Last month we wrote Downsize your home and Build wealth. This month we’ll discuss how to declutter in order to be able to downsize.
The first place I started was by contacting downsizing expert, Monica Friel owner of Chaos to Order.
How much do you have to get rid of
Ms. Friel’s recommendation is to start by understanding how much you have to get rid of. If you are moving from 3,000 square feet to 1,000 square feet then you have to get rid of at least seven of every ten items (or more) depending on the size of the items. This does not include furniture.
Next thing to do is determine what you actually use. We have all heard the rule that if you haven’t used it or thought about it for a year get rid of it. This applies to everything including:
- Clothing. Go through your closets and examine item-by-item. Do you need 50 outfits, 30 pairs of shoes, 10 coats, etc.? What condition are some of these items in? Are there items you didn’t even know you had?
- Kitchen. Do you need 20 pots, six sheet trays, place settings for 24, etc.? Keeping this stuff around for the holidays doesn’t make sense. What do you need on a day-to-day basis?
- Books and magazines. Most books, newspapers and magazines can be accessed either online through the library or physically at the library. All the old investment, travel or other magazines you have accumulated are out-of-date anyway.
- Knickknacks, mementos. One suggestion about how to dispose of these types of items is to create a digital photo record and then get rid of them. You can look back at these items and remember them.
- Holiday decorations. Do you really need boxes and boxes of decorations for every holiday, Halloween, Easter, Christmas, etc.? As you get older you won’t want to (or shouldn’t be) climbing on your roof to put them up. If your kids are adults let them decide if they any of it. If they’re still young redact it down to as one small shoe box per child.
- Childhood memories such as report cards, artwork etc. If your kids are adults, let them decide if they any of it. If they’re still young, winnow it down to one small shoe box per child. When they finally receive it years later they probably won’t have any place to store boxes and boxes of their childhood memories.
Do you want to work extra years of your life to pay to keep things
I think the best way to motivate yourself to toss things is to ask yourself: Do I really want to pay a higher mortgage or rent every month for the rest of my life to keep things that I use once a year or that I never use at all?
Declutter one room at a time to see progress
As far as the mechanics of decluttering there are many different approaches but here’s one method:
- Start collecting empty boxes.
- Start in one room and create a toss, donate, re-gift and sell box.
- Throw out the first batch of items that day. If necessary acquire stickers from your town in order to dispose of extra items. Try to recycle what you can according to your local rules but otherwise toss it.
- Put the donate box in your car and drop it off as soon as possible to get it out of your house.
- If your friends and/or family want to take things then drive over to their homes and drop off the items as you go. If they live far away then you need to arrange to ship the items or for them to pick them up in a timely fashion.
- Create a location for the items you plan to sell.
- Schedule a garage sale and/or get the items listed on Ebay and/or Craigslist.
- Save all the money you make from selling the clutter.
- Move on to the next room.
This may seem harsh but if you don’t actually move stuff out of your home as you go you are more likely to repatriate it back into your home. And, per Chaos to Order, nothing should be put in storage. Once it’s out of sight it will just be another bill you are paying for stuff you will never use.
Don’t succumb to the “Antiques Roadshow syndrome.”
Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s worth anything or that it will ever be worth anything. I call this “Antiques Roadshow syndrome.” For every person who finds a Jackson Pollack in their attic there are millions of people who have nothing of value piled up all over their homes.
Just throw it out
Even if some things have some value if you are never going to have the garage sale or put them up on Ebay or Craigslist then just donate them to charity or throw them out. If you do not get these things out of your home you will never be able to downsize.
Be careful not to dump items onto charities. Charities spend millions of dollars annually disposing of garbage that they cannot sell. If the amount of stuff you have is overwhelming and you will not sell it and cannot donate it get a dumpster and spend a day throwing everything away.
Every month you procrastinate in getting rid of things prevents you from downsizing to a smaller home. If that is costing you $500 extra in rent or mortgage costs then it’s not worth it to wait to sell things where you will only get pennies on the dollar.
By the time you are getting rid of your furniture you should know where you’re moving to and what will fit in the new location. Measure repeatedly, there is no point in paying to move something that will not fit. Actually that can be a disaster. Additionally do not buy anything before you move. Even if it is a once in a lifetime sale do not buy any new furniture until after you have moved.
When you are disposing of your existing furniture keep in mind used furniture is almost always nearly worthless (See Antiques Roadshow syndrome). It doesn’t matter how much you paid for it originally, what brand it is or what condition it is in. Furniture is like cars and boats it depreciates instantly. The day you “drive” it out of the showroom it is worth a fraction of what you paid for it.
Save all the money you make from selling any excess furniture.
Hire a professional
If you cannot get the decluttering done yourself seek professional help. Experts like Chaos to Order charge $80 per hour. This may seem expensive but you should view it as an investment.
An expert can:
- expedite the process so you can declutter faster, move and start saving money sooner.
- can help get you started and/or keep you on track.
- can help you make decisions, organize a garage sale or hook you up with an Ebay seller.
- can get a photographer to take photos of your home as it was and create a Shutterfly or Cloud-based “memory book.”
What would you replace if you lost everything
While I was researching this article I was reading about the Hurricane Katrina recovery and it got me thinking: What would you replace if you lost everything? This might be a great way to approach your decluttering. Examine an item and decide whether you would really buy it again.
Chaos to Order doesn’t recommend buying books on how to declutter or downsize. They will just result in more clutter! You may want to check out this best seller The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up (from your local library). This book resulted in a phenomenon of increased donations to Chicago-area resale and charity shops by as much as 30% or more. I haven’t read it but whatever it’s preaching seems to have motivated people to dispose of their stuff.
Decluttering isn’t easy but it’s rewarding and not just financially
Where I live there are many people who have downsized from large suburban homes into condos that are 30% to 50% smaller than where they used to live. No one has ever told me that they wished they hadn’t done it. Not only do you save money but you have more time to enjoy your life because you have less things to take care of.
If you want to improve your life and Downsize you home and Build Wealth you need to:
- Collect empty boxes
- De-clutter all extraneous items room-by-room in order to make progress.
- Get rid of furniture.
- Assess your needs. Wait before you buy anything including furniture. You will not perish if you don’t have a couch or dining room set for a month or two.
- Use the funds you raised from selling the excess clutter and furniture as your budget to buy (preferably used) furniture and any other items you need and have some place to store.
- Now get out there and enjoy your new lower cost life.
For decades I have always employed a “nothing goes in unless something goes out” rule. That way you will always have the same number things and you will never find yourself with any excess stuff. A place for everything and everything in it’s place.
A couple months ago a friend was telling me about a family with several children who live in the smallest house in the neighborhood. What my friend found most appalling is how they “spend all this money taking trips and going to water parks and camping etc. when they live in the smallest house in the neighborhood!”
My response was: By not living in a giant house with a giant mortgage they can actually afford to live and enjoy their lives by going out and doing things instead of paying for a home that’s bigger than they need. They’re the smartest people in the neighborhood. I would also bet that they have more money in the bank than their neighbors in the giant houses.
So prepare for people to not understand your motivation for downsizing. You are going against the tide. Ignore people who say “I could never live in something so small” or “A bigger home is a good investment” or whatever they say. Just toss your stuff and prepare to live a whole new and much more enjoyable way of life. And welcome to the club.
Helpful books on decluttering
- “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter,” by Margareta Magnusson. This new book is focused on decluttering toward the end of life, but the techniques can (and should) be used at any age.
- “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” by Marie Kondo. Kondo advocates organizing by category rather than by room. And, she says, by organizing your space, you also create a more serene, less frenetic life.
- “Organizing From the Inside Out,” by Julie Morgenstern. This book, first published more than 20 years ago, has been updated for the modern age with some tips on technology.