Downsizing a lifetime of stuff without the stress

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Downsizing is the process of purging items you no longer want or need so that you have less stuff. There’s no denying it’s a big process that takes time and effort, requiring you to look at the emotional value of what you’ve acquired over many years.

“Downsizing is a ginormous task — an incredibly hard and exhausting task when you have a house full of stuff,” Chan Kavka-Ross, founder and chief organizer at TIDY told the AJC.

Going into it with the right attitude, however, can make a big difference.

“The best thing to do is be realistic. You’re not going to need everything, and even though it’s emotional to let go, it’s going to be liberating too,” Realtor Renee Bissell told the AJC.

Here’s how to clear away what’s been piling up for years, leaving you with the items that matter.

Chan Kavka-Ross and her team at TIDY begin sorting kitchen items, wrapping up keepers.

Credit: Courtesy of Chan Kavka-Ross

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Credit: Courtesy of Chan Kavka-Ross

Start when you’re ready

If a move is in your future, Bissell recommends starting to downsize at least 3-4 months ahead of time. This allows you the ability to move slowly and think about what you’re not going to take with you.

“A shorter time crunch can be more stressful,” Bissell said.

If you’re not working toward a deadline, you can still downsize and the process can be less emotionally taxing.

“The best time to downsize is when it’s your choice, not when it’s something you have to do,” Kavka-Ross said.

Do what’s easy first

Looking around your home, you may automatically see items you know can go — and ones that you can’t live without. Tackle the keepers first.

“Go through what you absolutely cannot live without, starting with pieces of furniture,” Bissell said.

As you decide what you have to keep, make sure to set it aside so it’s out of the way.

Next, separate what you can throw away, give away, sell or donate. Once that’s done, you’re left with the items you’re not entirely sure about.

“Leave the hard decisions for last. Decision fatigue is a real thing and you don’t want to get burnt out too soon,” Kavka-Ross said.

If it takes more than a few seconds to decide the fate of an item, set it aside and revisit it last. Kavka-Ross says doing so will give you a little more mental clarity when it comes to this big decision.

Go room by room

Both Bissell and Kavka-Ross suggest that to downsize efficiently, you should only do one room at a time, and never take anything from one room to another.

“Don’t take something out of a room and jump around. It will overwhelm you and put you at risk of not finishing the space you started in,” Bissell said. “Leave what you’re keeping in the rooms and make piles of stuff to go in the garage or a separate space.”

Bissell makes it easy to identify what items belong in what pile with color-coded sticky notes. One color is for what to absolutely keep, another is for what you’d like to keep, and the third is for items you don’t need.

Do a first pass and tag everything. According to Bissell, you’ll most likely have to go through your piles multiple times to figure out what you truly want.

Let go of what you can

It’s hard to let go of items that have an emotional hold on us even if the stage of life where those items mattered has passed.

To remedy this, Bissell suggested downsizing in short bursts over a longer time to reduce the emotional strain and the risk of feeling overwhelmed.

“There’s a happy medium of holding on and letting things go,” Kavka-Ross said.

Get your kids involved

Downsizing is never something you have to do alone.

“Bringing in someone who’s an outsider at some point is very important. They can make it easier to get rid of items without guilt,” Bissell said.

Both Bissell and Kavka-Ross suggest inviting your grown children to help with the process. They should decide the fate of their stuff, even if they haven’t lived at home for a while.

“It’s their responsibility to decide what to do with it. They don’t have to remove it, but need to take responsibility,” Kavka-Ross said.

Asking your adult kids to triage their belongings allows you to get rid of items that aren’t in any way nostalgic for you — and maybe even get your children to take their things and some of your giveaway items home with them.

Even beyond getting your kids involved in the process, it’s OK to ask for help.

According to Kavka-Ross, “If you need help, and it’s overwhelming, it’s not you; everyone will have to go through this. Ask for help whether it’s family, friends or a service.”