New Yorkers Share What Downsizing Was Really Like for Them

published Jun 5, 2017
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(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

If you’ve ever moved from one home to another, smaller home, you know the realities of trying to make your new space work and having to get rid of some—or a lot—of your possessions. And in New York, a city known for its expensive-but-tiny apartments, downsizing can be an especially big challenge.

(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

We asked people who moved to New York from other (more spacious) locations, as well as those who moved from one apartment into an even smaller one in the city, to share what their downsizing process was like—everything from how they made it work, to how it made them feel. Here’s what they had to say…

Don’t underestimate the power of Craigslist.

“I had just bought a 100 gallon fish tank days before I decided to leave Boston for NYC. I was saved by selling on Craigslist. I have no idea what I was thinking. I went from a $1200 3 bedroom apartment to a $1500 fifth-floor 320-square-foot walkup.” — Jennifer, Brooklyn

The key to getting rid of your stuff? Strategizing.

“When I had to downsize apartments, I was a little overwhelmed looking at my stuff and deciding what wouldn’t make the cut. What worked (mostly) was leaving my apartment with a pad and pen and writing down from memory what I’d take to the new place. Once I realized I’d forgotten I had the thing, it became easier to toss it. There were a few things that I don’t see or use very often, like a toolkit, that didn’t make the list but did make the move, but overall it worked for me.” — Matt, Brooklyn

The whole process is overwhelming but liberating.

“I came to NYC with only two suitcases. It was liberating until I wanted a specific pair of shoes I forgot I gave away. I got rid of anything that I didn’t wear or use within a year and anything that was no longer in good condition. I also just downsized again to a smaller room. That process was so, so, so, so overwhelming and I felt like I would never be able to find space. Downsizing also allowed me to be so much more organized and tidy. Everything has a place now and I feel like I have more outfit options because I kept only clothes that I actively wore.” — Bridget, Brooklyn

Downsizing requires a lot of sacrifice.

“We just consolidated into one apartment, and I basically got rid of all of my furniture. I kept a coffee table and the entertainment center. Honestly a lot of it was pretty disposable, but some things were still very nice, and it was a little painful that I couldn’t either sell it for what it was worth, or at all.” — Henry, Manhattan

Even when you have help, it’s still a struggle.

“My parents let me store most of my excess stuff—a couch, an armchair, boxes and boxes and boxes of books—in my old room in their house, but it was still an ordeal.” — Sammy, Brooklyn

Downsizing means your furniture needs to do double duty.

“I moved from a Texas-sized home to a tiny NYC one bedroom. Each piece of furniture I got had to have multiple purposes since I was limited on space. For example, my bed lifts on hydraulics and has a large storage space under it. I also knew that I would have lots of guests crashing at my place since I now lived in NYC, so I bought an ottoman that converts into a bed. Last year I had a baby girl and the game changed—everything we bought was foldable or collapsible. Her tub collapsed flat to slide under the dresser. Her high chair clips on to our coffee table. We took out some shelves in our bookcase and hung a rod to make it into her closet. We even bought the world record holder for smallest foldable stroller.” — Ami, Manhattan

It teaches you what’s most important to you.

“I moved from a one-bedroom apartment in Pennsylvania to a 9’x6′-ish room in NYC. Some things were harder to part with (my money tree that I had for years and was so lush and beautiful!). Other things—like the kitchen mixer I used twice, old jewelry I never wore—were easy to let go. I feel very minimalist now and sort of enjoy knowing all my possessions fit into one tiny space—you realize what is most important to you.” — Theresa, Manhattan

Sometimes it feels like you’re backtracking.

“When I lived in New Orleans I had this enormous apartment I spent literally $750 a month on which seems insane now. I literally had two living rooms, so I had a lot of furniture. And I really wanted it all to go to good homes, so I sold a lot to friends, but by the end I was giving it away and people were trying to bargain on Craigslist and I was just asking them to take it because I knew it couldn’t come to New York with me. And some was janky, but some I miss. I had two Nadeau side tables that were gorgeous and I tried to buy again and they were gone. Everything else was pretty mediocre, but much cheaper there than in New York. It’s weird to get everything you need for a house, stress over the perfect pieces, then get rid of literally all of it and start over.” — Margaret, Brooklyn

Downsizing with a partner is often more complicated.

“I’m moving from Atlanta to NYC. Downsizing is stressful now, but I’m hopeful it will be liberating eventually? We’ve sold on apps and donated. I think the hardest part is downsizing with a partner—both of us want to keep things that the other finds unnecessary.” — Janaye, still apartment hunting

But overall, sometimes getting rid of everything is freeing.

“I moved from my parents’ 3 story New Jersey house to an 8’x10′ Brooklyn room. I’ve never been happier with consolidating shit. Now I literally clean 24/7 to avoid clutter and buy very little.” — Gabriela, Brooklyn