How to Downsize and Simplify Your Life

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Candi Randolph

I have moved many times over the last 25 years. Many times. Most of those moves involved some type of downsizing and simplifying. And, I’ve owned a Home Staging business, which has as its philosophical foundation a simple, clean presentation of a home for sale. No extra stuff or fluff, no clutter or unneeded items. Just functional, stylish, and inviting.

So the topic of how to downsize and simplify your life is one that I have lived and worked with for a long time.

how to downsize and simplify your life

You might be thinking about downsizing in retirement, or possibly relocating to a different area as your life takes a turn toward more free time and flexibility, and leading a simpler life.

But even more than that, whether you’re going to retire and relocate or stay put, you may have been thinking about all that stuff you’ve accumulated over the years and realized that it can sometimes be overwhelming and claustrophobic.

There are several ways to approach the idea of simplifying your life. This post is going to concentrate on the physical aspect, the stuff that we’ve accumulated, give you practical tips and advice on how to rid yourself of the unnecessary and unneeded things, and keep just what you need and love.

And, I’ll fill you in on a little secret. Once you do this, you’ll eliminate some stress in your life. Promise.

how to downsize and simplify your life - video

How to Downsize and Simplify Your Life

downsizing in retirement

1 | The time to start is NOW

It can be a wonderfully freeing, yet paralyzing decision to make: I’m going to simplify my life! Because once you truly make that decision, you need to actually do something.

But, what do you do? Where do you start? Regardless of the reason you’re making this decision, the first step is always the hardest.

For many of us it is so much easier (so we think) to just leave things the way they are:

  • the extra furniture we’ve accumulated over the years
  • the duplicates of small appliances, tools, and household items
  • those gifts we shoved in the closet and tried to hide from for so long
  • the clothes in the closet(s) that are long past their prime and/or wearability
  • that scary space in the basement/garage/storage area that is full of…well darn…what is actually in there??

You may not have all of these things lurking in your home, but odds are you have a few.

So let’s take a deep breath, remember the goal, and take some action.

2 | One Small Step

A very important lesson I learned many years ago is to take things one step at a time. I know…it’s a very common consideration and seems so simple. But you know what many of us tend to do?

We look around and see a huge mountain of a project that we’ll never get through, we have no idea where to start, and it is completely overwhelming. So we just keep looking at it, or pretending it isn’t there, and do nothing.

Your decision to downsize and simplify has to start somewhere, right?

This is what I do:

  • focus on one thing, and one thing only
  • work through that step thoroughly
  • don’t get distracted
  • finish that step completely
  • go on to the next step

Let’s apply that to a downsizing project.

First, identify one room and one room only as your starting point. For this example, we’ll say it’s the kitchen.

Work your way through the kitchen and identify everything in there in one of three ways:

  • I must keep this – it is absolutely necessary for me to have on hand
  • I don’t need this – it is a duplicate, it is broken, it is no longer used, or I have not used it in more than six months
  • I’m not sure about this

This means everything :

  1. on the countertops, including the knife set, the napkin holder, the trivets…you get the idea!
  2. in the cabinets,
  3. every shelf,
  4. on the walls,
  5. the non-food items in the pantry,
  6. all those cutesy little things that have been accumulating dust on the top of the cabinets…all of it.

And you know what? It doesn’t matter what your motivation or ultimate goal is, you can do this in just the same way, using this method.

Second, as you are identifying your possessions in this manner, physically place them in the appropriate segments. If it’s a keeper/must-have item, it can stay where it is unless you’re under the gun and are literally packing to relocate. If that is your situation, wrap and pack it. Handle this item as few times as possible.

Create a box or location for the “don’t need” decisions. Remove them from where they’ve been living and get them ready for sale or donation. Or, call the kids and see if they want anything. šŸ™‚

Third, create a separate location for the items you’re not sure of. Note that if this pile is growing exponentially while the “don’t need” items are practically non-existent, go back through with a relentless determination!

You’re downsizing and simplifying, remember?

When you are completely finished with the kitchen, remove the “don’t need” and “not sure” items to another area, preferably out of the house, or at least out of sight. Then, move on to another room or space. Take them one at a time.

When you start to work on your closet and wardrobe, use these two posts to give you some guidance on how to select the pieces to keep:

Unless you’re working with a solid deadline, you don’t have to rush through this process. But, keep at it regularly. Daily, if you can. Procrastination is not going to help you reach your goal.

3 | Emotional ties can be tough

Taking the tough-love approach with things you’ve had for a long, long time can be an emotionally draining process.

There are memories attached to many of those items. I understand. I had to go through all of my husband’s things after he passed away, as well as the furniture and items we owned together, and it wasn’t easy by any means.

The personal things of my husband’s I just could not part with were put into one bin – a plastic bin with a lid. That bin has moved three times with me in the last few years. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and fits on a closet shelf.

One day I’ll go through it and decide what to do with the items in there…but not yet.

If you truly want to downsize and simplify your life, you’ll work through the emotional aspect of each item and make a decision. Some are easier than others.

Keep the goal in mind, particularly if you are going to be moving into a place with less square footage. Man up, girlfriend. You can do it!

how to downsize and simplify your life - inspire my style

4 | Separate yourself from your stuff

We sometimes identify certain items as part of ourselves, our personality, our mojo. They might be old as the hills, falling apart or broken, faded and in shreds, but we love them.

Again, a hard decision to make. Do you really want to simplify your life? Are you ready to downsize and own less stuff?

Make the hard decision. That thing isn’t really you. YOU are you, whether you have that item or not.

Here’s a p.s. to that thought: make the decision that is best for you (and your spouse or partner) and don’t worry about what someone else will think.

5 | Remove the duplicates

Downsizing and simplifying your life means you’re not going to hang onto unnecessary things, and duplicates fall into that category.

With a few exceptions, if you have more than one of something, decide which of the two you prefer and put the other one into the donate/sell pile.

If you are a collector of something and retaining that collection means the world to you, then that will be an exception. But, consider what I did.

I used to collect vintage cups and saucers. And, my husband gave me many small collectibles over the years. As I was preparing for my last move across the country, I realized that all of those things, even though they were small, could not make the trip with me.

I went through them and selected the ones that meant the most to me, and donated the rest. It was hard, but I did it. I still have my collection on a smaller scale, and it fits nicely in the petite antique china that belonged to my aunt.

6 | Don’t buy anything new right now

If you’ve made the decision to downsize in retirement, a relocation or move is definitely in the picture, or, you want to downsize and simplify your life, this is an important piece of advice:

Don’t buy anything new right now. Just don’t do it.

It’s okay to look, plan, dream, save to Pinterest boards, write down some thoughts, collect magazine photos in a folder…all of those things are good to do. Just don’t buy it. Yet.

Why? Well, adding something new to the mix is not going to help you in your project to downsize and simplify things. So unless it is something that you can’t be without, even for a short time, wait until Project Simplify is finished.

If a move is in the picture, wait until you know specifically where you’re going before committing to new purchases. How something looks in your head, and how it functions in a real, live space that is yet undetermined, can be two very different things, my friend. Trust me on this one.

7 | Rearrange what you have

If you’re going to stay in the same location, one way to create a new vibe, a fresh look, is a downsized and simplified version of your current living space.

Let’s say that you’ve gone through every room and space in your home. Duplicates, worn out, unused, not needed, and anything else that didn’t make the cut has now departed the premises.

A fresh perspective can result in new placements and functions for your existing furniture and accessories. And, it has the potential to be an amazing transformation!

I’m going to give you the quick 1-2-3 method of doing this. For further study and help, refer to these two posts:

  • Love Your Homethis is a simple home decorating guide that I wrote a few years ago. It will walk you through the entire process of rearranging the furniture in your home. It’s available on Amazon for just a few dollars – a great buy!
  • How to turn a House Into a Home – I show you how I took an empty condo, and no furniture, and very simply turned it into a comfortable place I now call home.

Okay here’s the quick version!

First, take everything out of the room you’re rearranging except the largest pieces. For the living room, just leave the sofa, media stand if it’s heavy, large chairs, etc. This means everything…nothing on the walls, no nic-nacs…nothing left but the big stuff. Make sure you have a helper if needed so you don’t hurt yourself.

Next, try placing your large pieces in a different way. For example, the media stand might have to stay where it is, but can you put the sofa on a different wall, or at an angle floating in the room?

Of course, it has to make sense, but can you find an arrangement that is simple, fresh, inviting and functional?

Third, bring in the smaller pieces, one at a time, and place them. Consider using a piece that was in a different room or location. You won’t get a ticket from the furniture police if you don’t put that end table next to the sofa. In fact, don’t put it there. Find a different place for it…or maybe...don’t use it at all.

The key to success in simplifying and downsizing what you have, is to see your space with fresh eyes. You don’t have to put everything back just the way it was. In fact, it’s very possible that some of those pieces are gone now, right?

Try putting less in the space…just what you need. Bring in the accents like lighting, art, and other small decor, with a light touch.

You know the phrase, “less is more”? Try to live it with this project!

Leading a Simpler Life

leading a simpler life after downsizing

I used to have a lot of stuff. When my husband and I relocated to Florida in 2006 we had enough furnishings for two homes. Big homes. Literally.

Over the next eight years, we gradually downsized, simplified and otherwise created a less stressful life by owning less stuff.

What we learned was, we didn’t need all those things in our lives. We just needed each other, our love, and our family. The rest is optional.

Today, it’s just me; my husband has been gone for over three years. My life is simple, my home is not cluttered, and what I do have in it is not expensive or intricate.

But it is enough. I don’t need one more thing in my life.

How about you? Is it time to downsize and simplify your life? It doesn’t matter why. It is important, however, that you make the decision and do something about it.

Why not start now? Leave a comment and tell us about your plans!

Free Printable for you to keep handy as you Downsize & Simplify YOUR life!

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19 thoughts on “How to Downsize and Simplify Your Life”

  1. Iā€™m one of the weirdos that loves to get rid of stuff. Nothing brings me joy like a donation trip at the local thrift store! It truly is freeing to let stuff go. And I decided 1 1/2 years ago that I needed to stop buying clothes so I would wear the stuff I already own and like. As long as I stay out of clothing stores, Iā€™m fine. Love this post!

  2. We need to declutter but not downsize as our home we built less than 10 years ago has 5 bedrooms and 3 baths. Our grandbabies have their own room when they come to visit. As for decluttering, most of it is hubby’s stuff as he seems to want to be a packrat, we are working on decluttering his things though šŸ™‚

  3. My husband and I sold all our stuff and our house in 2000, and lived in an RV for 13 years. The getting rid of things was hard. Some things I didn’t want to let go, but for every thing I let go, I gained so many memories, new friends, new places visited. For every action, there is a re-action, and those re-actions can be so much fun.

    1. Hi Karen, I love your perspective! Although you probably had no choice, moving from a home into an RV, all of those memories, new and old, are now with you, as well as the adventure of RV living! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  4. Candi – this is great! I actually have a scary basement that I’ve not started because it seems too overwhelming. You have made me rethink this and I’m going to start this weekend! One small step at a time. (Love the infographic!!)

    1. Hi Lisa, yes…just tackle one tiny area of the basement and get that under control, then move on to the next little area. Try to ignore everything else around you! Thanks for the infographic compliment, that was my first try at creating one and it’s not bad. šŸ™‚

  5. I really loved this post. It is so true that we keep accumulating stuff. Most of it is stuff we don’t need. I’m pinning this post and rereading it weekly. We moved a year ago and still have stuff in boxes. I guess I don’t need that stuff, do I??

  6. This is a great post, and simplifying is very freeing. Our stuff tends to own us and not the other way around.
    It’s also a critical step to be kind to your children…when my parents died we had to sort through so much stuff that ultimately had no value and find a way to dispose of it. So heartwrenching to go through on top of losing both parents within a year. I resolve NOT to do that to my kids.

    1. Hi Nancy, that’s a really good point! My folks spent several years slowing downsizing their belongings, so when we moved them into a retirement apartment it was so much easier for everyone. I agree with you: my kids won’t have years worth of stuff to manage when I’m gone!

  7. I’m really glad you reposted this, Candi. Leading a simpler life makes so much sense. As we renovate our apartment, it makes me realize how thoughtful I want to be when buying things for it. I hate clutter and will only fill the apartment with things that I really love. I’ve been wearing a capsule wardrobe since I first started traveling and see no need to change that now. Thank you for sharing.

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