How To Downsize Your Home In 10 Easy Steps

how to downsize your home guide cover

Figuring out how to downsize your home is no easy task.

It doesn’t matter if you’re making space for relatives to move in, preparing to move into a smaller home, organizing for an estate sale or renting out your basement to a tenant - downsizing can be both time consuming and stressful.

It doesn’t have to be though, if you tackle it with an organized and well thought out system.

But… Where do you start?

We’ve created an easy-to-implement ten-step approach on how to downsize your home and get ready for that next big step — whatever that happens to be.

We’ll start at the beginning, examining the sentimental journey you’ll take through the process, how you’ll need to minimize your belongings and you’ll discover how to make the process as profitable as possible.

Step 1 Inventory and Honest Reflection


We can’t stress enough how important it is to be organized when you start to downsize your home.

If you want to work through the process without the urge to pull out your hair in frustration time and time again, the best approach is to know exactly what you have in your home and which items are the most important to you.

Of course, this becomes even more crucial if you’ve been living in the same home for a number of years — in that time you can easily accumulate a lot of stuff and in many cases, you’ve probably forgotten where it came from and what you bought it for in the first place.

So before you get rid of anything in your home, you should start with a complete item by item inventory.

This list should be comprehensive, including everything from the cutlery in your kitchen to the furniture in your living room. Don’t worry if this seems like an overwhelming task. Start in the kitchen where you’re less likely to run up against sentimental items.

This will help you get into the groove easier and once you’re on that roll it will be easier to move on to areas of the home like the bedroom where you’re bound to struggle a bit with more personal items.

Even with your completed inventory list, you may still not have a clear picture of how to downsize your home. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic, it just means it’s time for the real work to begin.

One approach we find helpful is to look at your list and think about each item — would you replace them if you lost them or they were damaged? If the answer is no, you should add them to your downsize pile.

Would You Replace Lost or Damaged Item

Step 2 Create a Pros and Cons List


If you’ve created a full inventory list, considered which items you’d replace or not and you’re still not quite sure about some of the things in your home you’re not alone.

Getting rid of stuff in your house is hard work and it’s not always easy to be objective about the process. People all over North America and the world are probably struggling with the same conflicted emotions you are right now.

Fortunately, there are still some other useful tools and approaches that will help you figure out how to downsize effectively.

If you’re on the fence with some items, why not create a pros and cons list? On one side you’ll have things you just can’t part with or what we like to call the I Need It list.

On the other side are items that are clearly just surplus or the I Don’t Need It list. Anything else you can temporarily store in your I Don’t Know List.  

Need, Don't Need, I Don't Know

If you’re honest in creating these lists, you’ve probably added a few more items at this point that you can throw away during the downsizing. It feels good to make progress, doesn’t it?

Now it’s time to get really honest with yourself and take a long hard look at that I Don’t Know list. By the time you’re through, there should be nothing left in this section of your lists — everything should either be in the I Need It List or the I Don’t Need It list.


Step 3 Minimize and Replace When Possible


For a lesson in why minimizing can be a good thing, think about how much easier it is to focus on one thing at a time.

If you want to tackle all of your yard work this weekend you might start by cutting the lawn — it’s easy, you don’t have to put a lot of thought into it and you can get started right away.

Once you’re done that you can look at other tasks like creating a new flower garden, starting on that new deck or cleaning the swimming pool.

When you’re considering how to downsize your home you can take the same approach — look at one item at a time and think about how you use it.

Do you need three couches in your new home or will one couch be more than enough?

Can you use that dining room table for multiple purposes such as dining and your home office?

If you can, then you may want to give serious consideration to getting rid of that bulky office furniture to reduce clutter as you downsize.

It’s also a good idea to take a close look at the size of things you’ll be taking with you. If you no longer need that king-size bed, consider selling it or donating it and replacing it with a Queen or Double.

You may still need certain items in your house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t replace them with smaller versions that make more sense as you downsize your home.

packing items away in boxes

Step 4 Always Consult Other Family Members As You Downsize


Some of the worst family disagreements start when a family member takes on a well-intended decluttering or downsizing project without consulting other family members. An item might not have a lot of value for you, but your spouse, parent or child may see things very differently.

It makes for a happier home if you include everyone in the process. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some disagreements or conflict, but things will go a lot easier if you don’t just throw everything that isn’t yours in the dumpster.

If your parents are moving in with you because of failing health or to be closer in case of emergency you may have two homes that you’re looking to fit into one.

Figuring out how to downsize two homes into one can seem like a monumental task, but it will be a lot easier if everyone is involved. The process is the same through each step, it’s just that it includes more people.

With three of four adults to consult it may take a little extra time, so it’s important to start the process early. If you know that your parents will be moving in with you in a few months, start on your inventory lists today — that way things will go much more smoothly when the moving day arrives.


Step 5 Seek Outside Advice If Downsizing Is Taking Too Long


If you’re one of the lucky few that find the downsizing process straightforward, you should celebrate your organizational skills and willpower. There’s no need to get discouraged if you’re not one of these lucky few though.

For most of us, even if we’ve created great lists, been honest with ourselves and asked every family member for their input, we’re still probably going to find a few items we just can’t make a decision on.

The good news is, this is completely normal — parting with that ceramic frog collection can be one of the hardest decisions when you’re relocating and downsizing!

Your spouse may be just as in love with that ceramic frog collection as you are, but deep down you probably know it should be in the I Don’t Need List. Sometimes an outside opinion is just what the doctor ordered to get you to admit what you already know.

Talk to a family member or friend that doesn’t live with you about how to downsize your home. They’re more likely to be completely objective with you than you probably will be with yourself.

Chances are, they’ve been wondering why you haven’t already moved on from the ceramic frog collection already!


Step 6 Reducing Duplication As You Downsize


Have you ever looked in your cutlery drawers and wondered why you have four can openers or three spatulas?

You’re not alone, every homeowner has a tendency to buy one too many of everything if they stay in the same home for a few years.

Statistic on Consumerism

You may have liked the color, or perhaps your old can opener wasn’t working as well as it should so you bought a replacement — that makes perfect sense.

The problems start when we forget to throw out the older items we no longer need. This happens all the time in just about every household.

If you have three cordless drills it’s time to decide which one you like the most and consign the rest to the dumpster.

No one wants to be considered a hoarder, but we all have a little bit of one in us and we realize that when we discover that we have duplicates of many common household items.

If you’re wondering how to downsize your home, parting with duplicates is a great place to start.


It's Time To Implement The 1-Year Rule


When you first sit down to figure out how to downsize you’ll probably have dozens of different ideas where to start.

You may create an inventory list as we’ve suggested, as well as pros and cons lists. Once that’s done you may also have talked things over with other family members or even consulted people you trust that don’t live with you.

After that you might have taken a long hard look at all of the duplicate items in your home and fine-tuned your I Need It list to include only one version of common household items.

We’ve talked about all of these ideas already and if you’ve gone through the process you’re probably almost done with your downsizing project, but there may still be some lingering items that have you stumped.

There is one more approach that may help with those final few items you just haven’t been able to categorize yet.

We’ll call this the 1-year rule. If you haven’t used something for at least a year then there’s a good chance you never will.

1 Year Rule

Even if you think that you may need it somewhere down the line, you can probably buy a replacement in the future when you do really need it.

You may also want to consider giving it to a friend or family member with the stipulation that you’ll be able to borrow it if you ever need to.


Step 8 Cashing In On Valuables You No Longer Need


If you’ve arrived at the point where you’re ready to start physically clearing your home of all the things you no longer need, then you’ve probably gone through most, if not all the steps we’ve discussed so far.

It’s a big job and you should give yourself a big pat on the back before considering the next steps in how to downsize your home.

So now that you know what you want to part with, what do you do with it? Do you sell it, donate it or toss it out?

Selling unwanted items can be a great way to pay for your move if you’re relocating — especially if you’re giving up collectibles that others may find valuables.

There are lots of ways to sell your items whether it be a garage sale, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, or Ebay and most of them are easy to use.

If you want to sell an item online and you’re not sure how to go about it, chances are you have a friend or family member who can help.


Step 9 Consider Donating When You Downsize


Not everyone wants to go through the trouble of selling used items online or organizing a garage sale.

These can be time consuming and the temptation may be there to just toss things in the dumpster even if they may still have real value to someone else. For many household items there’s an easier way to declutter and downsize without throwing out furniture, old beds, or other items that might help someone else.

Donating household items is a great way to get your old things out of your way and do something worthwhile that will make you feel good about yourself at the same time.

There are many great organizations such as The Restore, The Salvation Army and Goodwill that will come right to your home for large items such as mattresses and kitchen cabinetry, so that you don’t have to worry about the logistics.

It’s a win-win for everybody involved.

box filled with clothes to be donated

Step 10 Renting A Dumpster For Anything Left


There’s a sense of relief that hits you when you’ve sold everything that you no longer need or donated it to a charitable organization.

If you’re lucky, that means you’re finished with your downsizing project and you can concentrate on your move or moving your loved ones in.

In some cases you may still have a lot of unusable junk left to deal with though. It’s amazing how many garages and basements are filled with stuff that outlived its usefulness years ago! One of the easiest ways to deal with these unwanted items is to rent a dumpster.

When you rent a dumpster you’ll have it in your driveway whenever you need it.

All you have to do is move the junk from your garage or basement into the dumpster in your driveway. You usually have the dumpster for a full week so there’s no need to rush, you can pace yourself and make sure you clear out everything you need to.

Best of all you don’t have to worry about the disposal — that’s taken care of for you.


Staying Vigilant and Avoiding Creeping Clutter


When that dumpster pulls away from your driveway you can let out a big sigh of relief. You’ve completed your downsizing tasks and everything left is what you want to keep.

It’s nice to know that you won’t be tripping over unused and unwanted items anymore. You can now be confident that everything you own will fit into your smaller home or that you have enough room to move a loved one into the home you’re in now.

It’s important to be vigilant though to avoid what we call creeping clutter.

As you settle down and get comfortable with your living situation again it’s easy to forget how quickly you can find yourself saddled with unnecessary items.

If you keep your home organized and declutter periodically you can avoid having to go through the whole downsizing project all over again in another few years.

That means a lot less stress in your life and a lot more enjoyment out of the things you really need.

Helping Seniors Downsize

Downsizing for seniors may be a necessary part of life, but that doesn’t make it an easy one. If you’ve lived in the same home for a large part of your life, you’ve probably accumulated a lot of things. 

Seniors downsizing
As a senior, it can be tough figuring out where to start. What do you want to keep, what has sentimental value and what can you really live without are all valid questions to ask yourself and your spouse. It’s not easy letting go of a lifetime of memories, so the quicker you can get started the more prepared you’ll be to make the right decisions for you and your loved ones.

Dealing With The Emotional Aspects of Downsizing for Mom and Dad

Downsizing really can be an emotional roller coaster. As you sort through all of those keepsakes and things from your life you’re going to have to make some tough decisions. 

There will be items you know that you can’t take with you, but also that you don’t want to let go of them either. One simple solution may be to offer them to a family member that has the space for them and that will appreciate them. You’ll feel comfortable knowing they’re still in the family and you’ll likely be able to see them in use from time to time. 

 A good way to do it is to separate your belongings into different categories - items you’re going to keep, ones you want to give to family, others that you may want to give to charity and of course the things you’re going to throw away. Once you’ve categorized everything it won’t seem so emotionally overwhelming.

 

Asking Family and Friends For Help

If you’ve made the decision to move into a smaller living space to downsize it may make sense, but that doesn’t make it easier. Don’t be afraid to ask family or friends for help. In most cases, family and friends will be more than willing to help you with the transition.

 

Take Advantage of Your Seniors Discounts

One final thing to keep in mind is that you may be eligible for seniors discounts on things you need along the way such as hiring a moving company or renting a dumpster for easier trash removal. Before you finalize any service agreement, make sure to ask the company you’re working with if they do offer any discounts for seniors.


Downsizing Video


Additional Questions on How to Downsize Your Home

At what age should you start downsizing?

Deciding when to downsize is a difficult decision that has a lot to do with your own personal financial situation as well as age. Most people begin to consider downsizing in their late fifties or early sixties.

If you’re at a point where there are no longer any kids at home and retirement is fast approaching, it’s a good time to consider downsizing.

How do I downsize my belongings?

When you make the decision to downsize your belongings it can be hard figuring out where to start. It’s best to start with smaller impersonal items and then expand from there.

This allows you to get warmed up to the task without being overwhelmed.

How do you downsize and simplify your life?

When you’re ready to downsize and simplify your life it’s best to include your partner if you have one in all downsizing decisions and always start with a plan.

Create a full inventory of your belongings and work through the list. Be sure to give yourself lots of time — deciding what to keep and what to discard from things you’ve accumulated over many years is a big job.

How do you emotionally downsize?

Downsizing can be an emotional rollercoaster. It’s hard to let go of your personal belongings because even the smallest item can have an emotional connection.

The best way to handle this is to employ the help of family members or friends so you don’t have to take on the task alone.

Also, consider keeping any family heirlooms in the family — that way it will be easier giving them up if you know they’ll always be with someone you love.

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