More. More. More! Much of our lives — from childhood through adulthood and then the childhood of our own kids — is spent acquiring things. Once we cover the basics (food, water, shelter) we tend to collect and hold onto things that make us happy, and move into bigger and bigger places to house it all. But eventually the time comes to downsize and embrace a “less is more” approach to life. Letting go can be hard, so that’s where a professional organizer can help.
Downsizing With a Professional Home Organizer
Before we donate, discard, gift or recycle a single item, we’ll talk about the life you have now, and the life you want to have (by choice or necessity). The downsizing process will take you from Point A to your new Beginning with as little stress, guilt, or remorse as possible.
I often work with empty nesters who want to free up real estate equity while shedding the responsibilities of maintaining a large house and yard. I also work with seniors transitioning into assisted senior living. Once we know what the new living space will look like (especially how many rooms and closets), we’ll set clear goals and push every item through these filters:
Downsizing an entire adult life isn’t something one can do in a day, but with the right plan, it can be done as swiftly as needed in order to meet a moving goal. I find it best to focus on one room or one category at a time (such as clothing, media collections, pictures and artwork, etc.). Paperwork tends to take the most time, and can be the most frustrating, as it can take several hours to sort through a 2-foot pile of documents.
There are probably outfits in your closet that have gone out of style and become trendy again several times over now. When downsizing to a smaller space, I find the 80/20 rule works great. Find the 20 percent of your clothes you plan to wear 80 percent of the time. Keep in mind where you’ll be downsizing to. There’s no need to take all of your bulky sweaters to Florida, just a few for chilly winter nights or trips back North. For almost everything else, sort by category, and weed out the most weathered items in each. Keep only your newest or most beloved items, donate or threadcycle the rest. The same goes with shoes, there’s no need to take 20 pairs of old sneakers with you. If you’re leaving office life behind, donate all your business attire.
Anyone under the age of 25 likely looks at a large CD or DVD collection with a tilted head and puzzled eyes. Most of these titles can likely be ripped to a hard drive if they’re not available to stream. There are also tried and true ways shed bulky cases and pack a large collection of discs into a small amount of space. Vinyl record collections are a different beast, but thanks to the format’s resurgence in popularity, most used record stores will happily bid on entire collections.
For many seniors, photo albums and frames can be a great source of comfort and joy; they also help keep distant memories from fading away. Here’s where the 80/20 rule kicks in again, it is likely that 20 percent of your total photographs bring you the most joy. You might not need to take all 170 pictures from your 1988 trip to Europe with you to keep the memory alive. Often, we can distill decades of beloved images down to the greatest hits you keep on the wall and in a few treasured albums.
Sofas, beds, tables, dressers and cabinets can be sold, donated or discarded based on their condition. These items will also take up the bulk of your moving truck, so choose wisely the items that are built to last you though this next chapter in your life. If an item is on its last legs, let it go before you pay to move it.
Most major appliances will remain with the house you’re leaving behind, but smaller stuff like toasters, coffee makers, and hair dryers can make the trip if they’re in working condition and you plan to use them in the new space. If you don’t plan on baking in your new place, leave the mixers, cookie sheets and bread making machines behind. It might be way easier to buy fresh rotisserie chicken than taking your “set it and forget it” appliance with you.
It might look like junk to an outside eye, but to the owner, a small item can bring forth a giant wave of fond memories and emotions. When the time comes to downsize, one must take stock of ways to keep the memories alive while letting many of these objects go. Depending on the layout of the new home, you can determine a percentage of knick knacks and mementos to keep and display. Some of these items might be desired by your children, if not, there might be some value on the collectors market for them. We can easily check eBay and other sources to see if there’s money to be made.
Antiques, jewelry and other artifacts handed down generation from generation might be desired by your children — often greater joy can be had by gifting these items in person versus having the estate divide your property after you pass. Knowing your prized possessions are in a loving home can often ease the emotional distress of letting them go.
And here we are, back to the pile. It’s quite common for people to keep finding new boxes to store old papers, rather than risk tossing something away that you might need later. But here’s the funny thing, we often never need these documents again. The IRS has very clear rules about what you need to keep, and for how long. By following these guidelines, we can discard decades of old bills, mortgage bundles, pay stubs, and tax returns, not to mention work documents, magazines, and papers we intended to get to someday, but never did.
Moving Into Your New Life
Once your downsized possessions are moved into your downsized new space, the most important work begins — creating a new way of living, an efficient workflow that helps you make the most of your new digs. As you acquire new things, we’ll have a plan in place to let old things go, especially paperwork and clothes (the two things that pile up the fastest). Once you get used to it, a cleaner, less cluttered, easier way of living will be yours to enjoy for years to come.