Downsizing: Five Tips

After spending the last year downsizing in our preparation for full time RV life I’ve learned 5 tips that can make the process easier. These tips will work whether you are downsizing your entire life, as we are, or decluttering an overstuffed room

There are also many helpful blog articles and YouTube videos out there if you want to dig deeper into downsizing and purging belongings.

Number One: Start Small

When we first started talking about getting rid of most of our stuff and hitting the road in an RV I looked around the living room and panicked. Overwhelm doesn’t even start to cover the emotion. But what’s that saying? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

That’s how you start downsizing as well. Start with one drawer. Just one. Don’t look beyond that drawer. Once you complete that drawer stop for the day. Celebrate that success. Then choose the next drawer. After a couple of drawers then tackle a whole cabinet. Move from there to a closet, then a room. Maybe tackle a season. For example, can you go through all your fall décor? Do you really need three fall wreaths? Four Christmas trees?

Number Two: Start With Non-Sentimental Items

When you start downsizing don’t start with your grandmother’s china. Just don’t. Start with something very benign. When we started with our first drawer it was the kitchen junk drawer. Easy-peasy. It took me over a month to tackle anything remotely sentimental. Understand that purging those sentimental things will exhaust you. Not just emotionally. A couple of hours of going through sentimental things is enough to wring you out physically as well. Be gentle with yourself. You’ll be grateful if you don’t start with those things. And don’t save them all for last either. Intersperse those tough decisions in between some pretty easy ones.

Number Three: No Maybes

When you start downsizing you’ll want three piles or bins. Only three. Sell. Donate. Trash. Notice there is no Maybe or Later pile. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Maybe becomes Keep. Then everything goes into Maybe. Don’t fall into that trap. In downsizing there is no maybe.

Number Four: You Aren’t Going to get Rich

You might sell some of your stuff. Understand you are not going to recoup your money. You are not going to finance your lifestyle. You are not going to get rich. You just aren’t. That necklace you paid $50 for might bring you a dollar. Maybe. And don’t think you’re going to have a garage sale and get rid of everything. You won’t recover your time. After selling a few things we decided to either donate or trash stuff. Honestly, the quickest way we found to get rid of stuff is to set it out on the curb with a sign saying “Free.” Goodwill is your friend. Just donate stuff. You’ll provide a job for someone and feel a lot better about yourself. If you are really determined to sell your stuff, try resale apps or Facebook Marketplace.

Number Five: Get It Out of the House ASAP

Once you have stuff boxed up get it out of the house ASAP. Those boxes sitting around start talking to you, whispering that they really aren’t junk, you really want to keep them. You don’t. Just let it all go. Get those boxes out of the house. Rip it like a Band Aid.

Bonus tip: set a due date for the downsizing/declutter to be completed. Schedule the tasks.

What tips would you add to this list? Have you ever downsized your entire home or life? How did it go? How long did it take you?

Learning to Declutter without Panicking

Downsizing from a 1200 square foot sticks and bricks home to a Class B RV that is only 22 feet long overwhelms me, if I’m honest. We’ve lived in this house since the first weekend of January 2004. Lots of stuff accumulates in that amount of time. Not to mention the stuff from the six years of marriage before we bought our house.

When we decided to downsize and move into an RV full time we knew we had to purge our belongings. We knew we had to be brutal. We knew we couldn’t look at anything through the lens of nostalgia or sentimentality. We knew it would be a lot of work. And, y’all, I mean A LOT OF WORK.

Thinking about downsizing our whole house sends me into a panic. Seriously. I’m not a panic-y kind of person usually. But I did some hardcore hyperventilating the first time we sorted through our kitchen junk drawer. I couldn’t stay focused on the drawer. In my mind that one drawer morphed into an entire house of kitchen junk drawers dancing around me and mocking me. My heart raced. I broke out into a sweat. After Daniel and I went through that drawer I had to stop. It completely drained me.

But other people have done this. People do this every day. Lots of people go through their stuff and declutter at least once a year. How do they start? How do they survive the anxiety and panic? I’m learning how, and I’m going to share it with you.

Remember the old cliché: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s that simple and that difficult.

How do you downsize a lifetime from a sticks and bricks house to a camper van? One bite at a time.

Pick one spot, one drawer, one shelf. Daniel and I had the right idea starting with one drawer. I just had to learn to narrow my focus. Instead of thinking about what comes after that drawer and the next one and the next one and the next one, think only about that one drawer. Set that one drawer as the goal. Not the whole house or even the whole room.

Another technique that works for me, especially for spaces larger than a drawer, is to set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes. Purge stuff like mad for 30 minutes. When the timer buzzes, stop. Take a break. Go for a walk. Drink some water. Do 15 minutes of yoga. If you have time after your break, purge for another 30 minutes. So on and so forth.

That’s how I faced cleaning out the closet in our spare room this morning.

In 30 minutes, the closet went from this (which I’m truly embarrassed to share publicly):

To this:

From that closet, I took two trash bags full of paper and plastic to the recycle bin. I took a handful of garbage out. Daniel took a box of stuff to Goodwill. I did keep my mother’s old sewing machine which I’ll store at Dad’s house for now. I also have a quilting frame that I will sell. But all of that took 30 minutes. Yes, that room is still a disaster. But that closet, that one space, is clear. It’s done. I don’t have to think about it again.

The 30 minute rule works really well for me. Some people suggest 15 minutes. Others suggest an hour. Find the time limit that works for you. Break it down to small chunks. Focus only on that chunk, no more. Then take a break before facing another chunk.

Do you have any special ways to deal with decluttering? What works well for you? Do you declutter on a schedule? Or are you like Daniel and me, facing years of clutter with only a few months to go through it all?