MY DOWNSIZING JOURNEY: RE-EVALUATING THE MEANING OF THINGS
I’ve moved a total of 16 times as an adult. Many of these moves were not my choice. Properties sold, rent increases, life changes. These moves are typical for many people. With moving comes downsizing, especially when moving to a smaller place. As we age, we often do this.
My last move was to a smaller apartment where I live by myself. It’s half the size of my previous apartment but fortunately, it is efficiently designed. My initial impression was not very positive. The apartments in my building are all the same – square beige-colored boxes with none of the character or personality that old houses in these neighborhoods have. Because my ‘box’ is half the size of my last apartment, I had to make a lot of decisions. This was a perfect case of having to down-size. I no longer had the storage space to keep everything I owned.
I used to pack everything when I moved. All my empty wine bottles, memorabilia – school citations, high school play programs, every class picture of every child I was friends with – would follow me like toilet paper on a shoe. As I put each item in a box, I considered whether it was something I wanted or felt I might need, the latter being a holdover from my mom’s generation who grew up during the depression. One of my earlier moves was cross-country causing me to let go of things I thought I would never use again – like my camping equipment. Although I haven’t needed it, I still have regrets about the loss. With things the way they are in the world, I sometimes think camping equipment might come in handy! Having second thoughts is the bane of purging. However, a good resource I have found is The Freecycle Network. People post things they don’t want, then other people make arrangements to take them. I am keeping my eye out for a tent and propane cookstove. I can also post things that I’m looking for, like camping equipment!
My biggest regret when I purged during past moves was in getting rid of some mementos representing past experiences. Things like old b/w photographs of myself in school plays, for instance. As was my high school artwork, darn it.
What I continue to hold onto and will never throw out is my collection of ticket stubs from every concert I’ve ever attended, starting with Jethro Tull in 1973. I plan to collage them at some point at a friend’s suggestion.
The biggest challenge for me when downsizing is taking the context away. When I have to make myself let go of something that represents memories, I remind myself that the item in question is simply a thing. Altho it can be difficult, I can let go of attachment. The decision of whether to keep or give away rests on what purpose it serves and does it bring me joy. I have held onto gifts from friends I’ve lost touch with over the last 40 plus years. The items themselves have no meaning so I took some advice and photographed them before they found their final resting place, be it a yard sale or posted on The Freecycle Network.
If I had to do it over, I would do the same thing I did when clearing out a friend’s apartment recently: Make a list of the furniture including appliances; take photos; decide what to keep then decide what to sell on Craig’s List or at a consignment shop. The rest gets posted on The Freecycle Network or dropped off at a local thrift store like Boomerangs. I would also ask friends if they could use the items I culled. I did this for my friend but have never been that organized myself. Another suggestion is to put the things I couldn’t quite let go of in a box and after a year, donate it.
One later move had to be done quickly. It was time to pare my book collection. This is perhaps the biggest challenge that most people face. I based my decision on keeping books that I learned the most from and that had changed my life (mostly spiritual); I kept my most favorite authors whose writing styles impressed me (Pearls S. Buck, Louise Erdrich); and I kept those that I had enjoyed the most – ones that I might actually read again (The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Trilogy). The rest I gave away, mostly in a yard sale. The process was a bit gut-wrenching, but once they were gone, I made peace with my decision.
The Freecycle Network came thru when I posted my friend’s book collection. After choosing a selection she might want to keep, the rest were grouped in categories and listed. It was gratifying when the books went to people who wanted them and came to pick them up.
My advice to anyone who has to downsize to a smaller place is to sit with the understanding that you are not your things. Start with the practical items and ask yourself: do I use this, will I use this? Can I replace this if I should ever need it? The same goes with clothing – do I wear this, will I wear it, can I replace it? Objects can be viewed as, does it bring you joy? Will a photo of it suffice? And there are all those duplicate things we own. Do I really need four extension cords? Downsizing is a process. Give yourself enough time so as to eliminate the feeling of panic. Relive memories as you go through your lifetime of things, take photos and then let them go. It can feel like a burden has been lifted. Keep only the most precious things so that where you land, your new home is not cluttered but reflects who you are and what you love..
My views about stuff have changed a lot since my first moves as an adult. I was a much more possessive person and felt very attached to my things. They were part of my identity. Now that I am older and more mature, my things are a reflection of what I enjoy. I am no longer possessed by them. Sometimes I play a game where I ask myself, what could I never, ever get rid of? You’d be surprised at how unimportant most of the things you have are.
Moving is one of the most stressful things we can go through. Even when it’s a move to a better situation, it’s going to be difficult. If you have to downsize or want to downsize, you can. You can do it. Some steps you have to take may feel painful, but remember, it’s only things. As much as you love an object, it can’t love you back. Keep only those that you cherish.
PS. One last thought, what you have to give away could be to someone who needs it more than you. That’s why The Freecycle Network is an important catalyst. One person’s shit could make another person’s garden grow.
B. Lenora 1/26/22 (Somerville, MA)