The Best Way To Downsize Is To Declutter & Organize First

a pretty little home seen through muted green and violet foliage

The best way to downsize is to declutter and organize first. Do not bring your clutter with you. It seems counterproductive when people bring all their stuff to their new place with the idea of sorting through it all after they get settled in their new home which is probably a smaller home since you are downsizing. 

Decluttering first is the best way to downsize, do this before you move, before you do anything. You can start the decluttering process long before you make the move.

rented storage units

Declutter storage units when downsizing

I would start in my storage unit if I had one – meaning off-site storage where you are paying rent. I have known many people who paid rent to store possessions for years only to finally unload and discard the contents of their storage unit while in the process of downsizing.

It seems ‘letting go’ is a process. This can get costly when paying rent while you are in the letting go process.

You have raised your beautiful family and are now winding down your career. Time to reap the joys of a job, or many jobs well done. Do you dream of traveling, playing with your grandchildren, golfing, writing a memoir, or starting a fun new career?

Whatever your dreams are I believe anything is possible.

How to start decluttering when downsizing

If your objective is for a clutter-free start to your new downsized life grab some heavy-duty bags and get started getting rid of stuff.

If you are new to the decluttering process the easiest way to begin is to let go of the items you have no emotional attachment to. This may be decluttering a kitchen utensil drawer. 

kitchen cutlery drawer

I have no emotional attachment to my potato masher. Oh, wait! I am pretty sure I tossed that the last time I decluttered.

Are you moving to a smaller living space when downsizing?

One of the hardest parts of the downsizing process is you presently have a lifetime of things and by definition, all your stuff is not going to fit at your new location. 

Taking fewer belongings to your smaller space will be imperative unless you want to begin your new adventure in a cluttered mess. 

By allowing yourself ample time you will have plenty of time to go through for example a photo album, or a plastic bin as you find them.

As hard as this may be to hear your kids don’t want your stuff. They do not, they tell me so.

Often people ask me ‘Where’ they should start decluttering. This depends on your situation. For example, will your new home need a home office? If not starting here makes sense, unless you need every single thing that is in your office right up until your move.

If that is the case start in your clothes closet, cellar, or garage. There is no rule on where to start decluttering. The important part is to simply start decluttering. 

Start anywhere, just start is written on a chartreusse color background with little yellow bees flying around

Start by decluttering a room, a small area within the room, a box, or one item. The choice is yours. If you are only able to declutter one possession a day at the end of the year you will have decluttered 365 pieces of clutter. This is a lot of decluttering. 

Again, by giving yourself plenty of time to declutter you are giving yourself many choices.

Kids and downsizing and decluttering

Most children do not want their parent’s possessions. Sure there are exceptions to the rule, just an fyi. Many millennials are opting to fill their lives with experiences rather than stuff. 

Try not to take these things personally. I love the expression ‘Meet people where they are’. I have always lived the way I see fit, meaning if I bought a house with a dining room I would repurpose this room first thing because I do not need a dining room. 

Try not to guilt trip your family. All your beautiful belongings served a valuable purpose at one point. That time may have now passed. You want your kids to be joyous, happy and free.

a lady joyously moving with a sunny sky in backkground

Downsizing via memory lane

Your large home may be filled with different rooms and all of them take you down memory lane. I can understand how easy it is to be emotionally attached to some of these things. You must decide the amount of things you will be taking to your residence.

Most families have accumulated a lifetime of photographs and books. You can read the article I wrote about what to do with all your family photos

If you have 60 years of pictures in boxes you may want to consider scanning all these images. Your children will be far more inclined to want your digitized images and not a bunch of disorganized photos in multiple boxes.

No one is suggesting you adopt a minimalist lifestyle, although I must say there are a lot of advantages to living minimally. It sounds rude to call a home that is filled with love and way too much stuff clutter. Much of your stuff may be clutter though.

books arranged in a funky way

Organizing & decluttering books when downsizing

Books are another thing many of us are inundated with. People have reported they were helped by this article I wrote about decluttering and organizing books. I hope you can take some tips and use them too.

Obstacles to downsizing

When it comes to decluttering our home environment, one of the biggest obstacles we face is the fear of letting go. There are many reasons this is so. Sentimental attachment, perceived value, and fear of regretting a decision we made are a few reasons the task of decluttering is overwhelming. 

Also many simply say they don’t know where to begin. If you are planning to downsize to a new home this is a great time to get rid of all the stuff that is no longer serving you.

Downsizing means letting go

Because we have formed an emotional and/or sentimental value to stuff. Maybe these things belonged to someone we love. We make memories around things. It is extremely difficult for some folks to let go of things and relatively easy for others. Letting go of items is necessary if you are downsizing.

a little girl letting a bunch of colorful balloons go over the blue sea on a sunny day

Start with the easy stuff. An easy way to declutter especially if you have been disorganized is to go around and start gathering all your things and sorting through each object making general categories – putting like stuff with like stuff. 

You could make a clothing category, a category of bathroom things, kitchen things, books, tools, etc.

With everything sorted, you can quickly find duplicate items and discard them. Remember to always have your 3 labeled trash bags with you when decluttering. It makes it so much easier to decide if the marked bags are sitting in plain sight.

Helpful tips to declutter & organize when downsizing

20/20 rule

We may regret getting rid of the thing because we may ‘need it in the future’. There is a rule for this known as the 20/20 rule. It goes like this – if the item can be re-purchased for under 20$ or takes less than 20 minutes to replace get rid of it. 

Sometimes we fear if we get rid of something our identities, or how we perceive ourselves may take a hit. I am thinking of how someone may feel if they lose the big house and snappy cars etc during a divorce or job loss.

Some of them suffer from a scarcity mindset. We may fear if we get rid of it we may never be able to replace it.

one small seed grows into bigger wins

Start small! 

If you need to start with just one object this is fine. Hopefully, you have allowed yourself plenty of time to prepare for your move. 

Pick up one object and ask yourself if this object is either functional or beautiful. If it doesn’t fit those categories it just may be trash, a donation, or an object to sell. It is extremely easy and cheap to get rid of stuff these days. 

Sales Venues

Selling the possessions of gently used or new and never used goods can bring you extra cash.

Selling goods on Facebook Marketplace is very easy. There are other resale online venues as well, such as EBAYPoshmark, and many more. 

There are also brick-and-mortar consignment shops. You will have to lug the stuff around though if you choose to consign. At best is a 50/50 split and often less. I find it easier to sell on a local FB yard sale site with a porch pickup. 

Unless it is a very pricey item the honor system has worked well for me. Some people prefer Venmo and other payment processing apps.

This means the seller instructs the buyer to either pay for the purchase electronically before the pickup of the purchase or to pay for the item at the pickup location and where on the property the item will be waiting for them.


My area has many convenient donation centers to drop off your gently used goods. Some locations only receive certain items during certain seasons.

a blue button on a computer keyboard with the word donate printed

An easier way is to check out the free Resource Guide I made showing how to donate pretty much any of your possessions easily, sometimes with home pickup available, and almost always free of charge.

Freecycle.org is a national organization where you can list your donation items and people will claim them. You can arrange a porch pick-up. 

Donating is nice because there are people who can benefit greatly from our donations of gently used goods. This makes me feel good and who doesn’t like to feel good?

Write out your goal

Decide your end goal. By clearly and concisely writing this goal on paper or digitally, you will have a road map of where you are going. 

An important thing to do is to keep front and center during your packing process if you are moving to a smaller place. If you need help sticking to this rule ask a friend to help you. A good friend that you trust will not let you down especially if you give your friend permission to be straight with you and have no hard feelings. 

the word goals written with red marker in a small spiral bound notebook


Write your goals down with a pen and paper or use your phone if you prefer. From your goal, you will make a plan with a timeline. Writing your goals and posting these written goal is always best because people tend to veer off in different directions. 

Having a clear and concise goal is important to refer back to. From this plan, you will make a schedule with a timeline that is easy for you to commit to. 

What this means is, for example, schedule on Weds from 1 – 2 an appointment with yourself to declutter the bathroom. Schedule as many appointments as necessary to get the decluttering job done.

Treat this as any appointment you have made, such as a dental or spa appointment added to your calendar. There is no perfect time or place to start decluttering. Make a decluttering schedule you can stick to and in a short period you will notice the difference since you started decluttering.

Focus on the present when downsizing

Enjoying memories made in your lifetime can be a beautiful thing. Living in the past does not sound much like living to me though. There are good reasons to live in the present day you are in. Find a balance.

metal balls balancing on wood see saws

Let it go

I learned people even insist on carrying around from move to move receipts of past hurts and disappointments whether it is in objects or written correspondences. 

This would not work for me, life is too short. I prefer to wake up grateful for each new day I get and not live filled with bitter resentments of the past. Happy, joyous, and free are always my end game!

Practice gratitude

Focusing on loving what you have rather than whining about the things you want is always a superior strategy for living a content life. 

This little tweak of your mindset may fill your heart with unexpected gratitude for all the things you do have.

black background, white text printed 'gratitude turns what we have into enough'

What adventure awaits you?

A great way to look at downsizing is to consider yourself fortunate to be able to downsize. Not everyone gets this gift. Maybe a shorter lifespan or fewer resources make the opportunity to downsize and move unavailable to some. 

You get to embark on another whole adventure! Embrace this!

I love watching people retire from their paying jobs, downsize, move to a new home, and make other big and often scary changes. Having a front-row seat, and watching people make these big life changes has been such a gift to me. 

I have been witness to some amazing ‘next chapters, including my own’!

author pic

Marj Bates is a life long ridiculously organized declutter-er and artist. Less is more are words Marj lives by in everything she does except collecting dogs. “Dogs are like potato chips! Can’t have just one.” says Marj. Marj wonders if growing up with a fanatically clean Jewish mom means her decluttering and organizational skills are in her blood.

For more Declutter Buzz & Freebies check out our safe and private Decluttering community on our Facebook page. We are a safe and private space of like minded folks tackling this all encompassing clutter thing once and for all. No shame allowed and always a few laughs!

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