Downsizing Tips for Moving to a Smaller Space

Mar 19, 2024 / Kastle Waserman

The process of downsizing your home can be an exciting but intimidating one. Whether you’re moving to a new area with smaller houses, retiring, becoming an empty nester, or simply embracing a more minimalist lifestyle, downsizing is one of those life transitions that can take some adjustment.

As with most things, proper preparation can go a long way to making the process more streamlined, faster and more rewarding. It’s a daunting task, deciding what to keep, what to toss and dealing with all of the emotions along the way, but our expert downsizing tips can help.

What to Do First When Downsizing?

woman holding public storage moving boxes while moving out of her home

The first step in downsizing your place is knowing exactly how much space you’ll have to work with in your new space. While this may sound obvious, it’s important to note that even two homes of equal size may not be created equally, so when it comes to downsizing, you’ll want to know what you’re working with as precisely as possible.

For example, if your current home has multiple bedrooms and you’ll be downsizing to a single bedroom, it’s probably a good idea to start by getting rid of those bed frames, dressers, bedside tables and the like.

If you’re losing an office area, garage or dining room, think about the items you currently own that may be able to pull double-duty, and visualize which items will be out of place or in the way when you don’t have those specialty areas.

Janet Hulstrand and Linda Hetzer are two friends who collaborated on a downsizing book after they had similar experiences moving their fathers into significantly smaller living spaces.

Janet and Linda learned that at the root of downsizing is the difficulty of change.

“No one really wants to leave their home, although that is sometimes the best decision,” said Linda.

They wished there had been a book to guide them, so when it was all over, they researched and wrote one. The result, “Moving On,” is now available online.

Linda and Janet say the biggest questions someone should ask when considering a move from a large living space to a small one are:

  • Do I/we really need this much space anymore?
  • Are we really using it?
  • Is the burden of taking care of this place beginning to compromise the joy I/we used to feel in living here?
  • Would a smaller place fit our current lifestyle better?
  • Would the money it saves make it easier to travel, or do other things we enjoy?”

What Do You Throw Away When Downsizing?

couple using Public Storage moving boxes to help them downsize items in their apartment

The crux of downsizing lies in categorizing and discarding material possessions that have been accumulated over the years.

“Getting rid of our possessions is a difficult task for everyone, but especially for people who appreciate the memories that are entwined with the possessions,” said Linda.

“We have found that acknowledging the emotions, and then accepting that we no longer need the item is helpful. We started using the phrase, ‘keeping the memories, getting rid of the stuff.’”

Linda said the best way to approach downsizing is to take baby steps.

“We all have to edit our possessions continually to keep our closets from overflowing, our bookshelves from toppling, and our papers from overtaking our homes. However, when the time comes for a more complete downsizing, it can be accomplished in much the same way, one small step at a time.”

If downsizing your home means a change in lifestyle, taking into account how you’ll be living can be a helpful guide to what you need to jettison.

“For example, maybe you had a big family and extra dishes for entertaining,” says professional organizer Tina Staffon. “Now you’re not going to, so don’t hold on to that 12-piece dish set. It’s really about being honest with yourself and asking, ‘Do I really want this in my new place? Are you going to have room? Are you going to use it?’”

How to Downsize a Home?

smiling woman and man behind her both holding public storage moving boxes as they downsize home

If you’re struggling to say goodbye to photo albums and videos, Christine Stoeber of Los Angeles-based Golden Spaces Organization & Management recommends going digital to “help save space and properly preserve your memories.”

Downsizing is not the time to go into procrastination hibernation. The key to effective organization is starting early and going at a reasonable pace so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

As far as getting started, the when can often be more important than the where. Kayla Spiroff, Christine’s partner at Golden Spaces, says that the most important thing is to “just start—big or small! Pick an area of your home and just start putting things into categories. Likes with likes.”

For example, gather all the pens together, all the craft supplies together, and all the exercise equipment together and put them into piles.

“When we see our belongings in one spot rather than spread out throughout the house we tend to notice how much excess we have, which helps us to let go of things easier,” Kayla said.

Kayla and Christine also recommend starting early so that you can have that extra time with sentimental items that are more difficult to part with.

Whether you’re retiring, downsizing to save money, or going through another life transition (van life, anyone?), downsizing becomes much faster (and more painless) when you have a crew to help.

For anyone whose downsizing involves moving in with said family, check out our tips on how to keep a multigenerational home harmonious.

How Can A Storage Unit Help?

a young woman in a storage unit to help her downsize her life

For many people, moving can present an opportunity to buy new things to embrace a fresh start and make the new place feel like home.

Of course, your smaller space will likely have new needs, like a more compact couch or smaller storage systems, but selling, or storing the equivalent items you already own can help make way for the new without creating too much clutter.

That’s where a storage space can come in handy, Janet adds.

“Renting a storage space can help defer some of those decisions, and give people the time they need to figure out what to keep, what to give away or sell, who takes what, and so on, so they don’t end up with any regrets.”

They also stress keeping in mind the benefits of going into a smaller living space.

“It costs less; you can enjoy all the space, not just certain rooms. You are less likely to let clutter accumulate,” says Linda. “It’s cozier and helps bring people together. It’s kinder to the environment. And it’s easier to clean!”

Downsizing one’s home may initially seem like an enormous task, but with the right mindset and strategy, it can be transformed into a rewarding journey of self-discovery and liberation from material clutter. For more insightful tips, you can visit Janet and Linda’s blog, Downsizing the Home, Lessons Learned.

Additional reporting by Laura Bolt

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