Union County Homes: Downsizing Your Clutter

Downsizing Your Clutter

Downsizing your Clutter

Making the decision to downsize means you're going to have less space for clutter. As a general rule of thumb, the average downsizer will only take about ⅓ of their possessions to their new home. Therefore, the first step of any downsizing plan is to de-clutter.

Decluttering a home, especially one in which you've lived for many years, can be an overwhelming task but that doesn't make it less urgent. Empty every cabinet and closet - one at a time - and decide what to do with it. Don’t attempt to tackle the whole house in one day or even one week. One cabinet or one closet a day is plenty.

Many people find it helpful to make three piles:

  1. Things to keep - These are things you either use or want to keep for sentimental value. Your goal is to keep this pile small - remember, only about ⅓ of all of your possessions stay.  Keep the sentimental things you can’t bear to part with but be more heavy handed with the things you’re less attached to. 
  2. keep trash donateThings to sell/donate - If it has value but isn’t something you want to take with you, then you can sell to make some money or donate it.
  3. Things to throw away - If it’s chipped or broken or stained, it goes into the garbage - charities don’t want it and no one will buy it.
  4. Things to give away -If there are items you’re holding on to give to someone or leave in your will as a legacy, consider gifting the item now. There are a few benefits of this approach. First, you eliminate the clutter. Secondly, you can gain a tax benefit if it’s an expensive item. And, finally, you get the pleasure of seeing the recipient enjoying your gift.


Most professionals advice against a maybe pile - just decide and move one. If you can’t decide, ask a trusted friend who will be able to dispassionaltely tell you that you're not going to wear your high school prom dress again. Ask yourself if it’s worth the cost of moving it - movers often charge by the box. Ask yourself if you would replace it if it were lost in a fire?  If not, then toss it, donate it, sell it, or give it away.

When should you start your decluttering? 

To declutter thoughtfully is not a quick and easy task. You probably want to allow one work day for each cabinet or closet and several work days each for your basement, garage, and attic.

So work backward. Imagine you are willing to spend three hours every Saturday decluttering one location of your home. If you want to move in August of 2018, you have 52 weeks left. At a rate of one cabinet or closet per week, plus another several Saturdays for the basement, attic, and garage, will you be done on time?

Things you need to manage:

    • Paper - According to the IRS, you need to keep your tax records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund. Keep records for 7 shredder truck.JPGyears if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction. Anything older than that can be shredded. Union County offers mobile shredding days when residents can bring their confidential documents to be shredded and disposed - click here for the dates.
    • Photos - If you, like me, have dozens of boxes of photos in your attic, going through them is a chore you’ve been dreading. Don’t try to do it at once. One box a day is reasonable. As you go through the photos, throw away the blurry ones or the ones of people you can’t recognize. Make piles of photos to give to family members or friends. My parents made photo albums of our childhood photos for me and my sisters and then gave them to us as they became empty nesters. Consider digitizing photos. If you have a scanner, this is easy. If you don’t have a scanner, you can buy one for under $200 or you can use a professional service for about 50 cents per photo. Even better, buy a scanner and then hire a grandkid to do it for you.
    • Extra furniture -furniture In the house where we raised our children, we have a family room, a living room, a formal dining room, an office, and 4 bedrooms. That’s a total of 5 couches, 7 end tables, 2 coffee tables, 3 desks, two arm chairs, two rocking chairs, and a full dining set not to mention the 6 televisions and television cabinets. For us, downsizing will mean choosing our favorite sofa and end table or two and getting rid of the rest. Better yet, we'll spend some of the money we're saving on downsizing on a new living room set!
    • Kitchen wares - Empty every cabinet and see what you have duplicates of. When we got married, we each had a full kitchen which combined to make our (now overstuffed) kitchen. We have 4 pasta pots, 7 or 8 frying pans, a dozen or so spatulas, 3 colanders, and at least a dozen mixing bowls. Many families have 4 or 5 sets of dishes, enough coffee mugs for an army, and 9 or 10 vases. No one needs that much stuff, and when we downsize, we can’t have that much stuff. Time to pick what we want to keep and get rid of the rest.
    • Garage -garage toolsIf you’re downsizing to a condo, you won’t need snow shovels, lawn mowers, rakes, shovels, ladders, chain saws, and so on. Keep the hand tools (but no more than 1 or two hammers, please) but lose the rest. You also won’t need to bring the kids’ old sleds (perhaps it’s time to hand them down?) or the 6 feet of spare pvc from a project you did in the 1990s.  
    • Clothes - If you’re retired, donate, sell, or discard your work clothes. If you have clothes that no longer fit (of course you do) or are no longer in style (ask your kids, they’ll tell you), then donate, sell or discard.
    • Exercise Equipment - Do you still use it?  If yes, keep it. If not, sell or donate or trash.
    • Childhood memorabilia - Hold on to the things you love. Take digital photos of the rest and donate them so someone else can love them.
    • Books, magazines, DVDs - If you’re not going to read it or watch it again, donate, sell, or trash it.
    • Medicine - Do not flush or throw unused or expired medicine into the trash. They will contaminate the water supply. Your local drugstore will dispose of these items responsibly, free of charge.

As you empty each cabinet, your home will start to feel lighter and brighter. Not only are you making it easier to move, you’re making it easier to sell your home and making it easier to live there in the meantime.

Earlier posts in our Downsizing Series:




~ Wayne & Jean 

Union County, NJ - a great place to live and work!

If you're looking to buy or sell a property in Union County, call us at 908-917-4189 or email TeamZuhl@gmail.com.


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All opinions, information and data provided is deemed reliable but is subject to errors and omissions. Not intended to solicit other Brokers' clients. We cooperate with them fully. 

Comment balloon 17 commentsWayne and Jean Marie Zuhl • August 15 2016 02:14PM


This is excellent.  I'm going to bookmark and save for some of my customers that are in the process of doing this.  Many of them intend to sell next year.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 4 years ago

Good morning Wayne and Jean. We just completed the process which took place over a two year period. Now we have a downtown apartment in Chicago with little of our original possessions! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) over 4 years ago

This is all well and good, Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl , but we all know that the decision to live a cluttered life does not change with downsizing and , Yes; you re right, by downsizing, there will be definitely less room a least until the put an addition in.

Posted by Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI, Presence, Persistence & Perseverance (HomeSmart Realty West & Lend Smart Mortgage, Llc.) over 4 years ago

Less is more! I spent from my 20's to 40's buying things and since then, getting rid of it all. All of the "stuff" is too much. 

Posted by Carolyn Crispin, Crispin Team Sells Branson Homes Land & Commercial (Keller Williams Tri-Lakes) over 4 years ago

As we continue our updating/remodeling we continue t be amazed at what we have kept....and no longer need.

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 4 years ago

This is a great read. So many sellers need this information before they decide to put their home on the market. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Bernadine Hunter, SFR, ACRE, "Finding Solution to Your Real Estate Needs" (Keller Williams Greater Columbus Realty) over 4 years ago

my wife's mantra... if it hasn't been used in 3 months it is on the donate list!  that is except our xmas tree!

Posted by Mark Loewenberg, KW 561-214-0370 (KW of the Palm Beaches) over 4 years ago

Wayne and Jean -  Everytime I read about declutter I realize I must get to it.  Now my daughter want store wedding and shower gifts in our basement but "promises" to remove them.

Posted by Grant Schneider, Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes (Performance Development Strategies) over 4 years ago

Good monring, Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl (Jean Marie)... clutter is a killer... I have NONE...refuse to have any no matter what size home I live in....

Posted by Barbara Todaro, Previously Affiliated with The Todaro Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty - Retired ) over 4 years ago

Decluttering is a very healthy and useful practice!

Posted by Olga Simoncelli, CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management (Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate) over 4 years ago

Thank you Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl . This is one of the best and complete articles on this topic. One to keep and share with others. 

Posted by Jeff Masich-Scottsdale AZ Associate Broker,MBA,GRI, Arizona Homes and Land Group/ Buy or Sell (HomeSmart Real Estate) over 4 years ago

I love this post! You've given great suggestions that are timeless and non-area specific. Many of these suggestions are helpful to people even if they aren't planning a move - clutter has a way of creeping up on one.

Posted by Lottie Kendall, Helping make your real estate dreams a reality (Compass) over 4 years ago

We have decided that we are going to downsize next year and low and behold you wrote the perfect post for my wife and I. Thank you Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl 

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, South Puget Sound Washington Agent/Broker! (Fathom Realty Washington LLC) over 4 years ago

Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl Excellent post. You came up with a winner ith this one! Thanks!

Posted by Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI, Presence, Persistence & Perseverance (HomeSmart Realty West & Lend Smart Mortgage, Llc.) over 4 years ago

This is excellent advice to share with home sellers. I will schedule a November reblog.

Posted by Roy Kelley (Realty Group Referrals) over 4 years ago

In my younger days, I was helping a good friend move from one of her apartments into another. I showed up mid-day, on a Saturday, at the time I said I would; when I'd warned her "be ready".

She wasn't ready, Everything that wasn't packed, I decided wasn't truly important. I threw out dumpsters worth of stuff while she is telling me not to.  My only response was the nightclub was waiting, and I didn't have time to pack what she'd not packed.....

Yes...I've matured since then.  Your strategy does clearly appear smarter, though does require more forethought than to start at 3pm on the day of the move.

Posted by Claude Labbe, Realty for Your Busy Life (Real Living | At Home) over 4 years ago

Great decluttering post!   It's a constant battle.  Thanks for the post.

Posted by Carol Williams, Retired Agent / Broker / Property Manager (Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals.) about 4 years ago