Family heirlooms can be difficult to let go of. But it's important to give yourself permission to downsize what you don't need and what no one wants. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

​​Downsizing your stuff can be a daunting prospect.

If you’re feeling bogged down by the thought of the process of downsizing, it’s okay. Armed with some tips and advice, you’ll be ready for the challenge.

The first thing to do, is to sit down and have a very honest conversation with yourself, according to Troy Pattison of Simply Sized Home.

“Really think about those things you really don’t need,” Pattison said. “If you have used something in six or eight months or have not used that box of holiday decorations in over a year, it’s got to go.”

Start with an easy area

Choosing an easier area to declutter is a great way to start. Kim Corey of Finely Sorted Organizing calls this a visual release — an area easily cleaned that has little or no emotional baggage.

“One area and category that is often not emotionally taxing is a linen closet,” Corey said. “You can go in, sort them into piles and decide what to do with them and, before you know it you have cleaned out a space.”

In the end, what you decide to keep and what you decide to downsize out of your life is up to the individual, Corey said.

“You need to decide if you want to put up with having boxes of things taking up space or do you want to have that space free for other uses,” Corey said. “Neither is wrong, it’s just how you want to live.”

Stop taking it with you

If you are downsizing because you are moving to a smaller home or apartment, that internal conversation and subsequent decluttering is crucial, according to professional organizer Melissa Keyser. The last thing you want to do is haul stuff around for which you have no use or need.

A big part of downsizing is deciding what to keep and what to let go. That can be a stressful process, but it does not have to be with some planning and organization. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

“This is especially true for those things in your house that are stored in closets or attics that you’ve been procrastinating dealing with for a long time,” Keyser said. “Hire a dumpster and then really look at what you have and decide if it’s worth keeping just to take up space in your new place.”

Looking at your lifestyle can help in deciding what to keep and what to let go, Keyser said.

“If you spend a lot of time cooking you probably have a lot of pots and pans and kitchen items,” Keyser said. “But if you are moving to a new place that is close to a lot of great restaurants and you are going to be eating out a lot, you probably don’t need all that kitchen stuff anymore.”

For some household items — especially big things like furniture and appliances — Keyser said it can actually be more cost effective to purchase new things rather than ship or move your existing items.

Take it in small steps

Once you get going, Pattison advises working in small steps.

“Don’t try to tackle it all at once,” Pattison said. “Instead focus on one room or one category of items at a time before moving on to the next room or category.”

Also, make sure you have plenty of boxes, newspaper or other packaging materials, tape, pens, paper and large trash bags on hand.

Pattison also suggests making a schedule that denotes specific time slots on specific days to downsizing. Schedules are key to the process, according to Corey.

To store or not to store

Some people put off any final decision on the fate of their possessions by renting storage units. Keyser is not a fan of that strategy.

“People rent these units so they can go through their stuff later,” Keyser said. “But later never comes.”

Instead, they can become just like the closets or attics of your existing home and left untouched for years.

“I have never heard a client say how glad they were to have stored stuff,” Keyser said. “Instead I hear them say, ‘Why did I keep that’”?

Corey, on the other hand, does feel storage units do serve a purpose, especially if you are short on time. She said it can be handy to have a place to stash those items of which you are not sure about letting go. It’s also a good way to determine just how much you want to keep something. The longer it stays in storage, she said, the less likely it is you actually need or want it.

What about family heirlooms?

If there is a single mistake to be avoided if possible, it’s waiting too long to start downsizing, Corey said. Especially when it comes to those family heirlooms. She suggests using family gatherings as an opportunity for advance downsizing.

“When you have family visiting pull out the old photos or items and talk about what should happen to them,” Corey said. “Not only is that practical, but you are going to be sharing stories and memories.”

Some people also find themselves dealing with items passed down through the family. For people years away from having to worry about who to leave items to, they simply may not want the heirlooms any longer and neither does anyone in the family. It’s okay, Pattison said, to give yourself permission to let things go.

“You may want to contact your kids or grandkids in case they do want something,” Pattison said. “But those kids often say ‘no way.’”

Keep, sell, donate or toss

Once you are secure in the knowledge that you are free to deal with your possessions in any manner you see fit, Pattison said you can divide them into what you want to keep, sell, donate or throw away. Ideally, he said, the keep pile should be the smallest of the four.

Simply tossing things out can be really hard for some people. In those cases Pattison recommends putting as many things as possible in the donate or sell piles.

“That can really ease them through the process if they can know their things will live a useful life once they are gone,” Pattison said. “For those people tossing things out is a last resort.”

Having a good and patient friend on hand during the process can be a huge help, according to Keyser. That friend can be there to listen to stories about various items and help prevent you from falling down a memory rabbit hole for hours at a time.

When it comes to boxes of family photo albums, Pattison said one strategy to downsize those is having them digitized. That way you still have the photographs, but in media that takes up far less space than a bunch of boxes.

Hire a professional

To avoid being overwhelmed from the start, Corey suggests seeking professional guidance.

“Professional organizers, real estate agents and movers are all great resources,” Corey said. “You can ask them all sorts of questions on how to best tackle a move or downsizing.”

Talking to professionals, or doing some research online is among the best ways to find places to donate, sell or dispose of items you are downsizing, Corey said.

Some professionals even offer complimentary consultations to get you started, Corey said.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.