You don’t have to be an avid collector, or even a shopper, to end up with a house full of clutter. After the holidays most of us have far more new things than we need, and it can feel like time to think about the benefits of downsizing. My advice has always been to follow the “equal in - equal out” rule: for every new pair of shoes, saucepan or book that comes into the house, one has to go out.

Here’s a twist: Consider downsizing before the holidays. Holiday downsizing makes space for incoming items, and for guests. Clearing out and rotating old items can help you refresh your decorating. And if you donate quality items before gift-giving season, they help stock holiday shelves in second-hand stores.

Whether you tackle just one room or an entire house, you can reap the benefits of downsizing. To get started, grab some items and ask yourself these three key questions.

Do I Love It?

One popular de-cluttering guide recommends holding each item, then getting rid of it if it doesn’t bring you “joy.” The joke, of course, is that you can throw away all your bills and cleaning supplies.

I don’t say all of your items need to bring you joy. But they should have an important purpose, and you should feel really good about using the item for that purpose. An umbrella might not bring you joy, but you should have the one that folds and unfolds smoothly – not the half a dozen that are rickety, bent or not very portable.

If you don’t love the item for its purpose, even if it’s just because it’s not pretty, then that’s an item you should probably toss.

Does it Fit and Work?

Those shoes that you’ve been meaning to have stretched? Either do it or get rid of them. The pants you know you’ll fit back into one day? Forget about it. When you do lose that weight, those pants will probably be out of style anyway. If clothing doesn’t fit you comfortably and look great, then don’t keep giving it space in your life.

This rule applies to other items as well. A nonstick skillet that’s losing its coating doesn’t really “work” anymore the way it was designed to. Towels with shredded edges, damaged furniture, a suitcase with a broken zipper – all candidates for getting rid of. One of the benefits of downsizing worn items is that your house immediately looks refreshed.

Have I Used It in the Past Year?

One trick I learned is to turn all the hangers backward in your closet on New Year’s Day, then turn them forward when you wear the item. The following year, if any hangers are still turned backwards, you know you haven’t worn that item and it can go. Clothing ages quickly. Although styles to tend to come back around, that takes a few decades, and the vintage “look” is usually updated so that true vintage isn’t quite right. Ask yourself if you really have the room to warehouse and wait.

Kitchen gadgets really tend to pile up. Go through your kitchen and check to see if you are really using all those cool peelers, scrapers, storage containers and other specialty equipment. If you haven’t used that gadget in the past year, consider downsizing it. After all, professional chefs rely on only a handful of sharp knives and skillets to create most dishes.

If you can answer “No” to any of these questions for your items, then just know that you are in the storage business. You are paying, month after month, for climate-controlled storage of things that you don’t like and aren’t using. Clear out the storage unit you are living in, and make space for new things in life. The benefits of downsizing now will last far beyond the holidays.

Download Our Downsizing Checklist


At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.