“Downsizing” is one of those words that seems simple, but can be wrought with overwhelming and emotional baggage. While it’s easy to embrace the concept – a smaller space, fewer possessions – actually getting rid of stuff is often harder than expected.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise since we spend most of our lives accumulating “stuff.”
Year after year, we buy and collect, receive gifts, and save mementos, and it slowly fills up every drawer, shelf, attic space, closet, and corner of the garage. And then, in the course of a few weeks or months, we’re faced with undoing decades’ worth of acquiring.
It’s not easy.
Why it’s so difficult
The arduous tasks of sorting and packing and moving are physically demanding and time consuming, and beyond those basic challenges there are emotional and logistical considerations.
- Downsizing forces us to address our emotional attachments to our possessions – everything from wedding gowns and kids’ artwork to photo albums and vacation keepsakes.
- Letting go of our things also brings us face-to-face with our own mortality. As positive an experience as it might be, downsizing is usually brought about by our efforts to plan responsibly for our later years.
- Finally, once we get past the physical work and the emotional baggage, there are the logistical concerns. Once you’ve come to terms with getting rid of stuff, what are you supposed to do with it?
There are many ways to tackle downsizing, but here are six steps to help make the process less painful, no matter which approach you choose:
Step 1: Stop Accumulating!
The first step to downsizing success is to stop the inflow of more stuff. Think carefully about each purchase you make. Do you really need it? Can you borrow it instead of buying it? Do you really want to have to make space for it?
Consider starting a new holiday tradition that involves only giving virtual or experiential gifts, things like audio book gift certificates, theater tickets, and so forth. Do whatever you can to minimize the influx of new items into your home.
Step 2: Start Now
There’s no time like the present. The longer you wait to get started downsizing, the more difficult your task is likely to be.
As we get older, our physical strength, cognitive abilities, and mental acuity tend to decline. What was once simple can suddenly feel more complicated and trying. You’ll be better off is you start earlier rather than later and start purging your possessions even before you’re thinking about moving to a smaller home.
Step 3: Start Small
Don’t let the magnitude of the project keep you from getting started. When you look at downsizing as one, huge task, it’s very daunting. But, if you take it on one drawer, closet, shelf at a time, it’s very manageable. By starting early (see step #2!), you’ll give yourself plenty of time to take it slow.
Step 4: Give Gifts, Make Donations and Sell Stuff
Figuring out what to do with the things you’re willing to part with is one of the hardest parts of the process. While some things can easily be left at the curb for trash pickup or recycling, many others deserve a more dignified fate.
You can gift some of your more treasured possessions to friends and family who will enjoy them for years to come. Some belongings might also make appropriate gifts to local museums or history archives.
Many organizations accept donations of everything from clothing and books to household items and furniture, and many of these organizations will even pick up truckloads of items from your home. Finally, you may want to consider selling certain items through consignment shops or online auction sites like eBay.
Step 5: Go Digital
Paper items like records, photographs, and even the grand kids’ artwork can be digitally photographed or scanned so that you can keep them on your computer. If you’re comfortable with technology, you can do this yourself, but there are also digitizing services that will handle the scanning and uploading for you.
Step 6: Get a Storage Unit
As a last resort, if there are things you just can’t bear to part with, but which you no longer want to keep in your home, you can rent a storage unit. You may find that after a while, you don’t even remember what’s in the storage unit; and then you might find you’re ready to downsize that, too.
Downsizing is never easy, but most people find that it’s well worth the effort. Not only does it free up space in your home, it tends to provide a sense of relief, openness, and even release.
Divesting ourselves of our possessions, can help us live more completely in the present. It can give us a new and wonderful feeling of “lightness” and liberation. And it can also bring a sense of comfort and ease.
Go ahead and try it. Get rid of a few things today, and see how it feels!