Moving to a smaller home and downsizing your belongings can be a liberating opportunity to decide what really matters to you and let go of anything unnecessary.
But choosing between your possessions isn’t always easy – and many of us will have experienced moments of stress or guilt about what to do with sentimental items.
The good news is there are many things you can do to ease the pressure and make the task of decluttering and simplifying your life that bit easier.
Below, we’ve put together five pragmatic tips to help you do just that.
1. Be prepared
If you’re planning to downsize your belongings before an upcoming move, it can be easy to procrastinate when you’ve already got a lot on your plate.
But it’s best to start as early as possible to avoid any unnecessary panic. You never know what unexpected or forgotten things might pop up in the process. Plus, finding new homes for items might take longer than you thought.
Make a plan
A good plan can make or break any big downsizing task, so you might find it helpful to write a list of which rooms you’ll tackle when, so you can get started quickly and confidently.
Splitting rooms up and labelling containers with the names of each area and the items in them can also give you a clearer idea of how much you can actually take to your new place and what you simply won’t have space for.
Another tip is to use labelled containers to keep the contents of things like bookshelves and wardrobes together – making unpacking easier when you arrive at your new home.
However, when it comes to planning, it’s worth remembering the words of former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, “Planning is essential, but plans are useless.” While a good plan can bring order to the downsizing and packing process, it can also be a source of stress if you stay too attached to it.
So, if something changes (for example, you might realise that you have less space to play with in your new home than you thought), it’s best to try to go with the flow and rework your plan to reflect that.
2. Decide what to part with
When it comes to choosing which items to get rid of, you’ll find that some decisions will be easier than others. While you’ll instinctively know whether you want to keep or get rid of some items, others may require a little more thought.
This is especially true for bigger, more permanent items like furniture – as it can often be tricky to picture life without them. So, if you’re stuck on whether you need something or not, here are a few things to keep in mind…
How much space will you have in your new place?
The first consideration when deciding what to keep and what to get rid of is how much space you’ll have in your new home. So it’s best to take specific measurements of the rooms.
You’ll likely have access to a floor plan, which you can use for this, but otherwise, it’s worth paying a visit to the property with a tape measure.
It’s also important to remember that even if a table or wardrobe could fit in your desired area, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be suitable. Be sure to allow for enough open space between furniture to prevent things from becoming too cramped.
An effective way to do this could be to print out a spare copy of a room’s floor plan and mark out each furniture item in pencil. This will help you visualise the furnished room before you start the moving process. Then, why not pay the house a visit with your new, edited floorplan and try to get a feel for the space using the modified floorplan as a guide?
For tips on measuring your furniture before a move, check out this article from Walkers Moving and Storage. And, for more advice on preparing for the moving day, you might want to have a read of our article; 4 tips for a stress-free house move.
Which items will fit your new lifestyle?
Even if you can fit all of your belongings into your new space, there’s little point in keeping anything around that you won’t be using.
Downsizing is a great opportunity to revamp and refresh your lifestyle – and it’s worth remembering this when choosing what to get rid of.
For example, you might find a minimalist style of interior design more satisfying in your new home. In this case, it could be helpful to clear out anything that may detract from this, such as ornaments and knick-knacks that would otherwise gather dust.
It’s also worth considering how you want to spend your time in your new place – is there anything you’re particularly excited to do, and will the items you take with you reflect that? Will your hobbies be the same, or will you adopt new ones? Is there anything that you’ll particularly miss about your old home that you could recreate in your new one?
A clear understanding of how you want to live your life in your new space can make it much easier to see which of your belongings are ideal candidates for decluttering.
For example, if you won’t be doing much gardening in your new home because you’ve swapped a garden for a balcony, you could probably part with two-thirds of your gardening tools – keeping only things like trowels, plant pots, and a watering can.
Or, if you’re moving somewhere very hilly where walking might feel like a better option than cycling, perhaps you could consider putting your bike up for sale and investing in a good pair of walking shoes instead.
3. Consider whether you can pass items on to others
Once you’ve found some items you’re happy to part with, you’ll need to decide what to do with them.
Here are a few things to consider…
Will family and friends actually want your things?
A first instinct for many when decluttering is to give away the things they can’t or no longer want to relatives and friends – especially items with sentimental value.
In many cases, children, grandchildren, and other relatives or friends will be happy to receive a piece of family history or a nice decorative item. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this won’t always be true.
For example, some items might not be suitable for children and grandchildren due to generational differences in living. The flats and houses of millennials and Generation Zs tend to be on the smaller side, so they might not have room for your old sewing set or that painting you’ve always liked.
Plus, as styles change, it can be difficult for decorative items to find a place in the more minimalist aesthetic of a modern home. This can be particularly true if you’re passing something down that you received from your own parents or grandparents.
Before giving away any item, consider what the recipient might get out of it. If you’re fortunate enough to have a friend or relative who already collects or appreciates the type of item you’re giving away, then gifting it to them may feel natural.
But if you’re unsure, try to think about giving away items that are either practical or valuable in some way. If you’re getting rid of something because it’s of little use or interest to you, it’s less likely to be of worth to someone else.
What items are valuable enough to sell?
It’s nice to make a profit from decluttering if we can and, in an ideal world, all our unwanted or unneeded items would earn us a small fortune. Though, in reality, that’s rarely the case.
Shows like Cash in the Attic and Antiques Roadshow can give us the alluring expectation of making a tidy profit from seemingly unremarkable knick-knacks or heirlooms. Although, the examples on these shows tend to be unusual.
Not everything we’ve kept around for a long time will necessarily have a high cash value. Many of the old heirlooms we hold onto, thinking they might eventually be worth something, are actually mass-produced. Unfortunately, unless you’ve got an item from a big-name maker hiding in a closet somewhere, you’re unlikely to be sitting on a fortune.
While it’s best not to get your hopes up, it’s always worth searching online to see whether an item is worth anything. Try to have jewellery and art pieces professionally appraised – you might be surprised at their value!
Other options for selling unwanted items include car boot sales and auction houses. Depending on what you have, setting up your own sale, or selling your items to an auctioneer, could be worth the trouble.
For everyday items, websites like eBay and Vinted – which allow you to list and sell your items directly – are an easy way to part with things while making a little money. And, for certain items like electronics, you might find it quicker and simpler to cash them in at exchange shops like CeX.
For more advice on how to turn a profit from your decluttering adventures, you might want to have a read of our article on the subject.
What can I give to charity?
There are plenty of charities around the UK that are always on the lookout for everyday household items.
If you’re struggling to unload a precious possession to a friend or relative, but think it could still be of worth to someone else, you might want to consider taking it to your local charity shop. Knowing that your unwanted belongings will find a good home can be a great relief if you’ve got a lot of stuff to sort through – not to mention the satisfaction of helping to raise money for your charity of choice.
If you decide to donate items to a charity shop, it’s worth signing up for Gift Aid. Gift Aid allows the charity to claim back tax on their profits from selling your items at no extra cost to you. You can find out how to sign up for Gift Aid on the British Heart Foundation website.
Organisations like soup kitchens, food banks, refuges, and theatre prop departments are other good places to donate unwanted items. You can find out what’s available in your local area online but always contact the organisation first to ask whether the items on your list would be suitable. Otherwise, you might be in for a wasted journey.
You can also use services like Get Rid of and Donate, which pick up your items and distribute them to those in need. To learn more and see if they can collect in your local area, you can visit the Get Rid of and Donate website.
Could someone in your local area be interested in your things?
Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to find someone in your local community who’s interested in items you can’t or no longer want to keep.
Websites like Freecycle allow you to offer and collect items for free (including furniture), and you can just as easily do the same on Facebook – either by joining local groups or setting up a (free) listing on Facebook Marketplace.
Could you digitise books, photos, and DVDs to save space?
Some of the most common things that make up a big part of the items we have lying around our homes are photos, books, and DVDs.
When it comes to photos, it’s worth asking yourself how important it is to you to keep physical copies of them. Depending on their size, digitising your photo collection can be a great way to save space. It can also make it easier to search through your collection, and you’ll be able to access them portably from your phone or tablet.
If you enjoy collecting beautiful albums of your memories with family and friends, the prospect of getting rid of your hard work might seem quite unappealing – but it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.
If you’ve got a lot of loose photos that aren’t displayed in frames or albums, why not digitise only those? This way, you don’t have to let go of your display collection, but you’ll save on the space taken up by the rest of your library. Plus, you’ll still be able to reprint any of your photos later if you want to display them.
If you want to digitise your photo collection, some services can do it for you. Vintage Photo Lab is a good choice, as they collect your photos from anywhere in the UK before returning them once they’ve scanned them.
You can also download apps like PhotoScan, which allow you to do the job yourself via your smartphone camera.
If you need to discard photos, there are multiple ways to go about it. From selling them as craft supplies to donating them to local museums, this article from Zero Waste Week has some great ideas to help you out.
As well as photos, many of us will have sizable collections of DVDs lying around, and these are another prime candidate for downsizing. Chances are, the majority of the films and series on your shelf are now available on streaming services that you may already subscribe to. So, unless you’re a collector, there’s no harm in parting with physical copies.
The same goes for books: if your collection is a little cluttered, why not replace some of them with digital copies on services like Kindle? You don’t need to have your own e-reader, as many Kindle books are now available via a web browser or smartphone app.
And, just like with photos, you don’t need to give away your whole media collection. Even if you part with the majority of your books and DVDs, there’s no reason you can’t hold on to some of your favourites.
If you can’t find a new home for your unwanted DVDs, you can easily trade them in for cash or store credit at exchanges such as CeX and Music Magpie. Or why not recycle them with the help of this guide from Recycle Now?
4. Decide how to dispose of unwanted items that you can’t pass on
Inevitably, you’re going to end up with some stuff you won’t be able to find a new home for.
Two of the most common items you’re likely to have trouble passing on are clothes and technology – both of which can be recycled.
You should be able to find clothing recycling bins in your local area, and you can use the handy search tool on the Recycle Now website to help you find one.
When it comes to unwanted electronics, it’s best to trade these in at exchange stores like CeX, which can often offer a discounted price for faulty items. CeX also has an online storefront on its website, as do other online services such as Music Magpie.
However, if you need to get rid of devices that are too far gone, you can follow government guidelines for disposal. Since electronic devices can leak toxic chemicals over time (which can damage the soil), they can’t be left in landfills.
You can find a guide to disposing of old electronic devices on the GOV.UK website.
5. Remember that downsizing can be an emotional experience
Downsizing and decluttering can be quite a big task, so it can be easy to forget about its emotional impact on us.
One common reason many of us end up with so many things is that we tend to attach sentimental value to items. You might not have found a place to display an old trophy from school, but that’s not really why you’ve kept it.
Having to part with our belongings can prompt some difficult decisions. You might have to decide between different objects with important emotional histories, and it’s not always as simple as hanging onto everything you want.
In these cases, one of the best things we can do is to pass an item on – especially if it’s a family treasure you inherited. Continuing its journey to a new relative or friend is the best way to give you a relieving sense of closure and peace of mind if you can’t hold onto it yourself.
But even if you can’t find someone you know personally to gift an heirloom, it’s better to see that it ends up in the hands of someone who’ll appreciate it, rather than throwing it away. This is especially true if you’re fortunate enough to get to know the recipient a little, as this will help to be safe in the knowledge that your beloved item is going to a good home.
Sometimes, though, we don’t have the option of keeping something or giving it to someone we care about. In these cases, it’s best to look deeper and ask yourself why the item is so important to you.
If it reminds you of someone you love – whether they’re still with you or not – chances are they’d prefer you to treasure the memories associated with it rather than stress yourself out over the object itself.
If you don’t want to keep an item, but you’d like to retain the memory of it, you could take a photo of it to look back on should you wish to. Many people find this to be a great comfort.
Downsizing can be tricky, but we hope some of our advice can help make the process a little bit easier.
For more downsizing tips, you might want to check out our articles; Five questions to ask yourself if you’re considering downsizing your home and How to declutter and reorganise your home.
And, if your house move is approaching, you might find our list of 4 tips for a stress-free house move helpful.
Have you had any interesting experiences with downsizing your belongings? Or do you have any tips of your own you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.