Downsizing and decluttering tips

Two seniors pack some of their belongings into boxes.

You’ve mopped the floors and cleared out your refrigerator, but do you have a nagging feeling that this might be the last time you want to spring clean your house?

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, downsizing might be something to consider:

  • Do you wish you lived closer to your children or grandchildren?
  • Are you tired (or scared) of living in a house with stairs?
  • Do you love your big yard, but don’t love taking care of it?
  • Have you called an assisted living or independent living facility to see how much it costs?
  • Do you frequently daydream about how easy it could be to rent an apartment and say goodbye to the hassles of homeownership?

Before you call a realtor, let’s take a look at how you can get started on downsizing your home. And remember: go easy on yourself. Take your time. Unlike organizing your silverware drawer, you don’t have to get all this done in a day.

Safety first

Your home can still have a welcoming, warm environment with a focus on safety. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, here are a few low-cost ways to make your home safe:1

  • Add textured, no-slip strips in the bathtub and shower.
  • Apply nonslip wax on floors.
  • Place a waterproof seat or chair in the shower.
  • Put nonskid treads on steps.
  • Remove throw rugs.
  • Replace standard doorknobs with lever handles.
  • Replace the toilet with a raised or high-profile toilet.

Organize your heirlooms

There might be lots of family treasures around your home. But these treasures can be tough to find if you’re not organized. Now is a prime time to start thinking about which items you’d like to display and what items you’d like to give away to other family members or friends. Share the stories about these precious heirlooms with the people who will inherit them. Often, relatives don’t know how Great Uncle Frederick brought the fancy dishes with him from Austria or how many years it took Grandma Georgie to sew a quilt that’s been sitting in the utility closet. Telling these stories (or writing them down) will make a lasting impression on your loved ones who are receiving them, for generations to come.

Host a neighborhood garage sale

Call up some of your favorite neighbors and see if they want to join you in a neighborhood garage sale. The more neighbors who participate—the more garage sale hunters you’ll attract. Take a moment to consider how to best arrange your items. Yes, you’re selling in a garage, but pretend it’s a showroom. Too many choices can leave people paralyzed on making a decision, so display your best goods. Bundle certain items together. Tidy up your garage beforehand. At a garage sale, you can sell anything from exercise equipment to furniture to power tools to books. It’s possible that whatever doesn’t sell could be donated to local shelters, churches or crisis centers.

Get emotional support

Especially if you haven’t moved in a while, it’s easy to keep adding more and more stuff to your shelves and drawers. It’s normal to feel sentimental toward things that have brought joy to your life: all your Ted Williams’ baseball cards, the photo album of your trip to Istanbul back in 1972, the leash you still leave hanging up in the closet in honor of your beloved dog. Figuring out what to let go of—and what to keep—can be an overwhelming, emotional experience. Ask a friend or family member to come over and help you sort out what should stay and what can be given (or thrown) away.

Not quite ready to make the move?

You can still enjoy the benefits of downsizing, without calling a realtor. If you’d like to stay in your home, paring down items can be helpful because:

  • You’ll be more prepared for a future move.
  • Getting rid of items creates more space for assistive devices or other home modifications.
  • You might not need help now, but clearing out a room may make it easier for a relative or caretaker to stay with you.


  1. “How to Make Your Home Safe for Your Aging Parent,” American Association of Retired Persons, last accessed December 1, 2021,