How to Declutter and Organize Your Things When Downsizing
When it comes to downsizing space, moving may not be as simple as just packing everything in boxes and unpacking them at your new home. Moving in any situation can be overwhelming. But if the new space is smaller or the room configurations aren’t the same as in your current home, it will take some planning and thought on where you should place and store your belongings.
Moving may feel intimidating, but it’s also a great time to take stock of what you own and to start fresh with your new home layout. Here are a few key considerations to think about before and after your move.
Declutter Before Downsizing
There are so many details to manage and tasks to complete during a move. It may be tempting to quickly pack everything in boxes and deal with decisions on what to keep and toss later on, after the move when you’re not on a deadline. In reality, I’ve found that post-move decluttering takes enormous discipline and motivation and rarely gets completed. Therefore, if your moving timeline allows, I recommend putting in the hard work before the move to review your belongings and decide if they belong in your new home and your life.
Keep Your New Home in Mind
Potential lifestyle changes. If downsizing reflects a lifestyle change for you, such as moving to a retirement community or splitting households due to divorce, your new home will serve you differently. When I was young and my family moved from a New York suburb to a small Hong Kong flat, we could no longer host Thanksgiving dinners because there just wasn’t enough space to accommodate many people. Social gatherings took place in restaurants, and it didn’t make sense to keep home entertaining items such as punch bowls and large platters, or multiple sets of dinnerware and glassware.
Multifunctional spaces. If your new home is much smaller or if you’re losing rooms, the new spaces may need to do double duty and cover multiple activities. For example, will your dining table also serve as your work desk? Will your bedroom also include an exercise spot? If so, consider if there are any duplicate items you may be able to eliminate. If you’ll have just a living room instead of a living room and a family room, you may be able to reduce some pillows, throws and artwork in addition to the more obvious furniture, such as couches and chairs.
Home-specific decor. Sometimes decor and holiday items can be very home-specific. What worked in your old home may not work in your new one. If you have much less wall space, your artwork and wall decor may not all fit. If you’re losing any outdoor space, you can perhaps pass along your outdoor decorations to a neighbor who will appreciate them. If you have beloved framed photos that you don’t want to dispose of but don’t have the space to display, consider saving the photos only and donating the frames.
Remove Unwanted Items Before Moving
I recommend removing all items marked for donation, recycling or trash promptly and before moving day. This will eliminate any confusion about what you’re keeping and minimize the risk of accidentally moving unwanted items to your new home. It may also be helpful to schedule several donation pickups so you can remove items in stages.
If your timeline is short, consider donating to one organization that will take a variety of items instead of splitting up donations to several specialized organizations that take limited items. Return all items that belong to others.
Consider Outsourcing Tasks if Necessary
Downsizing and moving requires a lot of energy. If it’s beyond what you can manage and if you have the budget, it may be worth outsourcing these tasks.
Professional organizers can guide you through the decluttering process, pack for moving, unpack and organize your new home, space-plan for efficiency, create a functional storage system and arrange for disposals.
Movers and freelance labor can provide the muscle to move your items quickly so you can spend your time and energy setting up your new home.
Incorporate Storage Units When Necessary
I generally discourage keeping long-term storage units for housing items that need to be reviewed. In my experience with clients, many “I’ll-look-at-them-later” boxes kept in storage units contain items that are ultimately unwanted. Consider the cost you may be paying to store potentially unwanted items. Of course, there may be situations where renting a storage unit temporarily is the best option, when you’re unable to review and edit your belongings at the time.
I do also understand when longer-term storage units may be necessary, in cases such as temporary downsizing due to home construction or remodeling or when the storage unit is used as an addition to a small home with inadequate storage. If the latter scenario describes your situation, consider organizing your storage unit so it’s truly a working, active extension of your home. Shelving units that allow easy access to boxes — as opposed to stacking boxes — make retrieving and putting things away relatively easy.
If your storage needs are potentially long-term, investing in shelving units may save you time and energy. If your items are organized and easy to locate, it may even save you money: You won’t repurchase items you can’t find buried in a chaotic storage unit.
When organizing items and boxes for storage, consider the following categories:
Occasional use. If space is limited in your home, review which items are truly used daily and which don’t need to occupy prime space. For example, items used solely for planned entertaining, such as tablecloths, napkins, serving bowls and platters, can perhaps be packed in storage, along with extra dinnerware and flatware. Likewise, suitcases and travel accessories can take up valuable space and may be better kept in storage if you don’t travel often. Keep these types of items within easy access in the storage unit for when you need them.
Annual items. Holiday decorations, seasonal clothing, sports equipment and other items that will be used for only a small portion of the year can be stored away and taken out as needed to free up space in your home. Think beyond the obvious holiday items and consider how often you need to use other household things — guest bedding, camping equipment, portable heaters or fans, vacation-only items — and whether it may make sense to keep some of these in storage.
Deep storage. You may have some items, such as sentimental T-shirts, childhood and school mementos, photos, wedding keepsakes, archived files and documents you don’t plan on using any time soon but are too sentimental or important to part with. Categorize these items as deep storage and place them in less accessible parts of the storage unit, saving the easier-to-access spots for actively used items. Other items that you might use only once every few years or less can also fall into this category, such as baby clothes and equipment reserved for another child.
Be sure your items are packed properly before storing, using the appropriate containers or boxes that will protect any valuable contents from moisture, pests, temperature extremes, acid and light. Remember that you’re paying to store your belongings, so assess whether the items are worth storing. Where possible, and if it makes sense for how you plan to use your storage unit, place boxes on shelves around the perimeter to allow for easy retrieval.
If you have a lot to store, you can maximize your space by using deeper shelves, which can accommodate two or more layers of boxes. The deep-storage items can be stored in the back, keeping more frequently used items in the front. Keeping the layout efficient and convenient will allow your storage unit to serve as a truly functional addition to your home.
Organize Your Downsized Space
One of the keys to staying organized, regardless of the size of your space, is to have a system where every item has a home and items go back to its home after use. Spend some time evaluating how you use your space and your belongings, and keep these guidelines in mind when deciding where to place things.
Keep categories together. Organizing your items in categories makes sense and may make locating what you need easier. However, be sure you’re categorizing correctly. Think more about how you use your belongings and less about what the actual item is. You may want to store all your drinking glasses together in your kitchen cabinets. But if you have 20 glasses and regularly use no more than eight, perhaps 12 of those glasses can be stored with your entertaining supplies, freeing up space in your main cabinets.
Store frequently used items within easy access. Prioritize what you use most frequently and be sure to reserve easy-to-access space for these items. Your daily dinnerware and drinkware deserve prime space, of course. But perhaps your coffee bean grinder that you use every day can also take a spot conveniently in the front, whereas your less-used water pitcher can take a back seat.
The priority list will differ for everyone, so decide what yours is. You can also switch out what occupies your prime space seasonally if that makes sense for you.
Make it easy to put things away. A system only works if it’s actually being used. In the case of keeping organized, success occurs when you’re able to maintain your space by putting things back where they belong.
When thinking about storage, consider what it will take to create an easy return system. This may include using open baskets, where you can simply toss things inside, or making sure you don’t store an often-used kitchen appliance in the back of a crowded corner cabinet.
For some, seeing empty space feels like an invitation to fill it. I recommend leaving some literal wiggle room and not packing your spaces, if possible. It’s much harder and more discouraging to put things away when you have to squeeze them in. If you have to push your socks or shirts down to close your dresser drawer, you may know what I mean.
Create a flow. Finally, try to create a flow when deciding where to situate your belongings. This goes beyond keeping categories together and means thinking more about the big picture. I don’t keep my sunglasses and knit hat with my accessories and I don’t keep my wrist weights with my workout equipment. Instead, I put these items in my entryway cabinet as I always use them on my walks, and the cabinet nicely corrals them for me to grab on my way out.