De-clutter: downsizing and moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle


The American idea of the big house, a family showplace full of accumulated belongings, has gradually eroded and is steadily being replaced by a more economical and environmentally conscious mindset; the minimalist movement. It’s a new paradigm that crosses generations, from millennials to empty nesters, who want to simplify their lives and be shed of the physical encumbrances typical of an acquisitive culture. It’s tempting to chuckle at the fashionable “mini” houses, extreme manifestation of this movement, but it’s a symptom of a deep-seated conviction that “bigger” no longer means “better.” 

A form of recycling

Downsizing isn’t just a reference to moving from a large, suburban house to a compact, more efficient use of space. It also means getting rid of all the things you don’t need anymore, and doing it in an environmentally friendly, socially responsible way. Members of Gen X and the millennial generation have led the way in this revolution of reduction, donating clothing and other items to charitable organizations or thrift stores, and using the opportunity to make a little money. All in all, an inspired form of recycling.

Empty nesters are of a similar mind, though their motivation is considerably different. These are people looking to get their children to take as much “stuff” with them when they move away from home. Whether they do or not, it’s not necessary to throw things away without any forethought. Instead, try choosing an item to get rid of every time you acquire something new. And don’t assume that your kids will want objects just because you think they should. They have their own ideas about what’s useful and important. Talk to your children about what they’d like to take with them rather than trying to foist your excess on a young person who may not have room.


Move when you’re able

For aging couples, a good rule of thumb is to move when you’re able, not when you have to move. If your children have left the nest, it might be an ideal time to begin looking for a smaller home. People in their 50s are increasingly interested in having the freedom to walk to shops, theaters and restaurants in a more urban setting, without the burdens and cost of home maintenance. It makes sense to make such a move when you’re still young enough to enjoy the benefits. Consider the potential cost of remodeling when you consider purchasing a smaller home. Bear in mind that the costliest upgrades will be in the kitchen and bathrooms.


Make a list

As you begin to weed through your belongings, divide them into three categories: donate, give away, or throw away. This will help you begin the process of parting, emotionally and intellectually, with things you no longer need or want. It also applies a rationale to your actions, making it a little easier to part with things you may have owned for a lifetime. You may consider hiring a professional organizer, someone who can help you downsize in ways that make sense from a financial and logistical standpoint. A professional can help you clean out closets and overstuffed drawers and provide guidance on de-cluttering before you move.

Simplifying one’s life is a natural and desirable goal. Today, it’s the objective of both young and old. A growing sense of personal responsibility to the environment and the unsustainability of our throwaway culture have encouraged new generations of Americans to “de-clutter” every aspect of their lives.


Article by Jane Rogers