26 Jan

If you’ve decided to make downsizing a longer term commitment, you might find your own rhythm for it, choosing projects that feel compelling or that speak to you at the moment. You also might find that some projects are better suited to certain times of the year than others. In that spirit, I suggest a monthly downsizing calendar. Tweak it to suit your needs and offer up your own ideas! 

JANUARY: Start by going through your house or apartment and taking stock. Take some “before” pictures, so you can chart your progress through the year. If you live in a colder climate, this dreary month is an opportunity to tackle your paper projects: sift through old greeting cards and recycle their fronts; after organizing this past year’s data for your taxes, prune the financial files, scan those where you need evidence of payment, and shred the rest.   

FEBRUARY: Show the love! It’s not too late to gather a bundle of winter clothes you haven’t worn or unused blankets in the cupboard and prepare a couple of bags for your favorite charity—preferably one that picks up at your door. Likewise, consider all those baking pans accumulating dust in the back of the kitchen cabinet. When was the last time you made a bundt cake? Tell the truth! Old towels can warm some puppy at your local animal shelter. As you dream of vacations, sort through the boxes of color slides, packs of photos you never bothered to put into an album, or film you shot in the pre-digital age. Choose the ones that still bring you pleasure and do something with them to make them to make them more accessible, such as putting the best ones in an album. Digitize the other keepers and discard the rest. (If you can handle the expense, use a digitizing service. Even Costco offers such a service.) If you are feeling creative, upcycle pieces of discarded photos and old wrapping paper into Valentine’s cards. 

MARCH: Check out your spring and summer clothes. Have some nicer ones that don’t fit or that you haven’t worn in a couple of years as pretty as they are? Make an appointment at your local consignment store. Get your more valuable jewelry appraised and sell that gold necklace of your aunt’s that is way fancier than your current lifestyle. Set up appointments with experts for other specialized categories of objects you own—coins, Asian art, antiques, to get a sense of whether it’s worth your while to try to sell these. There are online services that can give you some idea of value, but be careful about getting hooked into those that will suck you into monthly premiums for their services. 

APRIL: If you stopped posting on your local freecycle site when it was snowy and icy, go back to using it again, especially if you like to leave items on the porch. It’s also not too early to round up items for vendors of those summer flea markets—vintage costume jewelry and clothes, cool kitchen items, interesting toys, postcards, maps, and other ephemera. Check out The Ephemera Society of America for more ideas. 

MAY:  If you can’t resist having a yard sale, May is a good month for that. (Ditto, September.) Band together with a neighbor or two to increase interest. Price things to sell, including any arts and crafts. It’s not about the money, but about moving things out. Too many gardening tools and related products (like mulch) in your garage? Now is the perfect time to shed them, maybe at that yard sale, just as planting season is beginning. Or donate them to your local garden group or non-profit gardening center. 

JUNE: I think June is the hardest month to downsize. After working hard all winter and spring, you just want to get outside. Pick a fun project, like going through memorabilia, whether it’s old programs from plays and concerts, travel photos, correspondence from friends and family (remember when we used to write letters?), even your old school papers. Savor those moments, but be selective about what to keep. What will you enjoy looking at later? 

JULY: It’s hot. Maybe you have a vacation of your own planned. Good for you! Take a break. When you return, use your newfound energy to do something creative with the memorabilia you chose to keep. Make some scrapbook pages. Create a special notebook or an inviting memorabilia box. 

AUGUST: In the dog days of August, this may be a good time to sit in front of the air conditioner or a fan and go through those books or magazines you have been reluctant to part with. Take your time while you sip your iced tea. If there are no ready takers for your magazines (for art projects, for example), toss these into the recycle bin. Books, once beloved, can be donated your local library (maybe they have an annual sale in the fall?) or most of the big charities that take donated items. Maybe you can seek out one of your neighbor’s “Little Free Libraries” and put a few volumes in there for the taking. 

SEPTEMBER: Fall is a common time for non-profit organizations to sponsor auctions, sales, and swaps—all perfect opportunities to give away some of your better items that you haven’t been able to sell but can’t bring yourself to dump into the Goodwill bin. It’s also a time when people are moving about. Check with local organizations that work with refugees or the homeless to find out what they might need that you can provide. 

OCTOBER: Last chance before the cooler weather sets in to clear out the garage or spend time in an un-heated attic! These two places, along with the basement, are homes to much of our unused stuff. Bring down batches of things from your attic to sort through and dispose of—old toys, clothing you haven’t worn in years, kitchenware, framed art that is of little value, books—all perfect for your local charity. If you need help bringing these things down from an attic with a pull-down ladder, try TaskRabbit. 

NOVEMBER: With the holidays coming up, take a critical look at those decorations and cull the ones you no longer use. (Maybe someone else in the family would like them?). Put together some small packages of family items that might be appreciated by others and send them off with plenty of time to spare. And don’t forget organizations like Toys for Tots, which might welcome your gently used toys. 

DECEMBER: You’re busy this month. Snatch a bit of time here and there to do some digital clean-up. The visual results might not be quite as satisfying as working with tangible items, but won’t you feel better organized and ready to tackle another downsizing year? Finish up by taking stock of what you’ve accomplished. Take some “after” pictures to compare with those you took in January. Treat yourself (and your loved ones) to something special, but not tangible—a dinner at your favorite restaurant or a special outing. 

Congratulations! You’ve made some real headway! Acknowledge what you’ve done rather than stressing about you still need to do.

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