Overcoming the Overwhelm of Downsizing

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By Katherine Gotthardt

If you have ever looked around your house and wondered how you have managed to collect so much stuff, you are not alone. Especially if you have lived in your home for a while, you might have noticed your belongings have started to stockpile. Multiply that by the number of people who live with you and you can easily see how furniture, small appliances, gadgets, knick-knacks, tools and trinkets managed to take over your living space.

While you may have adapted (filling your garage, attic or basement in the process), when it comes time to downsize, you might not know where to start or how to get the job done. No matter what your reason for downsizing, you need a method that matches your goals, one that doesn’t leave you with a sense of loss. Taking the following steps can help you downsize, whether you are moving or simply trying to clean up.

Commit and Plan

For this initial action — making the commitment — you might want to include your family or other people who live in your home. Make a formal, written promise to yourself that you will dedicate the time and energy needed to complete this process according to a schedule and that you will not bring new items (other than necessities) into your home as you’re downsizing. This is difficult for some people, so you may need to do something like create a contract with yourself or put the promise where you can see it every day so you remember what you are trying to accomplish and why.

Next, it’s time to set the deadline. Many people put off downsizing until just before they decide to transition to a new home. This is a common mistake that not only adds to the stress of selling and buying, it results in poor decision making. In a panic, some discard too much. Sentimental pieces get tossed in the trash, and necessities land in the donation bin. Opposite of that, some people box everything and put it into costly storage so they can decide later what to do with belongings that don’t fit. Still others bring the extras with them when they move, cluttering up the new place.

Planning ahead can help prevent these scenarios. How far ahead? Depending on the size of your home, your life circumstances, your goal and how much you have accumulated, your deadline could be up to a year out (rarely more than that, or you could fall into procrastinating). Set a start date months ahead of your deadline and stick to it.

Take Inventory and Make Decisions

Now that you have made the time to downsize, you can create a list of your belongings. Take a room-by-room, objective inventory. Be as detailed as possible. What do you actually have? Three spatulas? Sixty-three unread books? Write that down. As you inventory, try not to attach emotions to the items. Simply write down what you have. Then step away from the process for two to three days.

When you come back to the project, it’s decision-making time. First set a deadline a few days to a few weeks out, based on the size of your list. Then, examine each item you have inventoried. Do not look at the items themselves because it is too distracting and too easy to make emotional decisions when the item is in
front of you. Using only the list, ask yourself what you will keep, what you will throw away and what you can donate. Spend a few days considering your decision before throwing away that crockpot. Give it a bit before deciding whether to donate it to charity. You don’t want to end up having to buy a new one because you gave the old one away too hastily.

If you are having difficulty making objective decisions, ask a friend to help. Come up with ideas for distributing your excess belongings so you can feel good about the choices you have made. Next to each item on the list, note your decision, marking it with a D (donate), T (trash) or K (keep).

Donate and Trash

List in hand, go through each item and take the action you decided on. Give yourself permission to do this rapidly so you don’t overthink this part of the process. Pack up your donations and deliver them or schedule a pickup right away. Bag trash and recycling and get it out as soon as possible.

If you discover you still have too much remaining in the house, it could be you missed items when you conducted your inventory. Revise the list. Add items you overlooked the first time and repeat the decision-making process using only the revised list. If you still have too much, revisit the remaining items to see if
there are things you can part with in creative, satisfying ways.

Downsizing is not an easy task, as most people will tell you. But by being methodical, you can get it done in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling exhausted, stressed or deprived. Give yourself time, make the plan and then work the plan. You will be happier with the results and better prepared to make your next transition.

Director of Content Marketing for Prince William Living, Katherine Gotthardt (kgotthardt@princewilliamliving.com) is an award-winning writer, poet and author, as well as president
of Write by the Rails, the Prince William chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Learn about her work at KatherineGotthardt.com.

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