Declutter and Downsize Your Home

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These transition points happen far more often than we realize, and we need to declutter and downsize. We move to a new home and must learn how to live in that new, sometimes smaller, living space.

Obviously, the decluttering process is the same for everyone, but the focus might differ at different stages. Start early and be kind to yourself as you work through the changes. Remove trash and declutter your unneeded items before packing and moving.

And don’t pack unwanted or broken, but maybe serviceable items into the boxes to go to your new residence. Give yourself a chance to live in a clutter-free space.

a short lady standing with her adult son who is wearing a UBC sweatshirt. We did a lot of decluttering and downsizing for this day
My son and I, the day we dropped him off (we were tired)

Off to the University Dorm or the First Apartment.

This is often the first big move for the young adult, and it is challenging for both parent and child to declutter and downsize. There are so many big emotions – good and bad – for all of you.

I can tell you that we felt them all when we dropped our son off. A new start for both of us!

The student may not realize they are downsizing. It is a new start, and they will have less stuff. (Have you seen those dorm rooms? They are tight quarters!) The good news is this change comes with plenty of time to declutter before packing begins. And I’m sure you’ll find some small items along the way that were long lost.

Remember, you can’t declutter other people’s possessions. This is an important skill for your teen to learn. If they need help, break it down into the following categories:

  • Packing to take with them.
  • Pack to keep in storage at home. Think keepsake boxes. 
  • Donate or sell. (This includes things they are leaving for younger siblings that can go into younger siblings’ rooms now.)
  • Recycle/trash. 

There’s also an opportunity for Mom and Dad to declutter. If the student is setting up their first apartment, this is a great time to go through the kitchen and split out the duplicate items for the new apartment. They will need sheets, bedding, and towels as well. 

An additional consideration is whether this about-to-be-vacated bedroom will remain their bedroom, a guest room, or be converted to a completely different use. If you can identify this now, it will help guide how much packing needs to be completed. 

Crop unrecognizable person packing ceramic tableware in parchment as they declutter and downsize

Newly Single (or single with kids) and Moving to a New Place Post-Breakup.

Unfortunately, this can sometimes be a sudden change but a chance for a fresh start. 

When it comes to things you bought/owned together, try not to keep anything that brings up bad memories. Wine glasses that make you sad can be donated. Sell the jewellery if you hate to wear it. Unwanted items don’t need to follow you to your new space.

Work on decluttering one space at a time. If all you have is 15 minutes at the end of the day because you are chasing your kids the rest of the time, then use that 15 minutes to do a little bit every day. If you were forced to pack your things and go, use that time to tackle one or two boxes each day in your new home. 

It’s a good idea to designate a single tote for all important documents to make sure they don’t get lost in the move. This can include bills, contracts, passports and other personal documents you wouldn’t carry around in your purse. It’s easy to keep one container with you while the rest of your life is loaded into a moving truck. Consider putting your external hard drive, portable hard drives or other digital storage devices into this box for the move. 

And if you find packing already stressful enough and you just can’t make a decision, it’s okay to pack it. Decluttering and downsizing are hard work, and so is moving. Be kind to yourself. Maybe you will have a better idea when you unpack if you need those smaller items from the junk drawer. 

Passing Train on the Tracks

Long-distance Move.

Maybe your new job requires moving to a different province or country. 

Or you’ve decided to spend a year living out of a backpack or a small rented room on the other side of the planet. 

When considering the costs of shipping cross-country or renting a storage space, fewer belongings become much more attractive. Consider the 20/20 rule: if you can replace the item within 20 minutes for under $20 after the move, you can let it go now. (If I had to pay to move my kitchen, only my very favourite mugs would be deemed worth keeping!)

It’s a good time to thin home decor as well. These pieces can be awkward to wrap and pack for safe travel to the new home. But more than that, we don’t think about our decorative things; we choose them and don’t think about them again. Maybe you loved the glass bowl when you got it last year, but now it’s something more you have to move and dust over and over.

A To-do list (or even multiple to-do lists)  can be a sanity saver in breaking down the decluttering, packing and moving tasks into manageable chunks no matter the size of your home. Keep this on your phone in digital form or in a planner, whichever gives you the easy access you need. This will help you feel in control as you cross things off. Be your own professional organizer!

Try to use up your consumables in the last weeks in your current home. Take an inventory of your kitchen, especially anything that is open or will expire shortly. If you use it up, it’s one less container to take up space in your moving boxes. This also applies to toiletries and cleaners.

Man and Woman Sitting on Sofa While Looking at a Laptop

Empty Nest or Selling the Family Home to Retire.

Some people don’t envision their retirement with many houses to maintain, especially if the number of residents has shrunk. Some don’t even want to stay in the same city.  Decluttering and then downsizing the entire house can sound like a daunting task, but when you have planned for retirement, it should be easier to let go. You need your possessions to match your retirement plan.

One of the first things to do is have the now-adult children take their own stuff home with them if you still have it. This is the perfect time for Mom and Dad to stop being caretakers for their childhood boxes and things they wanted to store later. Set a deadline for pickup, or put it on the truck and ship it!

The next step is to look at where you are moving to and identify the obvious things that will not be needed at the new property. If you are moving to a warmer climate, the snow shovel and snow blower don’t need to go with you. If you are moving to a condo with no yard, the gardening tools and lawn mower might be easy wins to start the big declutter. 

This can be a good time to consider digitizing important documents and photos if you haven’t already. Store using a secure cloud service or external hard drive. Ensure that family members know where the important information is. In the case of photos, get people, places and dates identified while parents are still in good mental health and can take you down memory lane. 

When it comes to sentimental items, and you aren’t sure, think about whether the item has some meaning and memories attached or is just something your family has had for a long time. It might be a habit. That thermos in the kitchen cupboard that isn’t your Dad’s old thermos can go because no one really knows where it came from. 

If you need more help decluttering, there are some helpful tips here: 

When you start packing the boxes, consider starting with the least frequently used spaces and leaving the traffic zones for last. If you empty one room, you have a place to stack only full and sealed boxes. Label each sealed box to make it easier to move boxes to the right location at your destination.

Plan out the floor plan in the new house. If you have measurements for the smaller space, even better. (If you don’t, your real estate agent or new landlord can likely source those numbers.) Determine what will fit, then sell/donate furniture or other oversized/heavy items that won’t fit instead of spending the money and effort to move them. 

If you have enough time before your moving date and want a garage sale to eliminate excess items, schedule the date and, simultaneously, a window of time and driver to take all unsold items to the donation centre or drop-off spot afterwards. The decision has already been made to let those items go. 

Moving Parents/Grandparents from Home to Care Home.

This last move can be the toughest of all, both because the space will be the smallest and the emotional baggage of aging. The decision of what to keep is going to be about what the most important things are. Involving family is key with this one, especially if your loved one who is moving isn’t able to help much. More family means more hands to move, pack and haul away things, whether you are donating to thrift stores or taking it to the dump.

Again, if your loved one who is moving is able, take some time to record the stories around the sentimental items whether they are going to the care home with them or with other family. This may be your last chance to document some of this information. (Hopefully, you have years of visits ahead, but nothing is guaranteed!)

This is the one time storage units, especially climate-controlled ones, may be necessary. This is a good temporary solution If the property has been sold and the larger furniture items must be stored for auction or for the family to pick up later. Give yourself a deadline to empty this storage unit to ensure it doesn’t become a more permanent solution…otherwise you haven’t really decluttered or downsized.

Be mindful during this process about how much space you have in your own home for the particular items you want to keep. The heirloom dining room table might be a wonderful replacement for your current one. What a great way to upgrade! But do you have the room for the framed art, the table lamps or the set of dishes? You can’t keep everything.

Downsizing to a smaller home doesn’t have to be a stressful ordeal. Ask for help when you need it, whether that’s to declutter and remove inventory or to pack boxes and move. In the meantime, consider a simpler life with less things (and that doesn’t mean you have to be a complete minimalist). That helps to set ourselves up for an easier time when these transitions come along. 

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