When we first decided to sell the house and move onto a sailboat, I must admit that the allure of warm breezes and palm trees was quickly overshadowed by the reality that we had to get rid of all of our stuff to get there. Not that we had too much stuff. Our house was on the small side at just around 1000 sq ft, which made downsizing almost harder, because what little stuff we did have, we had for a reason, and that reason was because we either really liked it, or it had some sort of sentimental value.

The first “cleanup” consisted mainly of going through our closets and finding stuff to donate to Goodwill. We filled a trash bag  and dropped it off at the curbside donation center and felt really good about it… until we got back home to our closets and it didn’t look like we had rid ourselves of a thing. *sigh*

We knew we had to be serious about downsizing, so we turned it into a game. How much money could we fetch on Craigslist for the extra router that was sitting unused in a box? Should we sell the furniture piece by piece or as one big “take all or none” lot? Who could get the most money for the antique Victrola? And guess what happened? After awhile, we no longer felt the sting of getting rid of things we once considered precious. Doing away with our stuff became a high all it’s own. It was cleansing and cathartic. It was fun.


In the end, we sold or donated almost everything we owned (save some art, books and a few precious mementos) and I can honestly say the only thing I regret is not doing it sooner. Living in such a small space, my life is no longer dictated by what I own. I no longer feel the pressure of walking through a mall and not wanting to leave empty-handed. There’s a saying that goes, “The less you own, the less that owns you.” I can vouch for that. I feel less stressed, more in control, and cleaning is a whole lot faster, which allows me more time to do the things I enjoy.

I’m not saying that you should sell everything and move onto a boat, but I’m pretty sure that you could find some way to declutter and simplify your life in some way.  Below are a few ideas to get you started.

5 easy ways to downsize and declutter:


  • Start with your closet. Donate or sell anything you haven’t worn in 6 months. Why not try the Hanger Method, one of Oprah’s favorite tricks? Using this method, you hang all the clothes in your closet the wrong way. As you wear the items, you hang them back up the right way. After 6 months or so, you can quickly see exactly which clothes you don’t wear just by scanning your hangers.
  • How about your kitchen? Recycle all of those plastic storage containers that are missing lids, and all of the lids that are missing containers. (I even have this problem on the boat – where do all those lids go?!)
  • The bathroom. If you’re a girl, I know you can do some major cleaning here. I’m guessing you have at least 3 bottles of shampoo, one of which is probably empty but still sits in your shower, right? Toss it in the recycle bin.  And makeup? Do you  have compacts filled with crumbled and broken powder or eyeshadow? THROW THEM OUT! If you haven’t used it in the past 3 months, it’s safe to say you probably won’t be using it, so clear out the mess and make room for the products that you do use and love.
  • Sell your old books online at a site like BookScouter.com. You can also look for a local used bookstore that buys old books or will accept trades. This is a great way to get rid of old books and trade for gently used books that you want to read.
  • Go buy a sketchbook at an art supply shop. Go through your magazines and tear out any recipes, outfit or decorating ideas, etc. and tape them in the pages of your sketchbook. I had a friend who did this and was finally able to rid herself of several years worth of old magazines.

What are some ideas you would add to the list?

If that’s not enough to make you eager to get started, you can check out several posts on downsizing from Tammy, a fellow cruiser and blogger, OR you can check out this handy dandy infographic I made below.  Just ask yourself these 3 easy questions and you’ll be on the road to minimizing and simplifying your life.

minimize clutter in 3 easy steps - infographic

7 Thoughts on “The Psychology of Downsizing

  1. Brilliant! Didn’t see this when we downsized to 5 boxes, mostly sentimental, but essentially used that philosophy. If I’d had my act more together, 2 of the boxes would’ve been digitized…. Maybe when we’re done cruising as they’re in my in-laws garage, and we’re , well cruising!

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  3. We downsized ‘twice’ within 2 years …so now I call it right-sizing! 😉 Anyway, we took a bunch of stuff to the local auction house after trying first to sell it on Craigslist & Ebay. We sold huge amounts of stuff on those sites but alas much of it still didn’t go. The auction while it didn’t reap huge $ amounts? It did ‘get ‘er gone’!

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  5. I would like to add a comment on how to get rid of certain things.
    It costs money to bring stuff to the dump, which is a big reason why a lot of people will justify donations saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. The thing is, while you may think you are being generous by giving a lot of stuff to salvation army or value village, if your items are too far gone, you are now causing this non-profit charity organization to pay to get rid of the garbage. It can sometimes be hard to admit that the things you’ve been living with for years are so worthless that even donation centers don’t want them, but be realistic and don’t make them pay to get rid of your garbage.

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