Since my homebound year has been consumed by the ratcheting up my slow downsizing (not really an oxymoron—it’s still slow), it’s gotten under my skin in some bad ways as well as good ways. Of course, I’ve made some welcome progress—there are actually empty drawers in the basement file cabinets. But unlike those rapid sweeps of the house as a result of forced downsizing prior to a move, slow downsizing can result in both overthinking and underthinking. Here are a few of my downsides along with some proposed solutions to ease the impact of the downside:
- Insufficient clarity about my personal goals for this process beyond shrinking the physical space that my possessions take up over time. Ironically, in the earlier phases of this journey, I was sometimes more ruthless than I am now. I’ve changed my own standards about what is important, and it’s kept me from moving ahead at a good pace. I should be setting an example for my readers, but I am learning as I’m going along. SOLUTION: Revisit the purposes of this enterprise and spell out in writing.
- Random choices about how I spend my downsizing time. In the beginning, I had a plan. I tackled low-hanging fruit first; I cleared out big spaces. But without urgency, as I’ve made progress, I’ve lost direction. SOLUTION: Create some SMART goals based on my overall goals above and work towards those goals. Remember my old time management rules: SMART goals need to specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-oriented. For example, by January 31st, complete culling of eight file drawers. Recycle, shred, put aside for sending to others or for my memory projects, or file in a “Keep” drawer.
- A sense that I am duplicating my own efforts. Haven’t I looked at this before? What did I do about it? SOLUTION: As I’ve said before, I’m a great believer in the iterative process of culling and culling again. But I need to be sure I’ve kept a record of what I’ve done to avoid wasting time—did I scan? Make a list? Nothing?
- Getting lost in the weeds. Not every letter, paper, or article kept is interesting is sufficiently interesting or important enough to spend time reading the whole thing. SOLUTION: Be more discerning. Toss before reading, read a bit and stop, if clearly important, put away for another time, or scan and toss (or if a letter, give away to sender).
- Obsessiveness about preserving memories—too much scanning, picture-taking, need to find the right homes for objects or papers I’m discarding. Of course, these things are the bread and butter of slow-downsizing, but without clear priorities, I waste time. SOLUTION: Would it be better to scan and photograph more selectively and spend more time organizing those digital files for easy access? It comes back to being clearer about my goals.
- Too many reminders of an earlier self and the actions of that self that may feel less than positive—anxieties; less than stellar treatment of friends, paramours, and family members; roads not taken. SOLUTION: Consider how many wonderful positive reminders of my life I come across, too. I am free to dispose of the letters or objects that serve as negative triggers.
- Regrets. Occasionally, I give away, sell, or toss something I wish I hadn’t. Some large brass candlesticks, the gold watch that my mother always wore (and later I realized she had bequeathed to me specifically). SOLUTION: Get over it. My mother left me other items I am keeping. The watch wasn’t something I could wear (too small). Enjoy the photo I took. Remember that someone else will get pleasure from the item.
- Downsizing addiction. Sound weird? A day without downsizing doesn’t feel right. I don’t always spend that many hours a day at it, but I need my fix. And why is that a problem if I’m doing what I say needs to be done? In service of this need, I don’t always make good decisions about my use of time. SOLUTION: See all the other solutions!!
- Downsizing fatigue. At the same time as I have a strong need to downsize, I am also tired of this project. It feels so endless at times, and the really hard tasks, like finding a home for my mother’s large paintings, are still ahead of me. Sometimes I feel like my efforts are a colossal waste of time and not worth whatever ultimate payoff I envision. SOLUTION: Take a break, clarify goals, have some fun with it (downsizing art!) Although I need to plug away at the downsizing, I also need to congratulate myself on progress made and remind myself of the people and institutions who have benefitted from/enjoyed my donations (and occasional sales) of letters, books, clothes, furniture, jewelry, personal items, and papers.
As I look over the above list, I realize how many of these downsides are a result of being somewhat lax about clarifying my overall priorities and creating a more specific plan so I can chart my progress. At the same time, I need to be kinder to myself. It’s okay if on some days I don’t want to do anything, or on others, I just want to tackle a specific file or box of items at whim. I know that being isolated at home has provided an opportunity that I feel I must take advantage of, but I don’t have to finish this task by the time some sense of normalcy returns.
Thanks for listening, dear reader. Sometimes, I just need to vent.
What are the downsides of your downsizing project?