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What to Save and What to Give Away When Downsizing

4-Minute Read
Published on April 20, 2017

When downsizing your home, deciding what to keep and what to get rid of isn’t always easy. But if your new home is significantly smaller than what you’re used to, not all of your items will fit. To make your move a little easier, you may want to get rid of what you can live without before you move all of your belongings into your new home.

Some decisions can be very obvious. Of course you should save your great aunt’s engagement ring, whereas deciding to get rid of some of those books you bought but haven’t had time to read can be a little bit more challenging.

Here are a few tips to help you with these decisions!

What to Save

Items with Sentimental Value

Grandma’s quilt. Dad’s childhood dresser. Your child’s handprint painting from preschool. These are the items that make your house your home. Items like this probably have sentimental value, and you’re likely to keep them. Make sure that items you choose to keep are actually of sentimental value. You may want to keep three copies of your book report from third grade or every piece of paper your child drew on the first six years of their life, but remember that you’ll have to find room for everything. Keep only the items you value and that you’d miss if you no longer had them.

Julie Kearns, founder of Junket: Tossed & Found in Minneapolis, downsized from a home with 2,400 square feet to a condo with 800 square feet. She said she was glad that she kept “…pieces that would trigger positive memories of experiences that had happened in my previous home, and would help smooth the emotional aspect of the transition. It’s nice to have some familiarity.”


Don’t throw your photos away if they can’t be replaced or if you may regret getting rid of them later. If you don’t want to keep physical copies of your photos, you can always scan them into your computer and then give the physical photos away to a friend or family member who wants them. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to scan all of your photos before you move, or plan on taking the photos with you.

Important Documents

When you’re getting rid of things, be careful to not throw away any important documents. Keep an eye out for things like birth or death certificates, social security cards, marriage licenses, passports, wills and/or trust papers, high school and college diplomas, property deeds or vehicle titles, tax forms, old medical records and any military service documents. Some of these items are irreplaceable or are very difficult to replace.

“I recommend organizing any paper messes before you move so you don’t transfer both the organizational and physical clutter into a newer, smaller space,” says Kearns.

Fine or Heirloom Jewelry (and their Original Boxes)

Make sure you don’t toss out any valuable jewelry. Even if a piece doesn’t have sentimental value, its monetary value may be worth saving. You can save valuable jewelry for your family or friends, or decide to sell it later. Jewelry can also be worth more if you keep the original packaging.

Small and Multifunctional Furniture

When you downsize, you have less room for all of the furniture that used to fit in your larger home. In a smaller home, functionality is very important. For example, if an ottoman has built-in storage, it’ll be more useful than having two pieces of furniture – one for sitting or using as a footrest, and one for storage. If you purchase new furniture, think about getting compact furniture, which can make a smaller room feel larger.

What to Give Away and Where to Start?

When making the decision to downsize, make sure to carefully consider what will be the right size home for you and your family. The size of the home you’ll be moving into can affect the amount of possessions you get rid of.

Downsizing will be a lot easier if you give yourself time to go through the items in your home before you move. You don’t want to make a quick decision to get rid of half of your stuff and regret it later.

Molli Carson from Makespace downsized from a spacious home in suburban California to a tiny bedroom in the heart of Brooklyn. She shared a key tip about sorting through your things when downsizing: “Don’t do it all at once. Downsizing requires a continual process of purging. There’s a fine line between ‘need’ and ‘want,’ and it may take awhile before you’re able to distinguish between the two.”

The easiest place to start is with the “extra” things in your house. The amount of extra items we accumulate that have little to no sentimental value is surprising. If you find items like this in your home, you can probably get rid of them first:

  • Old magazines and newspapers
  • Old receipts
  • Unread books
  • Old/outdated electronics (make sure to clear all personal information before getting rid of electronics)
  • Outgrown and outdated clothes
  • Socks without a match
  • Mismatched food storage containers
  • Old towels and sheets
  • Toys and puzzles that are missing pieces
  • Old cosmetics and toiletries
  • Old spices
  • Unused kitchen appliances, cookbooks and other gadgets
  • Old CDs and DVDs (and VHS tapes if you still have them)
  • Coffee mugs or other drinkware you don’t use anymore
  • Probably all of the things in your junk drawer (you know I’m right)
  • Metal hangers from the dry cleaner

Don’t just throw items you’re getting rid of into the garbage. Separate these items into two piles: donate and sell. Some items are probably still in good condition (especially the larger items, like appliances and furniture), and can be sold in a garage sale or on a website like Craigslist. This could be a good way to make a little extra money for your move. Items that are gently used and functional, but you aren’t able to sell, can be donated to a local charity.

What items would you make sure to keep if you were downsizing? Comment below!

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Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.