Tips for consolidating your belongings when you downsize

Moving to a Smaller House

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From 2000 to 980 Square Feet

I will be downsizing from a three bed room house 2000 Sq. Ft to a 2 bed room apartment 980 Sq. Ft in Oct. due to a job change. Any advice on how to consolidate and make everything fit?
Ronald B.

Simply Beautiful

My husband, our little boy, a dog and myself all live in a home that is less than a thousand square feet also. We used to live in a 3-bed home with screened-in porch and huge attic.

I found that my cluttered way of decorating wasn't nearly as pretty as I thought when I began to do this house. I use big mirrors on the wall instead of paintings, use glass and crystal from garage sales as my "pretties". Then I can change the colors of my rooms simply by putting dried or plastic flowers in those clear holders or candy, etc. Also, paint your walls light colors. I painted our bedroom in mint green on three walls and white on the fourth. You won't believe how huge it makes your room seem. I also found that by painting my kitchen light yellow and the halls that connect to it white, it makes the kitchen look bigger too. One last tip, using sheer curtains made of taffeta and simply draping them across the tops of window blinds makes the room look brighter. (No sewing, no ironing) Remember that in a small space very simple decorating can look incredibly attractive.
Shelby W

Our Experience

We recently moved from a 2000 sq ft, 5 bedroom house with 2-car garage to a small apartment sans garage. Here are some ideas:

  1. Get rid of anything you don't absolutely need: extra clothes, anything you have two of, appliances you never use, etc.
  2. Consolidate everything else: if you have two shampoo bottles, combine.
  3. To create storage after we moved, I cut the moving boxes short enough to slide under the beds and put linens and other things in them.
  4. If you don't have a hideabed for guests, use an air mattress which packs up very small when deflated.
  5. Use small furniture if possible, which will create a "roomy" feeling.
  6. If you are into recycling, set up a "recycling center" in a closet, pantry or utility room by hanging labled garbage bags on the wall.
  7. If the bedroom is large enough, place the headboard at an angle to one corner of the room - this is not only very "chic" but creates a storage area behind the headboard, perfect for Christmas storage!

Laura M.

Dual Purpose

Think dual purpose. A sofa sleeper or futon instead of bed and couch. Tables with leaves and furniture with casters that can be moved around out of the way when not in use. Furniture with skirts so you can store things under them out of sight. Consider furniture and decorations that also store things. Like old trunks for coffee tables, vintage suitcases stacked, old tins and lidded baskets.

Being really organized makes the best use of your space. Make sure you keep only what you must have for your physical and emotional comfort. Sell or donate everything else of value or use.

Keeping visual clutter to a minimum helps spaces look bigger. Closed cabinet doors look neater than open shelving. Perhaps you can sell or trade some furniture you have and get things that better suit your new place.

Related: Is Downsizing In Retirement Right for You?

Passing the Test

My husband and I had to do the same thing just a couple of months ago. We started several weeks ahead of time, and sorted through one closet, cabinet, or storage area at a time. What we did was decide what would go and what would stay. Our criteria was simple:

  1. If it hadn't been used in a year, and it wasn't family heirloom stuff, it went to the garage sale stash.
  2. If it didn't fit, didn't look right, or was the wrong kind of clothing for the climate, it went to the garage sale stash.
  3. If there was two or more of an item, we kept our favorite one and the rest went to the garage sale stash!

We had an enormous number of things that left us, including an extra couch and bed, almost enough extra utensils and pots and pans to outfit two kitchens, all kinds of clothing (maternity that was no longer needed, things that didn't fit, outgrown baby clothes etc.), a baby walker, a baby feeding chair. We had several items that my husband had used while stationed overseas in his military dorm: a small low power microwave, a "power broom" vacuum cleaner, a blender and other odds and ends that we don't really need two of.

The one thing you want to keep is bookshelves of any and all kinds, types, and sizes! They don't take up much space, they can either go along a wall or be used to divide up a room into multi-task spaces, they can work in any room in the house! I have one in the dining nook of our new apartment (on base housing is SMALL here!), right underneath the bar by the patio door. It fits perfectly, holds all my cookbooks, magazines, phone books, message pads, extra pens in a pretty cup, outgoing mail in a basket, and I'm putting a corkboard above it for messages. It measures 30Wx12Dx33T. Quite a lot of storage for such a small space, wouldn't you agree? It's rather distressed and banged up looking, but it fits in well with our slightly "Cranford House" looking furnishings-and our toddler can't damage it! You can also put child safe hooks on the ends of bookshelves and let the little ones hang up their coats and mittens on the sides. Or you can put small framed artwork on the ends of the bookshelves, or hang a shadowbox on the end to display small collectibles. This is nice if your bookshelves aren't in quite as nice a shape as the rest of your furniture!
Colleen P.

Expert Interview: The Art of Downsizing

Measuring Value

I just went through the same problem. The first thing to look at is what furniture means the most to you. Obviously, grandma's cedar chest and mother's chair came with me. The sentimental peices are what makes your house a home.

I chose pieces that were multi-functional. Grandma's cedar chest stores blankets. Bookshelves are everywhere, including closets. My couch is a sofa bed. The kitchen table is in my living room, covered with a long table cloth and displaying mother's lamp and my family photographs. Other photos were hung in the entry hall. Small dressers are also in the closets (luckily, apartments usually have more closet space!). For other pieces that just won't fit right now, consider a storage unit or allowing family members to use them (but be careful on that one! I lost my oriental couch that way).

Also, check into organizational pieces such as over-the-door ironing boards, entertainment stands, microwave oven carts, free-standing cupboards (for a pantry) and the such.
Lisa R.

An Opportunity

What a great oppurtunity for your reader who is downsizing to make his life easier, don't think of it as having less. Look on it as a chance to readjust your home to fit you. Clean out everything. Don't keep anything that isn't totally useful, beautiful to your eyes and heart, and that adds value to your life. Think of the jobs you hate to do, and try to eliminate them (I feel the less on tables, the less to dust. Don't keep anything big or small, just because you think you should or because someone gave it to you. Look at furniture with a new eye and don't limit its use to the room it was bought for, night stands can make better end tables because they provide storage. Give things away. Donate and take the tax deduction, or have a great garage sale. Make your life easier, and give yourself more time for you.

Expert Interview: Tips for Dividing Up Family Heirlooms When Downsizing

Tricks to Consider

We moved from a large 3-bedroom house to a 1-bedroom apartment in another state because of a job transfer. First, we had a huge moving sale to get rid of our big items. Then I read Clutter's Last Stand by Don Aslett and a few other books on getting organized. I made a scale drawing of the apartment floor plan to see how much we could squeeze into it, and even drew the kitchen cabinets with a plan for what to store where. We got "over the door" lucite hangers, over the toilet shelves, over the door hanging shelves, and multiplug surge strips (mounted on the side of the vanity with doublebacked tape, for instance) to hang in the kitchen and bathroom to plug in small appliances and hair dryers. It was hard to adjust to smaller quarters, but the key is planning every detail you can think of. Most of us have way too much stuff. It's a great feeling to let go of some of it. I donated lots of stuff to local charities.
Shirley F.

Reviewed April 2018

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