How to Downsize and Declutter


These past two years I've been wavering back and forth between continuing to rent versus buying a house. Since moving is something I dread, I started packing up my belongings months ago in anticipation of moving, and storing the boxes in one of my unused bedrooms. Many items have been packed away for over six months, leading me to think about downsizing and decluttering. For instance, do I really need that bread maker that's been packed for so long? When was the last time I used it? How many other items have I stored and haven't used in years?

I'm not only unsure of what I've packed, but I'm storing them in an unused bedroom! Does this mean I don't really need a 3-bedroom home? I know I'm not the only person to store items away for months or years; the Stor-It and Public Storage facilities a few blocks from my house confirm that others have this same problem.

My own packing behavior has lead me to think about downsizing and decluttering. So, I've devised a simple timeline for sorting and decluttering painlessly with a three-phase strategy: 3-month plan, 6-month plan, and the year-or-more plan. (See also: 25 Easy Organizing Changes You Can Make Today)

3-Month Plan

Items that have been packed for three months or less are items I will keep. Obviously, these items are the most recently packed and are freshly imprinted in my brain. Many of these items include paintings that I intend to hang in my new place, linens that I will continue to use, and knick-knacks and keepsakes that I will cherish forever.

  • Keep It: Valuables and family heirlooms, pictures and paintings that are timeless, items that were used frequently and are intended to be used again in the same frequency.

This short-term plan is geared more towards individuals planning on moving within a few months, as in my case. However, if these items become stored for longer than planned, then it's time to reevaluate and move to the next phase.

6-Month Plan

Six months ago, I became serious about moving and started packing items I hadn't used in a while with the idea that I would eventually use them again. Now that these items have been out of sight for six months or longer, I'm beginning to think that I really don't need them.

  • Reevaluate It: Knick-knacks that have little sentimental value, kitchen items and small appliances that haven't been used in a while or were used infrequently to begin with, extra linens and blankets that were rarely used.

I'm realizing that many of the items I first packed were items I could live without, such as that bread maker and blender that were only used a handful of times. These items need to be scrutinized; I can obviously live without them.

Year-or-More Plan

I have a few large Rubbermaid bins in the garage that have been sitting untouched for five years. What's in them? I'm not really sure anymore. Thankfully, I have the space to store these items, as I don't think I'd still have them if I had to pay for storage.

  • Sell It / Chuck It: Many times, boxes that have been stored for a year or more are filled with unknown and forgotten items. I'm pretty sure that some of the items in my large bins include old lighting fixtures and dishes that haven't seen the light of day for half a decade. It's time to lighten the load by going through these bins and selling, recycling, or repurposing these old items.

Storage facilities have been known to sell occupied units that have fallen delinquent in payment. Think about how the owner could have benefited had they just sold the items they weren't using?

Obviously, not everyone can be so nonchalant about getting rid of items they've had for years. Yet, this simple timeline can help prioritize and reduce storage concerns and declutter a home. Thankfully, I don't consider myself a pack-rat and will be following my own guidelines this month.

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Guest's picture

I'm pretty bad about this but not TOO bad (probably just because I'm still in my early 20s). I buy makeup or other girly items like facial scrubs, then use them a few times until the next new thing comes along, and the old items go into a box since I hate throwing something away after a couple of uses. I'm sure most of what I have in boxes are already expired.

Then there are my boxes of childhood beanie babies and stuffed animals that don't ever see the light of day either.

And I have at least three or four plastic bins full of old VHS tapes on which I had recorded some favorite TV shows or musical performances when I was a teenager. I'd say the chances of me ever watching one of those tapes again is slim, but there they remain in my closet.

I used to have years of college textbooks stored up in my moving boxes, which were not only heavy but even more of a pain in the butt since I tend to move every year. I finally pulled them all out and sold them on Amazon and Craigslist.

At least a year and a half ago, I went through my clothes and was able to fill a huge box with clothes that don't fit me anymore or that I just don't wear anymore, and I've been meaning to donate them, but I've been too lazy.

This article makes me want to go home and "clean house", but Lord knows I'll probably end up leaving everything where it is.

Guest's picture

Hello Little House!

Nice post. I love to declutter and organize, and I like to keep things very simple around our home.

By the way-I had to rent a public storage unit once for one month while moving (got it for $20 for that month), and while I was in the office of the storage unit, a man came in and paid his $100 or so. He was joking around with everyone, and finally told me that he had kept things in the same unit for TEN YEARS!!!!! You do the math....

Guest's picture

We are considering moving when our lease is up in July, and we plan to conduct the same exercise. It's amazing how much we value something when it's in our face every day, but we can go months or even years without using them.

Thanks for the reminder!

Guest's picture

I don't know if I can go as extreme as I want to, as I have a family and can't decide what my wife and kids think is important :) but I plan to rid my life of TONS of clutter before 2011! Thanks for the great tips

Guest's picture

Jennifer, Can I have the bread maker? I've always wanted one because I imagine I will save so much money by baking my own bread. (In reality I'm sure I would be too lazy to use it!) Never mind :)

Guest's picture

Sadly recently I was "forced" to declutter when our basement, which is where we stored our stuff, was flooded by Hurricane Irene. While at first I was devastated by the loss of all those "things", it has been a month since we have been back home and the basement clean and dry and aside from our winter clothes and my kids toys we rotate out I am not too upset anymore. I did plan to have a garage sale right before this happened to try to make a few bucks but it wasn't meant to be. It does feel good to not be "chained" to that stuff...everytime I thought about looking for a home to buy the thought of hauling all that stuff made me think twice.

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