Buying and moving into a new home is stressful enough. When you start thinking about how to transport all of your endless stuff, it’s no wonder you might fall into anxiety overload. But there is one tried-and-true way to make your move less miserable: downsizing.
Granted, sorting things to toss or donate can be a headache in itself. But trust us: It is so worth it. After all, there’s a bit of the hoarder in everyone (sometimes more than a bit), and moving is the perfect opportunity to pare down your possessions. Plus, when you’re paying movers by the hour, fewer boxes means a smaller bill.
Sound good? OK, here’s your seven-step guide to purging before you pack.
1. When moving consider your new space
Whether you’re downsizing or upgrading your square footage, keep in mind what will and won’t fit in your new pad—and we’re talking style as well as size. Don’t keep all of your ratty den furniture if you’ll have only a formal living room, and consider ditching the china cabinet if you’re losing dining space.
And don’t just plan to put oversized pieces in storage until the day you have a bigger home. Unless they’re heirlooms or antiques, or have sentimental value, you’ll probably never think of them again.
“Ask yourself if you are willing to pay to store” anything that won’t fit, says Michelle Hale, the co-owner of New York City‘s home organization service Henry & Higby. “If not, it’s probably best to cut ties.”
2. Dig through the closets before moving
No one will be surprised if future scientists discover that every closet hides a secret wormhole to another dimension. Somehow, it absorbs all your secret junk—and still has enough room for more and more stuff to be thrown in it. Step No.1 for a pre-move downsizing: Sort through that terrifying mess.
“Take a long, hard look at your clothing and closets to see what you can throw out or donate,” Hale says.
She recommends following the “two-season rule” and ditching any clothing item you haven’t worn in two seasons (six months) or more (“with some sentimental exceptions”).
3. Ditch old kids’ clothes
Go through your children’s closets with the same discerning eye. In fact—because kids grow so darn-tootin’ fast—take an even more critical look.
“Make sure to only move clothing that fits,” Hale says. Donate anything that’s gently used, or give the items to friends or relatives who might need them, because babies=expensive, y’all.
If your kid happens to hit a growth spurt right before you move, consider that a blessing and pare down his closet to the barest of essentials. You’ll be buying new clothes, anyway. Save yourself a box.
4. Sift through old electronics
We all have a few skeletons in the closet. For most of us, those skeletons are broken electronics. Whether they’re old laptops, cracked cellphones, or numerous micro-USB chargers, those suckers need to head to the slaughterhouse. (Don’t just toss these guys in the dumpster, though; there are electronics recycling programs you can use instead.)
There’s one exception, Hale says: Unique chargers or cables whose pair you can’t identify. Maybe they’re for your kid’s 3DS game console or that old digital camera.
“Put it in a box for the duration of the packing process,” Hale says. “Better [to be] safe than sorry should you find a match for it in another part of the house.”
5. Sort, sort, sort
Go through each room of your house, from least-used to most-trafficked, and sort each and every item you see. Divide them into three piles: keep, donate, and toss.
“We would never recommend throwing out everything unless you have the means to completely outfit your new home, but getting rid of those items will make your new house a happier space,” Hale says.
Once you have the donate and toss piles in order, deal with them immediately. The longer they sit, the more likely you are to put junk into your moving boxes. You’ve already said adios once—don’t force yourself to say it again.
6. Ditch the duplicates
Unless you’re holding onto something for sentimental reasons, now’s the time to get rid of doubles. Two wine holders? Multiple printers? Six table lamps when you need only three? Choose your favorites and say sayonara to the rest.
7. Create an ‘open first box’ for after all the moving is over
Hale’s last rule of downsizing keeps things smooth when it comes time to unpack: Create an “open first box,” complete with toilet paper, lightbulbs, toiletries, basic cleaning supplies, and bed sheets. This genius idea keeps you from having to dig through every box to fill your basic needs on your first night in your new place—just open, kick back, and relax. Just make sure to label it clearly and instruct your movers to leave it somewhere obvious.
“It will help you get through that first night with a little less stress,” Hale says.
Jamie Wiebe has written about home design and real estate for House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Veranda, and more. She loves vintage furniture, collecting fluffy blankets, and DIY-ing everything. Follow @jamiewiebe