Whether you are an empty nester selling the family home to purchase a smaller more manageable condo, trading suburban life for the city, or just adopting a more minimalist lifestyle, reducing your possessions to fit a smaller space is an obvious must. The toughest part of downsizing is not simply the act of getting rid of stuff — it’s coping with the memories and emotions that are associated with certain sentimental items. It is this emotional connection that can slow down the process.
Here are some tips to make the job less stressful and more manageable and help you move toward a simpler lifestyle in the process.
1) Set a schedule
If possible, take your time and start the process early because it is typically a bigger job than most people expect. You can start planning your downsize as early as six months or one year before your actual moving date. Prepare a schedule with completion dates for each phase of the declutter process to help you keep on track. Be sure the deadlines are realistic.
If the entire process seems daunting and overwhelming, start by breaking it up into smaller and more manageable timelines. Start with one- or two-hour blocks of time where you can concentrate on one task. Take a 20-minute break before going back at it, or resume again the next day. When you set a specific time frame to get a job done, it reduces the time to hesitate and second guess your decisions.
Tackle one space at a time. It can be easy to get distracted and put off starting the process. Start with one room or one area such as a closet or even a drawer. This can help you focus and give you immediate satisfaction once that task is complete. Starting with small, manageable areas will give you the confidence to work toward the larger, more time consuming tasks.
2) Create a sorting system
Your sorting system should be simple. Three piles — keep, toss and maybe. You can further sort into sell, donate or give away after the initial sorting.
Take inventory of all the items you own. Go through every room and make a list. Decide what items are truly going to fit your new space and lifestyle. If you know the measurements and number of rooms in your new space it can help in the decision process of what items to keep and what to discard or donate. Think about each item carefully. Be ruthless in this process. If you haven’t used the item in a year and it doesn’t give you joy or it’s not useful, then you probably don’t need to keep it. Resist the temptation to rent a storage locker and “deal with it later.” This will only cost you money and add to your stress of having to deal with it another time.
For the items that are in your maybe pile, have a box you can temporarily store these items in. Put a date of three or six months away on it. For seasonal items, a longer time line may make sense. Whatever date you choose, revisit the box on that date and any items that you have not gone looking for in the time can be either sold, donated or tossed.
If you are feeling brave, do not even look in the box and simply donate it to a charity or a second hand drop-off centre. You can take comfort in fact that by donating these items to a charity they will be used by someone who really needs them.
3) Get rid of the clutter
For items that have sentimental value but are not necessarily needed or take up valuable space, consider taking a digital photo of that item and display in a frame or photo album instead of keeping the item itself. Having said that, it is important not to get too caught up in the purging process and get rid of everything — you may one day regret that. There should be some constraint where a select few items are in your home simply because they bring you joy and happiness.
Stop being the “keeper of stuff.” If you are storing items for friends or family or still have items from your children’s childhood, it’s time for them to come collect their stuff. Invite them over and make time to sort through the items together and share some memories.
4) Consider hiring a professional
Downsizing is a big undertaking so ask for or accept some help. Whether it be a friend, family member or hired professional, this should be someone who has an objective opinion who can help you decide what to keep, what to throw away and what to donate. The goal of decluttering is to make room for the things in your life that matter. Your real estate professional can help put you in touch with a professional organizer who can assist you. It will speed up the process and be well worth the money. And soon you will be on your way to a stress-free, clutter-free life in your new space.
Patti Ross is a full-time professional Realtor® and home improvement expert helping people buy, sell and improve their homes in HRM for more than 10 years.