29 Dec

In this season of giving and receiving, I am trying to get a handle on our experience of downsizing. In truth, it’s like being in a long tunnel, some parts brighter than others but with no real sense of its elusive end. Occasionally, we pop into the light and look around, but it’s temporary as we return to the passage.

 Although we have pared down our possessions to what we thought was a manageable amount, I have an uneasy feeling that we are only part way through our journey in the tunnel. 

As I have mentioned previously, we are living temporarily with few of our personal possessions, vestiges of our time in our “big house,” in a condo we had furnished to rent to others. On the one hand, it is freeing not to look at all the clutter; on the other, knowing that there are many things—too many things—in storage awaiting us, underscores my perception of the miles left. 

Many of the items in storage could be considered practical—furniture that we don’t want to buy again, everyday dishes and pots and pans—the kinds of items that most people would take to a more permanent dwelling. Some are ornamental—our art and decorative objects. Others reflect our interests—our books and hobbies. The final group of items are archival—those papers and photos and objects that collectively tell the story of our lives. 

I’d like to say that the choice of items we kept was intentional, and it was at the time. Of course, there were the things that in the last rush of having to meet our deadlines, we took to deal with later, like the cross-country skis I know I will never use again or the dolls I want to find homes for. But now, after several months of living without them, I wonder whether we need even the intentionally curated items in our future. 

The fact is that this iterative process we began—of culling and culling some more---isn’t over. 

And that’s okay. 

So, let me reorient this post from its gloomy beginning and offer 11 positive reminders (many shared in previous posts) of the gifts that come from downsizing. 

  • Savoring your accomplishments (rather than fretting the many tasks ahead of you). John and I regularly shout out, “We sold our house!” And that would not have happened had we not cleared it out sufficiently to make it attractive for prospective buyers, even though we still have downsizing tasks ahead of us. For you, it may be the three bags of clothes you gave to Goodwill.
  • Enjoying the process of going through the pieces of your life. I have come to believe that it is the process of downsizing, not the end point, that offers the greatest reward. How much fun it is to rediscover things you’d forgotten that bring back memories. Once gone through, you don’t necessarily have to keep them.
  • Remembering the pleasure or satisfaction you’ve given others with all your things by donating or selling them. I gave away on our local free cycle site a brand new quilt/comforter that I had no longer had a use for; the delighted recipient sent me a photo of the comforter on her bed. I know that some of the treasures from my childhood thrilled another generation.
  • Clarifying your priorities. Downsizing forced me to decide what was important to me. Which paintings did I like to look at; what ones would I be content to view just as images in the future? Which books was I likely to consult or read again in the future? What hobbies still sang to me, and which had I abandoned? What clothes fit into my anticipated future lifestyle, and which did not, even if I liked them? What photographs reminded me of trips and people from my life, and which added very little or nothing to my memories? In short, what did I need in my life to be happy?
  • Letting go and moving on. And I don’t mean just literally. I consigned some of my late sister’s clothing designs. A staff member of the store where I consigned these bought a dress my sister had made for herself. I even have a photo of my sister wearing that dress, standing in front of her house with her husband and child. After the staff member shortened it considerably, it was a different dress, but she loved it, and I had to accept that it was someone else’s now. Sometimes, your prized possessions will be repurposed in new ways. Thank God for creativity.
  • Being able to find things. This one comes courtesy of having fewer possessions. Admittedly, if your decluttering results in changing the location of things, you might have trouble at first, but hopefully, the simplification will mean greater accessibility. And you will also not end up buying something you already owned but couldn’t locate.
  • Appreciating what you do keep more. When you have only one or two of something, it means more. It’s as simple as that.
  • Knowing that you are freeing others from having to deal with your clutter in the future. Most of us don’t like to consider our own mortality, but realistically, at some point, we all pass on. Many of us have had to deal with the estates of parents or family members and wished they’d down more judicious decluttering. We don’t want to be among those who leave too much for others to deal with.
  • Feeling freer yourself. Despite the stuff in storage, I feel lighter and less burdened. I have a much better sense of what I do own now. I know there are people who say, “I love my things. Why would I want to get rid of them?” But does anyone truthfully love all their things? Let’s face it. Those of us who have been on this planet for some time and have a bit of space probably have more than we need or want.
  • Developing a new mindset. The regular habit of downsizing has made me mindful of my acquisition habits. If I need something, is there something else I can dispose of in return? Better yet, are there two things that can go out the door? I’m also trying to get on top of my paper tiger by taking advantage of online options for banking, credit cards, and subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. Like any habit, this one takes some practice.
  • Experiencing gratitude. Aren't we lucky that we are in a position to have this conversation? So many people in this world have few possessions. Either they've lost their possessions through some terrible event, or they never had much in the first place. 

May the gifts of downsizing be yours and may you have a productive downsizing year!

(image, courtesy of Pixabay)

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