Tips on Efficiently Downsizing and Decluttering

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Whether you’re moving to an assisted living residence, retirement community or just to a smaller condo, downsizing can be a daunting and overwhelming process. One of the most difficult aspects is deciding what to bring with you to your new home, but with proper planning and organization, it can be a manageable process. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to organizing your belongings.

Start Organizing Early

Downsizing is not something that can be completed in just a day. Unless you leave everything behind, it requires time and effort to sort through your belongings and determine what is important enough to bring with you to your new living space.

From furniture to the contents of drawers and shelves, there is a lot to consider. To ensure that the process is manageable, it's best to start several months in advance and break it down into smaller, manageable chunks of time, such as two or three hours at a time. This will help prevent physical or mental exhaustion.

Sorting and Organizing

When it comes to downsizing, there are a couple approaches for sorting through your belongings. Some recommend starting with one room at a time, while others suggest organizing by category, such as books, papers, clothing etc. Determine which method will be easier for you to manage, and then create four piles for each category or room: Keep, Donate, Trash, and Sell. This will help you make informed decisions about what to take with you to your new living space and what to let go of.

Adopt a clear labelling system for your items. For smaller items you can use physical boxes, while for larger ones a colour-coded sticky notes or label system is useful. Keep things as clear as possible so you know which decision has been made for each item.


These are items that you will actually use and enjoy in your new living space. Consider how often you use certain items and whether they will actively enhance your life. For example, if you rarely use your fancy crystal glasses, or never use the lamp in the corner, it’s probably not worth taking with you. Focus on what will add value to your home.


This should be items that are still in good condition and can be of use to others. You can separate this pile into two parts, one for thrift shops and one for family and friends, to make the process of letting go of your belongings less stressful. Knowing that your items will be going to a new home where they will be appreciated and loved can help make things easier.


Items that are considered no longer usable or are in poor condition. These items should be disposed of properly, such as at a landfill. This pile should be the smallest, as most items can be repurposed or donated in some way. If items are not in good condition but still have some use, consider advertising them on sites like Craigslist, UsedVictoria, or Facebook Marketplace. Be transparent about the condition of the item and someone may still be interested in using it for parts or fixing it up. Even items such as old bedding and towels can be repurposed, such as for use in animal shelters or as cleaning rags.


Items that are still in good condition but are no longer needed can be sold for some extra cash. Consider taking these items to a pawn shop or using online platforms such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace to sell them. If selling online is confusing or stressful, consider enlisting the help of family members or friends and offer them a percentage of the proceeds.

Avoid creating a "Maybe" pile, as this can extend the process and increase feelings of stress and overwhelm. Instead, make a clear (and sometimes even ruthless) decision for each item and determine whether it belongs in the "Keep", "Donate", or "Trash" pile. Being decisive and focusing on what you will actually use in your new living space can make the whole process more manageable.

Sentimental Items and Gifts

While organizing you’ll certainly have items that hold sentimental value, such as trip souvenirs, handmade items, or a child’s artwork. Although these are not “practical” or “useful” they can be difficult to part with due to their emotional significance. It can feel like abandoning memories or letting go of items connected to our identities and our past. So it’s helpful to reframe it in a different way.

Notable organizer Marie Kondo's approach to letting go of gifts is to remember the purpose of a gift is to be received. It represents the feelings of the giver. Once that purpose has been fulfilled, you can part with the gift without guilt. Note you are not losing the connection to the person, the affection from that person, or the love that person has for you, but simply the physical item.

If you can’t just part with the item, one option for “keeping” it in a way is to take a picture of it. This allows you to keep the memories while freeing up physical space, as a photo album takes up less space than a shelf full of items.

Remember to be gentle and kind to yourself during the downsizing process as it can be emotionally and mentally draining. Rely on the support of loved ones and break the tasks into manageable segments. The ultimate aim is to create a more comfortable living space in your new home, so focus on bringing what will contribute to that goal.