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Downsizing Your Home




The great comedian George Carlin had this routine about owning stuff. He said, “… [E]verybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there. That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time…A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”

We, as people, have more stuff than any people have ever had before. Remember the old bumper sticker that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins?” Well, sadly, now we all seem to be drowning in our own excess toys. Just about everywhere there are blogs, youtube videos, podcasts and books telling you how to organize your stuff. But, in reality, you can’t organize tons of stuff and never have tons of clutter. Stuff just doesn’t like to stay in place when there is lots of it. Sometimes you just have to say good-bye to some of it. And thank what you got rid of for giving you pleasure as long as it did.

Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru, has a philosophy that you should only own as much as fits neatly in the space you have. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to take a look at your home and decide if it is time to do a bit of pruning. Today, downsizing is not just for those who are retired or retiring. You see, stuff is physically and emotionally draining. People are opting to do more with less. 

Average home sizes peaked a few years ago at about 2,200 square feet. Smaller homes are a choice for many wishing to put their money into activities instead of things. Or, sometimes, it is time to become more minimalist to spend less time cleaning and maintaining. Then there are those who know it is time to move out of their large homes into a smaller space for their wellbeing. Whatever your reason for considering purging some of your stuff, be it downsizing, or minimizing, here are a few tips and tricks that can help. 

Pull It All Out of Storage, Closets, Drawers, Etc.

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo talks about pulling everything, and she means everything, out of your drawers, closets, storage facilities and attics so you can look at every item. Her argument is that when we clean room by room, we do not have a realistic concept of everything we own. Research backs this up. 

Kondo suggests sorting by categories, from clothing, which has less sentimental value and ending the process with those items that have emotional ties. When you pull out every single shirt that you own regardless of the season into a big pile in the middle of your living room, you get a true sense of volume. Until quantity becomes a reality, it is very easy to push things back into the back of the closet.

Every expert in the field of organizing and tidying will tell you that items in the back of a closet are quickly forgotten and are seldom seen again. The same can be said of attics. With the possible exception of Christmas decorations. Well, even those can run amuck, actually. 

Touch Each Item

Let’s start with one category. You have an extensive collection of music on CDs that you have acquired over time, 75% of which you have not listened to in years. Heck, you’ve probably downloaded your favorite tunes to your cell phone or computer (or your grandkids did it for you). Time to cut the cord.

It is easy to look at a stack of CDs (or books or plates) and decide to keep them, but do you really want them? Do you really need them? Really? While it sounds silly, Kondo has another trick that works. Touch every single item you are sorting through and ask, “Does this item make me happy?” or “Do I need it for a specific reason?” If it doesn’t bring you joy and you don’t need it for something, like taxes or cleaning up the house, get rid of it. Those one hit wonders’ albums from the 1980s can go away, you probably have the big song on a collection anyway. And if you don’t boogie and night life any more, let those go, too. 

When the question of ‘should’ arises, as in “I should keep this because great aunt whatever gave it to me, but I have never really liked it.” Let it go. It may be a treasure to someone else. Sell it or donate it. 

If the Drawer is Full,  Something’s Gotta Go
When you open a drawer and jack-in-the-box is a sock popping out because it is over-stuffed, that is time to let things go. Anything you haven’t worn in the last year needs to go, as do items that no longer fit, or never fit, or have never been mended. If it, whatever the item is, doesn’t make you feel good, or have a purpose, say ciao!

This is not to say that you have to give away your old letter jacket, or that set of bongo drums you won for dancing the twist when you were five. If it would break your heart to let it go, don’t. But limit how much you keep. Say, “I will allow myself to keep five 20-gallon plastic storage bins of mementos,” then stick to it. 

When you are done, everything you own should fit in the storage you have and be easily retrievable. 

If You Buy Something, Something Has to Go

One way to keep the seams from bursting out of your “whatever drawer” is to make sure that you get rid of one “thing” if you buy another. When you buy something new, donate a similar item that you no longer use – like a coat or a sweater. Or a closet full of unused brand-new towels you bought because they were on sale. Or a toy. This is the time to get rid of some of those ‘toys’ you collected to win the game. 

Out of ‘Site’, Means You Will Never Use It Again

Why did I use the word ‘site’? Because off-site storage usage has exploded. In the 1960s, public storage was unheard of, yet it blew-up in the 1990s and has been growing ever since. On average, the cost of a 10 x 10-foot storage facility is $2,000 per year and average rental time is 15 months, according to an article on Slate.com. 

Once something goes into storage, it rarely comes out. So, if you are downsizing, it might be a good idea to downsize that storage unit you’ve been renting. Put the rental money and the money you make from selling your unused stuff into travel or maybe home improvements. Have a big yard sale and say hasta la vista, baby to the entire unit of stuff. 

Start Three Piles 

Items you no longer love or need should be placed into three piles: donate, sell and trash. If an item is broken, damaged, or stained badly, throw it away. Do not give anything to a charity that really needs to be thrown out. 

An exception is charities that sell clothing and other fabric items to be remade into rag rugs by fair trade collectives overseas. The selling charity gets income to continue their mission and the collectives also gain. There are also new charities popping up that are taking damaged decor or art supplies and finding sustainable ways to use them. Most of all, give to charities that have missions you believe in.

There are lots of great online sites where you can sell all that extra stuff and use the money to have a family adventure. Be aware, however, that values on vintage items are always changing. Collectables made by Lladro and Royal Dalton that sold for hundreds of dollars once upon a time, now command a fraction of what they did. Silver, china, armoires and large furniture pieces – both Victorian and more modern – are of little interest to today’s buyers. While just about anything Mid-Century anything is hot, hot, HOT! 

Do Not Reconsider

Once you have put an item into a box to get rid of, do not reconsider. Trust me, you won’t miss it. Move them out right away. 

When the Box is Full, Tape It Shut
Just to make sure you don’t take something back, seal the box; especially those who have a tendency to hold on to things because they “might be useful later.” Research says that more and more of us are over collecting stuff. There are always others who can put those items you don’t want to good use. Besides, it is good for the environment to buy used instead of new. Your old things will make great statement pieces in someone else’s home. 

Challenge Yourself

Downsizing is time consuming. It cannot be done overnight – although there are businesses that can help couples downsize a large home (say 5,000 square feet) to an independent living apartment (say 1,200 square feet) in a week. However, it is best to set aside six months to a year. Once you get going, you will keep purging because it feels so good.

Kathi Lipp, who wrote the book Clutter Free, suggests taking the 2,000-item challenge. It is a fun way to get into downsizing. The concept is to purge 2,000 items out of your home in one year. Or 3,000. She has a whole system to get competitors started. Her system can be found at focusonthefamily.com. There is a 2000 Things Challenge pdf to download on the site. Just nine more months to win the challenge, get going! 

Have a Place for Everything
Once you have gone through every item in the house and whittled them down to what you love and/or need, find a place for each thing. As you choose where you are going to put things, think about how you use them. For example, when you walk in the door, do you have a place where you put your keys? Think about the space you have. If you are moving into a smaller place, then you will need less. Often LOTS less. 

Pre-planning where everything is going to go before you move will help with making choices. 

Put Treasures on Display
When you pull everything out of the closet, you find old treasures you really love that you forgot about, as well as those things you will really never use again. Find a way to display your treasures. They aren’t doing any good in the closet. 

Keep Everything in Its Place

One way to keep a lid on your things is to keep everything in its place and return it to its place after each use. It also makes keeping the house tidy much easier. 

Make a plan of what you want to occur in each room of your new or reimagined space, then pull the items you need together for that space. Think in terms of the functions of the room. Set up zones for each function. Keep like items together. 

Positive Results

In the end, your new or reimagined space will be a blend of items that tell your life story. You will end up with a less cluttered home that has more positive energy. You will find you have more time to do what you love to do versus what you have to do to keep up with all of your stuff. After all, as Carlin says, “That’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff.” Hopefully, not.

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