E035 Smart Start Guide to Decluttering & Downsizing

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Decluttered LifeWe each have our own idea of how much stuff is too much stuff. You know when it is out of control.

My husband and I are on a three year plan to downsize. As soon as our youngest is out of highschool, we plan to either sell or start renting out our home. We don’t know where we will go, but we are done with the 2500 square feet, the yard and most of the stuff that resides here.

I didn’t make a new year’s resolution, but a priority for this winter is to begin the process of getting rid of our stuff. I know a lot about getting rid of other people’s stuff. When my own parents passed away, I not only had to address getting rid of their stuff, but over the years their basement had become the resting place for several dead relatives’ stuff that they never dealt with. We are talking about a lot of stuff. More recently, I’ve been part of the family team that moved my in-laws 4 times in the last 10 years, each time to a smaller home. I’ve got the battle wounds of facilitating decisions over baptismal papers, thousands of photographs, woodworking tools, champagne flutes and baseball trophies. Most of those wounds were in my mouth, from biting my tongue.

What eased the emotions with my in-laws was renting a storage unit. Anything that they couldn’t take with them, but they couldn’t come to terms with getting rid of, went to the storage unit with the promise that we could retrieve anything at anytime. Big help!

After one of these packing session, I came home to my own house and pledged to my kids that I would not put them in the same position and then I cleaned out the junk drawer in my kitchen. That was a year ago.

Now, I am serious about tackling the rest of our junk and not junk. Even though I have three years, I’m starting now so it won’t be such a daunting task later.

Here’s my advice, some that I’ve used in the past and some that I’m embracing as I start my own adventure of downsizing:

The Strategy

Be Prepared: Small decisions can create speed bumps.

  1. Understand your why
  2. Have the gear
  3. Know where it is going
  4. Get rid of it asap

Understand Your “Why”

I suggest that you have a solid philosophy of why you are doing this. It will make each decision over each item much easier. When you start to lose your resolve, come back to the “why”.

Why Am I Doing This

  • I want to be free of stuff.
  • I want to be nimble (Definition: Moving quickly and lightly).
  • I want my life to be simpler and easier. I want to be able to find the things I need.
  • I would hate for anyone else to have to deal with my stuff.
  • I’d like the cash instead of the stuff.

Have the gear

  • Boxes,
  • Packing tape
  • Thick marker
  • Clear Plastic Tubs
  • Trash Bags


Know where things are going to go when they leave

Even before you attack your first closet, do the research on where you will be taking items, selling items, etc…

Identify sources for donations (ask friends on Facebook for local resources)

Decide how you will sell things

Craigslist? eBay? Yard Sale? (choose date)

Hire a seller (ask friends for referrals)

How will you dispose of trash? You may need to call your waste removal company for info on large items.

Where will you store things (if you go that route?)


Then start sorting into marked boxes:

  • Keep
  • Storage (six months tops), 30 minutes away
  • Sell
  • Give to family or friends
  • Donate
  • Trash

Anything going to trash or donation, get it out of the house like your life depended on it!

Make decluttering/downsizing a game, set goals, make a commitment:

If you see this as a huge scary task (which it is), you will find it very easy to say that you don’t have time. So consider the following commitments of time:

  • One Saturday each month you will spend 4 hours
  • One evening a week, one hour
  • Everyday, 10 minutes

Organize one area (drawer, closet, sporting goods, kitchen utensils)

Each week fill at least one box for each:

Friends & Family (call them asap)




Storage (short term only)

Questions for any item:

  • Does this thing bring me joy/make me happy?
  • If I lost it or it was damaged, would I replace it?
  • Am I keeping this only because I might use it “someday”?
  • Does this item reflect who I am, who I want to be, or who I used to be?
  • Is this a nostalgic item?
  • Would I pay to store it. If this item was in a storage unit, 30 minutes away, would I retrieve it more than once a year?
  • Would I get as much enjoyment seeing a photograph of it as having it at hand?
  • Am I only keeping this item out of respect for somebody else (dead or alive)?

Tackle categories instead of rooms or areas

  • Tools
  • Paint, cleaning supplies, wallpaper tools, automotive
  • Food
  • Clothing and accessories
  • Sporting goods
  • Holiday Decor 
  • Pet supplies
  • Stereo, Cameras, electronics, accessories
  • Books
  • Photographs
  • Kid’s art
  • Craft materials

Misc tips:

Hanger trick- Face all of your clothes hangers in the same direction. when you wear something, return it to your closet with the hanger facing the other way. You will see what you have not worn in a month, six months, a year. Get rid of it.

Anything you are storing for other people, gets returned. You do not need a reason.


National Association of Professional Organizers

The Minimalists:  Website   TEDx Talk


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo

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