Senior couple holding hands and walking in the woodsDownsize and Declutter Guide: Step-by-Step to Downsizing

Now that you are aware of the benefits of downsizing, what it entails, and what you need for a successful transition, let's delve into the actual downsizing process:

Step 1: Evaluating Your Current Space

Now, let's begin the downsizing process by carefully examining your current living area. Begin by posing some critical questions to yourself:

  • Has your way of life evolved to where your house no longer fits you?
  • How can you improve the way you live?
  • Would it be wiser to stay put and declutter? Or is it time to move to a smaller home? 
  • Are you considering moving closer to your family? To better weather? To a specific community?
  • Which belongings would you like to retain, and which will you be leaving or donating, are some items more trouble than they're worth?

Room-by-Room Assessment

When considering aging in place and decreasing clutter rather than relocating, it's critical to evaluate every inch of your home and carefully determine which items you absolutely need. Review everything meticulously to see whether something has an important function or if certain items are junk that doesn't help your life. It allows you to see where clutter collects and where you might make modifications for better functionality.

Let's talk about going through your stuff now. Examining each space lets you decide which things are still vital to you, which ones you can part with, and which might find a new use. It's all about sorting through the clutter and paying attention to what's essential. And hey, this also presents some tremendous opportunities, like turning that spare room or garage into a helpful addition, like a rental or a comfortable hangout for your hobbies. So, feel free to explore, take your time, and let your creativity run wild!

Storage Capacity

Scrutinize your house's storage options, including closets, cabinets, and any built-ins. Are they performing their job, or are you feeling a little cramped with all your stuff? Determining if you have adequate space to maintain order or struggle with clutter due to a lack of storage space is essential.


Look around your home to gauge its accessibility, especially if you have mobility issues or special needs. Evaluate any impediments or challenges that make moving about comfortably and safely tricky.

Step 2: Letting Go with Ease: What to Declutter

Those who have done it will tell you that cleaning up and simplifying your house for downsizing requires careful thought, adequate preparation, and commitment. When shifting to a smaller home, it's critical to approach the work with dedication and keep your goals in mind.

Tips for Decluttering and Downsizing Possessions

Reduce your things methodically, focusing on getting rid of clutter and using your available space more efficiently. When deciding what to keep and what to trash, consider factors including importance, condition, and how often it is used. Avoid the desire to keep things out of guilt or obligation.

If you're considering downsizing to a new house, you must first purge and arrange your stuff. Sort your belongings first into four categories, including things to:

  • Retain (things that will fit in your new place).
  • Donate
  • Gift to family!
  • Throw away!
  • Sell

During decluttering, you'll need to sift through the following:

    1. Appliances and kitchenware
    2. Memberships and subscriptions
    3. Clothes
    4. Furniture and electronics
    5. Outdoor items
    6. Paperwork
    7. Service providers, government, and financial institutions

Some things will not be necessary for your new residence, but others will be vital. Our recommendation? Start early so you may review these lists; dividing downsizing into smaller, more doable tasks can help reduce your stress.

A crucial component of downsizing is handling indoor belongings, mainly when you are ready to move into a smaller living area. It entails carefully assessing what you have and selecting what to sell, donate, toss, or keep. Although this procedure can be emotionally taxing, it's essential to achieving a more organized and manageable space in your new living space.

Women on Yoga mat drinking a glass of water1. Home Appliances and Kitchenware

Reducing the number of appliances, you own is likely essential when downsizing, either because you are moving into a senior living community and may not be permitted there or because they are no longer needed. It's a good idea to inquire about any restrictions you new community may have. Next, go over the following objects, deciding which ones you can live without and which ones will fit in the new place:

  • Microwave
  • Toaster oven
  • Convection oven
  • Deep fryer
  • Skillet
  • Hot plate
  • Pots and pans
  • Cookware
  • Slicers and dicers
  • Mixer
  • Bread maker
  • Crockpot
  • Coffee maker
  • Kettle
  • Air fryer
  • China
  • Glasses
  • Dishes
  • Mugs
  • Silverware
  • Flatware
  • Cookbooks

2. Memberships and subscriptions

There are some memberships or subscriptions that you may cancel when you begin to update your address. Although terminating memberships isn't strictly a downsizing measure, it is an essential stage in the relocation process. When all your thoughts are deep into the decluttering, it is easy not to think about memberships and subscriptions, so when you're going through your belongings, check them and create a list of what you can part with and keep.

It's also important to consider your memberships and subscriptions as a senior downsizing into a new location since they impact your monthly expenditure and total budget. Examining them and canceling those you don't need will help you save money for other essentials in your new residence. Common ones to consider unsubscribing include:

  • Gym or fitness club membership
  • Magazine or newspaper subscriptions
  • Streaming services (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)
  • Cable or satellite TV subscription
  • Home security monitoring service
  • Meal delivery service
  • Book club or magazine club memberships
  • Music or audiobook streaming subscriptions.

Not to mention your subscriptions and social networks, which may not need to be cancelled but certainly need to be updated. You should keep them informed, particularly if you plan to stay within a reasonable distance from where you are now. This includes your institution of worship, fitness club, social groups, publications or subscriptions, professional associations, and any ongoing newspaper or magazine subscriptions. It also includes civic organizations.

Notifying them guarantees that you'll still enjoy all the benefits and services they provide even after you've downsized and moved elsewhere.

3. Clothes

Now, let's speak about clothing. Sorting through your clothes and selecting only the ones you've worn in the last year is a great first step. This covers anything you've really worn, such as coats, jackets, shoes, shirts, pants, caps, gloves, scarves, socks, and undergarments. Now, it could be time to leave those bulky winter boots and jackets if you're moving to a warmer place. You can give them to relatives who still reside in colder climates, sell them, or donate them. You will have something to wear on your next visit!

4. Furniture and electronics

Opt for the most critical items that will truly fit into the new area you are relocating into. If you're going to a senior living community, ask for a floor plan to see more clearly what you'll need space for. Here is a list of items to think about:

  • Chairs, a loveseat, or a couch.
  • Shelves and storage stands.
  • Coffee and side tables
  • Dinette Set
  • Televisions
  • Loudspeakers and stereos
  • Kitchen furniture, table and chairs
  • Workstation or desk
  • Media and devices, such as CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, and record players
  • PCs, iPads, and laptops (as well as all the add-ons like keyboards, mouses, cables, and printers)

If preparing to move into a facility for seniors, it's a good idea to enquire about the unit's layout, contents, and any restrictions on what you may bring. And don't worry if you need clarification about what to move together with you and which things to leave behind. Our group of knowledgeable downsizing experts is available to assist. Together, we will create a new floor plan for your new house to accommodate all your belongings. In addition, we'll guide you on where to arrange things so that you have enough room to move about safely and easily.

A crucial component of downsizing is handling indoor belongings, particularly when you are ready to move into a smaller living area. It entails carefully assessing what you have and selecting what to sell, donate, toss, or keep. Although this procedure can be emotionally taxing, it's essential to achieving a more organized and manageable space in your new living space.

Handling Outdoor Items

1. Vehicles & Accessories

If you are considering relocating to a smaller space, you should also take a hard look at your automobiles and all the accessories that come with them. These things are pretty space-consuming and expensive to maintain. Verify if you will need these, if at all:

  • Car
  • Snowmobile
  • Truck
  • Golf cart
  • Van
  • Tractor
  • Motorcycle
  • Gas cans, oil
  • Quad, trike
  • Bicycle
  • Tires
  • Motorhome
  • Boat, motor
  • Trailer

Will you be living near mass transit? Will there be charging stations nearby? What type of garage space will be available?

2. Landscaping

It's essential to evaluate your gardening tools and equipment when considering downsizing. These things may also take up a lot of room. Determine if you'll need these tools in your new living arrangement and think about how they'll affect the practicality and maintenance of your new area:

  • Gardening tools
  • Weedwhacker
  • Planter pots
  • Rakes
  • Shovels
  • Bricks, patio stones
  • Trimmers
  • Lawnmower
  • Stakes
  • Snowblower

3. Outside Furniture and Equipment

Inspecting your outdoor furniture and accessories is wise if you're considering moving to another location. Likewise, these things can need a large amount of space, making a smaller property unsuitable. Take a moment to evaluate if you truly need every item and how they will fit into your outside area. Typical outdoor furniture and related things to consider can include:

  • Gazebo
  • BBQ
  • Swing set
  • Playground equipment
  • Fencing
  • Patio table, umbrella, chairs, and sofas
  • Smoker
  • Lighting
  • Rugs

Handling the Paperwork

Although sorting through documents may seem like an uphill task, it's crucial when decluttering. Go over all those documents slowly, making note of the essentials, such as:

  • List of personal debts and obligations.
  • Contact information for critical specialists, such as your doctor, accountant, attorney, insurance agent, and financial adviser.
  • Trust, advance directives, and will-related documents, including a durable power of attorney.
  • Personal asset records, including vehicle, boat, and home titles, insurance policies, savings accounts, pension or retirement plan information, bonds, and stocks.
  • Photographs of your possessions might be valuable for insurance claims.
  • Important identifying papers such as your Medicare card, Social Security card, birth certificate, and passports
  • Copies of state and federal tax returns from the last five years
  • Other legal documents

Handling Financial Institutions, Service Providers, and the Government

Let's talk about handling your financial matters and informing the necessary authorities. Firstly, make sure your financial institutions are up-to-date. This includes:

  • Banks
  • Insurance companies (health, life, auto, home)
  • Investment brokers
  • Mortgage lenders or servicers
  • Credit reporting agencies
  • Credit card companies
  • Retirement account providers (IRA, 401(k), pension, etc.).

Keeping them in the loop with your current address and contact info will help things run smoothly and ensure you don't miss any critical updates or transactions. Now, let's talk government. It's essential to notify various government agencies about your change of address. This includes:

  • US Post Office
  • Department of Motor Vehicles,
  • Department of Revenue (IRS),
  • The business license office (if applicable)

Keeping accurate records with these agencies ensures you stay compliant with regulations and receive any crucial correspondence. Lastly, let's not forget about your service providers. Informing them about your downsizing is critical for a few reasons.

  • Firstly, it lets them update their records with your new details, ensuring seamless communication and service delivery.
  • Additionally, it enables them to make any necessary adjustments to existing arrangements, like modifying service schedules or adapting delivery to fit your changing needs. This proactive communication helps maintain a positive relationship and ensures continued access to essential services during your downsizing journey.

Finally, inform your cleaning service, accountant, lawn care/landscaper, attorney, physicians, cable/internet providers, and veterinarians, among others, about your upcoming move.

Step 3. Maximizing Downsizing: Sell, Give Away (Donate), or Discard

One of the most difficult challenges is deciding what to do with goods accumulated over many years. Fortunately, you have several options for optimizing downsizing. Here are some helpful tips for selling, giving, and getting rid of items:

Let's begin by looking over your possessions. It's essential to evaluate what you have and determine what to keep, sell, donate, or throw out before you start reducing.


You may relieve some of your burdens and increase your cash by selling valued stuff. The following are some items you may want to sell:

  • Furnishings: Your furniture may bring in a reasonable price if they are in good shape.
  • Memorabilia: Artwork, coins, stamps, antiques, and other collections may all have value to collectors.
  • Jewelry: If you're ready to part with them, watches, fine jewelry or family treasures might have substantial value.
  • Electronics: Electronic resale shops and internet sales are good places to find new homes for gently used devices like computers, tablets, and cell phones.

If you have a lot of stuff to eliminate, why not have an estate or yard sale? It's a great chance to get rid of clutter, make some money, and interact with other community members.

You can also explore online markets such as Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, and more for a broader audience. Take some crisp pictures, write informative descriptions, and wait for the offers from nearby or distant purchasers.


As you go through the process of downsizing, think about donating lightly used items. Many nonprofits and charities happily welcome various items, including furniture, books, home appliances, and clothing. Donating clothing to a thrift store or shelter for low-income families is one way to help them, while household items can be given to local organizations or donation centers to find new homes.

Also, consider donating books to educational institutions, libraries, or programs that promote literacy. It can be your chance to boost literacy levels, especially among needy communities. Furthermore, if you have extra furniture, consider giving it to organizations that assist low-income families or selling it at thrift stores to help them with their operations. Your gifts and donations can have a significant impact on the lives of others while also making your own transition more manageable.


Use these tips to dispose of unneeded stuff properly:

  • Recycling: Glass, paper, cardboard, metal objects, and plastic should all be recycled wherever feasible.
  • Electronic Waste: To keep dangerous items out of landfills, discard obsolete electronics at facilities dedicated to this purpose.
  • Hazardous garbage: Use approved drop-off sites to safely dispose of home hazardous garbage, such as paint, batteries, chemicals, and expired prescription drugs.

Make sure you're ready for those heavy possessions. Plan ahead for removing or picking up heavy goods, such as appliances or furniture, well before your move day. You may need to use the services your local municipality offers; they often have drop-off locations for large things or offer bulk garbage pickup services.

Sentimental Downsizing

One of the most challenging aspects can be deciding what to do with sentimental items accumulated over a lifetime. These items hold cherished memories and emotional significance, making it difficult to part with them.

However, downsizing doesn't have to mean saying goodbye to these treasured mementos forever. With thoughtful planning and consideration, seniors can preserve their memories without cluttering their new living space. Here are some practical tips, along with examples of sentimental items commonly encountered during downsizing:

Senior couple on yoga mat under a treeStart Early and Proceed at Your Speed

Commence the process of reducing emotional goods early, well before your move date, allowing ample time for deliberate decision-making since sentimental objects are sometimes difficult to part with. Consider sorting out treasured items such as:

  • Pictures: Examine old family slides, albums, and photographs.
  • Letters and Cards: Go through letters, postcards, and priceless greeting cards that you received from family members.
  • Memorabilia: Consider keepsakes gathered from trips, memorable occasions, or accomplishments in life.

Rank Things in Order of Emotional Value

After you've gone through your sentimental possessions, you must acknowledge that not everything has the same emotional value. Sort your belongings with sentimental worth, beginning with the items you appreciate the most. Here's how to get started:

  • Family Heirlooms: Start with priceless items handed down through the years, such as jewels, vintage furniture, or antiques.
  • Personal Memorabilia: Next, concentrate on mementos that honor your own accomplishments and noteworthy life turning points, such as trophies, awards, or diplomas.
  • Crafted Presents: Lastly, think about treasured quilts, paintings, or crafts made with love by essential people in your life.

Have a limit

It may seem enticing to hang onto every sentimental item, but it's best to set a limit on how many you'll keep. Choose just those things that have the most personal significance for you, such as:

  • Special Collections: Consider treasured assortments, such as coins, figurines, or stamps, that hold special meaning.
  • Religious Objects: Consider keeping prayer books, rosary beads, or other sacred objects that hold special meaning for you.
  • Childhood Toys: You may need to keep those priceless memories with plush toys, dolls, or other items from your childhood that bring back lovely recollections.

Create Digital Keepsakes

Digital technology is a great way to preserve those priceless memories without taking up unnecessary room in your new home. Yes, it truly is revolutionary.

Indeed, it isn't easy to part with treasured belongings while downsizing and decluttering. Here's a recommendation, though: take a digital picture of them before you part with them. Please take photos or movies of your treasured possessions; it's like digitally preserving a little of your history. That way, you will always have those sweet memories with you, even when you are forced to part with the actual objects. 

Moreover, those treasured family pictures and candid photographs from special occasions are really invaluable! Don't worry, though; scanning them will smoothly bring them to the digital age. Besides protecting the photos, this opens up a world of opportunities. You may create enjoyable digital albums or slideshows that make you smile whenever you view them.  No matter where your family members are, you can easily share these priceless moments with them!

Bonus tip: Let's move on to key papers: diplomas, letters, and other official documents. Why not scan and save them digitally instead of letting them gather dust in a drawer in your new residence? Yes, you only need to scan them and store the files on your computer or cloud storage. This keeps them safe from damage and makes them incredibly convenient to access whenever required. With only a few clicks, you can be done searching through mountains of paperwork.

Share your sentimental things with your loved ones

Please consider sharing those emotional artifacts with your loved ones. It's a beautiful way to infuse their lives with love and memories. Please pass on any family jewels, recipes, or other items you inherited to the next generation so they can learn a little about your family's history.

Handling Your Loved Ones’ Belongings

Decluttering and reducing items belonging to other family members can be intricate and delicate for anyone. You can go cautiously through this procedure by following these steps:

  • Be open with communication: Start by discussing the idea of downsizing with those closest to you honestly and openly. Justify your decision to declutter, highlighting that your goal is to make your living area more pleasant and manageable, not to erase their traces in your life.
  • Respect their wishes: Honor your loved ones' desires concerning their things. Try your best to comply with their wishes if they say they want a specific object to be kept, donated to a particular organization, family, or person, or handed down.
  • Do not sideline them: Whenever possible, involve your loved ones in the process of decluttering and downsizing. Allow them to make the final decision on what to donate, discard, or keep. They'll feel more in control.
  • Offer alternatives: If loved ones are unwilling to part with certain items, provide alternatives. This might imply searching for storage areas outside of your home or looking into inventive ways to recycle or meaningfully organize the items.

Also, if your loved one’s consent to declutter but are reluctant, consider getting a picture of them before you part with their sentimental belongings. You can use photographs or film to capture the memories connected to these possessions. It could give them some solace to know that pictures of their treasured belongings are still available, even when the actual objects are gone.

Seek Help When Needed

Consider seeking the assistance of trained organizers or mediators if you're experiencing conflict with other family members throughout your downsizing process, particularly when managing items that belong to loved ones, like children, relatives, or items left behind by deceased family members. They might offer direction and encouragement to promote fruitful discussions and decision-making. Please do not be reluctant to ask for their help when you need it during this difficult and stressful time.

Paul Burrowes, CRS, CCEC, SFR, NHCP, LHC, REALTOR® Licensed REALTOR® with over 15 years of experience and expertise. Commits to being on time and transparent. Acts as your consultant to ensure you make the best decisions to fit your transaction at every step in the process. Negotiates towards a low stress, win-win outcome. Handles all the details for you, ensuring the hundreds of steps in your real estate transaction go smoothly. Proudly serving Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Santa Clara Counties! | DRE# 01955563 | (831) 295-5130 | |

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