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Starting the Downsizing Journey: Organizing

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Starting the Downsizing Journey: Organizing

Matt Winzenried

Matt has worked in Real Estate since 2005. He has expert negotiation skills...

Matt has worked in Real Estate since 2005. He has expert negotiation skills...

Aug 31 7 minutes read

Whether you're moving to be closer to family, have too much space and want less, or are retiring and want more freedom to travel – the downsizing process starts with organizing. Katie Wagner is a professional organizer with Renewal by Kate. Keep reading for her tips on how to get the downsizing journey started. 

Goals and intentions for downsizing journey

The process starts with an opportunity to reflect on why you’re going through the downsizing journey, what your goals are, and what you hope to achieve in the next phase. 

Ask yourself:

  • Why are you downsizing?

  • What is your vision for your new home? (How do you want it to feel?)

  • What opportunities do you want to enjoy in your new home? (Things you want to do outside of your home, eg. you want to travel a lot)

  • What challenges may keep you from making the most of these opportunities?

Use those goals as a lens while you go through your downsizing process.

Criteria for what stays and goes

Choose (with intention) what items are most important to you. What items earned their keep? What items earned the packing, moving, and unpacking. These items are the best of the best. They fulfill that dream that you set. You may have decades and decades of stuff in your home so it’s not always going to be easy. You have memories and keepsakes, yard tools, kitchen gadgets. . . 

It helps to have some questions to ask when you are trying to decide “Do I take it to my next house or do I pass it on?”:

  • Is it important to me? Do I love it? Do I treasure it?

  • Does it increase the quality of my life?

  • When I’ve had an opportunity to use it or wear it – have I?

  • Is it hard to replace if I need it again? 

  • Do I need it for tax or legal purposes?

  • Does it fit reasonably and comfortably into the space I have?

  • Will I have more space for the things I want if I give it away?

  • Does it fit into my dream or my next home?

Remember, your stuff does not define who you are. It’s just stuff, it’s not you. As you downsize, you might find yourself letting go of some weight or burden. You may feel more calm or stress-free having less stuff – this may open you up to more possibilities. Look at it as an opportunity versus losing something. You are saying yes to something else! Be optimistic about the downsizing process. 

Types of clutter

As you organize, you will come across different types of clutter. Clutter falls into the categories of memory clutter, "I might need it someday" clutter, and malignant clutter. 

Memory Clutter

Memory clutter reminds you of a person, an achievement, or some event of the past. The challenge is to find the treasure in it. Let’s say you loved going fishing with your grandpa when you were a kid. Therefore you’ve somehow inherited three tackle boxes, five fishing poles, and a couple finishing trophies all from your grandpa. It’s in your basement, all in boxes. The question is – is it really being treasured in the boxes in the basement? Is there a more meaningful way you could take those items? What if you went through all those boxes and found that you really liked this one reel and one nice picture of you and grandpa by the stream. Instead you could create a really cute shadow box with those items and then you could let the rest of it go. 

Keeping everything means nothing is important. Don’t keep every item – choose the best of the best. Determine what those items are that you consider treasures and just keep one or two of them and display them in some way. You could set a scene of the items and then take a photo and then frame the photo. 

One way to deal with this clutter is the Dining Table Strategy. Let’s say you’re going through your items, start by clearing off your table to use as a space constraint. If you’re having trouble making decisions, tell yourself you can only keep what fits on the dining room table. Going through your boxes, whether it be stuff in the basement or memorabilia or shoes, give yourself some parameters. You can only bring what can fit on the dining room table and that will at least help you do some selective processing. 

Going back to the fishing example: write a little note, share an experience about fishing with your grandpa, ("Three great things I loved about my grandpa. . .”) and put that piece of paper to the back of the item. That will help generations to come to understand why that item was important to you and the story of it in your family. Someday when kids are going through your stuff they will know that this was really important to their mom and dad so they may keep it. 

I Might Need it Someday Clutter

If you have stuff that you are keeping just in case you might need it someday you don’t want to take all of that. You just want to take things that will reasonably and comfortably fit in your new home. You are going to know more or less what size kitchen you’re going to have so you will know what kitchen items to take with you. Things that fit and things that you regularly use now. If you do have something that you want to give someday to someone else, that’s fine to keep as long as you have a date in the very near future that you’re going to pass that item on.

Malignant Clutter

Malignant clutter is clutter that leaves you with a bad feeling. Why would you want to take something with you to your new home that leaves you with a bad feeling? It’s time to shed those items that don’t make you feel good. A good example of this is maybe something you overspent on and never used. Just let it go, it’s okay! You don't want to feel guilty about the things that you are bringing to your new home – clothes that don’t fit, gifts people gave you that aren't your style, a hobby that you thought you’d like but never started.

Tips for getting started

Start early. Start small. It’s best to start when you don't need to start. When you have to start downsizing it can be a little difficult to start.

You could even start just 20 minutes a day or spend an hour on a Saturday morning to work on it. You can increase that time as you get into the groove of it. Pick a couple of kitchen drawers, or the linen closet, or your vanity and do those first and then move on. You can schedule these times on your calendar. Leave things like photos and scrapbooks and letters for the end. That stuff is time consuming so don’t start there. 

Have some supplies ready. You will either keep things, throw them away, recycle them, donate them – or there may be things that are worth selling. Have different boxes or bins that are ready to go and have a plan for when you get to the end of a project. You may find that you need a small dumpster for a day or you may need to arrange for a drop off for a bunch of recycling.


Thank you, Katie Wagner for sharing these tips! 

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