It’s been about six years since I started the slow downsizing process. I admit that there are times I’ve made less progress than others, mostly because life intervenes, not because I’m less enthusiastic about it. But mostly, it’s been a steady journey. I am the tortoise. My husband, in contrast, has been more rabbit-like, cutting through swaths of detritus in a day or two and then stepping back until the next burst of activity. He’s found support in a decluttering workshop that meets for six weeks and then not again for several months. (It will meet online during the lockdown.) Interestingly, in the rest of life, I am the rabbit, and he is the tortoise.
Regardless of pace and style, I believe it’s important to take a reckoning every so often of accomplishments, even as we feel frustrated by what we haven’t done. I do a yearly reckoning, which I post in this blog. During this time of isolation, I have been chugging along at a steadier pace than normal, making downsizing my major focus for weeks. Yet, I still find myself discouraged at how much more I need to do. Rather than becoming mired in my frustration, I thought it would be helpful for me to step back and publicly share the big picture of what I’ve accomplished on my lengthy downsizing journey.
Where once we lived on two floors, we now live on one (plus a room which I use as a studio).
Where once the attic, with its treacherous pull-down ladder, was filled with stuff, including clothes, fabric, books, etc., its main occupants are a bunch of empty trunks and suitcases, most of which still need to be given to Goodwill; one hanging wardrobe containing clothes of sentimental value (like my wedding dress and my mother’s wedding suit); my mother-in-law’s silver plated cutlery and some tiny china cups we’ll never use (but that belong to a set we do use); and few other odds and ends. My husband has winnowed down his 40 boxes to fewer then ten.
Where once my clothes occupied three closets, four hanging wardrobes, three trunks, four chest of drawers, and two large under-the-bed drawers, they now occupy two closets (containing off-season items and clothes designated for other donation or consignment), the aforementioned one hanging wardrobe, three chest of drawers (one of which isn’t full!), and only part of the under-the-bed drawers.
Where once I had an external storage space filled with my parent’s possessions, I still have that storage space, but it now mostly contains my mother’s large paintings and some other artwork I am not yet ready to part with, plus my father’s typewriter, and old Singer sewing machine (the last metal machine that Singer made), and my dolls and doll clothes made by my mother.
Where once I had two large trunks filled with items from my childhood through adolescence, those trunks are now empty (one given away and one in the garage) though some of the contents are still in the basement.
Where once I had boxes and boxes of paper records from my business, most of these records have been shredded.
Where once my financial records went back 20 years, I now keep only the requisite seven years’ worth.
Where once I had a back porch lined with stuffed bookcases, boxes of back issues of magazines sitting on top, and a chest of drawers full of clothes I rarely used, I gave all these items away.
Where once we had two kitchens’ worth of pots, pans, and dishes, we now have one, with the rest having been donated.
Where once we had books hidden away in boxes and on attic shelves, we now can see all our books (except for one box of foreign language aids, one of travel books, and a few boxes of books to be sold or donated.)
Where once I had multiple tubs of my family’s archives, with contents unexplored for 20 years, I have now read hundreds of letters between family members; reviewed, purged, and scanned contents of several of the tubs; and reduced the total number of tubs to three.
Where once my clutter filled every available nook and cranny in the basement, one big room has been given over to our tenant and another to my husband. Everything is accessible.
Where once I had 30 long file drawers stuffed with papers, I have winnowed the contents so that at least some drawers are only half filled, two others hide non-paper items, and three are completely empty (thanks to my efforts these past few weeks).
Where once I had no idea what I owned, I now know exactly what I have.
And even though there are miles to go before the finish line, which is not yet in sight, that is progress, even for this downsizing tortoise!