How to Decide What to Keep When Downsizing

Having trouble downsizing? You're not alone. Many of us are attached to our things, and that can cause anxiety when it's time to clear out the clutter. But when you start looking at your possessions practically — do they all serve a real purpose? — you'll have a better idea of what stays and what should go. Here are a few suggestions for the former. (See also: 7 Mantras to Sharpen Your Resolve to Downsize and Declutter)

1. Photos

My home is filled with lots of photos because I enjoy having those memories visible at all times. Of course, the other upside to keeping your pictures when downsizing is that they barely take up any space. The framed photos do, of course, but frameless photos hardly require any real estate in your home. In fact, I have hundreds of pictures in an old shoe box that go back more than 20 years. And that's all I'll ever need for real-world photo storage, especially nowadays.

If you want to preserve your photos even further and eliminate the shoe box or album altogether (because there is a chance it could get lost or destroyed, especially if stored in a basement or attic), scan everything into your computer. If you feel the task is a bit more than you're willing to take on, consider sending the hard copies off to a professional photo-scanning operation — there are plenty of options online at various price points — that will take on the grunt work for you and send back a flash drive or DVD of your digitized photos. (See also: 12 Smart Ways to Organize Old Photos)

2. Clothing

Twice a year I go through my closets to edit my wardrobe. Anything I haven't worn in a year gets the boot along with items that look worn, torn, or otherwise out of style. I know I keep way more than I should, but dressing nicely is important to me, so I justify the abundance that I have because it makes me happy.

If you're not emotionally attached to your clothing, but still have too much of it, start thinking about the items as function and not fashion. Start with a base of two weeks' worth of clothes — pieces that are good for work, weekends, and leisure time. That includes undergarments, pants, shirts, and other daily pieces. I'd suggest this strategy for all four seasons so you have items that will carry you through the entire year and whenever you travel.

Next, focus on the specialty items — like your wedding, funeral attire, and suits for business meetings. Keep one outfit for each and eliminate the rest. You need a couple pairs of shoes, too — ideally dress shoes, sneakers, and a pair of boots. Once you set all that aside, revisit your closet and pick a couple pieces you really love and resolve to part with the rest. You can hand them down to family members (all my excess goes to my nephew), sell the in-great-condition items on (I've made over $100 in the past two months), or donate to charity, preferably a local mission that outfits the homeless or low-income job seekers.

3. Important documents

Certain documents, such as tax records, should be kept for seven years. Others should be kept forever, including marriage licenses, deeds to your home(s), military documents, birth certificates, passports, life insurance policies, immigration records, and more. Consult our list of important documents to keep, if you're not sure.

To ensure their safety, consider scanning documents that aren't already in digital format and save them in two separate but secure locations, one of which should be an external hard drive that you keep hidden or locked in a safe. The other could be a flash drive in another location — neither should be internet accessible. Failing to secure these items could result in you becoming the victim of identity theft, like the 13.1 million Americans who lost $15 billion to identity thieves in 2015.

Shred any other documents that contain your personal information, as some identity thieves will go through people's trash looking for data found on important papers. Use at least a crosscut shredder, which is more secure than a standard strip-cut shredder. A micro-cut shredder provides the highest level of security.

4. One item from your collection(s)

I won't get on you about how whatever you're collecting is probably costly with no real return on investment, and how all it does is take up space in your home while providing a place for the dust bunnies to live. No, I won't do that, because I'm guilty of the same thing. I have just one collection — Pez dispensers — that I've been adding to for the past two decades, but all the toys do is sit in a trunk in my basement. I know I should get rid of them, but it's hard to part with something that makes me smile. Seeing as how they have a home in the basement and I'm not currently downsizing, I think I'll keep them around a while longer. When I do decide to sell them off, I'll keep just one set — Tom & Jerry characters I picked up in Spain in the mid-90s. Those are my favorites.

5. Practical furniture

You need three major pieces of furniture, essentially: a bed to sleep in, a couch or chair in your living room, and a table at which to sit and eat. If you need to downsize even those items, it can be done easily by choosing smaller versions of whatever you have now. What you absolutely don't need is furniture that doesn't have a function, like the desk in the office you never use or that formal dining table that no one ever dines at.

6. Necessary tools

If you work with a lot of tools, edit your collection at your discretion. But if you're like the rest of us and reach for a hammer or a screwdriver a couple times of year, sell off the rest of the stash that you purchased for one-time projects. Saws, benches, landscaping gadgets, and more have to go if all they're doing is taking up space in your shed or basement.

If you're in a giving mood, hand them down to younger family members, newlyweds, or someone you know who's just starting out in life. Otherwise, tools have great resale value; try Craigslist or the letgo app to recoup some of your costs if you prefer to make a buck instead of giving the lot away for free. (See also: 10 Household Tools Every Frugal Homeowner Should Own)

7. Your "good" dishes

One of my biggest pet peeves is opening a cabinet full of mismatched, random dishes. You'll recognize this symptom of my OCD in my own home, where every dish is white, evenly numbered, and aligned perfectly in my cabinets. You'll understand what I'm talking about when you purge your kitchen of dishes you don't need and pare down to only the good stuff. The ones you bring out for company. Because life's too short to save those for holidays while you eat off cheap plastic plates the rest of the year.

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Planning on downsizing? Whether you want to lead a more minimalist lifestyle, want to join the small houses movement, or just want to save money and simplify. Here is the best way to declutter and get organizing! Learn how to decide which items you should be letting go with our tips! | #minimalism #downsizing #minimalistlifestyle

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