Toss or Keep? How to Downsize Your Belongings and Simplify Your Life

August 10, 2022 by Julia Weaver

There are countless benefits to living with less. Reduced stress, better sleep, and increased productivity, just to name a few. The hardest part, however, is knowing how to downsize your belongings without allowing the dreaded guilt to derail your efforts.

Throughout our lifetime, it’s easy to accumulate belongings and hold on to items we think we might need in the future. Whether it’s a gift you didn’t want in the first place, an expensive kitchen appliance you haven’t used in years, or a wardrobe that no longer suits you, it’s easy to hold on to items we think we might need in the future. 

Whether you’re moving from a spacious rental house in Cordova, TN, into a smaller apartment in Columbus, OH, or just wanting to live a simpler, organized life in your home, downsizing your belongings is a must. We’ve asked lifestyle coaches and downsizing experts to share their best piece of advice on how to downsize your belongings. Check out what they had to say.


Eliminate belongings that no longer serve a purpose

When clients are downsizing – whether they are selling, donating, or hiring us to haul their junk away – they seem to feel relief. Some will share how much they purchased an item for, how they rarely use it, and how guilty they felt throwing it away until they realized it was causing them stress. Letting go of things can be freeing; it allows you to reflect on what really matters. As humans, we need so little to survive, yet we are constantly being “sold” the idea that more stuff will make us happy. 

Make a list of the items in their home that they use daily. For a week, note every item you use that serves a purpose, such as a toothbrush, coffee mug, silverware, towel, bed, etc. once you realize how little you actually need, it will be easier to come to terms with letting things go. If they do not bring us joy or serve a purpose, we should really ask ourselves why we hold on to them. – Glenn Jennings, owner of Connecticut Junk Removal, offering residential junk removal, recycling & waste management solutions.

Get rid of what you don’t use, buy less, and stay organized

Your clutter is stressing you out, and you didn’t even know it. Worrying about your home being clean and organized is the fifth most common stress trigger for the average US homeowner. When you live in a cluttered home, there is a constant feeling of guilt that you may not even realize is causing stress. How do you deal with stress you didn’t even know you had? Try eliminating your non-essential belongings, buy less stuff, use smart home storage solutions, and maintain the already clean spaces. – Sean Zuclich, owner of Sasquatch Junk Removal in Seattle, WA and surrounding areas

Let go of items you don’t use at least once a year

When you’re downsizing your belongings, here’s a simple rule of thumb that’ll help you create a space you love: If you don’t love it, like it, or use it at least once a year, it’s got to go. If this is difficult, you might fall into one of these categories:

  1. You feel guilty about getting rid of items you’ve never used because of the money you spent.
  2. You’re afraid to toss something just in case you need it again.
  3. You feel obligated to keep something because a loved one gifted it to you.
  4. You feel safe with your belongings.

No matter which category applies to you, ask yourself this question: How is this improving my life? Then, take the small steps to downsize your belongings. – Seattle Life Coach Jule Kim


Use the “only handle it once” rule when downsizing your belongings

Donate as many items as possible and start the decluttering process as early as possible. Donating items will help you feel less guilty about dumping unwanted items in a landfill. It is best to start the decluttering and donation process early to give yourself time to process which items you want to hold onto and which you wish to donate or dispose of. It’s also helpful to use the OHIO rule when downsizing your belongings. “Only Handle It Once” is a productivity hack that will help you avoid dwelling on whether to keep or donate specific items. First, you form two piles, a keep pile, and a donate pile. As you downsize, go room-by-room and place items in a keep or donate pile. Once the items are in a pile, they must be left there and cannot switch piles. Only handling items once makes the downsizing process easier and more efficient. – Tucker Anderson, owner of Black Diamond Junk Removal in Cleveland, OH and surrounding areas

Don’t forget your reason for downsizing

We’re taught that our success is within our material possessions. From the house we own, the car we drive, to the clothes we wear, the more we have, the more successful we believe we are. The issue is most of these possessions are collecting dust because we either don’t use or need them. However, we don’t decide to downsize because it is associated with failure. The guilt of downsizing usually comes from our thoughts or thoughts about how someone else may view our decision. 

The one thing we need to remember is our “why.” Our decision to downsize is for our peace of mind and our wallets. We can stop the emotional rollercoaster if we continue to focus on how downsizing can reduce our stress and make our life easier. If we remember this, we can achieve all of our financial goals. – Alaina Fingal, The Organized Money, a certified financial coach, accountant, and author, helping people plan their life and organize their personal finances. 

Remember these four tips as you downsize your belongings

  1. Be honest with yourself about what you need and what you can live without.
  2. Give yourself time to adjust to the idea of downsizing. It can be helpful to start by getting rid of one room or one type of item at a time.
  3. Be mindful of your sentimental attachments. Downsizing is an excellent opportunity to reflect on what is truly important to you and focus on those items.
  4. Remember that downsizing is not permanent. If you get rid of something and later realize you need or want it, you can always repurchase it (or borrow it from a friend)

Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone downsizes for different reasons, so don’t compare your situation to someone else’s. Focus on why you’re downsizing your belongings and what benefits it will bring you. Everyone has different priorities, and there is no right or wrong decision regarding downsizing. The most important thing is that you make a decision that feels right for you and your family. – Aaron Champion, founder of Junk Removal Advice, a website dedicated to empowering homeowners and business owners with the education and resources they need to tackle their toughest demolition and junk removal projects.

Work with a junk removal company

I have found most junk removal projects have an emotional component. Regardless of the circumstance, people almost always have an emotional attachment to their stuff and have difficulty hiring a removal company to haul it away. Although it’s an extra step, meeting the client in advance usually makes them feel better about their project. Hiring an expert to advise you if you’re overwhelmed is always a good start. – Junk Boss, a junk removal and dumpster rental service in Edmond, OK


Have the right mindset as you tackle downsizing

When it comes to downsizing your belongings, you should have a mindset to let go of the past with gratitude and to keep what brings joy and what serves you for the life you have today. Decluttering is a huge part of the process of downsizing to live comfortably and feel good in a smaller space. Choose items you need and love that reflect who you are now for the new chapter in your life in your new space. Try to let go of the guilt from gifts that are no longer used, and remember that they already served their purpose and will hopefully bring joy to whoever chooses to keep them next. Downsizing will make you more mindful of what you decide to live with every day and continue to live with. – Michele Delory of Modern & Minimalist, professional organizing services in Toronto, ON

Acknowledge your feelings, be mindful of your thoughts, and take action

It’s okay to be sad, scared, or angry about this change. Don’t try to bottle up your emotions – allow yourself to feel them, and then let them go. Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings, it’s time to start changing how you think about this transition. Instead of focusing on what you’re giving up, focus on what you’re gaining – more space, freedom, and simplicity. The sooner you start decluttering and packing, the sooner this process will be over. And the more proactive you are, the less time you’ll have to dwell on negative thoughts and be prepared to start your new life in your new home. – Brett Sullivan of Trash Wizard, a junk and trash removal service in Tampa, FL

Shift your mindset from “have-to” to “want-to”

For many people, downsizing doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like a “have-to.” And when we feel forced to do anything, that always comes with feelings of guilt and failure. That is why, with all my clients, I help them to shift their perspective from “have-to” to “want-to.” There are many reasons you want to downsize, and whether it is to get rid of clutter or cut down on waste, when you focus your brain on why you want to downsize, you will begin to shift your energy and embrace the season of change. Rebecca Olson, Life Coach and Helping women achieve their career goals while still being amazing moms. Host of the podcast: Ambitious and Balanced Working Moms 

Give your items a new life

I always encourage my clients to adopt a minimalist mindset regarding “stuff,” whether they are downsizing or not. Downsizing can be a fantastic opportunity to purge what you aren’t using — and be ruthless about it! I’ve found that the second I let something go, I feel so much lighter, and I usually forget I had it in the first place. Any guilt you have about parting with objects is offset by knowing that someone else will give new life to items you weren’t using, making it a win-win. – Erin Hacket, Hackett House Studio

Take a harder look at your belongings

Look at anything in your closet or garage that you haven’t needed in over a year, then ask yourself:

  1. Is it sentimental?
  2. Does it bring back a good memory?
  3. Can I afford to replace it in the event I need it again?

When we go through hard times, we hang on to things we can’t afford to replace, even if we rarely use the items. If you’re not struggling financially, then it’s time to let it go. Even if that means donating it rather than throwing it away, it’s time to let it go. – Andrew Harrison, Owner of Just Haul It LLC in Maricopa, AZ

Downsizing is a gift to yourself

We each accumulate so much over the years, a great deal of which eventually becomes unneeded. Whether or not we realize it, what we amass weighs heavily on us, and we often aren’t aware of the full weight of it all until we downsize. That can mean moving to a smaller place to live or uncluttering your home. In all cases, the result is exhilarating and will make you wonder why you hadn’t taken the step years before. Your inner world mirrors your outer world. Decluttering and downsizing make you feel lighter and happier. (This is a guilt-free exercise.) – Nancy Pickard Life Coach and author of the international bestselling book “Bigger, Better, Braver”

Purchase consciously

Avoid buying the same items you always seem to be getting rid of – when shopping, think do I need this? Will I use this? Where in my home will this live? If it has a purpose before you even get it home, it’s unlikely to need downsizing later. If you ask yourself these questions when shopping, you’ll find you actually buy less, which saves you money, time, and downsizing guilt later. – Joy Stein, Simplify Living, a resource for those who want to implement easy and effective ways to implement zero-waste solutions into their life.


When contrast is in your life, focus on three things

  1. What you DO want 
  2. Why DO you want it 
  3. Finally, how you want to feel. 

If you feel any emotions that are less than what you do want to feel, allow yourself to have compassion for yourself. Letting go of anything brings up feelings of grief. Feel the grief and let the energy go. And then let yourself connect with the energy of feeling good about your clarity from the contrast you experienced. Focus on what you want and how you want to experience your life. 

 – Christy Whitman, energy healer and channeler, New York Times bestselling author and Master Coach

Smaller living space is the new upgrade

It can offer a greater quality of life with the money you can save, and you can choose a place perfectly suited to your needs with fewer costs and less upkeep. Get rid of things you don’t need and evaluate what’s important to you. Let a junk removal company help restore the space that no longer serves a purpose and reduce your stress. Your family and friends will be thankful to come visit with clean energy and a happy you. – Skunky’s Junk Removal, removing unwanted items to clear space

Think of decluttering as an exercise in conservation

Decluttering is an emotional process for a lot of people. To ease the guilt, I think it’s important to think of decluttering as an exercise in conservation. Regular clutter management conserves energy. This is important because the older and busier we get, the more stuff we accumulate and the less energy we have to deal with it. This is the clutter equation and it can get out of whack fast.

There’s also environmental conservation. We live in an increasingly disposal world. When you make the decision to downsize via donation, these items can have a second life while they still have value. This keeps items out of the landfill, puts them in the hands of people who can use them and often raises money for a worthy cause. – Cameron Unger, Owner of Trash & Stash, a junk removal service in Fort Mill, SC

How will downsizing improve oneself?

I recommend that clients identify what it means about them, to get rid of something. Often, we will feel that it means something bad about our identity. For example: Does it mean that they are a bad sister, if they get rid of the kitchen tool their brother got them as a gift? And for the real juicy question, I would ask: How could getting rid of that kitchen tool make them a good sister? Perhaps they’d feel lighter, and show up more open-hearted to the relationship — or they’d pass it on to someone who could really enjoy it. If your brain is in the right place, everything else is easy. – Katie Seaver, Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation (ICF)

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