8 Common Mistakes When Downsizing

An overwhelmed young woman sits surrounded by a mess.

Downsizing is the perfect way to minimize your belongings and simplify your life. Some people choose to throw away extra items before moving, while others choose to do so in order to minimize clutter and maximize space. No matter what reasons you may have for taking on the task, you can make the process much easier by avoiding these eight common mistakes.

1. Buying Storage Containers You Don’t Need

colorful storage boxes

While it’s essential to be well-organized when downsizing, you don’t need to overdo it by purchasing storage containers that either are unneeded or are the wrong size/type. Wait until you’re sure what you need to store, and measure the general proportions of those items so you can buy the right containers to keep your belongings safe and secure. Once you’ve determined how many storage bins you need and their sizes, browse through store flyers to see which stores have the best deals on containers.

2. Being Overly Attached to the Past

Downsizing is difficult for any person, sifting through belongings and determining what is worthy of keeping and what must go, but it needs to be done. Treasured items like knickknacks, photographs, and letters can accumulate over time, but at some point you have to decide what you want to save and what you need to let go.

Go through all of your personal items and put them into three groups: (1) things that stay, (2) things that go, and (3) things that need consideration. The third group will take the longest time to get through. Take your time, and once you’ve determined what stays and what goes from that third group, deal with the items accordingly.

Keep in mind that it is possible to make digital copies of many photos and letters that you can easily store on a jump drive in one of your storage containers. If you’re willing to take the time, you can get rid of these hard copies but keep the memories forever digitally.

3. Throwing Away Unwanted or Unneeded Items

The downsizing process is not only good for you, but also for your community. Throwing away usable items is wasteful, so before you do so, consider what local charities you could donate them to. In addition to providing worthwhile organizations with some much needed resources, you can also benefit from tax deductions.

4. Downsizing Too Much at Once

writing a to do list with coffee and cookies

Trying to tackle all of your belongings at once will only lead to frustration. Put together a plan for downsizing over a comfortable, more manageable length of time.

For example, give yourself a week or two to get things planned and organized, and then make a list of which areas you want to work through on a daily basis. Check them off your list as you complete smaller tasks in order to more effectively achieve your larger goals.

If you’re downsizing an entire house, pick one room at a time. Make a space where you can separate items, and place things in designated bins as you go through them.

5. Putting Things Off

The idea of working through such a large project can be daunting. Sometimes just the thought of getting to work can create enough stress that it seems easier just to put it off for another day. This will only make things worse in the long run, especially if you are moving and have a tight deadline to adhere to.

The best way to combat procrastination is to schedule your downsizing project into your day planner or onto a calendar posted in your kitchen—anywhere you will frequently see it. By putting your plans down on paper, it’s more likely that you will get to the work and complete it in a timely fashion.

6. Not Labeling Containers

While labeling your storage containers may seem like another step on a long list of task-related to-dos, adding labels to your boxes will make it much easier for you to retrieve items when you want or need them. Purchase some large labels from your local office supply store along with a permanent marker. As you fill each container, attach a label that indicates what is inside the box. If possible, add a list of all of the contents to the side of the container as well. This will prevent any future guesswork.

7. Keeping Unnecessary Documents

filing cabinet with folders

Keeping important documents in easy-to-access places is important when downsizing; holding onto fast food receipts from 1995 is not.

Sort through documents and follow the general rule of thumb to keep legal documents, insurance paperwork, and tax forms from the last six years. Filing cabinets are great storage units for keeping these items safe, secure, and organized. If you don’t already have one, consider getting one from your local office or big box store.

8. Doing All the Work by Yourself

Downsizing can be a large job both physically and emotionally. Don’t try to tackle everything by yourself. Enlist some help from your family members or friends. They’ll be able to help you move heavy items around and make decisions about what to keep, donate, or trash.

Note: It is especially important to enlist family members' help when sorting through items that are of sentimental or monetary value to them.

If you keep some snacks handy for energy and play some of your favorite tunes, you might even be able to make this job a fun, memorable experience for everyone involved.