When we wanted our life to change from Daniel’s 9-5 and our urban homeowner life to an agricultural internship on a farm halfway across the country, we knew that part of the deal would be moving into a two bedroom 650 sq ft apartment significantly smaller than our little starter home.
So we started decluttering. Big time. And ended up getting rid of half of our stuff.
How many things have I regretted selling, donating, or tossing? ZERO. And the thing is….we didn’t have that much stuff to begin with and yet so much was unnecessary. By the time we moved out of our house, we could fit all our possessions in one POD that was shipped to TX for us. That felt good.
The Method That Worked for Me
Thoroughly declutter a small space in your home each day. One room at a time was really too much for me while homeschooling three little ones and working from home. I did one wall of our home at a time that way I could look afterwards and see a big difference and felt encourage and motivated by how much better it looked.
When making decisions about what would stay or go, I thought about how much space it would take up in a moving box and if it was really worth that space. I’d start on one end of the wall I was tackling and first remove anything from the walls that wasn’t worth taking with us. Is there old artwork from the kids that it’s time to toss? Do I really love that poster?
Then I’d tackle drawers and cabinets if there were any. Is this broken flashlight in the desk drawer really going to get fixed or is that just wishful thinking? How many cheese knives does one family need? You get the idea.
Once I was done with that wall of our space, it felt great to see a cleaner, tidier area with less unnecessary stuff cluttering it up.
I just did a few cabinets and drawers at a time asking: “Have I used this in the past year?” I love a pretty Christmas platter or tea cup. That’s worth it to me to keep if I know I’ll use it even just for one season a year. But a lemon juicer that we used that one time we made lemonade? Eh. Not worth the space. Into the garage sale box it went.
I also asked: “Do I have too many of this sort of thing?” It’s great to have a few pretty serving dishes and platters for company but when you realize you have far too many to use even at Thanksgiving, it’s time to get rid of the ones that weren’t wedding gifts or family heirlooms.
During our six week road trip this summer we did a lot of our own cooking because of health issues and food allergies. And obviously we had very limited kitchen supplies because we were using what could fit in our van. But….it was fine. When we got to our apartment and unpacked our kitchen boxes from our POD I couldn’t believe how many kitchen things there were! When would we possibly use 30 glasses?!
Our new little kitchen.
Since we don’t have a dishwasher we aren’t running into our old problem of all the bowls being held hostage in a wash cycle on the one night we were planning to have soup. Everything is either in the sink, the cabinets, or the drying rack. We just wash one and use it. Easy peasy.
If you’re moving, this one is easier because you don’t think twice about tossing all those half-empty bottles of stuff because who moves half empty lotion bottles? But for some reason before we knew we were moving, things like fancy lotion or pumice stones that I had never ever used seemed like something I might use and we should keep around. Mistake! Just toss and move on. I felt so much better once I did. If you haven’t used that fancy lotion in a year….it’s just cluttering up your bathroom cabinet.
I also got rid of some old towels that had seen better days. We had enough for each person in our family to have a designated towel with a couple of extras just in case. Plenty.
The Kids Rooms
When moving three little ones from a three bedroom house to a two bedroom house, we knew we needed to seriously purge from the bedrooms. I’ve already covered how to declutter toys in this post about how to stop fighting with your kids over their messy room. The secret is get rid of all the stuff they never play with when they’re not around and they will never notice the difference. Or at least mine didn’t. They did, however, tell me how much they loved their room now that it was “organized.” Win.
I only saved Lucy’s clothes that will fit Gwen in a year or so. I didn’t save Gwen or Benjamin’s old clothes, and not because we don’t plan to have more kids, just because they were hand-me-downs to begin with and hand-me-downs are constantly being passed down from friends and family.
I did save a little box of baby things that I simply can’t live without like what I brought each kid home from the hospital in and sweet little baby booties crocheted by friends.
The thing about kids clothes is that say we have a baby next year and it’s a boy (not pregnant, this is hypothetical, folks). Benjamin’s clothes would be 7.5 years old by the time that baby gets to them! So elastic would be shot and those weird stains that only show up years later would be all over them. Bleh. Not worth carting around. And I don’t spend a lot of money of my kids clothes so it’s not hard to say goodbye to whatever gets stained or too small. Things like Bumbos and exersaucers I lent to or just gave to friends. I’m sure friends will share their hand-me-down items with us next time we need them.
I went through it all and saved only stuff we’ll need for taxes or are important official documents and they’re in a filing bin at my in-laws house because I felt weird about shipping them in the POD just in case it wasn’t completely waterproof and we’ll pick that box up when we visit.
I’ve never been a collector of seasonal decor so this category wasn’t much of an issue for us. We have a box of Christmas lights, a box of Christmas ornaments, and a box for liturigcal year items that are on a shelf in our “pantry” AKA storage shelves.
What We Didn’t Really Try to Purge
Books and LEGOs. Those are the essentials. That’s about it. I did look through our books to weed through them but there were only 20-30 that I didn’t keep. Our book are mostly classics and I’m allergic to getting rid of classics. I did donate a few of the books we had doubles of if the margin notes didn’t merit a spot on our bookshelves. And our in-laws allowed us to leave several boxes of books in their closet. So some of the books I couldn’t say goodbye to but knew we wouldn’t need this year are stored. How are we fitting all the boxes of books we brought to TX into our apartment? Well, the short version is that we desperately need more bookshelves.
What to Do with the Stuff
For very valuable items in good condition I did try to sell or consign. However, for most things this was more trouble than it was worth. Maybe if you’re an organized sort then this would be more lucrative for you than it was for me. Mostly I gave friends first dibs on what we were getting rid of then filled up the back of the van with stuff to donate, and recycled or trashed the rest.
We did try a garage sale and made about $150-200 bucks. It was NOT worth the time we spent on it, however, it did give us a deadline to work toward. So maybe it wasn’t a total loss.
As for my clothes I just gave them away at a clothing exchange for friends. I’ve never had a big wardrobe but it’s nice and manageable now that I’ve culled the stuff I don’t really wear. I’m planning a whole post on wardrobe items so stay tuned.
What I Learned
Before our move, our house became so much easier to keep clean.
The MENTAL space that extra junk was taking up was now free.
It was more enjoyable to be in our home because it was so calming.
We’re still getting organized in our new place but there is plenty of room for everything with two bedrooms, one bathroom, one living room, a kitchen/dining room, and a laundry room. Plenty of space to house our stuff. Because the truth is….you don’t need much. And holding on to all the unnecessaries can keep you from enjoying what you do have.
Our new dining room.
I hope this posts helps anybody who’s ready to really tackle decluttering in their home! Do you live in a small space? Have any decluttering tips? Share in the comments!
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“The unnecessaries can keep you from enjoying what you have”.
This is so true, Haley! Great post. Blessings to you on your new life at the farm!!
I put lots of tubs and boxes in storage to thin out the house before putting it on the market. It really felt good, but now, I’ll have to get rid of it or bring it back once we move! Ha! Thanks for sharing. Enjoyed the read. 🙂
Love it, we are moving soon too and this was a great inspiration thanks Haley!
Grace Rogers says
Do you have any thoughts about the issues that can come up when your spouse has a different approach? I Love to get rid of things but my husband can be a bit of a pack-rat and I don’t feel comfortable tossing his things without his permission… Anyway, was there anything you had to run by Daniel?
Yes! I have this issue too! I am a get rid of it if we don’t need it, and my husband is a save everything kinda guy. It can get a little hairy at times.
I’m the pack rat in our marriage. My husband is the total opposite of a pack rat. He has zero attachment to things. What ended up working for us is when we moved, everything basically started out in the garage and we brought it in as we unpacked. I’m a pretty slow unpacker so by the time we got through 8 years and 5 people worth of stuff, all of the non-essentials had been in our garage for 3+ months. It made me realize how little I missed the things I thought I “needed” and I was much more wiling to get rid of stuff. If I was willing to spend 30 minutes digging through boxes to find something, it was usually worth keeping. But if I hadn’t even thought about it in 3 months, how important was it, really?
If possible, I think it’s better for the non-pack rat to do the bulk of the decluttering and selling/donating. Yes, it was probably a little more work for my husband initially but being able to get rid of so much stuff I probably would have insisted on keeping made him very happy in the long run.
I’m also the more pack rat inclined spouse, and one book I read suggested creating an out box- a place where you can decide if something is leaving or not, after it is out of the room and you can see what the room is like. This was really helpful for me! That’s what I’d suggest. Get it out of the space it “goes” for your husband and then let him decide if you really need it.
What was your furniture situation? We’re in a temporary living situation, and were able to pare down, but we still put a bunch of larger stuff in storage because furniture would be way more expensive to replace than I could possibly sell it for.
Claire in the UK says
I love your dining table and kitchen !.
I’m really impressed / envious at your ability to downsize so easily. You make it all sound so painless. (I can’t imagine it was though). Since I’ve started following FlyLady’s routines I’ve become much better at decluttering and I feel much happier. THe more physical junk you have means you have to spend more time cleaning it . The less clutter you have means you have more headspace!
There are all kinds of bookshelf ideas on pinterest. Depending on what you’re allowed to do to your apartment, you might find some solutions there. I’ve seen people build in a shelf above a doorway or turn the actual door into a bookshelf and then the room behind becomes a “hidden” room. 🙂 I really want to do that one day!
This was so inspiring to read, and the photo at the end really put the post in to an image. We have 3 (going on 4) little ones in a little 2-bedroom cabin that has no basement or attic, and we haven’t purged/decluttered enough, and it makes everyday life so hard! So much clutter, so hard to find things… I just have to figure out how to tackle it without getting overwhelmed, when I’m also pregnant and chasing a 1.5 year-old… But your post has definitely inspired me!
This is great! I love how you say you’re “allergic to getting rid of classics.” I totally can understand that! I love books, and they are definitely a worthwhile item to make room for!
I think having that attitude of detachment is go important and so freeing! When my husband and I moved from Ohio to Oklahoma over the summer, we tried to fit everything in our little car and mail 2 boxes…so that meant getting rid of stuff. I found that if I was trying to choose whether to keep or give away something, the more I deliberated, the harder it was to give it away. So for a lot of stuff, if there was any question about keeping it or giving it away, I’d give it away.
A big detachment for me was recycling my essays, because I had kept every essay I ever wrote in high school and college in a big folder. You know, so I could look through them again someday…Say wha?? Yeah, maybe I did that once ever. It was hard at first, but dumping all those in the bin was good. Several months later, I don’t miss ’em at all! Clothes was another area that I purged, which was hard, because although I pretty much exclusively buy clothes secondhand, I really like the clothes I have! So, I created capsule wardrobes to give tons of stuff away. And now, for the month of October, I’m doing Leah Darrow’s “Closet Challenge,” (only 7 clothing items for one month) so I’ll probably be able to go through my closet and find more stuff that I could easily live without!
Good post…we, too, had to do a major downsize when we moved from a biggish house to a 500 sq ft apartment a few years ago. We moved into another 500 sq ft house and it’s hard not to feel clutter because of stuff. But what’s hard for me is arts and crafts what-not. Even though I have neither the time nor money to indulge in my beloved scrapbooking right now, I can’t bear to give it away, because I *do* want to do it in the future and I invested in the materials. So, I guess it’s just the case of you prioritize what’s important to you. Books are also on our “Keep it!” list. We’ve culled some over the years (we’ve moved 7 times in 6 years, so we’re used to packing everything up) but mostly they are the “sacred cow” for me.
Looking forward to your wardrobe purge post. I just did a big purge and now am realizing that I only have about 4 shirts and 3 pair of pants left and no $ to get new stuff, even at half-off day at Salvation Army! Oh well, guess I’ll just have to rock the accessories to disguise my same stuff collection.
Janice Trinh says
I love this. I’ve been secretly wishing we could move to a smaller home so we could get rid of stuff. I’m completely aware that we have too much stuff! We are a family of 6, and there’s just so much that I truly, honestly think that we can do without. The first I really would like to tackle are the toys. But the kids are always home because I homeschool, and the evenings are NOT free for me to declutter because I have to do all-the-things when they’re asleep. But I still have hope! Someday, I will do this too!!!
I had the same experience with garage sales. So much work for so little reward! Now almost everything I purge gets shipped off to the thrift store.
Your new space looks SO nice! And I need to go through and read your kids room declutter post because there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth just yesterday over the nightmare my daughter’s room has become 😉
My problem is, in both my family and Will’s family, I am where “grandma so-and-so’s” stuff goes to find a safe home. Granny’s old quilts, dishes, random furniture that a long gone relative made that you found in your garage? Bring it on over!” I am a sucker for heirloom adoption…. sigh….lol!
Its so nice to be on a farm. We live in a small apartment attached to a big farmhouse. It’s perfect for our family of four. And we tend to go outside more since it is a smaller house. I don’t take “free” things from family and friends because I usually don’t need them, and they always understand when I tell them I don’t have room! Such a good article. I know I need to purge again as fall is setting in and we need another deep clean before winter! Thanks Haley for the cleaning tips.
“The thing about kids clothes is that say we have a baby next year and it’s a boy (not pregnant, this is hypothetical, folks). Benjamin’s clothes would be 7.5 years old by the time that baby gets to them! So elastic would be shot and those weird stains that only show up years later would be all over them. Bleh. Not worth carting around. And I don’t spend a lot of money of my kids clothes so it’s not hard to say goodbye to whatever gets stained or too small. Things like Bumbos and exersaucers I lent to or just gave to friends. I’m sure friends will share their hand-me-down items with us next time we need them.”
I need to condense this into a mantra because seriously so helpful for my hoarder tendencies. So true. So freaking true. Thank you for giving me permission to not hang on to everything. Needed this today 🙂
Julie Golden says
Great read! My husband is planning on entering the seminary in about a year and a half and we have to move for a few years to Indiana. We are starting now by sorting through things because we will be renting a small apartment. We are going from a 3 bedroom house with 3 kids to an apartment with just 1 child with us ( the last 2 will be in college) I have a feeling I really won’t miss most of what we have to leave behind. I’m looking forward to the freedom from excess things and clutter!
I think it will feel good, Julie! Sounds like you’re off on a new adventure 🙂
Wonderful feeling to “declutter” and simplify. It never ends! Also noticed in your pictures, I have that same table that you have in your dining room. =D It’s a nice BIG square table when the butterfly leaf is popped in!