7 Downsizing Tips For Your Living Space

Updated: Jul. 25, 2023

Are you moving to a smaller space or just looking to declutter your life? Here are some pro downsizing tips for a stress-free experience.

I’ve downsized twice in my life. Once, after my son went off to college, I moved from a two-bedroom home into a beautiful yet boat-sized studio apartment. The second time was in 2012 when I packed my life into two admittedly large suitcases and one laptop bag and moved abroad.

Downsizing often comes with natural life transitions. And with today’s cost-of-living crisis, soaring real estate prices and the rise in interest rates, more and more people are opting for a “less is more” lifestyle that may require some measure of downsizing.

Whatever your reason, if you’re planning to downsize but don’t know where to start, here are some tips that could make the job easier, less stressful and maybe even fun.

Start Early

Allowing yourself plenty of time to sift and sort through your possessions has its advantages:

  • Gives you a feeling of control and accomplishment;
  • Provides the opportunity to reflect on decisions about belongings;
  • Helps avoid the stress of a last-minute rush job.

Work by Category

Decluttering is the first step to a successful downsizing effort. To make the process more manageable, Michele Vig, founder and chief organizer of Neat Little Nest, suggests going through items by categories, rather than room by room.

“It’s easier to make a decision on how many screwdrivers [you need] if you gather them up from around the house to see just how many you really have,” she says. “Same goes for shoes, sweaters, books, and the list goes on.”

Then, get rid of any duplicates, as well as items that are outdated, damaged, worn out or expired.

“Save sentimental items for last,” Vig says. Decluttering emotionally-charged items too early in the process could slow you down or bring it to a halt as you spend hours reminiscing over a shoebox full of old photographs.

Make a Checklist

Just thinking about the fate of every last thing in your home can be daunting, to say the least. Creating a checklist helps you break down the project into manageable pieces, Vig says, leaving you better able to prioritize and track your progress. If you’re moving, this rental move out checklist might come in handy, too.

Generate a “hit list” yourself, or download Vig’s.

Let Go of What You Don’t Love or Need

Going through items can be an emotional experience, whether you’re running across long-held family heirlooms or that plaster hand-print you made in first grade. Take a page out of the Marie Kondo playbook and approach each by asking yourself not only if an item brings you joy, but if it fits into the new lifestyle you’re envisioning for yourself. If not, let it go.

Tactics to help ease the loss:

  • Take a photo of it;
  • Give it to a family member or close friend;
  • Share stories about the item with people;
  • Know it’s always there in your memory.

Purge the Paperwork

The cardinal rule of downsizing: Don’t keep what you don’t have to. Paperwork is an easy target on this front. Think bank statements, tax returns more than seven years old, restaurant receipts, expired appliance warranties, junk mail, etc.

Check with your city or county to see if there’s a community shredding event on the horizon. Or invest in a good home shredder to destroy anything containing personal information, like account or social security numbers. Have nightly shred time while watching TV or listening to your favorite podcast, then recycle.

Give Away, Donate or Sell

Getting items into the hands of a more appreciative owner can be a great motivator, along with netting some money in the process.

Are there family members who might want or need the item? Local charities? Thrift or consignment shops? Don’t rule out a yard sale, either. While the garbage is a fine final option, you may be surprised at how many of your unwanted items can be recycled, donated or sold.

Top apps and websites to get rid of your stuff:

  • Nextdoor: Connects with your neighbors.
  • Facebook Marketplace: Offers local or national reach.
  • Decluttr: Electronics focused.
  • Poshmark: Clothing re-sale.
  • Esty or eBay: Vintage items and collectables.

Ask for Help

Downsizing can be stressful. For some, the one-two punch of decision-making and dealing with the fallout of those decisions can produce enough anxiety to warrant support, Vig says. She recommends recruiting friends and family to help.

That might mean setting up accountability check-ins, coming over to help make decisions or picking up your unwanted items ASAP, so you can’t change your mind.

And, of course, there’s always the option of calling in a pro, who can guide you as well as speed up the process. Hourly rates vary, but expect an average fee of around $100 an hour for a team of two organizers or $250 for a three-person team.