The Declutterer Declutters: What I Learned from my Downsize


My husband Eric and I recently moved from our home in Preston Forest in Kingsport to a downtown loft. While our daughters were living with us, this home was perfect. But when we became empty nesters, we realized we had much more space than needed. So we started discussing what kind of space would best suit our future needs. We wanted a space just big enough for the two of us and occasional guests, but no bigger. We wanted to walk and bike instead of driving as much as possible, and we didn’t want a yard. A downtown loft met all these requirements.

The timing of our downsize correlated almost perfectly with the launch of my organizing business. In the spring of 2016, while still on the fence about starting my business, I listened to the audiobook version of Marie Kondo’s bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I was so inspired that I immediately began the tidying process in our home. It was great preparation for our downsize. Not only that, it would prepare me to help clients declutter and give me experience in using Kondo’s methods. I followed her process exactly and loved every minute of it. We got rid of quite a bit of unneeded belongings. This was Declutter #1

Preparations began in earnest in early 2018. We put our house on the market and began another round of decluttering. Since we knew our new home would be much smaller, we knew that we would have to get rid of a lot. Fortunately, we had two extended family members in need of furniture, so we were able to give them much of our unneeded furniture. Although our daughters didn’t live with us anymore, they still had some items at the house. We told them we would only have room to keep one bin of mementos and a few books for each of them. We went through everything we owned and got rid of even more. This was Declutter #2

When our house finally sold and we began packing, we entered another round of decluttering. We got even more ruthless with each stage, comparing the levels to DEFCON levels. It was amazing how much we were still able to shed in Declutter #3 as we started putting everything into bins and boxes. We had to consider every single item individually and ascertain whether its value was worth the space it would occupy. 

I am sharing the most important lessons I learned because I believe they are applicable to almost everyone. 

It’s never too early to start decluttering.

I believe this advice is true even if you don’t plan on moving soon (or ever)! We started decluttering 2-3 years before we moved. Neither Eric nor I have a bad habit of keeping things unnecessarily. So I really didn’t think we had much clutter. I now wish I had measured the number and/or weight of items we discarded because it was much more than I would have predicted. 

You don’t have to be planning a move in order to declutter like you’re moving. A friend from high school has a very effective annual decluttering practice. In late spring of every year, she and her family walk around the house and look at every item, asking only one question: If we were moving, would this item survive the move? If not, they let it go. I love this technique! 

The best time to declutter is always now. Even if you only followed this one tip, you’d make a great start. Put an empty box in an easily accessible location near your most used rooms in your house. As soon as you see anything that you don’t need, put it in the box. When the box is full, take it to the donation center of your choice. Repeat the process over and over. This practice alone takes very little time but pays huge dividends.  

Getting money from your belongings feels right, but it’s usually not worth the effort. 

We generally donate most items we don’t need, but we occasionally make exceptions. Eric had a jacket from every Apple Worldwide Developer Conference from 2012-2019. He had seen these jackets sell for $200 each on ebay, so he listed them. They didn’t sell as a set, so he listed them individually. They still didn’t sell. 

Often when someone intends to sell something, they don’t even know how, so it sits untouched. Rarely does an item bring the financial reward we think it deserves. You also have to consider the time to price it, take and post photos, respond to queries, and ship it. 

I sometimes made the same excuses as my clients. 

For the most part, I didn’t have much trouble shedding my possessions, but it wasn’t always easy. I found myself saying exactly the same things as my clients say when they struggle in their decluttering efforts. Here are a few phrases that I recall saying during this process: “But ____(special person)___ gave it to me!”, “I worked really hard on that!”, “But I might need it,” and my personal favorite, “But it’s special!” 

When in doubt, err on the side of letting go. 

Eric and I have had some practice living in a space of this size. We took advantage of flexible jobs and our empty nest by living in a different part of the country for one month of 2018 (Bend, Oregon) and 2019 (Missoula, Montana). We rented a small home or loft, taking only a very small amount of clothing, basic toiletries, and a few items for leisure activities. Even then, we ended up having more than we needed. I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed having just a few options as far as clothing. Living with a minimal amount of stuff was very satisfying. 

We need so much less than we think we need! It might be a very eye-opening experience to list your absolute requirements to get by on a daily basis. Then walk around your house and compare what you see with your list. 

Letting go brings freedom. 

I have seen this principle to be true not only personally, but also for my clients. Everything you own requires time to purchase, store, clean, and maintain. In the words of Tyler Durden in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, “The things you own end up owning you.”

After 3 years of decluttering, I have rarely thought twice about anything I let go. Even then, I have no regrets. I love this more simple lifestyle. 


One thought on “The Declutterer Declutters: What I Learned from my Downsize

  1. I’m surprised that you ever said ‘I might need it’ Angie! Lol
    Great advice though, esp the Start now. Moving my Dad and it’s been exhausting going through his things.


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