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Streamlining Your Life: 7 Tips to Make Downsizing Easier

Generation X African-American Couple Unpacking Memories and Smiling in New Home During Retirement Transition

Whether you’re retiring, moving into a smaller space, or simply want to live more minimally, downsizing can simplify the process. After all, the fewer belongings you have, the less you need to pack, move, and organize in your new place. But for many of us, the mere idea of downsizing can be daunting. How do you decide what to keep and what to let go of after accumulating a lifetime of possessions, mementos, and memories?

The secret, as it so often is, is to plan ahead. Here are some tips to make downsizing easier.

Start early:

Begin the downsizing process several months before your move date if you can. Starting early allows you to pace yourself and avoid last-minute rushes. It also gives you time to work through your emotions, so you’re less likely to keep something you don’t use simply because you’ve owned it for years.

Create a downsizing calendar:

Budget your time by dedicating specific days or weekends to different tasks, such as sorting through possessions, donating items, and dealing with recycling or disposal. Like a to-do list, a calendar can inspire action by giving you a clear agenda for each day or week.

As part of the process, research where to drop off items and their operating hours to improve efficiency. For example, you may need to schedule pickups or drop-offs for local charities or other organizations that accept donations. Also allow extra time if you’re posting items online, as they may take longer to sell.

Sample calendar:

    • • Week 1: Sort through bedroom clothes and accessories.
    • • Week 2: Declutter books and paperwork.
    • • Week 3: Tackle the kitchen (utensils, appliances, etc.).
    • • Week 4: Assess living room furniture and storage.
    • • Weeks 5 and 6: Tackle the garage and/or basement.
    • • Week 5: Organize garage sale or list items for sale online.
              • Week 6: Donate remaining items and arrange for recycling or disposal.

Develop criteria for making decisions:

When planning, factor in your reasons for downsizing, and use these as criteria when faced with difficult choices. For example:

    If you’re simplifying:

    •  Keep items that bring you joy and get rid of items that cause stress. Prioritize items that add meaning to your life or hold sentimental value.

    If you’re cutting costs:

    •  Consider getting rid of items associated with costly hobbies or that require expensive maintenance.

    If you’re moving into a smaller space:

       Prioritize belongings you use regularly or that serve a practical purpose. Let go of items that are rarely used or have no clear function.

Sort items by their intended destination:

Designate specific areas for items you plan to keep, donate, sell, recycle, or dispose of. Use labels or colored markers to clearly mark each pile.


    •  Items that fit your decision-making criteria (see above)


    •  Items in good condition that others can use


    •  Valuable items you don’t need but can convert into cash


    •  Items that are broken, outdated, or no longer useful, but that can be recycled


                No longer useful items that can’t be recycled

Take it room by room:

Treat each room as a separate project. You may want to start with a smaller room that you’re less emotionally attached to, like a home office, to make decisions easier. Once you’ve finished each room, give yourself a pat on the back before moving to the next. Recognizing these smaller accomplishments can provide a mental boost as you work towards achieving your larger goal.

Consider off-site storage:

If you don’t have as much time as you’d like or have more valuable items than your new space will accommodate, consider renting an off-site storage unit. Some people use storage units for six months to a year after a move, allowing them to sort through their items at a more deliberate pace. This approach lets you gradually incorporate some items into your new living arrangement and decide what to do with the rest. However, be careful not to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap. It’s easy to neglect a storage unit, only to realize years later you’ve made little progress.

Take time to reflect:

For many people, the hardest part of downsizing is letting go of belongings with sentimental value. Give yourself time to process the emotions tied to these items. Think of them as treasured memories rather than losses, and take photos of items you cherish but can’t keep. Shifting your perspective can also be helpful. This can be a liberating transition to a new lifestyle—one that’s more thoughtful about what’s worth holding onto. And remember, there are always new memories to be made!