06 Aug

When you are in the middle of downsizing, it’s not always easy to determine what you will want and need in the future. Beyond the low-hanging fruit (the worn-out things, the things you haven’t used in years, the things that spark no joy, the old financial records, the clothes that don’t fit or suit you anymore, the items you have in triplicate when one will do), the decisions become harder. Is there a way to make clearer which of the multitude of items before you are your life essentials? 

Since we’ve moved out of our house of 27 years and put most of the stuff we kept in storage, we’ve created an experimental situation for ourselves. Which of the things that we don’t have with us do we miss and how badly? Which don’t we think about at all? 

It’s interesting spending time in temporary housing, a unit that someone else has furnished, perhaps considering their own needs or imagining the needs of renters. How do these mesh with our own needs? Furnished units almost always have blenders. When I realized that we never use a blender, we donated ours. On the other hand, rental units hardly ever have citrus squeezers, an item we use regularly. 

KITCHEN ITEMS: Before we moved, I set aside what I felt were items I would need and was unlikely to find in our furnished rental units. I still cook full dinners involving recipes, so I considered which kitchen tools I regularly used and “ear-marked” them. (See February 19 post on the subject.) I brought these with us to our rental unit and am paying attention to the ones I continue to use. 

I’m also noting what I miss that I didn’t earmark in this department: a couple of sizes of mixing bowls, large mugs (rather than those silly little t-cup size mugs that often come with dish sets), the notebook I created of recipes I like to make. Mostly, I did pretty well in choosing what to bring along. But working with a smaller set of items, I am in a better place to get to the heart of what I use. 

BOOKS: In that same post, I discussed books and clothes. Here’s what I’ve learned about books. While I love having books around me, the fact is I don’t miss individual titles. We have a perfectly good library down the street where I can borrow novels to read and wallow in reference books all I want.  If desperate for something specific that isn’t in the library, I can download something to my Kindle. I do enjoy having art books for visual inspiration, but in many cases, I can find these images online. Perhaps, when I am reunited with my books, I will embrace them as long-lost friends. Or I will say, I treasured our friendship once upon a time, but I have outgrown it now. I am hoping my reaction will be more of the latter and that we can reduce our book collection to a more manageable number. (See post on "The 100 Book Project.") 

CLOTHES: What I’ve noticed is that I gravitate towards the same items in my closet and often forget most of what is stashed in drawers (except for the underwear, socks, and nightclothes.) I know my time and weather samples need to be large enough to fully guage my needs. But a day of reckoning is coming. 

DÉCOR/ARTWORK: We put in storage a lot of artwork (paintings, sculpture, framed photographs) and decorative items (many inherited from or given by family members, some we collected on our travels). They’ve been a part of our lives for years or even decades. I currently don’t miss seeing these. Being in a new environment, there is plenty to tease the senses. In the long-run, it’s hard to know how either of us will feel about these familiar and attractive items, some of which have sentimental value. Will they fit in the place we eventually settle in? Will we consider rotating the art and décor, so that we get to enjoy all of it at some point? 

At the moment, I miss designated space to pursue particular activities more than I miss my things. I am guessing that being reunited with some favorite items (those I designated keepers) will give me warm, fuzzy feelings. Most of these are not space hoggers. But for many things I’ve kept, I may want to consider their necessity in my life—whether from a utilitarian, aesthetic, or sentimental role. 

In the meanwhile, here are some thoughts for creating your own experimental downsizing experience. You should probably save this for a time when you’ve made some inroads and are feeling stuck as to what can go next. 

  • Set aside items that you don’t use on a very regular basis. Pack them up as though you were moving, labeling or inventorying so that you know what you’ve put where. Find a space for them—an attic, a basement, the back of a closet, a portion of a room you don’t use as much, a storage unit you still have. Maybe start with one category of things, such as kitchen items/china.
  • For clothes/jewelry/accessories: Each time you wear an item from your closet, move it to one side of the closet. After several weeks, consider packing up the items on the other side that you haven’t worn. With other non-closet based items in these categories, do something similar.
  • After three months, which items that you packed up can you even name? Don’t cheat and open the boxes or packaging!

 Of those you can name---- 

  • And missed a little----are there reasonable substitutes among the things you have kept out for use? For example, I can juice a lemon by rolling it like a rolling pin, cutting it two, and squeezing it. However, my little citrus squeezer is small, so I’ll keep using it. But consider the tagine—it’s a cool item with its funnel top, but most tagine recipes can be made equally well with a Dutch oven or similar. Do I use the tagine enough to warrant the space it takes up?
  • And missed more---what is it about them that you’ve missed? Their utility? Their aesthetic value?  Their connection to your current identity, your past and/or your family? All of the above? Utlity is all relative. Do you just miss an item for the one or two times a year it’s useful, like that basic turkey roaster? Or does the item fill several roles in your life, like that beautiful casserole dish that was your mother’s and that you like to display as well as use and that reminds you of family dinners?
  • And missed for the aesthetic value only---have you been displaying it? If not, what is the likelihood that you will display it in the future? Will it have to replace something else you are displaying? If you’ve been displaying it, is it time to give something else a chance?
  • And missed for the sentimental value---is it the item itself that you need in order to connect with those memories, or will one of the other methods I’ve described in this blog (e.g., photos, stories, choosing one or a small sample of several like items), satisfy that need?

Of those you can’t name, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind items, you know the drill. 

As much attention as I’ve paid to what I’ve packed up, I know I already can’t name a lot of what’s in those boxes without looking at my cheat sheet. And two or three years from now, will it be like Christmas in July when we open them up? Or will we wonder why we wasted the time, effort, and money to pack up and save all these items? 

In the meantime, I hope to create new memories and enjoy the here and now, something I haven’t been able to do in a while.

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