Tuesday, May 26, 2020

How we downsized by 2500+ sq. feet (and never looked back!)

Dear Reader,

Oh yes, you read that title right - we used to have over 2500sq feet of stuff packed into a house (and the garage), and we got rid of all but 250 sq feet of it.  Yup, we got rid of 90% of our stuff, and never looked back!  I had been looking into minimalism for a while, and my husband has always been into sustainable living, but with two toddlers, we thought it'd be a while before we'd really get into it.
And then - like it is for everyone - life happened.  Big time.
Now before I give you the rundown, feel free to pin this pin for future reference - and skip down if you're just looking for the list of how to downsize (plus a FREE printable)

bohemian catholic downsizing minimalism

But what was the life changing event that pretty much forced us to get rid of 90% of our stuff??

bohemian catholic blue house midcentury modern
Our house - with a walkout basement in the back, and an oversized two car garage

Well way back in 2016, in February to be exact, our family bought our first house!  We spent the better part of two years preparing for this financial commitment, and our dream came true!  Our young family of four moved in, and we began to settle into our new normal of 2200sq feet, and an oversized two and a half car garage.  We had a three and a two year old set of boys, toys everywhere, and for some reason the home repairs were really flaring up my asthma.  In fact, I wasn't seemingly getting better even with breaks on the repairs, improvised weather, and lifestyle changes - you name it we tried it.

After five months of this, I went to my pulmanologist and we ran some tests . . . which showed I would need to stop working - and start extensive treatments that included long term medication, and weekly infusions, related to my genetic condition A1AT.  I had severe, uncontrolled asthma, mild COPD, permanent lung damage, and I would likely need to go on disability (I'm happy to share that though I cannot work full time, my asthma has been downgraded to moderate, and I've been medically stable for the last three years, with a LOT of medication, and infusions, praise God!).
But back in June of 2016?  You might as well have dropped a bomb. 
We had been doing extensive repairs on a house, taking out a construction loan, had a mortgage, young children to raise, AND faced uncertain medical health issues AND loss of 60% of our income, five months after buying a house?! 
My goodness we were shell shocked. 
Everyone was so certain that I was going to get the disability right away, that we had family members paying our mortgage for over a year!  Certain that I could use my backpay to pay them back . . . until then, the focus was to get me medical treatment, medically stable, and just survive!  Fast forward a year - no trial date had been scheduled yet (did you know, on average, a disability claim can take to two to three YEARS?), and we all knew the uncomfortable truth . . . we would need to sell the house, downsize, and move in with family.

We needed to finish the repairs (while I was out of the house), get rid of as much stuff as we could, and pray the house would sell quickly (it did!  Yay!).  And we've been able to pay back over half of what we owed to family, and our car! (but our aim for debt free living will get covered in a separate post ;) )
So, how did we did we get rid of 90% of our stuff in six weeks??
bohemian catholic garage downsizing minimalism
Our garage (yikes!)

Here's the list of exactly what we did - which of course, won't work for everyone.  But if you scroll down further, you'll see that I also made a FREE pdf printable you can download.  I tried breaking it down from small to big tasks, and by cheap to more expensive ideas, so hopefully there'll be a little something for everyone!  Because yes, it is possible to get rid of a house full of stuff!  And really it might come across as extreme, but you wouldn't be here reading this article if you weren't at least curious about it haha. 

Again just keep in mind our plan of actions were based on a very specific timeline of six weeks, and so the suggestions are based on that.  Take what makes sense for your family (and use the pdf file for some further reflection questions during the process)
Now onto this list!
1. Make an Inventory List Per Room of the Bare Minimum

There are a TON of itemized printables on Pinterest, Marie Kondo-like, small living, minimalism, etc.  You could probably even find a few by category.  This is a great option if you're doing more a spring cleaning thing, where you're getting rid a few things, but nothing drastic.  For us, we literally went room from room, and cleared all surfaces, pulled things out of the drawers and closets - put them in boxes, labelled them, and placed them in our basement to sort.  And yes, that basement was STUFFED by the end of it.

But this allowed us to sit down, go through the boxes (without toddlers under our feet), and live upstairs with the bare minimum of what we used everyday for a month while we trekked downstairs every day to organize . . . and we realized fairly quickly that less is more. 

bohemian catholic downsizing minimalism boxes
Image source credit: Andrea Piacquadio from
^ sorry, but you will not look this happy going through the boxes . . .

2. Sit down with the boxes of STUFF and get rid of the obvious

So once you have everything gathered, make those keep, sell and donate/throw away piles.  Get rid of duplicates, throw away broken/incomplete/trashed items.  And make sure you use labels for all bags - even trash bags.  The last thing you need is to realize you went through ten bags of stuff (yay!), and then can't tell which one is which, so you gotta rip them all open!

3. Look at the piles (and look at it again) for sales

Now again, depending on time constraints, you might be hoping to make a few bucks off selling some things.  This is fine so long:
one - you have the time, two - you have the energy, and three - don't mind for selling pennies on the dollar. 
Yes, yes, it's always amazing to hear of that one garage sale, where someone discovers they had a rare masterpiece, and now they're a millionaire.  But the reason that makes the news, is because it's rare!  And this might be hard to swallow, especially when you used your hard earned money to get these things, but frankly, a brand new car depreciates in value as soon as it leaves the lot.  Your great aunt's couch is not worth nearly as much as you'd like it to be (yes, sentimental value counts, but only to you - it will not transfer to monetary value).

That being said, you CAN make money downsizing, just please keep in mind that it shouldn't be your number one goal.  We actually had my mom who flips things on Craigslist all the time, do all our sales items!  This way we could send her the pictures, she could handle the messages, and then we let her keep whatever they sold for since she had helped us so much financially with my medical issues.  However out of 90% of stuff we got rid of - only about 15% of that was actually sold.  And we only made a couple of 100 bucks.  Again, if you're not facing time constraints, and feel you have the energy for it, please do - but for us, we knew that was not going to be the way we were going to downsize everything in the timetable we had.

bohemian catholic downsizing minimalism boxes donations
Image source credit: Andrea Piacquadio from
^ yeah, that's more the face you'll make

4. Donate donate donate

We carefully wrapped our donations in bags, sorted by room, and went to Goodwill several times a week.  Yup, enough that they knew us when the car pulled up!  Everytime we got coupons to use on a future purchase (which we shared with friends, family, and whoever else was interested).  We also donated items to our church's nursery (but make sure to call ahead and see what items are needed most - don't just assume and drop off stuff!).  And when we were so busy at the tail end of remodeling that leaving the house felt improbable, we had my teenage brother run boxes to the thrift store (all too happy to drive the car!).  We carefully lined things on our lawn with "Free" signs, and posted Curb Alerts on Craigslist several times a week.  All in all, we got rid of over 50% of our stuff via donations.

5. Get a dumpster, or 1-800-Got-Junk

Yes - this is the extreme.  But remember, we were remodeling.  We had a lot of scrap, and yes, we were able to donate a lot of items, and even sell some supplies.  But as we were coming down to the wire of listing, we got a 1-800-Got-Junk truck to empty our oversized two car garage that was the catch all for these repairs.  Downsizing isn't just about the inside, but the outside, too.  The barns, the garages, the sheds, the yards - how much junk is sitting outside cluttering up your property as well?  Be honest with yourself, are you really needing it?  Have you used it even once in the last year??

We got rid of just over a THIRD of our 90% of stuff through the dumpster, because it was unusable scrap, old broken appliances, trash, etc.

6. Keep in mind some affirmations

This will be different for everyone: some people are motivated in other ways.  For some, it's the feel of a decluttered house, for others it's sustainability and a step away from consumerism, for another group, it's financial, and so on and so on. 

For us, anytime we thought of "should we get rid of this, too?" we didn't struggle for long.  Here's why: because of my health issues, we understand all too well, that "you can't take it with you".  But also, I still wanted to maintain some independence and some autonomy of my home.  I knew I only had so much energy in any given day.  By downsizing, I knew I would be able to "keep home", without feeling guilty for not "doing it all".  So for me personally, it was easy to downsize when I kept that goal in mind.  Each item I got rid of, meant more energy to spend time with my family.

For my husband, each item we got rid of, meant less for him to have move (again).  We knew we were downsizing and moving in with my mom - but she would be selling her townhouse, too - and we would all be buying a shared house together.  Knowing we'd be moving at least two more times in the foreseeable future, meant the less items we took from this sale, the less we'd have to move down the road.

Here's some common, but beautiful motivational quotes I've seen over the years that I find keep this process in perspective:

"A little progress each day, adds up to big results."

"Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions."

"Make space for the life you want to have."

"My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do."

"Your 'stuff' is getting in the way of the big stuff."

bohemian catholic downsizing minimalism cozy
image source credit Ksenia Chernaya via
^ minimal but functional and cozy (win-win-win)

7. Live in the space for at least a year

What I mean by this is, evaluate why you had so much stuff to begin with.  Was it to keep up the Jones'?  Did you feel you had to accept every hand me down from the well meaning family member?  Did you get a thrill from shopping, or finding that thrift store "bargain"?  And maybe you already know the reasons.  Maybe it was just circumstances, and now that you've decluttered, you're done and good to go. 
But for a lot of people, it's a process. 
You might get rid of so much stuff, and feel like it's empty now, and need to refill it.  I urge you to pause, reflect, and really examine the "why" behind the clutter.  And if you are downsizing to move into a new place - of course bring the big furniture, but take some time to live in the space, and get a feel for where the zones are (the dump zones when coming in, where the family tends to congregate, etc).  Because sometimes you decorate thinking "this spot will serve as x,y,z" but then realize it doesn't really fit in the daily routine, and then you buy more stuff trying to make a new space that serves that need - and before you know it, you got extra stuff that you aren't even using.  Really take the time to learn about the space you're living in.

8. Purge seasonally

This is one we still need to do better!  Even though we've never regretted downsizing, we have definitely not kept up with purging routinely.  We ended up moving three times in a 12 month period from end of of 2017 into 2018 (when the sale of the large house we were buying fell through - but that's all for another post!).  We were exhausted, and chose to just sit in the space for a year (end of 2019).  We upgraded things, moved things around, spent some money on the basics of furniture that served the space well.  But everything else is really just now getting a long hard look at. 

We had definite plans to tackle the garage and the closets this spring (after the Minnesota winter), but with the thrift stores closed right now, we are focused on the green bags and renovations for now since we knew that "stuff" would be easier to get rid of in our house (with green bags and dumpsters).  Also, it's hard to tackle the barrage of toys with the kids home right now with schools closed, but we know we are overdue for a purge in that department!

All this to say - I'd recommend purging seasonally.  It's amazing how many "little things" accumulate.  We always struggle with the school papers/mail piles, and the toys with the small kids.  But we always feel better when we take the time to really go through the stuff (which luckily, now that we live in an 800 sq. feet apartment, isn't that much!).  We've been averaging twice a year, but I really think four times a year would be better for us. 
Alright - that's it!
To summarize:

Grab everything you aren't using everyday - decorations, trinkets, closets, shelving, etc. and store in a place you can then take the time to go through things.  A basement, attic, garage perhaps.  IF those are full, too, you might want to rent a storage locker for one month to help this process.  You can of course always just go room by room, but that might be harder with pets, and/or small children around.

Itemize, and label EVERYTHING - even trash bags (so you don't get confused on what's what, and end up having to tear open bags, just to discover it was meant for the dumpster).  You can choose to keep, sell, donate, or throw away, but if you are really looking to downsize quickly, I'd stay away from any dreams of selling it for a huge profit.  If you are choosing to donate a lot, especially to churches, or charity organizations, please make sure to call ahead and see what they're greatest needs are.  Don't just assume that they will want your stuff.

Don't be afraid to get a green bag, dumpster, or even a 1-800-Got-Junk truck.  This is the most expensive, and extreme option, but it is an option you shouldn't be afraid of if you have done everything else and still have some things left over that aren't available for sale/donations.

Take some time to live in your decluttered space - whether it's the same space, or a new living arrangement.  For some people you might need to take some time to process and reflect on why you had so much stuff to begin with.  For some it was just circumstances, and you feel good about the less stuff period.  However, I would still encourage living in the space for up to a year before setting up "zones" and big decorations, only because you might find a different spot serves the needs better than the one you set up initially.

The Printable:

Now if you want to have an easy printable to use with these points, and some reflection prompts and affirmations - click below for the google doc.  No email subscription, or password required! <3

bohemian catholic downsizing minimalism minimalist checklist google doc
bohemian catholic minimalism downsizing checklist

[ Printable Google doc file ]

Good luck on your new house with less stuff :)

Much love

Stock photo credit: Mister Mister via

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