Whether your clients want to or have to downsize their living arrangements, organizing personal items before a move is easier said than done.

Many people think that simplifying the downsizing process into sorting, packing, and dumping items will make it easier to tackle. But does this actually work? In practice, oversimplifying the process into such general categories can get frustrating fast.

If your clients are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of having to sort through years (or even decades) worth of stuff in preparation for the big move, it’s time for you to lend your expertise. Check out these tips on how to make helping your client’s downsize a cinch!

Plan to hit the ground running

Ideally, your clients should start sorting through their belongings as soon as they decide that they want to move, but this doesn’t always happen. If they’ve waited to call you in, the first thing you should do is help them establish a plan.

Having a guideline will make it much easier to downsize their collection of items. An easy way to get started is to break the house down into sections and tackle the rooms one at a time. The worst thing to do is to start sorting through all the rooms at once and then become overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff. Breaking down any great task into smaller components with their own timelines and goals will make organizing a lifetime’s worth of stuff a piece of cake!

Will there be room for everything?

spacious house

Are they switching housing types and moving into a house, an apartment, or a retirement home? If your clients are moving into an apartment building from a house, they probably won’t need the snow shovels or lawn mowers anymore. If they’re moving into a senior’s home, it might be prefurnished. Each property has its own needs and space limits that will require getting rid of certain items.

We can’t deny that comparing the spaces of the current and future homes is a must, but it’s more than just looking at the measurements for the rooms. In the case of built-in storage units such as cabinets and linen closets, these measurements should be accounted for, too!

Smart storage

Self-imposed space limits such as providing a single container or box for storing office items or kids toys will help eliminate less-used items and will lessen the load for the move.

Multi-functional furniture can help conserve space in the new place. It might be worth keeping these types of furniture or tossing out old items in lieu of purchasing new ones that will fit the space better. A great example is an ottoman that can act as storage during the move and also afterwards in the new home.

Taking inventory

Closet organization by color

Your clients need to actually figure out what they have in their houses. While they (probably) won’t be as bad as those who show up on Hoarding: Buried Alive, they’re bound to have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. It’s easy to lose track of things in a lived-in home, and nothing is worse than finding a box of high school mementos in the attic and trying to shoehorn it into the moving truck the day-of.

Make sure that they individually assess every item. By taking the item out of context, they can see if they can imagine it in their new home. It’s easy to look at all the clothes hanging in the closet and just stuff it all into garbage bags to move, but is every piece really worth moving? Examining each item on its own will provide a new perspective.

There are 3 main categories your clients should be organizing their stuff into:

What do they need to function?

Some items may fall into a gray area. While you can argue that a bed is necessary to function, does it make sense in the new home? What if two people are moving into a brand new home together? Do they need to bring both their respective beds? Will they pick one bed and get rid of the other? Or will they donate both beds and buy a new one?

What items are necessary to keep?

Maybe your clients can get rid of the artisanal ice cream maker they only used once, but they’ll need to hold onto some of their other kitchen implements, like pots and pans. While not strictly functional, items such as family heirlooms and photo albums are also worth keeping.

What things can you live without?

This category is broader and will include things that are broken, items that are no longer needed, and stuff that can be replaced. Examples include grandma’s old couch or duplicate dish sets that are destined for the rarely traversed basement.

Don’t start sentimental

modern kitchen

Rooms like the kitchen and the garage are typically the best places to start organizing because items of personal significance are few and far between. In the purging process, most of the junk will be found here. Your clients won’t feel much remorse for thinning out the extra 10 wine glasses, 19 plates, and 15 teacup saucers that they forgot they owned.

Even after picking a room, be sure that your clients pick a type of item to start with and then gather everything in the house that belongs in that category before starting. For example, if they plan to go through the sports equipment in the garage first, all the sports materials should be in the same place before they start. If they did the bulk of the sorting work already and then find a duffle bag filled with baseballs and gloves later on, they likely won’t put in the same amount of effort to sort through these new additions.

Actually getting rid of the stuff

Getting rid of obvious items like the broken vacuum cleaner and donating the pile of clothes that were sitting in the back of the closet are quick and easy tasks. They’ll make anyone feel motivated to tackle the rest of the to-do list!

It might be hard for sentimental types to say goodbye to the antique table they inherited from their grandparents, but if the table looks like it’s ready to crumble at any minute, it’s time to toss it. If something is heavily worn or broken, getting rid of it is the way to go. But what about if something is still functional or can be used elsewhere? Remember, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure!

garage sale

Passing it off

Allow close relatives, friends, and even coworkers to get the first pick over unwanted items. Sometimes family heirlooms no longer fit in with the new décor of a home, so passing it off to relatives will allow it to remain in the family.

Free for all

If your clients don’t have much time on their hands, sometimes a simple box at the edge of their driveway with a sign that says “Free to a good home” will do.

Donating to charity can be a rewarding way to give old knick-knacks a good home. Some charities will even do at-home pickups, to save time and eliminate hassle.


Is it better to sell the item or pay to move it? If it costs more to move the item than to sell it, selling could be the best option. The extra cash can be used to buy a replacement piece that will fit in better with the new home. The financial incentive can even make decluttering easier!

Eliminating the “maybe” pile

box of stuff

Similar to taking a multiple-choice test, once your clients make a decluttering decision they should stick with it. The longer an item is being contemplated, the more likely an object that belongs in the trash bin gets placed into a moving box.

We’re all guilty of having a just-in-case box of items in the back of our closets. Hey, 6 months down the road, your clients might really need that fax machine. But does it make sense to deem it a necessary item and pack it into a moving truck?

Advise your clients to examine something once (only once), then put the unwanted items into a box to get rid of them ASAP. Out of sight, out of mind.

Organizing can be daunting, even for a professional! Learn where to start your work.

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