Life as we’ve known it has changed for everyone. During this period of crisis, downsizing may have slipped in its priority, especially for those dealing with their own or loved one’s health issues, taking care of house-bound children or grandchildren, or working overtime in a high demand job. But for the rest of us, eager to keep our errands short and without the external lures and pleasures normally available to us, we might find we have some time on our hands, an opportunity to make some lemonade out of those bitter proverbial lemons we’ve been handed by doing some downsizing.
Personally, I find some sort of organizing and downsizing a stress-reliever from all the disastrous news. It also gives me a sense of control over something in my life when everything else feels out of control. And clearing out my space increases its personal welcome factor for all those long hours I’m going to be home. For you, however, downsizing might just add to your anxiety, especially if you are a perfectionist.
Downsizing at the moment isn’t without its limitations, of course. The usual sources for donations, like your local Goodwill or consignment shop, might be closed, forcing you to put some of the items you’ve collected for donation or sale aside for the moment. (But do check websites for this information.) Yard sales are probably out, too, as is one of my favorite sources of disposal for items that aren’t appropriate for donation but seem too good to throw away—curbside placement the day before trash pickup. Since I want to minimize my contact with others, I’m also wary of using websites like Freecycle, or NextDoor, which have been helpful in the past. So, If you don’t have space to collect things (like a basement, garage, or seldomly-used room), you might want to hold off on that kind of downsizing.
Since these are abnormal times, we may need to approach downsizing with a different mindset. Below I provide a few thoughts on this topic.
- Survey your downsizing landscape. Rather than just plunging in, consider what areas you’ve already highlighted for downsizing (or identify some areas if you haven’t already), and pick a couple. Consider issues such as the space you have available to accumulate items designated to sell or give away when making your choices.
- Keep goals realistic. It’s tempting to want to tackle a big activity now, but I would urge us all to focus on finding our success in a series of small tasks that can be completed. Using the time management principles I outlined earlier, break bigger activities into discrete tasks. Start with just a few small tasks.
- Do some research. Even though you might not be able to physically remove your items out of the house, you can still find possible “homes” for your things. Check out the possible value of items you are considering selling, understanding that these may not represent what you can actually get for them. You may even want to consult some experts by phone or email—people who specialize in the things you’ve collected.
- Focus on activities that will decrease your anxiety not raise it. As I mentioned, I feel better when my personal space is simpler and more organized, but disturbing your space might make you (or others who live with you) feel more unsettled. In that case, concentrate on what you can’t see (things in closets or drawers, in the basement or attic).
- Find some joy. It gives me pleasure to look at things from my past, reminding me of the life I’ve led and the people who’ve meant something to me. Thus, as part of my goals, I am going through some family archives that I have left untouched for many years. Some sadness, yes, but new also new insights, appreciation, and gratitude. What among your downsizing tasks will give you joy? Going through your photo collection? Sorting through fabrics?
- Choose your rhythm. I’m a steady as you go downsizer, so I prefer to do a little each day unless I’m on a roll. But if you like working in bursts, as my husband does, then let that be your method. This is not time to force yourself into a mode that doesn’t suit your personal style.
- Remind yourself, “It’s only stuff.” Sometimes it takes a crisis to appreciate what’s important in life, and it isn’t stuff, even those things that have sentimental value. It’s the people, our experiences, and the memories behind the stuff.
- Remember the frontline workers. Finally, those of us who can stay safely at home, even at some inconvenience, should take a moment regularly to acknowledge those who are risking their own health and well-being to take care of others.
With all those thoughts in mind, in Part II, I’ll discuss what I’ve been doing and make some small suggestions for specific downsizing activities during this time.
(The image is a picture of a small, overstuffed and neglected drawer with travel-related items that I just overhauled, so now i know what I have. An example of an easy task that returned some order to my life.)