I think we can all agree that 2020 was a memorable year and perhaps one most of us would as soon forget. But I am grateful that my own circumstances allowed me to weather the turbulence and, in fact, with the extra time and necessary home confinement, to up my downsizing game.
Normally, my first post of the new year is an assessment of my downsizing accomplishments from the previous one. Given the unusual nature of these past months at home, I decided to take a different tack, inspired by a song from my favorite holiday film, “White Christmas.” In “Count Your Blessings,” Bing Crosby croons, “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” These days, I find myself thinking about my downsizing project as I try to go to sleep. It usually works! So, in the spirit of the season, I will recount my downsizing blessings from 2020—those achievements of which I am most proud. I’ve talked about many of these before in previous posts.
- Conquering the family archives. Given the emotions attached to these papers, I had put this task off, but early in 2020, even prior to the pandemic, I made sorting through these materials of my mother, father, and late sister a priority. I’ve almost finished this project, except for the letters, which for me are the heart and soul of the archives.
- Sorting through and organizing quantities of paper to send to interested organizations. These include curricular materials (including papers I wrote) for my secondary school; extracurricular materials and syllabi for my college; archives from my father’s business career, my mother’s education and teaching career, and my own teaching career. School and college materials already sent; others waiting until the pandemic has passed. Some of this work involved researching suitable places.
- Making art that means something to me from items I’ve kept—the three collages honoring family members (now up on my wall), the scrapbook pages from past trips. I enjoyed the process and made something worth more than the sum of its parts.
- Giving away items no longer wanted or needed to individuals by using a free-cycle type local website. Contactless porch pick-up freed me of camping equipment (used and beloved, but no longer a part of our lifestyle), a comforter set, a 1960s fold-up sewing machine table, a beautiful set of lined dragon-themed curtains (from my mother’s bedroom), two unused futon covers, an underbed tub, a car bike rack (almost never used), a computer monitor, batting, and a set of classical guitar books. Many of these were large items taking up valuable space. I could have donated these to Goodwill with more ease, but I liked knowing these would go to individuals who wanted them at no cost. Ironically, the guitar pictured in my 2019 assessment boomeranged back to me this year. Was I meant to keep it? I also donated my entire collection of Ms. magazines and a few books on the women’s movement to a new feminist bookstore in my town I learned about in the local newspaper.
- Donating dozens of books to a local non-profit that provides employment and training to underserved youth. More than Words in the Boston area is our go-to book donation site (as well as records and CDs) and now they have added clothing and jewelry. I’ve written about this wonderful organization before. My husband and I did two passes through our large book collection, and I was able to part with more of my parent’s books this time around.
- Taking advantage of a jewelry buy-back day. Mostly, I prefer to donate things, but I have a few items of value I no longer want. The task involved making an appointment, going through the jewelry and some coins, and following through (masked), all told, a few hours of my time. And I made some good money!
- Returning hundreds of letters to the original writers or to their relatives. This has been a major project during this pandemic year and resulted in my reconnecting with some old friends I’d lost touch with and helping them rediscover their own history. Was it necessary? No, but it gave me great satisfaction and is one of the plusses of being able to take time to downsize. I also made notes to myself about the people and some of the letters’ contents as well as scanning a few for my records. I wrote two posts this past year on my letter project, which is not quite finished.
- Sorting through, culling, reorganizing, scanning, and recycling/shredding the contents of 30 large file drawers so that there are only seven drawers that need current action, some of them half-filled. This effort included reducing the contents of one drawer representing the 18 years of my consulting life to just a few sample reports, reducing the contents of three drawers related to my writing to just one, completing the documentation of 50 years of cultural events attended, recycling the covers of several years’ worth of greeting cards, and documenting trips taken for pleasure and business. (Admission: there are still files in some of the other drawers, but they are either needed (such as vastly reduced financial records) or have been sorted through for the time being.)
As I look back at this list, I realize that my slow downsizing has given me opportunities to help or even give a little joy to other people and to organizations as well as to myself. If I were in a hurry to downsize, most of the above would have been dumped into the recycling bin.
As I begin 2021, I look forward to a time when I can find homes for more tangible things and not just the papers. But the papers have given me more intimate access to my family’s and my own rich history, and I am grateful to have spent the year with them, as memories lulled me to sleep at night.