When we talk about it in terms of our homes, it is not such a bad thing, right? After all, in the end, we are aiming to rid ourselves of items that are no longer of value or needed. Then why do we all make excuses to not get started on the journey? Are you overwhelmed? Are you reluctant to part with your “treasures”? This is not uncommon when first starting the process. If you are planning to stay in your home, the following steps will help you free yourself of unwanted/unnecessary items. If you are moving -- whether your move is in three weeks or three years, it can be done effectively, without losing your sanity. Promise.
Consider the process as “a marathon, not a sprint”. The best thing that you can do to help yourself when downsizing is to allow yourself the time to hit all of the following steps effectively. Time to plan out the process, time to adjust to the idea of ridding yourself of things, and time to make necessary arrangements if you are planning to move at the end of the downsizing process. Be realistic about what you can do: 2 hours of work vs. 12 hours of work; one room at a time vs. entire house. As you continue to read, this point will become a common theme.
- Start in areas where you “live”
Yes, you live in your entire home, but in this instance we are talking about the areas of your home in which you spend the most time. Think: kitchen, living room, bedroom. The basement and attic can wait until later (thank goodness!). In the kitchen, be sure to dig around. You will not only be astounded by the number of gadgets that you have, but by the fact that you have no idea what each of them does! In the living room/family room maybe start with old vhs tapes that haven’t been watched since the vcr stopped working three years ago. The bedroom should be your resting place – do not let it become crowded with “homeless” items and clothing. Breaking this down even more, focus on individual areas of each room until everything has been assessed and tackled. Remove your junk drawer, grab a trash can, and start the sorting. Do you honestly need 12 pencils with ineffective erasers? You will not regret throwing out the random, “no idea where it came from or what it is for” screw. Notice the difference in this example, where you go from pulling our hair out while trying to find a working pen to the serenity of being able to see what you have in one quick glance.
- Lather, rinse repeat.
Repeat step #2 until you have tackled every room, drawer, closet cabinet and hidden areas of your home. (Don’t forget to visit the attic, basement and garage!) Pull similar items together. For example, go into your closet and pull out all of your pants; now put similar colors together. Are you shocked that you have 6 pair of black pants? How about the number of men’s ties that are blue with polka dots? Do your best to pare down to what you actually use. Again, be realistic not only with the amount of time that you want to dedicate to this, but, just as important, be realistic with what you use on a regular basis.
- Set up designated areas for items that you no longer need
It is a good idea to give thought to the new “homes” that you would like your treasures to go to. Suggested categories include, but are not limited to:
If you have an empty room (at this stage of the game, that may be an oxymoron) label the wall in one area of the room with a sticky note for each category. You could also use bins in the same manner.
- A new home for everything
Everything – whether you are keeping it or giving it away – must have a “home”. Most of us want to know that our belongings will be valued as much by the new owner as it was with you. With that in mind, start with your family. To add some interest, tell them the history of what you would like to pass along. Be prepared, however, if they still turn down the offer. It may not work with their lifestyle in one way or another. Move one to your other “homes”. If you would like your things to go to a charity, be sure to call ahead of time (there it is again – “time”). If you require items to be picked up, they may be booked out for three to four weeks. Be sure that the charity will take the items that you intend to donate. Get creative with clothing – contact the drama department of a local middle or high school to see if they are in need of some of your clothes. If there is a refugee help center in your area, they are usually in need of a variety of household goods. Do you have sterling silver that is not wanted by you or by family? Visit a reputable jeweler in your area; they will weigh your items and buy the silver from you on sight. If you have a large number of items that are of value, contact an estate sale company. Read more about the estate sale process here. If you have one or two pieces of possible value, ask family and friends about a reputable auctioneer. A dumpster can be your best friend when downsizing. Do not be afraid.
- The paper chase
There are a few reasons that you need to rid your home of excess papers. (1) Regardless of how well organized you may have your stacks, aesthetically, the papers are not attractive. (2) Papers scattered on the floor are slipping hazards. (3) If you plan to sell your home, be aware that paper absorbs odor. No potential buyer wants to know what you had for dinner last night (or for the past 365 nights). Contact your financial advisor/accountant to discern how far back you need to keep financial information. Shred all other financial information as well as old documents containing personal information. If you have a large amount of paper to be shredded, consider contacting a shredding service. Everything else (newspapers, magazines, etc.) gets put into the trash/dumpster.
Congratulations! You are now on your way to a simpler, more organized way of life. Just be careful to not fill those now-clutter free spaces with more things that you do not need.
Consider asking a friend, family member, organizational service or senior move manager to assist you in the process. The resulting simplicity can be liberating.