5 Rules to Make Your Downsizing and De-Cluttering Process Easier

Whether you are getting ready to move into a tiny house, or just want to get rid of some of the clutter that’s been building up around your home, downsizing can be an intimidating process.

Just one glance at the mountain of random belongings taking over the corner of your room can be enough to make you want to go cut the grass with a pair of scissors instead.

But there’s really no need to be intimidated by the process of downsizing and de-cluttering.  It IS doable.  And more than that, it is actually fun.  And honestly, quite addicting once you get started.

In fact, the hardest part is getting started.  So here are a few rules to get you going quickly and easily.

1.  Work in small chunks, like a room (or part of a room) at a time.

While helping others de-clutter their junk, I see the same behavior time and time again – the urge to jump from one thing to the next, with no real order.  Doing this not only makes the process much harder than it needs to be, but it’s also a sure-fire way for you to become frustrated.  Fast.

Instead, be methodical about your de-cluttering process by attacking one room at a time.  Or if that is too overwhelming, one part of a room at a time.  If you want to start with your bedroom, then pick a section of it to start with – perhaps the closet or the bookshelf – and go through that.  But only that.  Don’t let a piece of clothing or a certain book remind you of something else in the living room and then suddenly find yourself going through your DVD’s five minutes later.  Stick to one area until you finish it.  Then, if you still have energy and time afterward, you can move on to the next area. 

But don’t try to do too much in one sitting either.  Particularly, when working through sentimental items.  Be sure you give yourself plenty of time to process any emotions that may come up with mementos, so you won’t later regret getting rid of them “in a hurry.”

2.  Find creative alternative purposes for must-keep items.

If you have an item that holds a lot of meaning for you (to the point that you don’t want to get rid of it), but it really doesn’t serve any purpose other than to hold a memory, try to think of an alternative way you can use it.  For instance, when I downsized, I had a wooden key rack that my mother used to have hanging in her foyer.  I got it when she passed away, but I didn’t really have space for something like that next to the door in my tiny house.  Part of me wanted to keep it though because it was hers.  So, I ended up having a friend paint it, add some hooks and switch out the mirror for some metal mesh, and voila!  It became a jewelry rack that I could actually use.

I’ve also seen other people use old fabrics or t-shirts that were sentimental to make a quilt or pillow covers.  They were still able to see the linens that meant something to them, but in a new, more purposeful way.

3.  It is NOT about usefulness.

This is always a “lightbulb” moment for my de-cluttering students and clients.  De-cluttering is NOT about determining the usefulness of an item.  Or at least, not in general.

There will be many, many items that you get rid of when you downsize that are indeed useful.  In fact, probably 99% of them will be!  But that does not mean you have to keep them.  For instance, if you have a camping stove and an outdoor lantern in your pile o’ clutter, of course, those items are useful.  They help you to make meals and find your way to the outhouse.  BUT… if you never actually go camping, then they are not useful to you.

This is why so many people get caught in the “Oh! This is neat!  I forgot I had this! What a great idea!” trap when going through their stuff.  Yes, you may have forgotten that you bought the little tool to get the centers out of strawberries.  But if you haven’t used it yet, you most likely won’t, even now that you remember you own it.

Don’t ask “Is this useful?”… ask “Do I actually use this?

4.  Make piles.

Now, I know this one might seem counter-productive at first glance.  You’re probably thinking, “Um… aren’t I supposed to be getting rid of the piles??”

Yes, indeed you are.  But as you are working your way through your clutter, it is helpful to organize everything into piles.  I’m sure you’ve heard of this before… “Keep”, “Donate” and “Throw Away.”  And just like it sounds, you put the piece of junk lovely item that you no longer need in the appropriate pile. 

But I like to take this a step further.  For example, when I went through my books.  I knew I obviously wasn’t going to be throwing any of them away and I wasn’t going to keep all of them.  But things got a little fuzzy when it came to what to keep and what to donate.  Mainly, because I had some books that I hadn’t read yet that I really, truly intended on reading (as well as some that were honestly going to just keep collecting dust).  So, I made my own little mini-piles within the “keep” and “donate” piles.  They were:

1) Keeping for good (books that I actually go back and re-read, as well as reference books that I use for work).
2) Keeping short-term until I read them and then donate.
3) Donating now because I know I will never get around to reading them.

Then I kept that pile #2 somewhere right where I would see them every day and became intentional (keyword here!) about making my way through the pile and reading them.  I also wasn’t “allowed” to buy any more until I finished the ones I had.

You can do this with other things too, but be careful… make sure you are only “short-terming” things that really need some more time and then be intentional about keeping them moving when their time comes.

5.  Don’t de-clutter when you’re emotional.

This might be a bigger rule for the ladies, but it applies to you guys too!  De-cluttering can already be an emotional process on its own.  So dragging in any other type of emotional baggage from your day is NOT a good idea. 

Do NOT try to go through your stuff when:

  • You’re mad at your spouse.
  • You’re mad at your kids.
  • You’re mad at yourself.
  • You’re depressed.
  • You’re stressed.
  • You’re lonely.
  • You miss someone who has passed.

You get the point.  Deciding what needs to go and what needs to stay when you’re in a heightened emotional state is like deciding a break-up is the best time to chop off 10” of your hair.  It might feel great in the moment, but later, you might find yourself regretting your hasty actions.

Try to go through your clutter when you’re in a good mood, or at least a neutral one.  Then, you will be more able to make clear decisions based on actual qualities like appropriateness and utility, not whether you hate the person that bought it.

Ready to start de-cluttering your home?  Grab my FREE 5-part “Jump Start Guide” right here for tons of information on downsizing and de-cluttering, PLUS clean eating, non-toxic products, emotional health and “bucket list living”!

Jenn Baxter is an accomplished writer in Charlotte, NC, who has been published in numerous print publications, as well as featured as a columnist on Beliefnet.com.  In 2015, she launched her website, Live a F.a.s.t. Life, based on her own experiences with clean living, emotional health and downsizing into a 160 sq. ft. tiny house, and released her first book, “Tiny Abundance:  My Journey to a Simple, Yet Fabulously Abundant Life in 160 Square Feet,” which is available on her website and Amazon.com.  She also helps others learn to clean up their homes, their bodies and their lives in her e-course collection, “De-Clutter, De-Tox, De-Stress.”


5 thoughts on “5 Rules to Make Your Downsizing and De-Cluttering Process Easier”

  1. I ‘inherited’ a variety of vintage pieces of clothing (2 great-grandmother’s dresses, grandmother’s bonnet, aunts ‘Sunday’ blouse, mother’s and later mother-in-law’s wedding dresses, plus my baby dress, 8th grade graduation dress, sister’s scarf, etc.) when we moved my mother into a nursing home. She asked that “I do ‘something’ with them.” After sitting in my cedar chest for 10 years I finally came up with a quilting project for it. The quilt pattern is called ‘Road To Kansas’ which fits this project very well as my great-grandmothers and grandmother came to Kansas from Germany. I also included the wedding dress my mother made for me as well as items of clothing from my children that I had saved + pieces of clothing from my grandchildren — so it covers 6 generations. I also added pieces of memorabilia (jewelry, dog tags, etc.) + wedding photos of those now gone to each frame. I made 8 of these ‘memory quilt’ wall hanging shadow boxes for myself, my 3 children & 2 grandchildren as well as my deceased sister’s 2 children. It brought forth many wonderful memories that I had forgotten, so I included those recollections in a family history page attached to the back of each frame. I found the 6 brass hearts that my father had given mother when he proposed that she had sewn into the hem of her wedding dress. I now have an empty cedar chest to gift to one of my granddaughters.

  2. While it certainly isn’t ideal, isn’t it often the case, such as in a breakup,w with illness,loss of all that is familiar, finances, security and the need to simplify and physically as well as mentally move on, that we must face the culling while mad at a partner, mad at oneself for decisions made, most certainly while depressed and stressed and lonely and missing the goodness that once was while recognizing the need to let go? These feelings can take much longer to ebb, years, even, than the time available and needed to liquidate and move on. It’s very hard, emotional, painful and eventually, freeing, at least to some extent, toward recovery.

  3. Loved this article, thanks for the “usefulness” tip in particular. Just an fyi, the link to free 5-part jump start guide does goes to a sale page for a book instead.


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