One Professional's Tips for Decluttering When You’re Downsizing

Julia Williamson

By Julia Williamson

Oct 13, 2023

There are plenty of reasons for moving to a smaller home; maybe your kids have moved out and you don’t need so much space, or you’ve finally bagged an apartment in a more desirable neighborhood.

As a professional decluttering consultant, I’ve spent plenty of time with clients sorting through their possessions. While many people feel trepidation about downsizing, taking a critical look at the things they own generally leads to the realization that a lot of stuff is just that — stuff. Starting the decluttering process doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It can actually be a great relief, especially when you’re moving to a new home.

Whatever your situation, if you’re moving from a spacious house or apartment into a new space that’s smaller, you’re probably going to have to let go of some possessions. These five decluttering tips will help make those downsizing decisions a little easier.

1. Think about how many people you can fit around your table.

We tend to buy large sets of dinnerware, silverware, and glassware. But if you’re moving to a smaller space, are you likely to have large dinner parties? Think about how many people can comfortably fit around your table or counter and cut down your dining supplies accordingly.

Kitchen storage will likely be at a premium, so think about some of the larger items you’ve got as well, like mixing bowls, serving platters, and rarely used appliances. Keep what’s important and well-loved but be realistic about what kitchen items you really use.

2. Are you keeping equipment for hobbies you no longer love?

Have you acquired lots of gear for pastimes you’re not really engaged in anymore? Decide whether these are activities you still enjoy. If you’re holding onto skeins and skeins of yarn in the hope that you’ll get serious about knitting one of these days, think about whether you’re really going to take it up.

The same goes for sports gear. Are you going to use those snowshoes you bought for that one trip to the mountains? Do you need multiple helmets? Do you really ride your bike, or just think about riding it?

Keep the things that make your life better but let go of the aspirational stuff or any duplicates. Holding on to things in the hope that you’ll use them not only takes up physical space, but also mental space.

3. Keep only the art you absolutely adore.

Decorating your new place is the best part of moving. But if your new apartment is significantly smaller than the one that you’re moving out of, you may not have space for all your art, knick-knacks, photos, and other décor. This is a terrific time to reassess your treasures. We often keep things around just because we’re used to them. When decluttering before a move, try acting like a curator, choosing the very best of what you have.

The more you can keep tables and shelves free of clutter, the more spacious your apartment will feel. If you have a lot of individually framed photos that sit on surfaces, think about combining them into a couple of larger frames to hang on the wall. And try choosing your favorite smaller items with sentimental value and clustering them on a shelf that’s at eye level. That will allow you to enjoy them without them taking up valuable real estate on surfaces.

4. Find volumes you can part with.

For some people, getting rid of books is incredibly hard. But if you use a critical eye, you can usually find a few volumes that it’s time to part with — things you know you’ll never read again, or paperbacks that are in tatters. Books are heavy and you’ll thank yourself on moving day for having pared down your collection.

If possible, measure the shelves that are already in your new living space or that you’ll be bringing with you. If you have too many books to fit in the available space, it’s probably time to let go of some of them.

5. Curate your closet so it only contains clothes that fit and make you feel great.

Small apartments tend to have small closets. Unless you’re a true minimalist with a perfect capsule wardrobe, you’ve probably got a lot of clothing you never wear.

One great strategy when going through your clothing is to ask yourself if you’d pay good money to purchase an item you already own. If you determine that you’d be unwilling to shell out $50 to replace that shirt that’s been hanging in your closet for two years, it’s time to say goodbye to it.

It’s okay to hold onto clothing that’s appropriate for special circumstances or occasions. Just don’t keep things for a “just in case” situation that’s probably not going to arise. Other than those once-a-year outfits, use the two-year rule; if the last time you wore something was over two years ago, there’s very little chance you’ll wear it again.

Finally, if you’re holding onto a piece of clothing that doesn’t fit, it may be time to let it go. Keeping clothing that doesn’t fit can make you feel bad about yourself, while taking up space in your closet. You’re better off replacing beloved pieces with ones that fit better.

Moving is a terrific time to let go of unwanted items that aren’t adding value to your life. Make a fresh start in your new apartment with only the best of your possessions. Follow these downsizing tips, and you’ll thank us when you’re unpacking in your new place.

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