Downsizing Your Home and Decluttering Your Life
By Wendy Priesnitz
We recently moved from a three-bedroom house with a garage and finished
basement to a one-bedroom apartment. Circumstances led us to make the move
sooner than we had planned.
Forty-plus years of marriage, two kids, and a
forty-year-old business that has operated at home for many of those years meant
that we had accumulated an overwhelmingly huge amount of stuff. My donation of
approximately a thousand books to our local library will give you some idea of
the amount of stuff for which we had to find new homes.
Despite the fact that we were living an already relatively simple life in
materialistic terms, and that we have lived in even smaller spaces over the
years, the process has taught me some lessons.
Begin to downsize now, even if you plan to move a year or
ten from now. Tackling one room or closet at a time, sort through things and
get rid of what isn’t necessary. Then, when you’ve thinned all rooms, do it
again. Eventually, you will end up with just what you really need and value.
Starting early will allow you the time to dispose of unwanted belongings by
selling, giving away, and recycling, rather than by throwing out. This will
also result in less time spent taking care of things and cleaning your home,
and you will feel so much lighter with a less cluttered life, even if you
"Begin to downsize
now, even if you plan to move a year or ten from now. Tackling one
room or closet at a time, sort through things and get rid of what
isn’t necessary. Then, when you’ve thinned all rooms, do it again."
Before the move, I made a list of the necessities
that we’d be moving – bed, couch, dining table and chairs (although the
dining table, which had a fort-year history of family dinners, sadly came
off the list when we discovered it wouldn’t fit in the new place),
computers, desks, clothing, dishes, etc. Then I made another list of
everything I couldn’t live without – some of my books, cherished pottery
pieces, some artwork, a couple of antiques, etc. I think that process help
me with the process of separating from the things I couldn’t keep. (My
husband Rolf didn’t do that, and he was adding things onto the truck at the
last minute that he didn’t want to part with…and the logistics of getting
rid of the stuff that he kept but that doesn’t fit into our apartment are
now much more complicated.)
Find Out What It’s Worth
Some of what we had accumulated used to
belong to my mother and my mother-in-law. There were a few antiques and
other pieces for which I got an objective, third-party opinion as to their
value. High-end goods can be sold on consignment through a reputable
secondhand dealer, or through an auction house.
Learn How to Think Small
A few years before we were ready to move, I
began to visit model condos, just to get a feel for what it would be like to
live in a smaller space. I accumulated floor plans with measurements and
compared the room sizes with those in our house. I eventually developed a
good sense of which pieces of our furniture we would be able to take with us
and which ones would have to go.
I also frequented stores that cater to small space living, and acquired a
few magazines and the IKEA catalog, so I could learn creative ways to store
things and how to make furniture and spaces do double duty. So many of us,
once we have accumulated more things – furniture, clothing, books, kitchen
accessories, and so on – than will comfortably fit into our homes, begin to
think about moving to a larger space. Instead, consider letting the size of
your home dictate how many belongings you have. If your kitchen cupboards
are overflowing, get rid of the dishes and gadgets that you haven’t used in
the past five years. If your clothes closet is jammed full, cull the pieces
that no longer fit, that you bought but have never worn, or that haven’t
seen the light of day in many years. (I donated clothing I hadn’t worn in
fifteen years that was still in my closet just because I had room for it and
hadn’t been able to bring myself to get rid of it.)
Once we had found our new home, we measured the rooms and drew rough
floor plans. (If you are moving into a new space, you should be able to get
a floor plan from the builder/developer.) Then we sketched in furniture
layouts in order to see if we had been realistic about what would fit. (We
hadn’t been, and had to pare down some more.)
"Now that we’re in a
much smaller space, we’ve found that happiness means that everything
has a place and everything must be in its place. And if we don’t
want it, it doesn’t get through the door."
Everything in its Place
Now that we’re in a much smaller space, we’ve
found that happiness means that everything has a place and everything must
be in its place. And if we don’t want it, it doesn’t get through the door.
We’ve never been in the habit of buying things we don’t need,
but so much sneaks in anyway, from junk mail to conference handouts (think
eight mugs and over forty reusable shopping bags emblazoned with corporate
logos). The conference freebies now stay at Rolf’s office (and some of them
were returned there during the moving process). And junk mail ends up in the
recycling bin our apartment manager has conveniently placed beside the mail
boxes in the lobby. You could place a basket inside your front
door for the same purpose.
If you are struggling to create order among things you don’t want to get
rid of, creating more places to store them can at least keep the clutter in
control. Baskets, under-the-bed boxes, filing cabinets, and even a “junk
drawer” are great ways to house necessary but cluttery things – just be sure
you actually need those things. And once you have created those places, use
them. Make a habit out of putting things away after you’ve used them.
Creating more places to store stuff doesn’t mean you have
to fill them all up! Resist the temptation to hoard things because they
“might be useful someday.” You’ll always have things like pens, twist ties,
elastic bands, etc. that will, indeed, come in useful at some point. But, as
Rolf discovered when we downsized, there will never be a use for twenty
years’ worth of extra computer cables, toner for printers that we no longer
own, or software for obsolete operating systems! So be careful what you
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
~ Leonardo Da Vinci
If we hadn’t run out of time (or had begun sooner), we
could have eliminated boxes and boxes of paper by scanning old documents,
kids’ artwork, and family photographs. That was something we always intended
to do, but never got around to it. If I had to do this downsizing thing
over, I definitely would have made time to do it!
Sell, Donate, and Recycle
Try not to throw out things that still have
life in them. We didn’t have as much time and energy as we would have liked
to sell many of the things we couldn’t take with us to our new home. But
free Internet classified sales sites and supermarket bulletin boards are
both your friends when you’re trying to find new homes for stuff. We donated
clothing, small household items, and furniture to local charities and
shelters – some of which will even pick up from your home. We donated books
to the Friends of the Library; newer ones went directly into the library’s
collection and the rest were sold in a used book store to raise money for
the library. We donated tools to a tool library. And we left a few things
that we no longer need, like gardening equipment and snow shovels, at the
house for the next occupants. Knowing that someone would be able to use our
unwanted items made it easier to give them up.
There is a quote that I like, which is attributed to Leonardo Da
Vinci: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Keep that in
mind as you downsize your home and declutter your life, and you'll find the
inspiration and make the time for it to happen calmly and simply.
Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Life Magazine’s editor and the author of
thirteen books. She and her family have, over the years, lived in a VW van
(pre-children), a motor home (with two children), and houses and apartments
of various sizes. They have relocated across the country a few times.