Downsizing: Decluttering a Home with a Lifetime of Memories

Are you planning on downsizing? Trying to figure what you’ll take and what won’t make the cut can be overwhelming.

For most people, it’s easy to accumulate stuff you rarely use between gifts received, sales, and impulse purchasing over the years. Those things combined can make the idea of downsizing seem almost impossible. Some people have difficulty getting rid of things that have meaning to them then there are others who hold on things of little significance. 

However, if you want to simplify your life, now is the time to let go of unnecessary things. Decluttering your home is like getting in shape, it takes hard work and a lot of time.

To prepare you for the task, we listed a few tips to help you declutter your home with a lifetime of memories.

Make a Schedule

If you’re planning on moving odds are you haven’t made this decision lightly so you probably have a few months before you’ll put your house on the market.

If you’ve got six months
  • Start with weekly declutter sessions of 1-2 hours
  • Target one section at a time (a closet or chest of drawers)
  • Sort make a pile of things you haven’t used within last 12 months
at three months
  • Increase decluttering sessions to twice a week
  • Focus on one room
  • Determine what you’ll donate or sell
  • Begin making arrangements with local non-profits

Start Small

One of the most challenging processes of decluttering is figuring out where to start. Cleaning up the stuff you’ve accumulated throughout the years can be time consuming. 

To help you get started, I suggest starting on small stuff in your house. Don’t stress yourself on decluttering your entire home all at once. You’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed, and it’ll motivate you to continue.  By starting with one key area you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and begin to see progress in no time.

Look at your cabinets and drawers, be honest with yourself and separate things you use and those that you haven’t seen or used for months. Sort clothes into piles of those that fit, those that don’t or you simply don’t wear.

Do you really need all those candles, figurines, and tchotchkes?

Scan through your bookshelves discard the books that not worth to keep.

And get rid of your massive CD and DVD collection (if you have one), they take up so much space. There are so many online resources for you to still enjoy your favorite music, tv shows, and movies.  

Make Definite Decisions

Before you start decluttering, make a list and decide what are your must-haves, the things you can live without and which items can be replaced. Some people will make a box for the belongings that they can’t let go but try to keep an open mind.

  • Your must-have items should be limited to things you use on regular basis or with so much sentimental value that you can’t see living without them.
  • The things you can live without are just that. These are the items that you can sell, donate and get rid of altogether without much thought.
  • Items that can be replaced will likely be larger, bulky items that may not fit into your new space. Ex: dining room table, sofa, big screen TV.

In order to maintain momentum and quickly finish, you have to set your mind and determine what stays and what goes. 

Cut Emotional Ties

When decluttering, you’ll encounter stuff that has sentimental value for you but serves little to no purpose.

Parting ways with your children’s artwork or family heirlooms can be difficult.

You have to be practical and consider discarding anything that is unnecessary. While you don’t have to get rid of everything, if you are downsizing from a large home to a townhouse or condo, you’ll have to make some sacrifices.

Keep the most important stuff and discard the rest.

Sometimes getting rid of things will make you feel lighter, even if it was just a small envelope of pictures. 

Take Advantage of Online Resources

Decluttering doesn’t mean getting rid of your treasured family photos.

With today’s technology pictures can easily be stored online. You can have your photos scanned and saved to your phones or computers.

This way, you’ll be able to throw away the clutter without losing precious memories.

Use Paperless Billing

Documents, receipts, and news clipping stored in file boxes can take a lot of space and can accumulate quickly.

To lessen clutter, sort out the duplicates and only keep what is essential.

You can also set up automated bill payments online to reduce paper waste and keep track of payments online. 

Sell, Donate, Recycle

Do you want to help people and earn money while decluttering? If so, you can start by organizing unwanted items into three different types; sell, donate, and recycle.

Try not to throw out things that you can be sold or donated. There are a number of ways to do both sells and donate with various amounts of effort on your part.

Sell singular items by listing them online for individual sell pick up or host a yard sale for a few hours to declutter a larger number of items at once.

You can drop off items weekly to local non-profits or even arrange pick up for larger items.

Ways to sell
  • Sell online Ebay, Craigslist, NextDoor or Facebook
  • Yard sale
  • Consignment shops
  • Estate sale
Places to Donate
  • Local library
  • Thrift stores
  • Second-hand stores
  • Local Nonprofits (domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, veteran support groups)

Leave out your gardening tools and snow shovels for the next occupants of the house if you no longer need them. It’s easier to give up things if you know it’ll be useful to someone else.


Decluttering is one of the most challenging tasks you’ll have to make before moving to your new smaller home. 

If you’re planning on downsizing to have a simpler life, you’ll want to start decluttering as soon as possible to make your move smoother and faster.

Thinking of selling your home?  Check out our 20+ step Guide to Selling Your House. Or you can contact me now to start the process immediately.  Same day appointments are available on a case by case basis. I look forward to hearing from you.

Are you thinking about buying a home soon? Check out our Steps to Buying a Home Guide. Feel free to give me a call at 703-539-2053 or email [email protected] to schedule a private showing of this or any other property.

About the Author

The above article was written by Abraham Walker, Your Northern Virginia Real Estate Agent, helping clients market their homes to achieve high sales with a quick closing time is my main priority.  He’s the co-founder of Ask A Walker and can be found on YouTube, Facebook, and HERE on this blog.

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