A few years ago I sold my large four-bedroom home and moved into a cute but significantly smaller cottage by the sea. Downsizing had to be done, and within the two-month closing date. Yikes!
Needless to say, going through the mounds of stuff that I had accumulated over the 24 years of living there was seriously daunting. But I am here to say that the benefits of having a more manageable living space has freed up loads of “internal” energy, giving me more time and money for the things that I really love.
Whether you are moving into a smaller bedroom, a smaller home or condo, or live in a petite space, here are some tips for organizing and/or downsizing your life to make your cozier space work wonderfully for you.
15 Tips for Downsizing your Living Space
1. Make sure what you keep is really something you can’t live without. Is everything you own worthy of a space in your home or office? Is it useful – like a toaster, or a shredder, or a great pair of shoes? Is it something that you find beautiful or inspiring – something you love? Or is it something with great sentimental value – one of a selected number of things you keep because of the sentiment? If it’s not any of these things, then perhaps it’s something that you can part with, and let it go to another home.
Surround yourself with things that make your heart sing, or make your life easier. Just OK is not OK!
2. If there’s something you use very infrequently, do you need to own it? Could you borrow it or rent it when you need it?
I now borrow the extra chairs for entertaining from a friendly neighbor who stores mounds of them in her garage.
3. You can limit the amount of space you’re willing to give to any type of item: Only the books that fit on the bookshelf, only the toys that fit in the bins, only the greeting cards that fit in the box you designate for that kind of memorabilia.
4. Regarding the sentimental stuff: Sometimes it works to take a picture of an item, and let the original go. Keeping antique furniture that does not fit your decor, style or taste for sentimental value will always stick out like a sore thumb. If no other family member is interested, keep the picture of it and donate to a good cause.
5. For children’s art projects and schoolwork: Be selective in what you keep, or this stuff can overrun even a large space. Your children may have opinions on what they want to keep, too. In general, keep the essay about “My Family” – but maybe not the ones about less personal topics. Keep a few wonderful original drawings, but perhaps not the ones where your child colored in a form.
6. Make use of all the space you have. Sometimes that means adding a shelf to a cabinet, so the space can be used better. Sometimes that means putting artwork on the inside of cabinet doors and/or using the walls, adding hooks and jewelry hangers.
7. Pick your storage containers wisely. Square or rectangular pieces make better use of limited space than do round containers. Wicker baskets are attractive storage containers that can be slipped under things and stacked on shelves. Cubes can double as storage, extra seating and as a coffee table.
8. Keep the clutter from ever entering your new space. Register to receive less at dmachoice.org or optoutprescreen.com and catalogchoice.org. Stop taking free samples of products you don’t really want. Turn down freebies at fairs, conferences, hotels and parties and donate that hodgepodge of toiletries you have accumulated to a shelter where they can really use them. (See my article on The Anatomy of Clutter)
9. You may not have room to be a Costco shopper. If you don’t have room to easily store large quantities of products, limit how much you buy and bring your own containers to recycle and reuse. (See my article on Creating a Zero Waste Home) But do make sure you have emergency supplies: sufficient water, appropriate food items, etc.
10. Make sure all furniture serves a multi-function. You may only have room for one table, which may have to double as a coffee table, task table, office workspace and meals table. Find a desk that can be closed up at night to disguise work if it is out in the middle of your living space. Find a hall organizer to put at the front door with specific bins to collect keys, bags, coats and shoes. Sofas and chairs should also be convertible to sleeper beds if you no longer have a guest room.
11. Limit your collections. I love crystals and previously had room to display all of these wonderful gems, but not in my cute little cottage. So I boxed them up and tucked them safely under the bed where I can get to them easily. I just display a handful and rotate them out every few weeks. I can still enjoy them but this way I really see them because the display always looks fresh and interesting.
13. Be merciless with the clothes you keep. When our space is limited we need to be very selective with clothes accumulation. We will often need to use part of the closets for stackable organizer bins. Nix the skinny clothes you are keeping for when you lose that 10 pounds! Give yourself a limit, such as 6 pants, 12 blouses, 10 dresses, X shoes, and try to stick to it. When you want to bring in something new, out goes one in the same category.
15. Bathrooms should have only what you use each day. In my small bathroom I have one wicker basket I pull out for all makeup, another one for all hair appliances and a drawer for brushes, combs and other essentials. I pull them out when using them and store in my one small cabinet the rest of the time. I know what I like, so I only buy what I need and resist taking samples. (See my article on Feng Shui for Bathrooms)
Having been a major collector of stuff in the past, I now apply the six month rule; if I haven’t used it in the past six months, out it goes. The greatest transformation for me is that I now relish deep-sixing those un-useful items. I am like the Queen of Hearts….”off with their heads!”
The benefit of downsizing is that I can no longer be the un-conscious consumer that I used to be. I keep it simple and spend far less time managing and cleaning all of the stuff in my life. This frees up time, money and energy to do the things that I truly love. I now travel more, go to the opera more and spend oodles more time doing what I love the most: walking on the beach!
Having to make tough choices about what was truly necessary and/or important to me in the material realm, gave me clarity about the extra baggage I was also carrying in terms of the relationships in my life. Now that I think about it, they seem to have magically fallen away along with the excess stuff!