For all the time I’ve devoted to downsizing over the past eight years, I’d like to think I’ve learned something other than methods for discarding and preserving elements of my life. Since the point of slow downsizing is to savor the journey itself, I’ve had time for reflection, of course. But have my efforts propelled me to a different place, a place I wouldn’t be without them, or are they merely the practical means to being able to occupy a smaller living space without resorting to renting storage?
At times, as I’ve shared in this blog, I’ve been frustrated with the process and with myself for my penchant for saving life’s artifacts. I’ve even tried to dissect the psychology behind my behavior. But now I believe that all the reviewing, sorting, and decision-making that my slow downsizing has entailed has changed me in fundamental ways and given me new perspectives that I wouldn’t have had with a rushed process. Here’s a sampling.
Pride. I’ve always acknowledged the highlights of my life. However, pouring over the documentation that supports my various personal experiences and professional achievements has allowed me to recall what it took to get there. I’m exhausted just thinking about how many activities I juggled, but also proud of myself. Notes from clients and staff from jobs I’ve held underscore that I made a difference. Letters from friends show how I nurtured friendships. Travel souvenirs remind me that I’ve opened myself up to new cultures. There are things I still want to do, but with little left to prove to myself or others, I can give myself permission to "smell the roses."
Appreciation. My parents moved back to their native England when I was a senior in college. Since I remained in the USA, my adult interactions with them were limited to letters and occasional visits. But delving into their archives, I developed a fuller picture of them both as parents and as individuals. Through my mother’s school notebooks with their careful drawings and meticulous handwriting, I observed the beginnings of the bright, talented, and creative person I knew. Until I read my father’s business correspondence and reports, I didn’t really understand what a complicated and sometimes frustrating job he had. Most enlightening was reading the many letters between my parents written during sometimes lengthy absences and grasping my seemingly unsentimental father’s deep interest in his two daughters and my mother’s grit and determination in the face of challenges.
Insight. The title of Matt Paxton’s new book, Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff, which I reviewed in my last post, says it all. We hang onto things because they serve as reminders of people and events. It’s taken me a while to internalize this concept, and I’ve been reluctant to let go of the actual artifacts from my life. But over time, I’ve figured out a variety of ways to preserve the memories that honor what is important to me without needing to retain the objects themselves. I’ve also reoriented my focus to what I want to keep and why.
Satisfaction. Like most people trying to downsize, I have many things I believe may be worth something in the marketplace. I’ve made some money through selling items, such as clothes and furniture, but in truth I’ve received greater reward from giving away both my treasures and practical items, especially to specific individuals who want them.
Forgiveness. I’ve forgiven myself for my sentimentality and its accompanying obsessive habits. It’s who I am, and I am doing the best I can, moving in the right direction. I’ve made lemonade out of seeming lemons, finding pleasure in an overwhelming task many people put off until the last minute (or leave for someone else to do after they are gone).
Purpose. My downsizing has given me a renewed sense of purpose. Since retiring from my professional work, I’ve found ways to use my creative, analytical, and writing skills, through the vehicle of downsizing, not only to make my life better but, I hope, to offer unique insights, reassurance, and encouragement to others.
When I undertook this huge project and this blog, I never expected my activities to be such a source of self-development. As I head into my last year of downsizing, I’m feeling better about my choice to devote so much time and energy to it and looking forward to new discoveries, both concrete and abstract.
Where has your downsizing taken you?