06 Apr

In my never-ending and perhaps fruitless quest to find the definitive answers for all my remaining downsizing questions, I read another book that I had on my shelf but had not yet perused. Marni Jameson, the author of Downsizing the Family Home (Sterling Publishing/AARP, 2015) is a home and lifestyle columnist. The book came from her experience of moving her elderly parents to assisted living and downsizing and preparing their home for sale in a short amount of time. It also traces her personal downsizing journey. 

Organized into five parts with a total of 21 chapters with such names as “Get the Right Mind-set,” “The Treasure Hunt,” “What the Pros Know,” and “Breaking up with Stuff is Hard to Do,” Downsizing the Family Home is written in an engaging and at times confessional style but laced with specific tips, observations, and a sense of hard-nosed realism about what to expect during this difficult task. Ms. Jameson is up front with her anguish at parting with so many things laden with such meaning. 

Although the book focuses on tackling her parent’s home, Ms. Jameson’s advice is useful for anyone. In the end, she points out, as many authors on this subject do, that your parents or you are not their/your stuff. At the same time, she urges us to choose a handful of items to keep that will bring us pleasure. 

The author had the advantage of being well-connected with professionals who could bring their expertise to her decisions. How many of us know the host of a TV show about decluttering? Of course, these experts add some gravitas to her suggestions. 

I also felt alienated by her examples of people moving from 4000 square foot homes to 2000 foot homes. 2000 square feet strikes me as enormous and not much of a sacrifice! Admittedly, these “smaller” homes, sometimes condos, may not have had basements, attics, or garages for storage, but they still offer plenty of space. I think of my parent’s final home—probably a 1000 square foot (at most) condo, packed to the gills with stuff that took several weeks of daily toil to sort through (and even then, we shipped a lot of it back across an ocean to me.) 

In the end, I wasn’t sure how much new I had learned, especially after reading Matt Paxton’s Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff, which covers some of the same ground.  Like so many other books on the subject, Ms. Jameson didn’t spend enough time for my tastes on handling personal memorabilia, which dominates my own downsizing landscape and perhaps yours. I also had to laugh when she said at one point she gave away over 100 of her own books. That number is just a tiny fraction of the books my husband and I owned (and, fortunately, have whittled down some.) And I was surprised that she tackled a complicated task like holding an estate sale on her own. (Isn’t that the time for the experts?)

 However, the book’s strength is in acknowledging the emotional journey that accompanies downsizing and giving oneself permission to feel the feelings while also managing them. Here are a few other takeaways that resonated for me: 

  • Do not assume value. Someone’s trash is another person’s treasure. Get items you think are valuable appraised. Let the marketplace determine the rest. Shows like Antiques Roadshow give us a false sense of what’s in our attic.
  • Keep sight of your overall goals!
  • Get the stories while you can. This is something I didn’t do before my parents passed away, and I regret not being more curious. On the plus side, because I am less likely to hang onto something when I don’t know the story.
  • Bundle similar items together to sell, as they do in auctions and estate sales. It’s more efficient that trying to sell things one by one.
  • Ask yourself why you need to deem a new home for your family’s beloved stuff “appropriate.” These are inanimate objects. I need to remind myself of these constantly. I guess I still associate respecting the stuff as respecting the person to whom it belonged and who valued it. But as long as someone wants something, does it matter that they will cherish it like you or your family did? A few years ago, I was consigning my fashion designer sister’s clothes. One of the staff bought one of her dresses and made some adjustments to it (shortening it, for starters). At first, I was taken aback, but then I realized that the new owner loved the dress but wanted to make it work for her.
  • Use archival quality storage containers and methods for the old items you do want to keep. Somehow, all my paper has remained intact despite being in the basement all these years, but I’ve been lucky.
  • “Give the process the dignity it deserves.” (p. 175). Yes! And it may take time. Double yes.
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