Downsizing Your Stuff When Moving to a Smaller House

by Reader Contributors

Downsizing Stuff When Moving to a Smaller House photo

Are you downsizing to a smaller home? You’ll likely need to downsize your stuff, too. These tips can help you figure out what to get rid of and how to get rid of it.

Dear Gary,
Our kids have grown up, and it’s time to think about moving to a smaller house.

For 30+ years, we’ve accumulated all kinds of stuff! We hate to just give or throw things away, but there’s no way we’ll get this much stuff into the kind of two-bedroom home that we’re thinking of buying. Plus, we are used to having our own space.

What do other people do to prepare for moving into a smaller home?
Gwen D.

Have a Yard Sale or Estate Sale

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and you’ll get rid of all your extra stuff in no time.

If you’re looking to seriously downsize a household’s worth of goods, consider an estate sale. My husband and I did that when we moved from one state to another and wanted to start fresh. The proceeds from the estate sale funded our new furniture and accessories!

Look at Everything with a Critical Eye

As we prepare for a parent to come live with us, I have to “find” or “make” room. My approach, in addition to an honest decluttering, is to look at each “container.” These include cabinets, closets, and dresser drawers. My objective is to reduce or consolidate contents so that the remainder fits in half the space. After a while, I can even look again at a previously reduced container and go again.

Do not think that this is easy. I am a collector of stuff. My local thrift store has received many donations. I’m being more honest about which of those projects I’ll do someday and about how much clothing I actually wear. We will never need more than three dozen bread and butter plates, so off they go.

Everything is being looked at with a critical eye. Does anyone ever sit in that chair? That piece that decorated the stair landing no longer fits since the installation of the stairlift. All seasonal decorations get reduced each time they are pulled out of storage.

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Enjoy a Simpler Life

I don’t understand the reasoning behind not wanting to give stuff away. You can’t take it with you. Just imagine if you didn’t have so much stuff to deal with. Your life would be so much simpler. You could focus on doing something more productive than trying to stash your stuff.

Give your children all their keepsakes you have saved for years and donate or sell the things you no longer use or haven’t used in the last year or two. Give to your favorite area thrift store, like a women’s shelter or an animal shelter thrift store, and then sit back and look at how neat your house is and breathe a sigh of relief that you don’ have so much stuff to dust, store, or clutter your space. It is a very freeing feeling.

I was getting there myself until a dearly loved sister and her husband had to move into assisted living and their children live far away, so now I am in the process of sorting through their stuff. If you can’t give something you are sentimentally attached to a place of honor in your home, then don’t keep it.

Simplify with Freecycle

Seven years ago, we did just what you’re planning. We moved from an eleven room, two story home to a seven room ranch. The first thing we did was to make sure each kid got all of his/her personal items out of our house. We did move a few boxes of baby things we had saved in anticipation of having grandchildren (not yet!). Next, we freecycled many items. We decided it was time to allow other people the chance to enjoy many of our collectibles. We chose not to have a garage sale due to an unfortunate incident at a previous such sale. At our new house, we did hold an estate type sale to get rid of items we had moved, thinking we would have room for them or need them.

Also, since this downsizing coincided with a job change for me, I got rid of most of my work wardrobe, allowing me to thin my wardrobe from two full closets to one. I kept only one basic set of evening/party clothing with shoes and bag, keeping things really simple for me. Hubby does the same with a single suit, shirt, tie, and shoes. Since we are not working outside the home as much, we don’t need an entire wardrobe for various occasions. Now, we have workout/hanging around the house type clothing and fewer shoes, bags, jewelry options, etc. It saves a lot of room.

We were able to give our kids a lot of items we had inherited that are of value to them. Why should I keep a fancy marble table that I have no room for when my son would love to have it in his new living room? This has worked well. As it was, we still moved too many things, but we continue to winnow down by giving them to charities over time.
JD in St. Louis

Plan Ahead!

We downsized and it took a lot of time to go through things and decide what to keep, sell, and donate. We had a huge two-day house sale (for better items and furniture) and garage sale (for less expensive items) as well as listing furniture and larger items on Craigslist. We advertised our sale on and Craigslist.

Enlist lots of help for the sale. We also donated quite a bit to Goodwill. Allow a year to get ready if possible. After moving we were surprised that we really didn’t miss anything!

Work in Layers

We are in the same situation and are finding downsizing is a complex task! It’s not just about reducing the amount of belongings (which is difficult enough) but you will also encounter items that evoke memories. Then the process of sorting and letting go becomes quite a bit more intense.

We are finding that it is best to work in layers. The first time through start with “no brainers,” including stuff like old paperwork and clutter that has just accumulated over the years. Once you have successfully dealt with that, start dealing with the trickier items. Can you give Grandma’s rocking chair to one of your kids? Could the local library add your prized book set to its collection (and give you a nice tax write-off as well)?

Keep going until you have whittled your belongings down to a size that will comfortably fit in your new home. You can do it if you just take it one step at a time!

Focus on What’s Important to You

From the tone of your letter, I presume you have some time period to prepare for this move. Do what my mother, who had to pack and move countless times during my father’s years in the navy, taught me.

Pay attention, and anything you haven’t touched, worn, sat on, brought out, or used in the last year automatically goes with no questions asked. That will probably be a good 60% of everything you have. Instead of just giving all of this away, go ahead and list valuable items on eBay, take them to your local consignment shops and make money, or donate them to the thrift shop that supports a cause close to your heart and take a tax donation. You can even begin having regular garage sales to unload the stuff you can part with.

As you find your possessions lightening up, you will find it becomes easier and easier to focus on what’s really important to you. By the time you’re actually ready to move, you should have very little left to pack, and all of it will only be the things that are important and used regularly.

3 Chances to Bless Someone Else

  1. Ask friends and relatives if there is something they want.
  2. List everything else on Craigslist.
  3. List what doesn’t sell on Freecycle.

You have had three opportunities to let your stuff bless someone else!

Help Someone Else Along the Way

This story just touched me as I have gone through this recently with a family member. You say your children are grown. Why not go ahead and give them some things now as a memory of you?

As for the rest, there are many safe shelters for women that would be most grateful for anything and it would be quite heart warming to know that in this world you helped someone else along the way.

You could also talk with a consignment shop. Many will buy your unwanted items. Good luck.

Start in the Closets

After the death of my husband, I have started preparing to downsize. The first thing I did was start cleaning out closets. The clothes are not something I want to move. I asked my children what they would like from the house. If it was something I wanted to keep, I put it in my new will that they would inherit it. I am donating anything that is usable. I don’t live where a yard sale is possible. I have made sure to get donation receipts, and I attach the list I made of the donated items to that receipt for tax time.

Since I am a working woman, I am doing things as I can. It doesn’t have to all be done in a weekend or even a month. I have 25 years of stuff to sort through, so it’s a big job.
Wendy in NC

Give, Sell, Donate

Have a yard sale for sure! But before doing that, if you have children, grandchildren or close friends, invite them over to look at the pieces or things you want to sell at the yard sale. Maybe they would want them. If so, then sell the remaining items at the yard sale. What doesn’t sell at the yard sale, you should give to Goodwill, Purple Heart, Salvation Army, etc.

There’s no sense in putting it back in the house and moving it with you to the smaller house and storing it again.

Passing the Test

My husband and I had to do the same thing. We started several weeks ahead of time, and sorted through one closet, cabinet, or storage area at a time. What we did was decide what would go and what would stay. Our criteria was simple:

  1. If it hadn’t been used in a year, and it wasn’t family heirloom stuff, it went to the garage sale stash.
  2. If it didn’t fit, didn’t look right, or was the wrong kind of clothing for the climate, it went to the garage sale stash.
  3. If there was two or more of an item, we kept our favorite one and the rest went to the garage sale stash!

We had an enormous number of things that left us, including an extra couch and bed, almost enough extra utensils and pots and pans to outfit two kitchens, all kinds of clothing. We had several items that we don’t really need two of.

The one thing you want to keep is bookshelves of any and all kinds, types, and sizes. They don’t take up much space, they can either go along a wall or be used to divide up a room into multi-task spaces. I have one in the dining nook of our new apartment, right underneath the bar by the patio door. It fits perfectly, holds all my cookbooks, magazines, message pads, extra pens in a pretty cup, outgoing mail in a basket, and I’m putting a corkboard above it for messages. Quite a lot of storage for such a small space, wouldn’t you agree? You can put small framed artwork on the ends of the bookshelves, or hang a shadowbox on the end to display small collectibles.
Colleen P.

Measuring Value

I just went through the same problem. The first thing to look at is what furniture means the most to you. Obviously, grandma’s cedar chest and mother’s chair came with me. The sentimental pieces are what makes your house a home.

I chose pieces that were multi-functional. Grandma’s cedar chest stores blankets. Bookshelves are everywhere, including closets. My couch is a sofa bed. The kitchen table is in my living room, covered with a long table cloth and displaying mother’s lamp and my family photographs. Other photos were hung in the entry hall. Small dressers are also in the closets (luckily, apartments usually have more closet space!). For other pieces that just won’t fit right now, consider a storage unit or allowing family members to use them (but be careful on that one! I lost my oriental couch that way).

Also, check into organizational pieces such as over-the-door ironing boards, entertainment stands, microwave oven carts, free-standing cupboards (for a pantry) and the such.
Lisa R.

An Opportunity

Look on this move as a chance to readjust your home to fit you. Clean out everything. Don’t keep anything that isn’t totally useful, beautiful to your eyes and heart, and that adds value to your life. Think of the jobs you hate to do, and try to eliminate them (I feel that the less on tables, the less to dust.) Don’t keep anything big or small, just because you think you should or because someone gave it to you.

Look at furniture with a new eye and don’t limit its use to the room it was bought for; night stands can make better end tables because they provide storage.

Give things away. Donate and take the tax deduction, or have a great garage sale. Make your life easier, and give yourself more time for you.

Reviewed March 2021

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