Sunday, July 21, 2019

Downsizing: Tips on Purging, Organizing

When sharing our recent move into a loft condo, I promised I would offer my personal tips on downsizing in terms of purging and organizing. That's my topic today. Even if you aren't contemplating a downsize move, this strategy might help for any sort of necessary organization project, so you may want to bookmark or pin it for future reference. It's taken a while to just organize my thoughts and finish this post, and it's a bit lengthy, so you may want to even read it in sections (which I've separated for your convenience).
If you remember Steve Martin's movie, The Jerk, you can probably relate to this clip, "All I Need". It's a good parallel to downsizing.
My strategy before packing for our downsize was two-fold: a serious purge and organization of what remained, what I needed. We downsized more than 50% of our prior square footage. While some of these points may seem elementary, they're written for those who really don't know where to start. They do NOT include steps toward getting a house ready to list for sale; rather, they begin at the point where a house is either already on the market or sold.

Draft a Timeline, and Sequence Your Tasks
*  Once the house is available and ready for sale, wrap your mind around the possibility of going into contract right away and get busy right away. Time is of essence. Our house was never even on the market when it sold!

*  Negotiate the closing date and move out dates with your realtor(s).

*  Draft a timeline, blocking off certain tasks by certain dates to meet the schedule of closing and vacating your property. It may help to start by looking at your end date and work backwards. The point is, no matter how drawn out or compressed your schedule is, try to schedule and work toward key events with intention of reaching your goals!

*  Be prepared to either purchase boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, and even plastic tubs for the downsizing effort. If you know of someone who is moving during your timeframe, by all means recycle from them or, if you buy, try to pass on to someone else who may be moving soon (ask family, friends, or post 'Free' on Craigslist or Facebook yard sale).
Moving Supplies
Get Inspired, Measure Twice, Purge Once (or Twice or Thrice!)
*  Your new space will undoubtedly inspire you (or else you need to question your decision to buy!). Before your new space is under contract, it's a good idea to visualize how you will use the space. Get busy in deciding what will go to the new space, what will need to be purged. Taking a careful look at the seller's furnishings is also good, as you may want to negotiate some of those items into your contract. This process may be fluid at first, but will soon take shape more definitively.

*  Style, structure of your new home can influence your choices. The age of our building (originally constructed in early 1900s) and modern design of the seller's renovation to the loft interior sparked a leaning toward straight lines and the Art Deco aesthetic, both representative of a modern look (but with vintage flair). I knew we had many furnishings that would already work in this style.

*  Size matters. Measuring all the wall spaces in your new space is crucial, and goes hand-in-hand with taking measurements of your current furnishings to see what and how pieces will physically fit. High ceilings or low ceilings can determine scale necessary to balance a space. High ceilings can accommodate larger furniture more easily, as an example. Try to roughly sketch it out so you can get a feel for the fit of things. I lost a lot of sleep going through this exercise repeatedly, juggling furnishings in my mind and on paper!
Size matters, functionality is important!
*  Functionality is important. In a downsize, it is critical to have things in their place and a place for the things you choose to take. This may sway your decisions in the pieces you decide to keep. The more versatile pieces can be, the more attractive they become in trying to make work for your new space. For example, a bookcase can be dish or linen storage, and a china cabinet can be linen storage. Or, a small stool can become table surface or even extra seating.

*  Color preferences can also steer your choice of furnishings. You may like the seller's color choices and it may steer you to want to change your furnishings, either with slipcovers, which room will hold which furniture, or by purging and buying replacements. Or, you may want to change wall colors in your new home to go with existing furnishings that you choose to take.
Before (top) and after (bottom) of Master BR painting
*  If money is no object and you have no reservations in purging what you already have, a new home may be your opportunity to just go with another style of furnishings completely, simply for the sake of change.

Basic Principles While Purging: Math, Matters, Motivation
You may be doing some purging of items in anticipation of your home selling and finding your new space, but once you have your new space under contract, it's time to get serious. A few things you may want to keep in the forefront of your mind when trying to make decisions in purging:
*  Do the math. Make an equation of the square footage of your new space to the old space. Ours was 2,275 new space to 5,000 former space, or 45% (2,275 / 5,000 = 45%). Translated to purging, I told myself for every 2 of most things, I needed to purge 1. For multiples, using 10 sets of dishes as one example, my goal was to purge 5.

*  Determine what's most important, what matters to you in a smaller space. Is it style, form/function, or beauty? Base your purging decisions on what is most important to you. Storage was important to me, and versatile functionality of pieces was equally important. Beauty sometimes took a backseat when an item was too big, or not in the style we anticipated using in the new space (our master bedroom furniture, though I loved its style and storage, was just too big for our new space, so we purged it).

*  Start purging with something that easily motivates you. It will spark your inner energy and, hopefully, keep you enthused. I started with my clothes and shoes first.
Easy targets for purge jumpstart: clothes and shoes
Okay, we've skimmed the surface, and you now have some basic things to concentrate on while purging. Let's dive deeper!

Purging, Organizing by Category vs by Room
A lot of professional organizers say the best way to pack and purge for a move is to go room by room, and that makes sense to me for kitchens and bathrooms. For most rooms, though, I have an alternate proposal: do it by category. Examples of this would be: clothes, paper, books, linens, games/toys, dishes (if you have a lot of sets like me), to name just a few. A few of my justifications for purging, organizing by category:
  • Purging by category allows you to pick one that's easy for you to get started so you can see quick results and jumpstart your motivation to continue. My wardrobe was an easy starting point. I still had 20 yr old work clothes (that fit), and now was the time to bless others!
  • Purging by category allows you to see the size of various collections. If you decorate with like kinds of one category of items (hello vintage purses, transferware dishes and pictures!), and they're scattered among various rooms, you'll soon see my point. It makes sense to gather them from ALL rooms before you begin the purge and organization. 
  • Once you move, you may not choose to use all the same items from one dwelling's particular room to the next dwelling's same room, or you may repurpose a piece of furniture in an entirely different way in the same room.  Pictured below are various porcelains & other small decor items I gathered from various rooms and separated by take, purge, and store.
Purging by category: gathering small porcelains throughout the house first
Keep, Donate, Sell or Gift - the Actual Purge
You have decisions to make, and your timeframe may have an impact on what route you go.  Here are some options/venues for purging to consider (and I used all of them):
* Selling outright. My choice venue for this was in my established antique booth spaces. I limited selling only vintage or antique items, nothing contemporary. For more detail on that front, see this post. Consider selling contemporary items via Facebook yard sale, Craigslist, or local newspaper. If you have the luxury of time and good weather, have a yard sale. I chose not to waste my time schedule on selling through other venues besides my booth spaces. I have participated in yard sales, and that begs for another post of lessons learned. I'd be happy to oblige if anyone's interested in my tips for yard saling.

* Enlist family and friends for items you want to gift. My two married daughters and one niece were willing and anxious to take furnishings, and they coordinated a move to help each other and get it all out in one day. I also "strongly encouraged" my daughters to take some sentimental things such as their coming home outfits from birth and those outfits from their one-year old portraits.
Family truckloads day
*  Take family and/or friends up on offers to help you through the nitty gritty of purging, organizing, and packing. One of my sisters helped me continuously for nearly six weeks, two days a week, six hours each day. She helped me through indecisiveness on what to purge/keep (she would resort to the  "does it bring you joy?" question only as a tiebreaker), helped me drop off donations, and gladly took carloads of items each time she came to help. 🤣

*  Call a donation site to take items you want to purge that family & friends don't want. Additionally, each day I worked through boxes, bins, drawers and cabinets, I filled my SUV and dropped off a load to various donation locations.
Donation move day
*  Rent a storage unit to move things you really want to keep (after purging!) but won't have room to store in your new abode. It makes sense to organize and store seasonal decor such as Christmas and other seasonals this way, as they are not typically used year round.
Storage Unit Storage
*  Schedule and see the major move to your new home through. It's important to be there and note any mishaps right away. Additionally, if your move is to a reasonably close location, you can make many small moves yourself, accomplishing many smaller moves before, during, and after the moving company does their job. This also allows you to re-use tubs, boxes, paper and bubble wrap!
Professional move day
*  Engage a consignment business and/or an auction house to take what furnishings you don't want to move with you, but would like to sell. Bear in mind the percentage take for these businesses runs anywhere from 30-40% typically, and the most likely scenario is you receive your share of proceeds once the items are sold. Outright purchasing by an auction house is not typical. We scheduled this move after the major move to our new abode was complete. Alternatively, you could opt to have the sale hosted in your home (consignment). I chose not to go this route, mostly because our home was already sold. I did not want the risk of damaging the house interior or outside grounds with traffic of buyers coming and going. I've seen it too many times as an antique dealer who frequents those sales.

Chart Your Daily Progress
*  Keep notes on what you accomplish. In a downsizing effort, it's the ultimate reward for a list-making nerd to look back and see that proverbial list totally crossed off! It can be as simple as using a monthly planner and noting total hrs and subject worked on, or detailed descriptions.
Charting daily progress
*  Better than notes, take photos! I have a gazillion before photos of my house, garden and storage, but if you don't have those already, take photos of your rooms, even cabinets and drawers, before you start your project. Each time a move happens, big or small, take photos so you can see the progress. Sometimes it didn't feel like much of a difference for me, even when big loads were going out! However, I assure you, eventually you will see the huge difference in the befores and afters!
Empty House, Exterior after final move with auction house.
Take Breaks
Seeing your daily progress several days in a row allows you to take time off, guilt-free. It's a necessary thing to recharge your motivation for the duration of the project. Everyone is different, but when your bones and muscles ache, you're losing sleep at night, or feeling overwhelmed - those are all signs it's time to take a break. Dinner with friends, a night out with your partner, a day of reading, or doing nothing at all are all good suggestions to turn down the busy meter.
Dinner with Friends
A Night Out with My Honey
Accumulated Magazine Subscriptions through the Moving Project
Finish the Project, Celebrate!
Once the move is completed, it's important to finish the job entirely.
*  If you have a garden, consider digging up a few plants for transplanting at either your new home or a family member's (if you have little or no gardening space). Pass along plants can prove to be both sentimentally and agriculturally important. 
Pass Along Plants for Daughter
*  Do a final cleaning of the house and garage. Getting to the end point is cathartic! The trash was put out, and my sister & I celebrated! My husband and I also celebrated by going on vacation after the big move and the last load (with the exception of the auction house load out) was out of the house.
Celebrating the end of the project with my sister
Our downsizing effort took a full six months. Throughout all of this timeline, I was purging, organizing and packing daily. In an attempt to help those of you who may find yourself in a big move project scenario, I've outlined several points I went through to meet our timeline. Whether you're cleaning out an estate, downsizing your own home, or know someone else who is, I hope this has helped you. Looking back and summarizing, these are the key points I wanted to share with you:

  • Draft a Timeline, and Sequence Your Tasks
  • Get Inspired, Measure Twice, Purge Once (or Twice or Thrice!)
  • Basic Principles While Purging: Math, Matters, Motivation
  • Purging, Organizing by Category vs by Room
  • Keep, Donate, Sell or Gift - the Actual Purge
  • Chart Your Daily Progress
  • Take Breaks
  • Finish the Project, Celebrate!
Thanks for your readership, always. Feel free to leave your comments on this subject. They're certainly welcome.

(A special note of thanks to Marty of A Stroll Thru Life's 510th Inspire Me Tuesday for featuring this post and to the readers of Liberty's B4 and Afters and Shelley's Calypso in the Country's "Best of the Weekend" for showing most clicked interest in this post!)
Rita C. at Panoply


  1. Wow....what a project. We never sized up to a large home, thank-goodness, though I would like to move out completely(purge) and move back in---LOL. Great article for those who have to down-size!

    1. You were SMART not to upsize, Sandi! When I see young (and even middle-aged) family and friends doing it, I think, why?? And I understand wanting to purge and move back in. Or, you could just let it be. :)

  2. Well Rita, after I watched the Steve Martin clip it was all down hill for me. It was hysterical and I could identify with both of them. I prefer the falling down on the floor and crying method myself. The big question is why were his pants around his ankles? LOL!!! I'm not nearly as detailed as you are, but I do have a couple of notebooks full of lists. I had to discipline myself daily to keep at it, and I've found that I'd rather renovate a house than move out of one! I'm pinning your post, it's an amazing roadmap to downsizing. I'm so glad we both made it to the other side! xoxo Deb

    1. You did an amazing job, Debra, and you were definitely one of my superheroes I followed through the process who inspired me!

  3. Wow, Rita, you are an organized soul and such a project. I truly admire you. I am surely saving this post to read and read again. You have given me inspiration to begin clearing out things not in use in our home. A much needed task. Do enjoy your new home and the freedom it provides from work. Happy summer days to you and yours.

    1. Sandra, I thought I purged last year and each time I did a yard sale. I laughed at giving myself that impression once I did this job! However, I do realize every effort chips away, and soon it makes a big impact. Go for it!

  4. Oh wow! I knew you worked hard at purging for months but never put the square footage of what you had to what you were going to; together! Holy Crap you worked your arse off. It's also inspiring, the whole time reading this I am seeing items I have not touched in months that can go to someone else.

    You did an amazing job and I'm happy to hear you had some help too. That was a huge job. Good work Rita!

    1. The trauma of it all is ALMOST behind me now, lol. Writing this sure triggered a lot of thoughts and feelings though. And our buyers will arrive in the country this week. We agreed to a "how things operate" walk thru. I'll be glad when that's over, to be honest. I will see the weeds and want to pull them!

  5. I admire you also. You have accomplished so much.
    We are in the process of cleaning out my MIL's home and it is overwhelming. I am too sentimental and have issues with not wanting to regret saving something. Since my house is overflowing that is a problem.
    Your post has helped very much. Thank you, Rita.

  6. Rita, I can't believe the perfect timing of your post --- just days after I asked the question to your comment on my amount of coastal tableware!

    We probably won't move or downsize until after the boys get married and settle somewhere. Right now they are in urban condos in NYC and Philly, so I still have all their sentimental keepsakes like yearbooks etc. Plus, all their "quality" toys like books, Brio, Legos and more Lego sets, Playmobile, Ninja Turtles and Star Wars to pass along to future grandkids. And, since I have sons, I realize most of my tableware will not likely go on to daughter in laws. Until then, I have a four-bedroom house stuffed with stuff!

    I have purged household items and clothing on two major occasions via a neighborhood yard sale. problem is folks just want to spend a buck or two. After days organizing, pricing and setting up, most stuff got packed in the car and donated. So it was worth the effort to purge stuff, but I'd advise skipping the effort of a yard sale. Today, people target specific things they want via Craig's List or vintage via Etsy and EBay.

    1. Debbee, I know exactly how you felt with yard saling. The same is true even in the antique mall! People want something for nothing. When we do yard sale, we do it in a huge parking lot with nearly 100 vendors, all in one place, and we've consistently done well (we purge a lot of vintage items we pull from the booths). General rule of thumb is to start at 25% of what its current fair market value is, then adjust for condition or how badly you want rid of it, lol.

  7. Wow! Congrats on the move into the new space! I've been helping a family friend clean out her and her late husband's house they have lived in since the mid 1960s. It has been quite the labor of love. And nearly a month later, after working every single day after work for several hours and every weekend day, I can say that the end is near! They were MAJOR collectors! Haha

    1. So good to hear from you! Oh, I bet you're having a blast taking in all the castaways! My sister who helped me was actually sad when it was over, even though I know her house was packed to the gills with things she took from my purge, lol! I can certainly visualize the project you took on.

  8. Rita, you did it!! Wow, you are so organized. Our home here in California is smaller than your condo, so I'm in a constant "selection" mode. Right now I'm shifting all our antique silver and dishes into a huge French buffet deux corps we just bought, and purging along the way!! I can't wait to see your new home,I think you are going to love it! Happy Monday friend! Xo Lidy

    1. The beauty of smaller living in CA is the fact that you can extend your square footage with even the tiniest of a yard outside. Your home lives bigger than it appears, Lidy! And I'll bet what you do purge will be the gain of your customer base in new pretties!

  9. OMG, that Steve Martin clip had me laughing so much!! Thanks for sharing that, haha! You are a woman after my own heart, organized and a list-maker! Whew. What a lot of work though. I'd say your vacation was much needed. We live in a 3600 sq ft house so I have lots of room for a lot of stuff, but I have spent the last few years purging and organizing, cognizant of the fact that when we do eventually move (no plans yet) I may not have the energy or time to do it all then. Thanks for sharing all your tips. I like the idea of 45% of the space equals getting rid of one out of two things. xo Deborah

    1. Deborah, I want you to know how much you inspired me with your purge, really! I watched you carefully, and would think, "oh, how can she purge that?" Well, now I understand!

  10. You should start a professional moving consultation business Rita, you are sooo organized, not to mention incredible thorough and unbelievably energetic! Bravo, you go girl!!

  11. Wow Rita, you are the queen of purge! You are so organized. Love your tips. Thanks for sharing those valuable tips at "Love Your Creativity." Have a wonderful week.

  12. Wow! I was never as organized as you; tried to keep too much in my head. Even so, I did well getting rid of so.much.stuff back in 2016. But here we are in 2019 once again in a big ol' house, and I'm filling it up. Friends moved last week from a 6000 sq. ft. house to a 3,000 sq. ft. house out of state. On their way "out the door" they were dropping pretties off at my house. Some things I'll keep because I love them and I don't plan to ever move again. LOL Others I'll pass along. I had so looked forward to having a smaller home with "a place for everything, and everything in its place", but since that's not how life played out, I guess I'll just enjoy the "stuff" -- but only keep the things I love. Today I'm cleaning out files and looking forward to tomorrow when I take so.many.pounds of papers to the shredding service! I am so happy your downsizing plan worked out. You are an inspiration to many, and I'm sure your guidelines will be invaluable for others. Great job!

  13. Wow, just wow Rita. I have always considered you the master of organization and your proved yourself worthy of this title with this post. I can imagine how it must have felt when you completed all the purging, freeing I am sure! I will need your expertise one of these days, thanks so much for taking the time to write this informative and useful post!

  14. You are really an organized gal!!! I don't know how you did it - I dread the day! I hope you are enjoying your new home!!

  15. Rita that is so funny that you mentioned The Jerk! My sisters and I were just joking about my moving, using this reference this past weekend. "All I need is this clock..." lol! I started purging with my shoes and clothing too. I've moved from excited to who in their right mind moves in August? It's Texas and it's notoriously hotter than the furnaces of Hell in August. LOL! Thanks for the other tips, I am sure to be using them over then next month.

    1. Too funny, Tammy, great minds think, about that cordless vac....thanks for the review. I've been toying with the thought of a new one....

  16. You did so great with this move. Being organized seems to be the answer. Have a great week. Enjoying my break.

  17. Rita, this is a great document. When we put our home on the market a few years ago, I did much of the same. I wasn't ready to purge completely, so instead I packed and put things in storage with the intention of going through the boxes a few at a time once we moved to our new downsized space. Fast forward, the move never happened. With the boxes in storage, I began to bring them back home, and purge as I desired. It was a long process, and I'm in need of more purging once again. This upcoming remodel will require that! We've got some furniture to sell, without good options. I sent several designers we know, photos and details. There was interest, but no sales. Not sure what we will do. One is a Steinway grand, so not easy to find a buyer!

    1. Sarah, I didn't realize the extent of what you've already accomplished! I don't envy your current situation, but if I were closer, I'd certainly offer to help you. Good luck!

  18. You did a fantastic job. Kudos.

  19. You are such a great example of organizing and purging with such thoroughness, Rita!! Thank you for taking the time to document all this for us to have and refer to. You are amazing!! I’m glad that you still found time to have fun and rewarded yourself with a vacation! Great job!

  20. This is a great post, Rita! Lots made sense but the thing that kind of hit me big on the head was the measuring part! Duh! That's number one but I think I might have forgotten that till I had too many bookshelves in one room! Every room! Every time I help Rick ready the other side of his duplex for new tenants, I look and figure where I will put my furniture one day. Maybe next time I'll take a tape measure! And of course all the other tips were excellent! What an accomplishment!

  21. What great tips, Rita! I'm awed by your skills, Sister! Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm!

  22. Wow! What a big job! Your post was Most Clicked at The Best of the Weekend this past week. Thank you for sharing! We already have a small house to start with-- so we think we skipped the get-a-large-house-then-downsize step. But sometimes we wish we had more room so who knows what could happen.

    Liberty @

    1. Liberty, thank you so much for the heads up! I hope the information is helpful for others and am humbled by readers' interest. I'll be sure and visit on the blog.

  23. What a detailed and informative post! So many great tips...and so funny that you included the clip from the Jerk. That is one of my all time favorite movies! As Liberty mentioned above, your post was our most clicked at Best of the Weekend! Be sure to swing by to see the other features and to link up any other projects you are working on. Have a great weekend!

  24. Rita, you put an amazing amount of work into this post and it was SO worth it. It’s full of practical tips and sage advice we all could use at some point.

    I have a feeling you never want to see another box as long as you live 😉

    Hope you’re enjoying your new life in smaller digs.


  25. A girl after my own heart. And I thought I was detail-oriented! Your words offer me inspiration in more ways than one. Thank you!!