5 Mistakes People Make When Downsizing Their Stuff, According to a Minimalist Lifestyle Coach

published Sep 4, 2022
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So you’re about to downsize the stuff in your room or your entire home. Maybe you’ve been putting it off for a while, or you just felt a spark of inspiration. Either way, it will be an elevating and refreshing experience! You’re going to do great.


As a minimalist lifestyle coach, I’ve seen some of the same tripping points over and over when people embark on a downsizing project. If you’ve hit these roadblocks before, you’re far from alone — but addressing them ahead of time is vital for a less stressful and more effective experience. 

Mistake #1: Beginning Without a Plan

Diving right in dodges the problem of procrastination, but a little planning ahead saves stress down the line. For example, start by deciding where you’ll donate items. Create a spreadsheet of items to sell (and where), add downsizing sessions to your calendar, and set a deadline for the entire project. Consider selecting an accountability buddy ahead of time to help keep you on track.

Mistake #2: Keeping Things for the Sake of Others

“Why do you have a second yoga mat and sleeping bag?” I asked a client who was in the process of downsizing. She replied, “Because I wanted an extra one to give to people if they need it.” It’s always nice to lend a hand, but don’t add this responsibility to your piles of stuff.

Avoid keeping items as a favor or out of guilt, like the tchotchke from your mother-in-law or the book a friend bought (assigned?) you. It’s challenging enough to determine what you want for yourself, let alone worrying about other people’s preferences.

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Mistake #3: Organizing Before Downsizing

Bringing like items together, even if spread across different nooks, crannies, or rooms, is a precursor to auditing your possessions. At this stage, you may be tempted to jump right into organizing because putting things away is easier than deciding whether to keep them. But first, focus on winnowing it all down to the lowest possible number of items you want to keep, and then determine the best way to arrange what’s left.

Mistake #4: Letting Emotions Drive Action (or Inaction)

As Susan David, author of “Emotional Agility,” says, “Emotions are data, not directives.” Difficult emotions will come up, but that doesn’t mean you should stop downsizing. Maybe you just need a break.

Feelings might lead you to keep things out of guilt, shame, or because they require emotional unpacking. Fear may arise when letting go of things you think you might miss or regret giving away later. This fear is a helpful signal, alerting you that you are so afraid of making mistakes that you’ve defaulted to retaining more than you need. Work through the fear and acknowledge that missing something later doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t let it go now. 

Mistake #5: Overlooking the Minutiae

Touch each item to make an active decision to keep it or not keep it. While people are accustomed to doing this with clothes and books, they often overlook less exciting or minor things, or things you don’t interact with as much: items in a junk drawer, a toolbox, a memory box, or a shelf with extra bathroom supplies. Everything is on the chopping block! 

When you look at each item individually, you make discoveries like: “I don’t even like this shampoo anymore,” or, “I haven’t used a single item in this toolbox except this screwdriver, so maybe that’s all I need to keep.” Downsizing minutiae leads you to combine contents of bins or rediscover forgotten items that can enter your regular rotation.

Avoiding these five common mistakes will prevent you from becoming derailed during the downsizing process. As a result, you’ll use your time more efficiently and enjoy greater control of your home and life.