Walking through my neighborhood this time year of year, I enjoy seeing the variety of decorations for Halloween. Some of my neighbors go all out, covering their porches and lawns with ghosts, skeletons, witches, and elaborate cobwebs with spiders. What strikes me is the different interpretations of this holiday—some of the specters—like the headless man—are designed to scare; others, like the benign-looking scarecrow, produce a smile or a chuckle. And then there are those that are just into the secular and cheerful aesthetics of Fall with a display of pumpkins (not carved) and brightly colored chrysanthemums. These scenes trigger so many conflicting emotions—fear, repulsion, trepidation, excitement, curiosity, relief, pleasure, nostalgia, and maybe even regret for what was or might have been.
The act of downsizing produces a similar range of reactions, doesn’t it?
After getting beyond avoidance, we might experience terror when first facing the reality of what is before us. Mounds of boxes with uncertain contents, a storage unit piled high with old furniture, seemingly endless shelves of books, many of them never opened again once read. We feel the fear of the unknown and sense the staggering size of the project. Can we venture into that scary territory without it overwhelming or immobilizing us? Of course, some people embrace movies, scenes, and haunted houses designed to frighten or repel. They welcome the adrenaline rush of their heightened sensations and are ready to plunge into darkness to see what they encounter. Are those the same people that can tackle a full-on downsizing effort with just weeks to spare before a move? Do they face their fears with a morbid curiosity and with ruthlessness, ready to chuck out a lifetime’s worth of memories? Or do they feel numb?
Not me. That’s why I chose to take it slow, first dipping one toe into the water to get used to it. Rather than taking in the whole terrifying scene, it helps me to focus on one small area or type of object to regain a sense of control, even as I don’t know what is around the next corner. Successfully conquering that small space or group of like items and seeing some progress makes me more willing to venture farther. I become curious or even excited about what treasures I might next encounter. I can do this.
I look at the cleared out area or the empty boxes, pleased at the new aesthetic with its reduced clutter. I watch as the basement opens up, and I no longer have to fear tripping over something. I feel a huge sense of relief that these items, which have been preying on my mind, are out the door. I’ve jumped over a hurdle. In recent weeks, I’ve said “goodbye” to over 400 objects—records (sold); books (sold and some soon to be donated); clothes, knick knacks, and toys (consigned or donated); linens and housewares (donated). Maybe I don’t eagerly confront the scary, but I have waded deep into my own house of horrors without turning back.
While perusing my belongings, especially those papers or things that have been hidden away for a long time, I remember past times, both good and bad. Mostly, I enjoy this trip down memory lane—vacations taken, plays seen, notes passed in class, letters revealing the secret lives of family members now long gone. I also encounter a few forgotten skeletons in my proverbial closet, moments of bad behavior on mine or someone else’s part, occasions I’d like to bury again. And I felt sadness this past week as well as regret as I gave away my practically brand new Girl Scout uniform, a birthday gift from my mother when I was in the 6th grade. My troop leader didn’t give me my official Girl Scout wings until right before sixth grade graduation. After changing schools in the 7th grade, I was no longer able to meet with my troop and never had the opportunity to earn badges. Now the uniform may be someone’s Halloween costume.
But, as with Halloween and the full gamut of emotions it can arouse, these, too, shall pass as the downsizing continues. The witches and ghouls will be taken in, the pumpkins will turn to mush, and soon colored lights will festoon the surrounding houses.
It’s all good, and all part of the process.