This is a good time in the real estate market to be a seller, and that goes doubly so if you’re thinking about downsizing.

Call it a sign of the times, but downsizing is definitely a trend. A 2017 study indicates that 46% of those in the Baby Boomer generation who sold their home did so to downsize, and about 12% of those between 45 and 64 years of age were doing the same. Whether you’re an empty-nester rattling around in a house that now has too many spare bedrooms, or a Millennial who wants to embrace minimalism or RV life, there are times when less really is more.

So where do you start when you’ve got a house full of memories and stuff to sort through? We’ve got a guide that can get you started.

1. Start Early (the Earlier, the Better)

You’ll hear all kinds of estimates about how much time you should devote to downsizing before you move, with three months probably being the absolute minimum you want to devote to the process.

In reality, you should start as soon as you possibly can. Thinking about downsizing in two years when your youngest child leaves home? Start putting together your downsizing plan today. The longer you give yourself, the less hurried and stressful the process.

2. Pick a Method for Dealing with Your Possessions

There are all kinds of methods out there designed to help people purge excess belongings, from the KonMari Method to the Minimalist Game. For downsizing, we recommend the three-box method. As you go through your possessions, everything gets assigned to one of the following piles:

  • Keep
  • Let It Go
  • Store

Your “store” pile should be the smallest, and your “let it go” pile should be the biggest. In fact, the only things that should go into storage are seasonal or special occasion items.

(If you haven’t even begun the process of listing your property for sale, your “keep” pile doesn’t actually have to go in a box. Those items can remain on your shelves or walls until it gets closer to the move.)

3. Begin by Decluttering 

You’ll find a big project like this less intimidating if you break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. When you’re talking about (eventually) clearing an empty home, the easiest place to start is with the clutter that every home tends to accumulate.

Some examples of areas to declutter first include:

  • The kitchen shelves: Get rid of chipped plates, extra cups and all those pieces of cookware that never see the light of day. If you only really use the same three or four pans, don’t be afraid to get rid of the rest.
  • The DVD, CD and video game rack: You probably have a collection of hard copies that have long been replaced by digital versions. Still holding onto old VHS tapes? It’s time to donate them all.
  • Dresser drawers and closets: Because “out of sight” does equal “out of mind,” it’s time to open everything up and pare down. If you haven’t worn it in the last year or it’s worn out, it’s time to let it go. This includes things hiding in the bottom of the linen closet.
  • The garage, mudroom, attic and basement: Random (and, often, useless) items tend to collect in these places, right alongside seasonal items. Box and label the seasonal decorations and aim to keep only what you truly think you’ll use in the future.

The good feeling that comes from purging your home of all that unwanted stuff can also make it easier to motivate yourself for the rest of the work.

4. Consider Your Goals and Purge Again

Now that you’ve got a nice chunk of stuff in your “Let It Go” pile, you need to look around at all of the things that are left. In particular, pay attention to the items that you keep around the main living areas of your home, like the family room, the dining room and the bedrooms.

This is where the decision-making process of downsizing can get hard. You’ve probably got a lot of memories tied up in your knick-knacks, art and other items — but you will only have so much room in your new place. It’s time to get a bit ruthless with yourself and pare things down even further with an eye toward exactly what kind of space you expect to have.

This is a good time to consider your post-downsizing goals. Do you picture yourself traveling a lot? Do you want to explore new hobbies? Clarity about your future goals can help you decide if something you own fits into your vision of the future — or not. After all, the space you have in a luxury apartment isn’t the same space you have in an RV.

There is one big tip to remember during this phase of the process: Per Marie Kwondo, let go of anything that doesn’t really bring you joy. Only keep what you’re genuinely interested in transporting to your new home.

5. Decide on a Plan for Unwanted Items

Finally, it’s time to get rid of everything that hasn’t already hit the dust bin. Look at the boxes or piles of items that you’re ready to purge and consider your options:

  • Rent a dumpster or put it on the curb: If you have a lot of big items (old furniture and broken or damaged appliances), you can either haul them to the curb for a special trash day pick-up or rent a dumpster.
  • Have a big sale: If you have the energy, list special items on eBay or a local marketplace. If you don’t, consider a yard sale. Either option is great if you’ve got a lot of high-quality, hardly-used items ready to go.
  • Donate: Thrift stores, “freecycle” and “zero-waste” groups are all good options for unwanted items.
  • Gift special items: Don’t hold onto anything to “pass down” to the next generation in the future. Pass them on today with joy in your heart. If it turns out your treasured keepsakes aren’t really wanted by anybody you know, put them in the donation pile or sell them.

If this still all seems overwhelming and too much to manage, remember: You don’t have to do it alone. There are plenty of professional organizers out there who can help minimize the work (and the stress) of downsizing, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help. That way, you’ll be able to move on to the next phase of your life without hesitation!