Downsizing guide for seniors: How to sort clothing

Downsizing to a retirement home or condo? Organize your wardrobe or closet with tips from today’s top experts.

Most people start downsizing by tackling a room. Marie Kondo, author of The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up and the world’s most successful professional organizer, has a better idea: tidy up by category, not by location. Her goal is to leave her clients living with items they absolutely love; clothing is an easy way to begin exploring what adds value to your life before you progress to more emotionally loaded categories such as mementoes and sentimental items. If you’re downsizing from a house to a condo or seniors’ residence, here’s how to downsize your clothes using tips from Kondo; Margareta Magnusson (bestselling author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter); and Joshua Fields Millburn, co-founder of The Minimalists, a critically acclaimed website, documentary and books.

Find dozens more downsizing tips on how to downsize furniture, sentimental items, paperwork and more by downloading The Smart Seniors Guide to Downsizing.

Gather your clothing in one place. Remove your clothes and footwear from every closet and drawer and pile everything on your bed. You’ll quickly become aware of how much you own.

Ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” Kondo suggests asking her famous question while picking up every article of clothing, one-by-one. If you answer “Yes,” you keep it. If not, she suggests you thank the item for its service and give it to a friend, consignment shop or donate it to charity. The point is to end up with a wardrobe where everything serves a purpose and brings you a feeling of happiness.

Show gratitude before tossing. While it may seem silly, Kondo teaches her clients to thank an item for its service before discarding it. This is especially important for things that you associate with strong memories — letting go can be easier if you say goodbye with a heartfelt thanks.

What if you’re not sure? Try to frame your decisions as a yes or no (or a need versus a want) to eliminate maybes. Kondo suggests asking yourself, “Do I want to take this into the future?” If Millburn isn’t certain, he wears the item in the next week. If it’s not a favourite after that, he donates it. If decisiveness isn’t your strength, ask an unsentimental friend to help; you don’t want nostalgic relatives getting attached to everything just as you’re honing your own sense of what makes you happy. If you can’t figure out why an item has meaning or why you kept it, toss it.

Adopt a uniform. Magnusson’s trick for an attractive minimalist closet is to pare down your personal style and give away random garments. If you always find yourself in grey pants with a blue shirt, embrace it. As she says, “All garments should look good together and you should be able to mix and exchange them with one another.”

Let go of shame and other emotional baggage. Will keeping items that are too small inspire you to change your diet and start exercising, or will they make you feel guilty for not losing weight? If you’re holding onto something you never wear because it was expensive, it’s time to acknowledge that this item is actually weighing you down, not lifting you up. Let it go by selling it to a consignment shop or giving it to someone who’ll appreciate it.

Try the 20-20 Rule for “just in case” items. Tempted to hold on to something nonessential for “someday?” The Minimalists get rid of anything that they can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from their location. Although they’ve rarely had to replace an item they’d previously tossed, (less than five times for the two combined), it’s been easy and affordable every time.

Get your complimentary copy of The Smart Seniors Guide to Downsizing.