Downsizing vs. Decluttering
Downsizing has been on my mind lately. My husband and I recently downsized extensively as part of a move, I'm working with a couple of clients right now on major downsizing projects, and this past week I helped my mom downsize as she moved to a significantly smaller space. On top of that, my daughter and her family are currently downsizing to a much smaller home as part of a temporary relocation. As a result, I've put a lot of thought into the process of downsizing, how it differs from simple decluttering, and how the two processes are related.
While it is impossible to downsize without decluttering, and decluttering certainly reduces the amount of stuff in a space (i.e. downsizing), in my mind there is a discernible, though perhaps subtle, distinction between the two processes.
Meriam Webster defines the word declutter as follows: (verb) to remove clutter from a room, an area, etc.
You will not be surprised to learn that, as an organizer, I have a fondness for decluttering. Indeed, for me it is a mindset, a way of life. I keep a bag, box, or bin for collecting items I wish to get rid of perched in a designated spot in my garage, and I regularly make trips to the thrift store to make donations. It wasn't, however, until this last move that I felt like I could say I had legitimately downsized my belongings. So what's the difference?
The definition of downsize is: (verb) to reduce in size. How is this different from decluttering? The distinction, in my mind, between downsizing and decluttering centers on two factors:
Let's start with scope, or extent. One can declutter, or reduce the clutter, of a surface, a drawer, a closet, a room, or an entire house. On the other hand, downsizing refers to the comprehensive reduction of one's possessions. Thus, the scope is broad and all-inclusive. When you legitimately downsize, it is with the intent of living a simpler life, one that reduces your overall footprint and requires less space.
Since decluttering simply involves the reduction of clutter, it can be performed on a small scale - such as thinning out a collection or getting rid of items that are no longer functional. If we wanted to get technical, getting rid of just one unwanted or unneeded item could be considered decluttering.
Downsizing, on the other hand, requires a tangible change in the amount of stuff you own. When you downsize, you minimize all of your belongings typically with the intent of reducing the size of your living space.
Because the scope and scale of downsizing are much broader than is generally the case with decluttering, the process can be a bit overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Since I've had to really think this through lately, I've come up with some suggestions for how to approach the downsizing process.
Define and Embrace Your Lifestyle
Often downsizing is motivated by a lifestyle change. It may be one that you have sought out, as was the case for us, or it may be one that is thrust upon you. Whatever the case, the first thing to do when you are faced with downsizing is to examine your situation. For example:
Thinking about potential changes to your lifestyle that may come about as a result of downsizing will help you come to terms with the process and even look forward to living with less. Instead of feeling like a burden, you can start to embrace downsizing as a means of reducing the burden of unwanted, unneeded, unused stuff.
Start with the Easy Stuff
When faced with a major undertaking such as downsizing, I recommend starting with the simple stuff and working up to more challenging tasks. What is the simple stuff? In this case, I am referring to those things that are the least stressful to part with - things that have no sentimental or inherent value. Here are a few examples:
Purge Your Paperwork
One unused, often unneeded, item that people frequently hang onto is paperwork. If you are downsizing, now is the perfect time to get rid of all that excess paper. For tips on how to Declutter Papers and Files check out the Information Management section on this website.
Let Your Space Be Your Guide
If you are downsizing but staying in the same place, consider how you would like your space to look and feel. If you are downsizing to a smaller space, examine the new space carefully. Take photos and measurements.
Only keep those things that will fit the constraints of your space, whether literal, physical constraints, or intentional, functional constraints you have choosen to apply. Only keep the clothes that will fit comfortably within your closet and/or dresser. Only keep the books that will fit on the shelves you have for which you have space...and so forth.
Think of your space as an exclusive club - only the best of the best are allowed admission. Choose your favorites, and part with the things that are just so-so. Choose your favorite furniture, your favorite decor items, your favorite wall-hangings/photos/artwork, your favorite kitchen utensils, your favorite clothes. Imagine a space where all the things that surround you are things that you love. This quote from William Morris has always inspired me in this regard:
Search for Versatile Solutions
As you sort through your possessions for those worthy of keeping, look for items that can serve more than one function. Furniture pieces are a great example. Do you have an item that offers both seating and storage? Or a work surface as well as storage?
If your space is decreasing, it is important to choose items that are correctly proportioned. A queen size bed is obviously a better option for a small bedroom than a king size bed. Choose furniture with slim lines such as narrow side tables, a sleek sofa, a petite table, etc. Avoid overstuffed, bulky furniture. Consider how you will use the space as well. Do you need a separate desk, or can you function comfortably with a folding or portable desk? Or could your dining room table double as a work space?
Living with Less
If your downsizing efforts are brought about by necessity, and not by choice, you may be feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or depressed. It's normal to feel that way in such circumstances. Just know that, while changes is almost always challenging, it also brings opportunities for growth and opens the door for new experiences. Look for the positives that will result from this change of lifestyle. There will be many.
3/1/2021 11:22:38 am
Great article on the difference between decluttering and downsizing. Most people at some point will need to downsize. If you start when you have the physical and mental capabilities to make decisions and donate items the job can be rewarding and fun. Having less stuff means more time for new experiences.
3/1/2021 11:27:36 am
I totally agree. My husband and I truly enjoyed the process. We found it liberating and energizing, but we chose to do it. My mom, whose changing circumstances necessitated it, found it stressful and overwhelming. Now that it’s done, she’s pleased with the results, but it was a painful process for her.
3/1/2021 01:29:58 pm
I think your comment about being realistic is so important, and also so hard to do. We often think we are getting rid of so much, and still end up taking too much to the newer/smaller place. It can be hard to envision our belongings in a new space. Making a floor plan is a helpful activity because it helps you realize how big your belongings actually are!
3/1/2021 07:46:44 pm
You make a great point! I actually took my mom over to her new place and we mapped out where all the furniture was going to go before moving her over. It helped her to visualize and realize that not everything is going to fit. Having parted with things before they got to the new house, she never missed them and was pleased with the results. I think if we had brought things and not been able to use them, that would have been harder.
3/1/2021 01:54:10 pm
I like to declutter to make downsizing easier. You explain the difference in these processes perfectly!
3/1/2021 07:43:24 pm
Thanks, Melanie. I agree. Decluttering is an important part of downsizing.
3/1/2021 03:25:12 pm
I love the way you describe the similarities and differences between downsizing and decluttering. It's also interesting how in the recent past you've been involved in many downsizing projects- personal and professional. I'm curious. Did the work you did downsizing your home influence the work you did with downsizing clients (or visa versa?)
3/1/2021 07:38:56 pm
I would say the work I did with my home has definitely influenced my work with others. It was actually really helpful to experience it first hand on a personal level.
3/4/2021 12:06:15 am
You really discerned the differences between downsizing, which we can (and do) do every day, and the larger, more significant concept of downsizing. Decluttering often gives people a sense of control; downsizing, can be uplifting or feel forced, depending on the context and goals. I love your ideas of focusing on exclusivity and versatility!
3/4/2021 03:13:46 pm
Thanks, Julie! Totally agree.
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