One Thing You Should Never Do When Downsizing Your Things, According to a Minimalist Lifestyle Coach

published Nov 4, 2022
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Living room with 3 "outboxes" for decluttering, one labeled "Sell", one labeled "Donate", and one labeled "Maybe". There are clothes and shoes around
Credit: Sarah Crowley

As a minimalist lifestyle coach, I am no stranger to the joys of decluttering and organizing. But my job is to help clients slow down — to consider the emotions around the items they’re parting with, their goal in getting rid of them, and their vision for their best life at home. And while beginning with the end in mind is generally sound advice, when it comes to taking on a downsizing project, focusing too much on the final organization is problematic

Wait, what?

Developing a general vision of what you want your downsizing project to achieve based on your goals keeps you on track while working toward your ideal space. But having tunnel vision for the task of organizing can be detrimental — organizing too soon or focusing on how the final “after” photos will look derails you from downsizing in the best way.

You may feel tempted to jump immediately into organizing because putting things away is more straightforward than deciding whether to keep them. But that’s just circumventing the challenge you’ve been trying to avoid this whole time: decision-making.

The fascination with immaculately coordinated spaces and before-and-after photos on social media has created a misunderstanding of minimalism. It offers the dopamine rush of quick fixes, and trying to obtain a perfectly arranged aesthetic often results in buying more products than needed. A bookshelf organized by color looks cool, but doesn’t help with wayfinding or make life easier. That doesn’t mean you can’t arrange your bookshelf by color, but be clear with yourself about whether the objective is to please the eye, simplify, or both.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Speaking of books, let’s use them as an example of how to focus on downsizing and wait to organize until the end. When organizing, a rule of thumb is to bring like items together first, even if they’re spread throughout your home and auxiliary spaces (e.g., storage units). You can then winnow your stuff down to the lowest number of items you want, deduplicate where needed, and get a clear handle on what you have.

If you don’t bring all books together — cookbooks, books from different rooms (including the bathroom and nightstands!), boxed-up and stored books, and school texts — you’ll never visually understand the full extent of your book collection. In addition, you won’t have a handle on which categories you have the most of and be able to identify issues like, “Oh wow, 25 percent of the books I own I haven’t read yet,” or, “I’ve carried most of these books from move to move, but now I realize I’ll never re-read them.” You’d never complete this overarching analysis if you organized as you went. 

I’d also suggest bringing items like e-readers into your meta-organization. Have a conversation with yourself (not weird) about whether you want to go fully electronic or only use e-books to fill the gaps when you don’t want to buy a hard copy. 

You can then thoroughly re-evaluate the meta-organization of books, like deciding to keep all your college textbooks in your office to see if you still need to reference them (and if you don’t in the next year, let them go). Working with a client, I realized many of her books were unread. Of the ones we kept, we gave them a dedicated area as a reminder to read them and not purchase more. When you downsize first, you may realize you can donate a big box of books, get rid of the bulky bookshelf you thought you needed, and open up your floor plan a bit. 

Books are one of a plethora of examples. Multiplied out, organizing too early on can result in a lot less stuff leaving your home, fewer aha moments, and less coordination amongst furniture and the different rooms in your home. It guarantees a steady state of “okayness” but never solves the problem — it’s like jury-rigging a broken item in your home regularly instead of getting it professionally fixed or buying a new one. Instead, try not to focus on organizing too soon in the downsizing process, and the result will be real and meaningful change in your home and life. You may just have to wait a little longer before snapping that Instagram-worthy “after” photo.