Downsizing Your Home: The Discomfort of Uncertainty
The only thing in life that’s certain is that nothing in life but death is certain. Now that’s not very comfortable for most of us. We tend to be most comfortable living with the illusion of certainty. I think one of the things that makes the ever accelerating pace of climate change so difficult to really grasp is that if we do, we have to face the fact that things we’ve taken as “certain,” e.g., catastrophic weather related events occur every once in a great while, the oceans stay within their boundaries, we’ll always have good air to breathe, are no longer certain at all.
Downsizing Brings Discomfort
On perhaps a lesser scale I think the same thing happens to us when we consider beginning a major downsizing of our home. And this is especially true if coupled with that downsizing is a move.
Right now we know exactly where all our seasonal holiday decorations are. We know where our yard and garden implements are and the approximate month when different tasks need to be done. We know the general outline of most days: what time we’ll get up, who we’re likely to see when we go outside, how long it usually takes to get to the grocery store, where we usually like to sit or stand to have breakfast.
And then what happens when we go to get our very favorite old sweater to drape around us as we read, only to realize that it is one of the things we threw out? We may remember saying to ourselves “I do not need this old, ratty sweater with holes in the elbows.” And now we feel almost bereft because it has become a symbol of all the things we’re used to having around us that now are gone. It can suddenly feel as if nothing in our lives is any longer “certain.”
The sobering fact of that is that it’s true. And it was true before our downsizing, but we “tricked” ourselves into certainty about our environment and our lives because things were so familiar.
What Remains Is Memories
What does remain steady and go with us as we downsize and move? What I would advise any of my downsizing clients is to remember that the major thing that goes with us is our memories. Many of the things we will get rid of as we downsize have memories attached to them.
We remember the vacation where we got the seashell. We remember the graduation where our daughter or son removed the tassel before tossing the cap into the air. We remember the total joy on the face of our grandchild the first time they sat in that little rocking chair with the ponies painted on the back. And on and on.
And if we try, we will realize that we don’t need that chair to clearly remember the look on that little face when that chair was first spotted. The memory is deep inside us, and we will take it with us wherever we go.
That’s such an important thing to remember as you begin the process of downsizing. The most important part of most “treasured” things you’re needing to get rid of are the memories attached to them. It’s not the physical thing itself.
The What Ifs
There’s also the uncertainty of “but what if I need this thing again?” Clearly it is not possible to imagine all the things you might need throughout the rest of your life. None of us can do that. But a reasonable clue is to figure out the last time you used the pan, or whatever. Many times you can’t even remember the last time you used something. You may even be surprised to find it as you begin clearing out!
If you can’t remember when you used it or you were surprised to see it there, that’s a big clue that it can go. In cases of “but what if I need it?” it’s better to use guidance from the lack of use in the past than the uncertainty of a possible need in the future.
Get Comfortable With The Truth
It’s also important to try to get more comfortable with the truth of uncertainty. It’s just the way things are. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly uncertain or anxious about a situation, if I can remember to tell myself, “Well, I’m OK right now!” And then “And right now!” And to try to realize that what I’m feeling most anxious about are things that “might” happen that haven’t happened. I love the quotation from Mark Twain: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Trying to hold on to the illusion of certainty will not prevent “bad” things from happening, although it may make us less flexible and alert to the reality of the preset moment.
I went through a major downsizing last year, and it was accompanied by many difficult feelings as I explain in my book . Although it’s not easy, I believe the best way to deal with the uncertainty we all feel during a major downsizing is to face the certainty of uncertainty and not to fight it. Trying to get control of all the things we have no control over not only is futile, but only adds to the exhaustion of the downsizing and moving process. You can do it! Just take a deep breath and begin. Good luck!