The thing about downsizing is that eventually you wind up with only one closet.
Why is this? Why can't all homes have the same amount of built-in cabinets and closets and cupboards, and just have fewer rooms and less floor space? It makes sense to me.
The thing about stuff is that everyone has far more small objects than we do large objects. This is especially true after we start doing serious space clearing. Maybe we start with a boat or an extra car or truck - the big ticket items. When we move to smaller living spaces, we understand that we'll have fewer rooms. The guest bedroom goes, and with it the guest bed, guest dresser, possibly guest desk and chair. I know of one person who downsized from five couches to two. Maybe we don't really need both a kitchen table and a formal dining table, or maybe it's time to let go of the grandfather clock, the china hutch, the sideboard, the chifforobe, the davenport, or any other furniture that might show up in the final round of the middle school spelling bee. We've finally realized that we're unlikely to have regular dinner parties for twelve or more, and we're okay with that. Still, we need somewhere to put the tools and housewares of daily life.
My husband and I have just moved into a small apartment. There are plenty of smaller places to live in the world; we saw some of them just a couple of weeks ago, before we found this place. Studio apartments. We considered a couple, but I can tell you from this experience that we are not ready for that level of downsizing yet! The reason for that is that we're already struggling to deal with having only one closet.
Fortunately, it's a decent-sized walk-in closet with a shelf, or I don't know what we'd do. Suspend everything from the ceiling in cargo nets?
Throughout our marriage, every time we've moved, we've downsized. The first two times, both our garage and kitchen storage were cut in half each time. We also dropped the dedicated laundry room, the pantry, the coat closet, our original walk-in closet, and the family room. Then we dropped the dining room and a bathroom. Then we dropped my office, and then his, and the closets that came with them. That's when the trouble started.
Neither of us are really all that into clothes or shoes. We haven't had any trouble sharing a clothes closet, even though we both have recreational pursuits that involve special gear. It's...everything else.
It starts with the kitchen, because we both like to cook and entertain, and we're also into canning. I dehydrate my own backpacking food, too, because it's so expensive. This has caused us to accumulate a great deal of equipment. In the past, the kitchen excess has spread into other areas like the pantry, garage, and coat closet. Now, if it doesn't all fit in the kitchen, there's nowhere else for it to go. But - one kitchen isn't enough! If we go any smaller, we'll have to give up on at least one thing that we actually use on a regular basis. It will be a lifestyle change, not just letting go of an aspirational "one day" item.
We have non-perishable pantry items stored in our fridge right now, because all but one shelf in the kitchen is full of dishes, pots, baking pans, mixing bowls, small appliances, and other cooking paraphernalia.
Then it goes to the office. Most people don't have such a luxury, but we're empty-nesters. It turns out there are far more two- and three-bedroom homes on the rental market than there are singles. We shrugged and made use of the space, when we had it, though most people will fit in these items wherever they can. A holding area for incoming mail and pending paperwork. Paper records. Electronic storage media, which at one point included floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, SD cards, a backup drive, and more. A desktop computer, printer, and other peripherals. Printer paper and cartridges. Extra cables, chargers, power strips, and backup batteries. Product and software boxes. (Why are these so hard to let go??). Envelopes of various sizes. Office supplies. A red stapler. A rubber band ball, though the attraction of such a satisfyingly fine object mystifies my husband. Canned air. Boxes of photographs. Art supplies. In my husband's case, a bunch of electronics doodads, circuit boards, a soldering iron, robotics and mad science contraptions galore. Two busy people who like to work at home tend to generate a lot of accessories.
Then there's the recreational stuff. Backpacking gear. Bicycling gear. Motorcycle gear and hockey equipment, in his case. Exercise mats. Luggage.
Then there's the cute stuff. Board games. Pet toys. Outdoor toys like Frisbees. Decorations and tchotchkes. Souvenirs. Small items that might have gone into various drawers or been displayed on various flat surfaces now have nowhere to be.
What has helped during our downsizing process has been to think of objects as part of a larger collection. Take each individual thing as a representative of a category. When I thought of "fitness equipment," for example, it was easier to let it all go at once when I thought, "How will I work out? I will go running and I will use the fitness center at our apartment complex." We were able to let go of everything filed under "gardening" and "automotive" as well.
What's happened is that we're successfully containerizing everything. The office stuff has gone into a set of aluminum storage boxes, which are now sitting on a shelf where a few dozen books used to be. The paper files are in another storage box, which has likewise displaced a shelf of books. Basically, the extra books and food stockpiles have had to make way for things we don't yet feel we can do without. As we continue to move toward fully paperless, and as we learn to make a life in a smaller space, we will find that we are crowded by all these bits and bobs. We'll jettison them in favor of breathing room, and we'll feel a sense of satisfaction as we do.
The core of downsizing is the inner directive to "make it all go away." Living surrounded by boxes and bins and tubs and stacks and piles is demoralizing, irritating, confusing, distracting, and just not super-pretty. It's not doing us any favors to keep things we can't even find, much less things we don't use and don't feel like dusting. We have to put more attention on the smaller items than we did on the larger pieces, because there are more of them. We're outnumbered, but we're winning the fight.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.