwagon. Now is the time to decide where you’d like to land. Where do you see yourself?
Saving money is the reason most people choose to downsize. Align your financial goals — whether saving for retirement or for your kid’s college fund — with your downsizing plan. Consider how small you want to go versus how small you need to go in order to reach your goals. Then, haggle on each side until you find a happy medium.
A major concern when moving to a smaller home is storage. Will there be enough room for everything, even if you downsize your belongings before you move? If you have a lot of possessions you find yourself unable to get rid of, make sure the place you’re downsizing to has an attic, garage, or on-site storage where you can store your things.
The first step to downsizing: Lighten your load
We all have stuff we can get rid of: Unworn clothes taking up space in the closet, shelves full of old games and puzzles with missing pieces, drawers, and closets full of things you didn’t even know you had.
Downsizing your belongings is an opportunity to sort through the flotsam and jetsam of your life and toss the things you no longer want or need. Taking the time to rid yourself of things that take up space in your home and in your mind is liberating, and it makes it easier to enjoy the beloved worldly possessions you end up keeping.
Follow these helpful downsizing tips to make quick, easy work of letting go.
Designate piles before you start
As you sift through your belongings, you’ll make decisions about everything that passes through your hands: Keep it? Or toss it? If you no longer want or need it, you’ll have to decide how you’re going to divorce yourself of it. So before you start downsizing, designate and label five areas or boxes where you can immediately deposit items you’re getting rid of so that they’re easy to deal with later.
Donate. The donate pile is for items that you’ll drop off at the thrift store or take to a charity of your choosing. Some thrift stores and charities will even pick up donations, saving you time and effort.
Sell. Selling your discards not only puts some extra cash in your pocket—it also contributes to a low- or zero-waste lifestyle. Here are some ideas for selling stuff you no longer want:
- Photograph and post your belongings on local online marketplaces, which reach a wide audience. Follow best practices for safe exchanges.
- Have a garage sale—get your whole family or neighborhood in on it, and advertise heavily. Once it’s over, load whatever’s left over into the back of a pickup, and take it to the thrift store.
- Find a vintage or antique shop for your retro clothes and valuable trinkets. You’ll fetch a higher price, and your cool stuff will end up in the hands of someone who will appreciate it.
Gift away. Some things, you’ll want to give to friends or family members who you think would use or appreciate them. In this pile, you’ll set aside those jazz albums your vinyl-loving nephew will dig, the art and books you know your friends will enjoy, and the China and heirloom furniture someone in the family may want.
Recycle. Some items that are typically sent to the landfill should be recycled instead. Some of these may be picked up curbside, but you might need to deliver other items to the appropriate recycling center yourself. Recyclable items include:
- Electronics, like old, outdated VCRs, flip phones, and tube TVs
- Old, stained, or torn clothes, bedding, and other fabrics, which can be recycled into new textiles
- Rigid plastics, like a broken snow shovel or old kids’ toys
- Things made of steel, aluminum, and tin—banged up teapots, those coffee cans stacked in the garage
- Things made of glass, including light fixtures, chipped vases, and broken mirrors
- Mattresses (in some municipalities)
Trash. Keep a trash bag with you at all times for tossing the little stuff, but designate a spot for big trash, like broken furniture and old carpeting. Make sure the item is actually garbage before you dump it. If it can be reused, recycled, or refurbished, put it in the appropriate pile. Here’s how to get rid of big trash:
- Schedule a pickup with a refuse company
- Rent a roll-off container from a refuse company
- Hire a junk hauler to pick up the items and dispose of them
- Try setting nicer items, like a broken table or old couch, out by the curb or alley for passersby. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
- For hazardous waste, like old cans of paint, motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, and cleaning supplies, call your trash hauler for instructions on disposing of them.
Populate your piles: Rules of thumb for getting rid of stuff
Your best rule of thumb for downsizing is: If you won’t have room for it, don’t bring it with you. Try to be decisive about what to keep. The less gray area you have to hem and haw in, the easier it will be to purge your house of things and move to your new, smaller place unfettered.
When you’re ready, take a deep breath, and dive in. Keep these tips in mind as you go through your rooms looking for things to leave behind.
Head for your storage areas first.
Start with the attic, garage, spare rooms, closets, and out-of-the-way cabinets. These spaces most likely contain items you’ve amassed but haven’t touched for a while. Once these are cleaned out and the contents dealt with, your downsizing job is downhill from here.
Eliminate rooms that won’t be in your new home.
If you’re moving from a large house with a backyard and basement to a small apartment in the middle of the city, you’re probably going to have a lot of extra furniture, plus stuff in the shed, garage, and basement that you’ll need to sell or donate.
Decide which large items to keep.
Measure your new home to determine what large furniture pieces—like couches, bookcases, beds, and dressers—you’ll be able to take with you. Decide which items you want to bring and which ones you’ll get rid of. If you’re having trouble choosing, consider how you want your new place to look, and pick pieces that best fit your new decor ideas.
Use the six-month rule.
No matter what room, closet, or drawer you’re working on, another indispensable rule of thumb for getting rid of things is this: if you haven’t seen or used it in over six months, you probably don’t need it.
Get rid of duplicates.
Four saucepans, three couches, two microwaves, and a linen cupboard brimming with sheets—sound familiar? Getting rid of all of your extras is an easy way to remove a lot of clutter from your life.
Destroy the paper trail.
Go through your home office, and gather up your old bank statements, receipts, warranties, manuals, and other paper detritus you’ve been keeping for years. Determine which ones you no longer need, and toss them in the recycling bin—shred them first if they contain sensitive information.
Sort through sentimental items.
It’s not wrong to love the stuff you live with. You brought it into your home for a reason, and it has shaped your environment and provided enjoyment, comfort, familiarity, and fond memories. It’s only natural that we form connections to our special things, and it’s hard to remain objective about the baubles and bric-a-brac we hold dear to our hearts. But there are ways to downsize your sentimental items without losing the memories associated with them.
Reduce your collections—but keep your favorites. Do you have a curio cabinet of porcelain dolls, shelves of model airplanes, or a vast library of books? Maybe you collect mementos from your travels, or natural things like fossils, feathers, and bones. Get some high-quality snapshots of your collections, then pare them down to a handful of favorites. Sell, gift, or donate the rest, then print the photos for an album—or have them printed as a coffee table book.
Frame, photograph, or file away the memories. You may not have a ton of storage space where you’re going, but there’s always a blank wall waiting to be adorned. Frame your extra-special photographic and paper mementos, and display them on your walls. Use an expanding folder or small plastic tote to tuck away artwork, photographs, handmade cards, and any other sentimental paper keepsakes you want to hold onto. Consider digitizing old photographs and albums if you have a large collection. Parse out the originals to relevant friends and family members, who can then share in the memories, making them even more special.
Rent a storage unit
If you got rid of everything you possibly could, but you still have too much to take with you to your new place, invest in a storage unit. You can find unit sizes for every situation and budget. Here are a few points to consider when choosing a storage unit.
Accessibility. Do you need weekend availability and 24-hour access to your storage unit? Most storage units offer these services but some don’t. Check the company’s website or give them a call to find out about their accessibility.
Security. Some units provide locks, but some will require you to buy your own. Consider security cameras, in-person surveillance, and gates before you choose a storage unit.
Reviews. Look at the reviews for different storage units, and see what people have to say about the company.
Packing it all up: Tips for preparing for the move
Packing is part and parcel of downsizing, and most of us dread it. Once you’ve finished downsizing and you’re ready to head to your new, smaller place, it’s time to box everything up. These tips will help the packing process go as smoothly as possible.
As tempting as it is to wait until the last minute, it only creates more stress. A rushed packing job means fragile items might not be packed properly and risk getting damaged in the move. You could end up packing things you didn’t intend to bring with you—or worse, you might accidentally toss something you wanted to keep. Get a head start on packing to prevent any mishaps. You’ll thank yourself later.
Gather your packing materials.
Have all your packing supplies ready before you start. You’ll need packing boxes, heavy-duty packing tape, a thick permanent marker for labeling, and plenty of newspaper for wrapping fragile items. Make use of suitcases to cut down on the cost of boxes, and use towels or linens to protect large items like dressers and mirrors.
Grab your jumbo sharpie and get to work. Label each box according to what room it’s for and whether there’s anything fragile inside. Pro tip: Give each box a number (i.e. 1 of 20, 2 of 20, and so on). This will make it obvious if a box gets lost while you’re moving out.
Pack clothes as they are.
Clothes are a tricky thing to move, but we’ve got some tips. Don’t bother taking clothes out of your dresser when you’re packing up—just leave them in their drawers, and wrap the drawer in cellophane. Follow a similar tactic for clothes hanging in your closet. Instead of taking each item off its hanger and tediously rehanging them after your move, hang them in a wardrobe box, or pack them in large garbage bags.
An 8-Week Guide to Downsizing and Packing
6 – 8 weeks
Start downsizing six to eight weeks before your scheduled move. Begin by going through each room in your house and setting aside all the items you want to get rid of.
3 – 5 weeks
Around the three to five-week mark, gather up any items you’ve decided you don’t need, and sell, donate, or give them away.
2 – 4 weeks
Begin packing up the items you’re going to keep, starting with the non-essentials like books and trinkets. As your move date gets closer, you can pack the clothes and kitchen items that you don’t use every day.
The week of your move, pack a day box that contains important daily items you’ll need first thing after your move. Include hygiene items you’ll need, your bedding, a change of clothes, any medications you take, any important paperwork you’ll need, and so on. The purpose of a day box is to keep you from going without essentials during the final week of your move. This is the week to pack away any belongings you haven’t already gotten to.
Moving day: Go with a pro or DIY?
You’ve downsized your belongings, packed them up, and you’re ready to move out. Should you hire a moving company to help you carry the burden, or tackle it yourself? To help you decide, here are some pros and cons of hiring a mover vs. moving yourself.
Hiring a mover
Pros. Moving is stressful and exhausting. Hiring out means someone else does the tiring work of moving for you. There are even moving companies who will pack up your house for you. Professional movers are experienced in moving heavy, awkward items quickly and efficiently, and unlike that friend you asked to help you move last time, movers are hired workers, which means they won’t back out on you at the last minute.
Cons. Depending on how much stuff you have and how far away you’re moving, a professional mover can be expensive. It can also be stressful to trust strangers—no matter how professional—with your personal belongings.
Pros. Saving money is probably the biggest benefit of moving yourself. If you have too many boxes and large items to move in your car or a friend’s truck, renting a moving vehicle is still more cost-effective than hiring a company to move for you. Moving also gives you the freedom to pack however you want—a major pro if you’re not the most careful packer.
Cons. Moving is tough work. There’s a lot of heavy lifting involved, and if you’re unable to find a friend or family member to help you out, you could end up moving everything yourself. If you’re moving out-of-state, a long drive in a moving truck can be nerve-wracking if you’re not used to driving large vehicles. If you are doing it alone, make sure you are super careful, and use some work boots or hiking boots to protect your feet.
Optimizing your new, smaller space
Moving to a smaller home means you may have to do some creative arranging to fit everything in. Space optimization will allow you to keep all the things you love without losing too much legroom.
Use storage containers.
Storage containers like totes, bins, and baskets make a world of difference in a small space. They fit nicely in closets, under the bed, or on top of the fridge—wherever you’ve got the extra space.
Running out of floor space? Use your walls! Hanging racks, coat hooks, shelves, and mountable space organizers are a few ideas for utilizing the walls and doors in your home.
The idiom, “a place for everything and everything in its place,” is excellent advice for small home dwellers. Do a little cleaning every day to keep your house clean and clutter-free. Put things back where they belong, sweep or vacuum regularly, and keep your surfaces clean.
Invest in functional furniture.
All sorts of innovative furniture designs available these days can help you get the most out of your smaller space.
Storage sofas. These sofas, sectionals, and loveseats are a stylish choice to optimize the space in your home. They have hidden storage under their plush cushions—some even have full-size beds, ideal for a studio space or for hosting visiting guests.
Convertible furniture. Innovative furniture designs include convertible furniture, which offers more than meets the eye. Mirrors with shelves hidden inside, ottomans with removable lids to store your blankets, and armoires that open into desks or beds are just some of the options out there for furniture that can serve multiple purposes in your small space.
Organizer carts. These carts are champs at utilizing vertical space. Put one in your bathroom or bedroom to get the most use out of the area you have. Kitchen organizer carts can double as extra counter space in your kitchen.
Enjoying a Smaller Space
Going from a sprawling two-story house to a dorm, studio apartment, tiny house, or smaller bungalow is a big change, and it’s one that can take some getting used to. Living minimally is the start of a new adventure, and soon enough, you’ll find yourself loving your smaller space. Here’s why:
You’ll have fewer expenses.
The money you’ll save on your utilities alone is reason enough for celebrating a smaller space. Bigger homes use a ton of resources, and those costs add up over time. Living in a smaller space will allow you to allocate the funds you used to use on heating and cooling to things you actually want to spend money on.
Smaller spaces are easier to clean—and keep that way.
Larger homes require more cleaning and upkeep than smaller homes. With fewer rooms and less stuff, you won’t have to spend hours cleaning and organizing a home that has more space than you know what to do with.
Minimalism is a mental cleanse, too.
Downsizing isn’t just a material purge—it’s also a mental cleanse. Living with less leaves more room for simplicity and living a minimalist lifestyle that’s based on having experiences rather than possessions.
Fewer rooms mean you’re able to focus on making the rooms you do have as cozy and perfect as possible. Instead of worrying about filling up all the extra space of a large home, you can invest in quality pieces of furniture and art that you really love.
Making the decision to downsize is liberating in so many ways. It reduces the waste in your life and helps you shed excess baggage you’ve collected throughout the years. Minimizing your belongings makes moving into a smaller home or apartment a cinch. Most importantly, downsizing frees you up and opens up opportunities for new memories and experiences.