11 Jul

by John Heymann

Now that we have completed our move, John offers his perspectives about what this whole downsizing process has meant to him and what he has gained as a result. 

  • CONFIDENCE. Setting a long-term goal, like downsizing and moving out of a house that we lived in for 27 years, and achieving it creates confidence and a template for achieving other long term, complicated goals.
  • AFFIRMATION. We’ve usually work well together on joint projects. But the momentous task of moving from our long-time home and leaving a community of good friends was challenging and anxiety provoking to say the least. Still, we worked comfortably together and negotiated well and fairly when necessary. That reaffirmed how committed to each other we truly are, how much we care about each other’s feelings. Very satisfying.
  • ABILITY TO LET GO. We kept what was most important to us and what we were likely to use in the near future.  Both of us are sentimental, but we learned to let go of the concrete objects, like letters, diaries, childhood memorabilia, etc. that have meant so much to us. Sometimes just to take a photograph or a short-hand transcription was enough to let go of something. Other times we had to accept that what once meant a lot wasn’t really a part of our lives anymore. Or it wasn’t practical to hang on to. For example, there were 20 file drawers filled with negatives I shot at weddings before switching to digital cameras. But if the negatives were 15 years old and I only promised to keep them for 3 to 5 years, was I really obligated to keep them forever? No, I wasn’t. Especially not because I offered them to clients more than once before disposing of them.
  • ACCEPTANCE. Another practical skill that I gained was being honest about how likely I was to use something in the future and what I could keep instead. For example: I was a pretty good bowler in my teens and 20s. I once bowled seven strikes in a row and had a 600 series (3 games in a set where I average over 200 points a game). But after a recently torn rotator cuff, I wasn’t likely to 10 pin bowl again. So, I donated my heavy bowling ball, a sentimental keepsake, to Goodwill along with other sports equipment. But I’ll keep instead the memory of how competent I felt when bowling or how fluid and semi-skilled I felt playing other sports.
  • GOAL FOCUS. We learned to keep our main goal in mind.  Making small change on every piece we ever owned wasn’t the important or realistic goal. Getting things out the door and out of our lives was the objective we truly chased. We overcame the illusion of making money from what we viewed as valuable treasure but what other people viewed as second hand, out-of-date goods. We did find buyers for some of our stuff: furniture still in good shape or in trend, ephemera of value (e.g., New Yorker Magazine covers), camera equipment, fine art photographs and prints, some books and vinyl records, and vintage clothing and lingerie (courtesy of Belle’s mother). But we donated far more than we sold both to organizations and to individuals. As a last resort, we simply placed what was left on the curb so people could help themselves before the trash collectors arrived. It was easier to let go if we thought someone else would find useful something we discarded. We also wanted to keep as much as possible out of landfill.
  • PLANFULNESS. We gained a sense that the adage, one step at a time, works. I would add one realistic, well-planned step at a time because planning defuses anxiety and adds purpose both short and long term.
  • FREEDOM. Ultimately, by deciding to downsize to live in a smaller place, we gained independence. Without the many obligations of home owning (like shoveling the sidewalk and an extremely long driveway, weeding the ever-growing garden, endless repairs), we can travel extensively or live temporarily in a foreign country. No longer anchored to our usual housekeeping chores or routines, we can spend more time in creative pursuits: watercolors, collage, photography, creative writing. Or we can just relax, take walks on the beach, and explore Southern Maine.
  • NEW DEFINITIONS. Most importantly, to paraphrase the philosopher Yogi Berra, we got to a fork in the road and we took it. I am grateful that I no longer think of or define myself as a commercial photographer. It was a creative, satisfying, and, at many times, even thrilling career. But it is time for a new definition of myself and I look forward to discovering or creating that. In more concrete terms, both of us are grateful that we didn’t wait any longer to start our downsizing. It was difficult in our mid 70s, but it would have been overwhelming in our late 70s or 80s. We imagine ourselves using canes or walkers while we poke through the detritus of our lives, and we shudder!
  • More seriously, we are eager to being in this next stage and pleased that we were willing to work hard over the last few years to reach it.
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