How to Downsize to a Smaller Apartment

Posted by admin on Mitchell

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post, written by Molli Spear, managing editor of the Life Storage Blog. This post was updated on 12/5/22.

Location, location, location: They don’t say it for nothing.

There’s a huge difference in real estate prices between high-density urban and more sparsely populated suburban areas. Urban home prices have the edge on the suburbs, while suburban apartments offer as much as twice the square footage as their urban counterparts for the same price.

Translation: City living may be cheaper, but you get less space.

Notwithstanding, many people choose to move into urban areas for jobs, schools and other reasons. Which means …


Facing less storage and reduced space, singles, couples, and families are forced to pare down their possessions. You’re only human, though, and naturally, you don’t want to get rid of too many of the things that make you, you. So how can you downsize intelligently, maintaining your quality of life while fitting a smaller space?

Here’s how.

How to prepare for moving to a small apartment

Whether you’re hiring professional movers or moving your possessions yourself, you’ll have to cut some of your possessions if you want to fit into a smaller space. Here are some steps you can take before your move to make downsizing a little easier:

1. Calculate your total space

Start simple by calculating the total space of your new home. If you want to know how much you can bring, you need to know how much space you’re working with. Include the space in each room of your house and don’t forget to consider:

  • Basement storage
  • Attic storage
  • Bike storage
  • Closets
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Space under the bed
  • Shelving in hot water heater closets

While you don’t want to pack your home to the gills, knowing and utilizing all your options can stretch a small space considerably. Plus, knowing how much space you can expect before your move saves you a lot of hassle. There’s nothing worse than getting into your new place, only to meet a sea of moving boxes with nowhere to go.

2. Comb through storage areas first

Time to jump into downsizing. The good news? You can soften the blow of downsizing with some quick eliminations upfront. Start with old storage areas. Attics, basements, garages, sheds, and closets often accumulate disused items. It may surprise you to discover what you’ve been hanging on to all this time.

Parse through these items and be brutal. If you haven’t used something in a year and it’s not a Civil War heirloom, get rid of it.

3. Be honest about what you can live without

It can be hard to part with our unnecessary belongings. We’re attached to our possessions, after all. Each one is a little piece of us, even if it’s a piece we don’t care all that much about.

The trick is separating want from need, just as you do when deciding which apartment amenities are nice and which are necessary. The KonMari method is a very useful approach. Marie Kondo’s reputation as an expert organizer is well-deserved and rests on her incisive core assessment tool: Is it useful? Is it beautiful?

First, ask yourself whether you use the item. If you don’t, and it’s purely functional, it must go. For example, maybe you bought a blender when you were on a smoothie kick, and it hasn’t seen the light of day since. It doesn’t need to come with you to your new home. If you don’t use it in a traditional sense, but you find it beautiful, consider keeping it. You may not read your collection of antique books, but you love how they look on your bookshelf. Bring it for decoration, but remember to draw the line somewhere.

4. Go shelf by shelf

Now that you’ve done an extensive purge to get rid of all non-necessary items, it’s time to go shelf by shelf. This allows you to truly see what you have and make good decisions about what to keep.

One at a time, empty each shelf, cabinet, closet bar, and drawer. Resist the temptation to poke through these areas, quickly looking for stuff to get rid of. Instead, commit to taking out each and every item. It’s a lot easier to separate the wheat from the chaff when you’re staring at a giant pile on the bed.

Involve the whole family when doing this. Emptying out a child’s closet without their knowledge or input might end in a tear or two, so make sure you have agreement across the board.

How to pack when moving to a smaller space

Follow these steps when packing your belongings for your move into a smaller apartment.

  1. Organize before packing

    In preparation for the packing process, organize your possessions into caddies, boxes and other portable/storable containers. Pack similar items together, like placing kitchenware in one box and sweaters in another, and label each container.

    Organizing your belongings before you pack them also gives you even more oversight over what you’re bringing. Find something you can part with? Add it to the donation pile.

  2. Protect your items

    If you’ve pared down your belongings to only your most-loved and must-have items, the last thing you want is one of your treasures to break in transit. Cushion breakables with bubble wrap or packing peanuts. If you really want to minimize, use textiles and other soft items as cushioning. Wrapping your dishes in your bath towels might look a little silly, but you’ll have less waste to throw away when you unpack later.

    Stack medical or disaster preparedness supplies neatly in clear plastic tubs so you can reach them if necessary, compile your documents in file boxes, and move silverware right inside its tray.

    Pro tip: Wrap painter’s tape around the outside to keep cutlery in place without damaging surfaces, then unwrap and pop the tray into a drawer at your new place. Voilà! This is also a good strategy for containers with less-than-reliable lids.

  3. Think about your new home’s layout when packing

    With your items organized and many stored in reusable crates and containers, you might have a few old-fashioned cardboard moving boxes to fill. Grab boxes of different sizes: a few large, a few medium, a few small. Think about the space you have. Got a tiny galley kitchen with just a few cabinets but enough kitchen items to fill a large box? It might be time to do a second round of decluttering.

Tips to maximize space in a small apartment

So you made it to your new place. Try these tips to get the most out of small space living:

Outsource your storage

Sometimes, the space into which you’re moving is simply too small. Especially if your move is transitional or temporary, you don’t want to get rid of too many possessions just because you’re between spaces. In that case, a storage unit can be the perfect solution.

A storage unit can also come in handy for:

  •   Small business inventory
  •   Craft supplies
  •   Seasonal items, such as coats, holiday decorations, or summer patio furniture
  •  Family heirlooms
  •  Washers and dryers, if your downsize is transitional and you don’t want to lose the expensive appliances you bought with last year’s tax refund

Never rented storage before? Check out Life Storage’s storage unit size guide for help picking the right one.

Store vertically

Put your walls to work. You might not have any floor space leftover for an armoire or a dresser, but consider all the clever ways you can take advantage of your unused wall space. Maybe you can hang large shelves in the living room for stacking books, records, and knick-knacks. Short on counter space in your kitchen? Try mounting a spice rack to the wall.

 Don’t forget about your doors. You can hang all kinds of storage solutions on the inside of a door. You can hang pots and pans on your pantry door, shoes and jewelry on your closet door, and towels and toiletries on your bathroom door. And who needs a coat rack when you’ve got a few hooks installed by your front door?

Opt for multi-purpose furniture

If you’re shopping for new furniture for your space, try to find pieces that serve two purposes. Pick a couch that stores blankets under the cushions. Plenty of beds come with pull-out drawers for out-of-season clothes. If you’re used to having a guest room, get a living room sofa that pulls out into a bed, so friends and family always have a place to sleep.

Convinced you can make it through a downsizing move now? Good. Now you can use Zumper to search for apartments in your desired market. Good luck and happy moving!

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