Thinking about downsizing? This checklist will help you prepare for the move and make the most of your new smaller space.

By Sheryl Geerts
Updated April 14, 2020
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So you've decided to make the move and downsize to a smaller house. Downsizing is exciting, but it can also be a major transition. You’ll need to make sure that you’re financially prepared to make the move as well as understand how downsizing will impact your lifestyle. Less space in your new house means less room for your belongings, so you’ll need to part with your stuff—and that’s not always an easy task. With so many decluttering methods and organizing tips out there, downsizing can feel overwhelming, but with a little guidance on how to get rid of the things you don’t need, you’ll be prepared to maximize space in your new small home and decorate to make rooms appear bigger. Here's everything you need to know about clearing out clutter, maximizing your new home's storage potential, and handy tricks for decorating small rooms.

Edmund Barr

Understand the Hidden Costs to Downsize Your House

There are many reasons to downsize, including the possibility of reducing your mortgage payment and utility bills, but if you’re downsizing to save money, make sure you’re aware of the potential hidden costs before you make your move. The cost to move and furnish a new home are two of the most common burdens on the budget. You’ll also want to factor in some money to cover any repairs your existing home might need to get it ready to sell. Then there’s always the potential for higher property taxes, the need for storage rental, and the ever-changing homeowner’s association fees.

John Granen

Declutter Your Existing Home

The first step toward making your new small home feel cozy rather than crowded is getting rid of things you don't need before you actually downsize. In the grand scheme of things, it means thinking about which items you can donate, sell, or toss. Get started by creating an inventory of your belongings so you can see redundancies and inefficiencies. You’ll probably find things you currently don’t use and items that can be replaced with smaller or multi-use versions.

Try a Clutter-Cutting Method

There are many decluttering methods to guide you through downsizing. Each method has its own unique way of breaking this time-consuming task into more manageable steps. The key is figuring out which one will work for you. The KonMari method, made popular by Marie Kondo, encourages tidying by category and keeping only those things that speak to the heart. The Four-Box method forces you to make a decision on every item by sorting your clutter into boxes labeled, “Put Away,” “Give Away or Sell,” “Trash,” and “Storage.” Once you settle on a decluttering process that works for you, then you can transition to your smaller home with less stuff in the way.

Download Apps to Sell Your Stuff

Hoping to make some extra cash on those items you’ll no longer have room for? Look to apps for selling your items online. You can use the money from the sales toward furniture and decor that better suits your new home. Free apps like Letgo, Nextdoor, and OfferUp involve no shipping hassles because they let you virtually sell to your neighbors. If you’re looking to reach a larger audience, consider using Facebook Marketplace or CPlus for Craigslist. For an opportunity to cash-in on your big-ticket items, turn to eBay. Those items with a more refined flair or designer style are best sold on Poshmark or Tradesy.

Toss Broken Items

Throw away or recycle badly worn or broken items. If you have something that's broken that you've been meaning to fix, ask yourself honestly whether it's worth the time and potential cost to do so. Struggling to part with beloved objects? Ask a friend to help you go through things: They're likely to look at your stuff with a more objective eye.

Analyze Your Furniture

If you know your old furniture won't fit in your new home, it's time to get rid of it. First, think about ways you could repurpose furniture, such as a TV stand as a bedside table or dresser, for example. If that won't work, look for slim furniture without heavy legs or armrests that offers multipurpose storage. And remember to always measure the floor space of your new rooms; furniture can look different in a giant store warehouse.

Clean Out Your Wardrobe

Getting rid of clothes can be a daunting task. If you have some time, one easy trick is to flip all of your clothes hangers the wrong way at the start of a season. When the seasons change, whatever is left with backward hangers goes in the donation bin. If you're torn on whether to get rid of something, put it in a box and store the box on a high shelf or in the attic. If you haven't worn any of those items in several months, get rid of them.

Rid Your Kitchen of Unnecessary Appliances

Clunky kitchen appliances take up valuable cabinet and counter space. Unfortunately, they can also be difficult to justify getting rid of if they were expensive. But if that fancy blender you bought three years ago is still collecting dust, there's no use in keeping it. Consider selling or donating it before transitioning to a smaller home.

Laurie Black Photography

How to Maximize Space in a Small House

The best way to maximize organization in a small space is to use household accessories and furniture that are vertical and multifunctional, such as an ottoman that opens up to reveal extra storage. Think of ways you can get things off the floor and table surfaces. Here are some ideas for maximizing space in a small home.

Install Wall-Mounted Storage

Wall-mounted storage or floating shelves free the floor and make a small space seem more airy. Floating shelves also double as storage and display space, perfect for preventing counter clutter. You can even build your own with basic hardware-store supplies and lumber.

Increase Storage in Your Kitchen

Lacking kitchen storage? Rely on pieces that won't cram floors, such as rolling carts you can move out of the way or tall, narrow bookshelves. Simple additions go a long way to add storage to a small kitchen. Try adding hooks to the bottoms of your cabinets to hold mugs, or use magnetic strips to make a floating spice rack. And don’t forget to use the open space you already have like the tops of your cabinets, the space above your refrigerator, and the inside of your cabinet doors. Save counter space by installing wall-mounted or hanging wine racks for storing your wine and stemware.

Shop for Multifunctional Furniture

Finding the right furniture for a small house can be challenging. To best utilize your space, you might have to spend a little money on multifunctional furniture. Simple pieces like a folding Murphy table or bed clears floor space when not in use. A small chair makes great use of an underutilized corner. A lift-top coffee table can be used as a desk or dining table for small meals, plus it easily stores magazines and the remote control in its storage compartment.

Install Sliding Doors

Sliding doors in small bathrooms or even a barn door in a living area add impact and don't require the floor space of traditional swinging doors. They also add privacy in open floor plans without having to do any major remodeling.

David Greer

How to Make Small Rooms Look Bigger

Downsizing your house doesn't have to mean downsizing your style. These sneaky decorating tricks will help you make small rooms look bigger and feel more open. We've rounded up practical advice on how to choose colors, dress windows, and more in a small footprint.

  • Use Multifunctional Lighting: Wall-mounted sconces (especially adjustable ones) free table space and swing out of the way when not in use. Install lights on the inside of shelving units that function as a combination headboard, reading area, and bookshelf.
  • Utilize Mirrors and Shiny Surfaces: Mirrors make a room appear larger, as do shiny surfaces and see-through materials like glass and acrylic. A mirrored coffee table can make objects look like they're floating and allow the patterns on a rug beneath it to shine. Bonus: These surfaces bounce light around a small space to visually expand its footprint.
  • Create Zones in a Multipurpose Room: When one room has to play multiple roles, arrange furniture, rugs, or folding screens to mark each area and create intimacy.
  • Minimally Dress Windows: Don't over-dress windows with heavy, dark curtains. Natural light makes small rooms feel bigger, so either go bare or choose window treatments made from thinner fabrics. Hang the curtains higher than the window to give the illusion of extra height.
  • Decorate with Light Colors: Light colors make a room seem more open. Stick with neutrals and avoid overly busy patterns; they tend to make an already small room feel cramped. Instead, choose one or two accent colors to make a statement and accessorize.

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