Theoretically, having someone to share your downsizing initiative with should make the job easier, right?
But I have talked with a number of friends whose efforts have been stalled or who become more anxiety-ridden because they don’t see eye-to-eye with their partner. (For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to assume that there is one other partner involved, but you may be dealing with multiple family members, thus compounding some of your challenges.)
Maybe it’s a matter of holding different views about what’s important. One person is more sentimental than the other, for example. Or it’s a matter of style and pace. One person is a plodder; the other prefers to work in bursts. Or, it could be a sense of urgency. One partner knows it has to happen at some point, but it feels premature. Or, worse, one person is in complete denial as to the necessity for downsizing.
It’s easy to believe that you are in the right, and that your partner is simply being pig-headed, is overly attached to their things, has misguided priorities, is approaching the task in the wrong way, or has their head stuck in the sand.
Probably if you are reading my blog, you are the one who recognizes that the time is right for downsizing, and as hard as it is, you want to get on with it. That goal could make you the heavy in this process, and that is unlikely to get the results you want. It can also cause some unpleasantries in your relationship.
John and I managed to get through our downsizing, not only succeeding at the task in a way that we both feel good about but also enhancing our admiration and feelings for each other. And it wasn’t because we worked on it lock step, had the same approach, or even always agreed with each other about what to keep or what had to go. How we navigated through this process evolved over time.
In retrospect, I’d like to share some insights as to what allowed us to be successful and how taking a slow-downsizing approach made it easier to navigate through the bumps.
Some of your choices will depend on your overall goals and timeframe for your downsizing. However, even If you have a long timeframe, at some point you will need to act together and come up with an overall plan to meet your goal.
Operate independently where possible. I believe I leapt on the downsizing wagon sooner than John. I had plenty of my own possessions and archives to plough through that had nothing to do with him. I had saved far more from my childhood, partly because my parents had left me in charge of that aspect of my life and never threw away anything of mine without my permission. Consequently, as a saver and as someone who eventually inherited the family archives, I had a great deal to sort through that required no input from him.
Don’t impose your own methods, values, or pace on your partner when it comes to their things. When John did start, he found the support of a weekly decluttering group helpful to keep him motivated. I attended the introductory session of that group and realized it wasn’t for me. He didn’t insist I go with him. Also remember that your priorities may be different from your partner’s. John is a photographer, and he spent a lot of time backing up and organizing his digital files. Although I had to sort through my vast color slide collection to get it digitized, I’ve left organizing of the digital photo files for a future date.
Communicate regularly—share and acknowledge successes, methods, and challenges. If you begin downsizing before your partner, maybe these are just your successes and challenges initially. Report what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, where you’ve had difficulties. Enlist your partner in brainstorming. Perhaps these sessions will inspire them or you. John liked and used my idea of cataloguing events he attended and throwing out most of his programs. However, be careful not to use your communication moments as an opportunity to goad or nag. Eventually, as you need to work on downsizing together, you’ve aleady laid some groundwork for joint decision-making. And, we hope, you’ve set a good example.
Create some common goals and processes to follow through on these goals, including a time to do so. After we were both in a rhythm of doing our own downsizing, we began to discuss what categories of items needed our joint input. For us that included furniture, many décor items, china and some other kitchenware (but not cooking items since I did most of the cooking.) We were able to accomplish the initial decision-making on these items somewhat quickly once we’d set time aside to do so. Don’t forget to write down your choices!
Take the initiatve about joint things, if needed, and be responsive if the other person takes initiative. Since books are something we shared in common even though some were individually bought or given as presents, we needed to approach downsizing most of our vast book collection as a joint project. I don’t even recall who initiated this one (perhaps it was the result of one of our conversations), but we each took turns putting out a large batch of books on the dining room table and asking the other person to go through these in a timely manner so that the unwanted books could be sent to a new home.
Divide and conquer. A more purposeful approach is to agree to divvy up key responsibility for joint items. John offered to oversee all the tools and related items, like tape, sandpaper, hooks, etc. He organized these all on a table, and we went through them together although I deferred more often to his opinion as he used the tools more than I did. John also found homes for those items we hadn't chosen. I did the same for kitchen items.
Give and take and respect the other person’s choices. Although the amount of furniture we kept was minimal, John wanted to keep two tall bookshelves that he had brought to the relationship years ago. Personally, I would have started fresh, maybe with built-ins in our future abode, but he was very fond of these shelves. Likewise, I kept some family china and décor items that he would have happily sold or given away, but they meant something to me. We made a point of never disparaging the other person’s choices. Did that mean we kept too much? Maybe so in this round.
Be patient. Sometimes your partner will come around to your point of view (and hopefully, vice versa.) Less than two years ago, we had bought a new, somewhat expensive queen size mattress, and John, who tends to me more frugal than me, wanted to store that in our now very tightly packed long-term storage area. Since we’d both prefer a king-sized bed if there is room, I wasn’t sure it was worth paying to have someone move the mattress (which we kept for the staging) on the chance we would need it down the line. When the time was right, I offered my opinion on the matter, and it didn’t take much time for John to agree with my logic. However, had he not changed his mind, I would not have pushed it. John also had an epiphany that changed his whole mindset. As he shared in his post, he realized that the goal was to get things out of the house, not to make any nickel he could. This change allowed him to move ahead at a more rapid pace.
Don’t insist on equal involvement. Certainly, you hope that each of you will each put in sufficient time into the downsizing project that you will both feel you’ve contributed to the desired end point. But you may spend time on different aspects. For example, one of you may be better at or more interested in record-keeping and be the keeper of the notes. I liked to use the local freecycle site and used this both for my own things and for joint items we decided to part with, such as our camping equipment. It was time consuming and sometimes annoying when people let me down, but overall I found it satisfying. When something required more heavy lifting or delivery to somewhere else, John would take the lead. I know that we both worked hard, if on different schedules, and we met our deadline. If you feel that your partner is not holding up their end, find out what is going on with them rather than seething quietly or letting your annoyance come out in other ways.
Reward yourselves at certain junctures. Downsizing is hard. Don’t just focus on what you have left to do, but also acknowledge small victories—parting with your vinyl record collection, selling that big antique piece of furniture, clearing out a file cabinet, finding a home for a piece of your archives. Each of these successes take you one step closer to where you need to be.
What has worked for you?