van living

Pro tips for decluttering and downsizing for any small space

Storage Tips and Hacks

by LB Gabriel Posted on May 10, 2021

Pardon the word play, but tiny homes are having a big moment right now. Whether it’s young couples looking for financial freedom, families wanting to refocus their values, or new retirees itching to fulfill their wanderlust, there are lots of reasons why living small is growing in popularity.

No matter your motivation, if you’re wanting to downsize your life and move into a tiny home (or studio apartment, RV, refurbished camper van, etc.), the first thing you’ll need to do is declutter and work on your organization skills. (That’s our nice way of saying you need to get rid of lots of stuff.)

It can be a daunting task, but fortunately there are tons of resources for wannabe minimalists, tiny-home newbies, and the like. Here are a few of our favorite downsizing tips from influencers who aren’t just talking the talk but walking the walk.

1. Take the home minimalist challenge

Adelina Banks calls herself a “Minimalist in Training” and admits that adhering to the lifestyle is a journey, not a destination. She decided to sell her condo and move into a tiny house but knew she needed to do some major downsizing before making that transition.

To prepare, she completed several minimalism challenges. These challenges, originally thought up by popular minimalism experts Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, last 30 days and go something like this:

  • Get rid of one item on day one, two items on day two, three items on day three, and … you can see where we’re going with this.
  • You can get rid of anything. Nothing’s off limits. From a sofa to a fork — it’s all fair game.
  • The material possessions need to be out of your house by midnight each day of the challenge.
  • If you want to add a layer of competition and accountability, ask a friend to do a challenge with you. Place a friendly wager on who can last the longest.

This may sound easy, but just wait until it’s day 22 and you have to round up 22 items — while also considering the fact that you’ll need 23 more the next day. 

Adelina recommends starting with the kitchen, especially the drawers. Get rid of duplicates that you don’t need or use and gadgets that only do one job — like a popcorn maker or rice cooker. From there, go to linen closets, makeup drawers, and medicine cabinets. You may be surprised at how much excess is in your home.

To help with downsizing, friends enjoy a meal together instead of exchanging gifts.
(Source: Kelsey Chance via Unsplash)

2. Rethink your gift preferences

In the video above, Adelina shows that one simple suggestion can have a significant impact. As she was diving head-first into her new downsizing lifestyle, she asked people to stop giving her gifts.

Now don’t close your laptop! Hear us out.

Adelina felt like she had everything she needed, and she wasn’t looking to add any more material goods. Sure, she enjoyed a little treat like a box of chocolates, but what she really wanted was to spend quality time with loved ones. To her, that gift was priceless.

We’re not suggesting you forgo any special recognition. Just rethink your definition of a gift. Do you really need another scented candle, or would it be more rewarding to have friends treat you to a long, leisurely dinner? Focus on the experiences, not the stuff.

3. Declutter with a zen-like approach

Michael and Jenny from Duet Justus decided they wanted to spend their days traveling the nation, so they sold their apartment and moved into a reconfigured RV. This meant they had to get rid of almost all of their possessions. 

To sort through their things, they used the KonMari Method. This process starts with putting everything in categories, going through each category one item at a time, holding each item in your hands, and asking one question: Does this spark joy?

Michael and Jenny found the method mentally exhausting at first, but once they were finished, they were extremely satisfied with the results — and they did not miss any of their things.

Here are their insider notes and tips:

  • Group things by category, not room. For example, clothing, books, papers. Start with the “easiest” category, then move to the most challenging, which is typically the sentimental items.
  • Stay focused on the task at hand. If you look at an item and have emotions other than joy, it’s time to let go.
  • Tune out the noise. This isn’t something you can do with the TV on or music blaring. Silence will help you tap into your true feelings.
  • Keep a box of tissues on hand. Sometimes, when you’re alone in the quiet with your things, you realize the sentimental attachment you have to them, and it’s tough to say goodbye. If the item doesn’t bring you joy, thank it for its former purpose (yes, we’re serious), and give it the discarding it deserves.

Question to consider: How long will it take me to drastically downsize and declutter?

For Michael and Jenny, cleaning out their entire apartment took four days. However, they lived in a small apartment, were already cognizant of their consumer mindset, and didn’t have rooms full of stuff. Most people who use the KonMari Method to clean out their entire homes need a week -- at least -- to do the job right. 

Because the process can easily become overwhelming, consider taking advantage of short-term home storage solutions along the way. For example, you can use a portable storage container to aid in the downsizing process by creating extra space for sorting your things. And off-site storage is perfect for items you’re on the fence about. Moving those things out of your living space for a month or two can help you decide if you really need them in your life (and in your house).

4. If you’re short on time, start giving things away

All of the influencers we reference here recommend donation, but a great example of giving in action is Mat and Danielle’s seven-day mission to move out of their apartment and into a camper van.

They couldn’t take any furniture with them, so instead of throwing things away or trying to turn a profit, they gave away their items for free. And, while stressful, they found the experience to actually be freeing.

Start with larger items to see the most progress in the shortest amount of time. Either list them on an online messaging board or contact a local nonprofit that would be able to haul the items away in a truck. You know what they say about one man’s trash!

5. Pass on paper

When Kim from Kim's Life Page decided to move into a tiny home in 2014, she documented her experience and downsizing tips. Little did she know that her videos would soon lead to more than 10,000 YouTube subscribers.

One great recommendation from Kim? Go paperless. Think of everything in your home made of paper — books, magazines, bills, mail, and more. What can be digitized and what can be discarded? Remember, you won’t have a lot of room for stacks of books or file folders, so maximizing space is the name of the game.

When you’re paying bills, make sure you’ve selected an electronic statement option instead of paper. Download books on an electronic device instead of letting paperbacks take up valuable shelf space. And for important papers that you need on file, make digital copies and store them in a cloud-based file storage system, like Dropbox (a personal favorite of Kim’s).

woman creating a capsule wardrobe while downsizing
(Source: Liza Summer via Pexels)

6. Create a capsule wardrobe

Kendi Castoro from Minimalist Mansion went from a 2,600-square-foot home to a 222-square-foot tiny home and enjoyed the feeling that came with downsizing her things. She says that she didn’t realize how “heavy” all of her extra possessions made her feel.

She’s a fan of the capsule wardrobe, which is essentially a mini collection of your favorite clothing items. The goal is to have around 30 or 40 versatile pieces that can be worn together or mixed and matched. This helps save money and save closet space!

While there are different types of tiny-home inhabitants and small-space occupiers, there’s one resounding theme from each of their stories: They enjoy the unencumbered feeling afforded by their downsized lifestyles. Rarely do you hear someone comment that they wish they had more stuff. So if you’re looking to lighten your load, take a note from these experts and start the purge. You might realize that some things you thought you needed weren’t so vital after all.

LB Gabriel is a freelance writer who lives with her husband, daughter and Golden Retriever in Memphis, TN. A frequent PODS blog contributor, she's a sucker for any tip she can find on downsizing, cutting clutter, or minimalist living. When she's not on a deadline, you can find her on a tennis court or golf course.

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