three feet rules for downsizing

It’s no secret that downsizing can be overwhelming, and that a lot of the anxiety is caused by the need to part with so many of our life’s possessions all at once.

Most of the Downsizers we help have accumulated many, many possessions over the years, ranging from priceless (to us!) mementos to still-useful household items to the “why do we still have this?” stuff that we have not seen or touched in many years.

When you’re faced with a major downsizing move, it can feel impossible to decide what to do with everything in your home. In my experience helping Downsizers with this task, I’ve found that implementing two simple rules can minimize the number of decisions you’ll need to make when you’re choosing belongings to take with you on your move. There are two main rules, but the name applies to both and makes it easy to remember: The Three Feet Rules for Downsizing.

The Three Feet Rules for Downsizing

When it’s time to move to a smaller home, it can be hard to decide what to take with you. There are so many options! Some people make the mistake of focusing on their most expensive or sentimental belongings, while others spend precious hours and energy sorting through storage areas that they haven’t broached in years.

While there’s no wrong way to tackle a downsizing project, I have found that 1) the things you need the most are not necessarily the “nicest” things you own, and 2) the burden of sorting through each and every item in a home is probably not necessary. That’s where the Three Feet Rules for Downsizing come in.

Three Feet Rule #1: Look within three feet of where you spend time in your home every day.

As a first step to identifying what you will take with you to your new home, I encourage all of my downsizing clients to prioritize your everyday necessities.

It may seem obvious, but the things you need and use on a daily basis are generally within arm’s reach. If you’re wondering what you will likely need and use at your new space, look at the three feet around you as you go about your day, and note what’s within easy reach. Here are some good places to start:

  • Things kept near your bed
  • Clothing that you have recently worn (What’s in your laundry right now?)
  • Dishes and kitchen tools in your dishwasher or near your sink
  • Belongings around the spot where you work, watch TV, read, or craft.
  • Personal items in top drawers or countertops of your bathroom.

Three Feet Rule #2: If you haven’t come within three feet of an item in your home within the past 2 years, it probably doesn’t need to come with you to your new place.

Most Downsizers have PLENTY of belongings that they have not come anywhere close to in many months, if not years. This rule can be difficult because for many of us, we have held onto things because they were useful to us at an earlier time or “quality” or just hard to part with for some other reason. But in general, stuff that’s been buried in your home for months upon months is probably not going to make the cut to accompany you to your next place where space will be at a premium.

Here are some easy examples:

  • Boxes that have been sealed or stacked for years (this applies to most boxes of documents; check with your tax and/or financial advisors if you’re unsure about what can be discarded or shredded).
  • Clothing or accessories stashed in guest room closets or out-of-the-way dressers and bins.
  • Anything you haven’t brought down from the attic or up from the basement.
  • Sporting goods, tools, gardening supplies, etc.
  • Junk drawers (it’s fine to open all of your junk drawers for a quick peek, but don’t get carried away. Just because it’s useful doesn’t mean you need it. Go back to Three Feet Rule #1).

When you have professional guidance and hands-on help with your downsizing move, you’ll find it easier to keep your focus on the belongings that mean the most to you and that you will need the most to be comfortable in your new space.

Even better, professional move managers, downsizing specialists, and estate pros will be able to efficiently and quickly sort through the contents of your home to make sure nothing of value is overlooked. While some people choose to personally sort through all of their stored belongings, most of our clients don’t have the time or energy to handle every single object in their homes.

If you want to lower your stress and end up with the belongings that you actually need the most, start by noticing the things within 3 feet of your daily activities, and let yourself off the hook for anything you haven’t touched in many months or years. These Three Feet Rules for Downsizing can be your guide throughout the process.

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