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  • Writer's pictureCathy Borg

The Great Downsize: A 5-Step Guide to Emptying Your House

A grandfather and a young girl waving goodbye to a smiley faced balloon

Are you ready to start downsizing; emptying out your home or a loved one's home?

Getting started can be tough! Having a road map makes it so much easier. Follow this 5-step downsizing guide and you'll be downsizing in no time.

These 5 steps will help you through the process in a systematic, logical order cutting down on confusion and indecision. They will help you determine what decisions you need to make starting with deciding: what to keep; what to give to family and friends; what to sell; what to donate; and how to remove the trash. By the end of this post, you'll be well on your way to having a much lighter load.



If you are emptying the contents of a loved one's home who has died, it's important to be aware of the rules governing probate in your area before proceeding with the following steps.


The following 5 steps are your road map to emptying your or a loved one's house. The first step is to determine what to keep. You'll need to rank your belongings and decide what's essential for your new space.

a road leading in two directions

Step 1

tSMaking a Decision about What to Keep

Rank your belongings

  • Will it fit in your new home?

  • Is it the right style for the decor in your new home?

  • Do you even like it?

  • Is this item useful?

  • Do you have duplicates?

  • Does it make you happy?

  • Do you rarely look at it or do you store it away?

  • Would you buy it again?

C. Assess your personal property and make a list.

  • Sentimental items

  • Expensive items

  • Family items

  • Newer appliances

  • Personal documents

  • Jewelry

  • Valuables

Choose an area of your current house to start gathering possessions that will be part of your new home.

The next step is to determine what to give to family and friends.

a grandmother and a young girl holding hands face to face

Step 2

Deciding what to give to family and friends

In the first step, you decided what you wanted to keep for yourself. This next step is deciding what to give to family and friends. Consider your kids, grandkids, siblings, and cousins first then your friends and neighbours. This could be a great time to pass down some cherished items.

Tips for distributing items to relatives and friends

  • Make sure to tell others about your downsizing plans and limitations.

  • Arrange a time for them to see what you're willing to part with.

  • Take pictures or make lists of the things you're wiling to offer and share them with everyone.

  • Be fair and transparent when selecting who gets what.

  • Offer support to help them make their choices.

So, we've discussed determining what to keep and deciding what to give to family and friends. The next 3 steps identify items: to sell; to donate; and to trash. Let's dive right in!

Step 3

Deciding what to sell

By now, you've sorted out the belongings you want to keep and those you've passed on to your loved ones. What's left in the house are the items nobody wanted or couldn't keep. These items will be the focus of this step.

When emptying out a house, it's crucial to recognize that the house itself is the main asset. Your goal is to empty it, so you can proceed with selling the property.

You don't want to waste time overthinking this step. On average, a home contains around 300,000 items, so there's likely plenty for us to sort through. Remember the goal is to empty the house efficiently and economically and in a way that you can feel good about.

To sell the remaining items, you have several options.

  • You can have a garage sale.

  • List it online.

  • Work with estate sale companies.

  • Do an online auction

  • Deal with individual buyers

The one we've found most efficient and with the best cost/benefit is the online auction. At In and Out Organizing, we've helped many people stage successful online auctions that've cleared out on average 96% of items for sale. That's people coming to pick up items they've prebought. You don't have to worry about handling money or wrapping or transporting items from the home. This is a big saving in time and haul-away charges. And the items are finding a second life in someone else's home. Selling items does require technical know-how and a significant time commitment whichever method you choose. So, be prepared for that.

a pile of clothing labeled donation

Step 4

Donating what you can't sell

After making a sincere effort to sell everything, it's time to move on to donating the items that remain.

Research Local Charities

- Research local charities in your area that accept donations.

- Organize the items you wish to donate into categories:

  • furniture

  • clothes

  • kitchenware

  • decor

- Donate everything to one charity or give piecemeal to different charities.

- In most cases, you'll have to make the delivery yourself. At In and Out Organizing, we assist you with the donation process.

- It's essential to donate only items that are useful and in good condition. Avoid donating stained, broken, ripped, or smelly items.

Donations should be a blessing to charities, not a burden.

- Only donate items that you would feel good about giving to someone in need.

- If something isn't suitable for donation, dispose it in the trash or recycling.

Step 5

Removing the trash

Congratulations! You've made it to the final step of emptying out a house. Now it's time to remove the trash, including recycling and hazardous waste.

- Start by recycling items that you can recycle

Work with local recycling companies to ensure proper disposal.

- If you can't recycle.

Put it in the garbage or take it to a transfer station. You can handle this task yourself or we can arrange trash removal for you. In extreme cases, ordering a roll-off dumpster may be necessary.

- Hazardous waste

Be mindful of hazardous waste such as old paint or chemicals. In Toronto, we have a free service - Toxic Taxi. You may have something similar. Research local resources for hazardous waste drop-off locations. This will ensure safe disposal.

monarch butterfly emerging from cocoon
Starting a New Life


Following these 5 steps will help you empty out the house and make it ready for sale. Emptying a house is demanding. Having a clear framework like this can make the process more manageable.

With the house emptied, you can now focus on the next chapter of your life or the sale of the property. Downsizing can be a liberating experience. It allows you to have a lighter load and a fresh start.


Good luck with your downsizing journey, and remember, we're here to help every step of the way. Call Brad to find out more.


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