Are you about to begin downsizing your home or beginning to think about it? I went through a major downsizing of my home last year. It can be an exhausting process physically to get rid of 60-70-80% of what you own. I found it really helpful to hire a professional downsizer. She was invaluable in helping me to sort things into piles (donate, sell on-line, garage sale, trash, etc.), and to make arrangements for carting away some of the things. But although she was essential to my downsizing success, she could not help me with the deep emotions I had during the process because we simply didn’t have time for that. And in many ways, dealing with all those feelings was even harder than the sorting into piles. You may not experience deep, difficult feelings as you prepare for and go through the downsizing process, but if you do, I hope some of the following suggestions help.
When I was writing my book The Upside of Downsizing: Getting to Enough, I talked to many people who were somewhere in the downsizing process: getting ready, in the middle, or thankfully done. What many people felt was some variation of “It’s too soon! I’m not ready! I’m not old enough!” In all these cases there was some level of resentment toward whomever or whatever they perceived to be the “cause” of the need to downsize. Sometimes it was a spouse or partner who either needed or wanted to make the move to a smaller place. Sometimes it was circumstances, like a deteriorating neighborhood with a concomitant drop in property value. Sometimes it was a burgeoning sellers’ market, and it seemed just plain silly not to take advantage of the situation before it reversed. Whatever the “cause,” the feelings were the same: it’s too soon; I’m not ready yet.
If this is true for you, and you’ve determined that the downsizing and move really are the necessary next steps, then go right into the middle of that feeling of resentment and get in touch with the realization that you still are making this choice. YOU are making this choice. It may be that the deteriorating health of a spouse or partner makes the downsizing and move seem essential, but actually you are not the kind of person who would say “no” if that potentially could negatively affect your spouse or partner’s health and well-being. If property values are going either up or down, you are too savvy to ignore it, and you’re wise enough to take advantage of the current moment. So, whatever the case may be, in some way you still are making the choice even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
Several other people talked about how long they had lived in their home or apartment or condo. They may have spent years and years there raising children, hosting holidays and celebrations, going through weddings, births, anniversaries and deaths, and THIS is where it all happened. So, there were feelings of very deep ties with the different rooms, the patio, the yard, the garden.
What to do to alleviate the pain of feeling ripped from all you’ve known? Well, try going into one of the places that is most meaningful to you. If you can sit down there, do so. Look around closely, going slowly around the place and then from thing to thing in the place. If you leave all of this, do all the memories cease to exist? Are you no longer the person you are now? Really feel into the answers to those two questions as they come up. If you will do this slowly and deliberately, you will realize that all of your memories will remain exactly as they are now and you certainly will. You will not cease to exist or to suddenly become another person. What you’re taking with you is what’s important: the essence of who you are and all your memories. You can let go of the “things” and the place and go forward exactly the person you are now. Is it sad? Yes, it can be very sad, but that’s all it is. It’s just sad, and you’ve dealt with sadness before.
I’m not making light of all this. I’ve been there, and I’ve been through it all, and I’ve felt as if I were going to cry and scream and explode when precious thing after thing and finally my very much loved house “disappeared.” And am I still here? And am I still me? Absolutely. And what I’ve found is, as the subtitle to my book suggests, I have gotten to what is enough, enough stuff, enough space, and it feels great.
What is involved in decluttering your feelings before you begin the downsizing process, or at any point along the way, is to be very honest with yourself and to be brave. As you are experiencing being overwhelmed with feelings, name each one: sadness, fear, anger, resentment, etc. See what it is linked to, like the feeling of resentment toward a spouse or partner discussed above. What is the deeper realization you come to, like you are making the decision for the good of your spouse because that is the caring person you are and want to be. Doing this every time a difficult feeling comes up doesn’t mean they will all go away. It means you will feel as if you are more in charge rather than overwhelmed and not able to cope.
You may find this process challenging, or even painful, so consider providing yourself with some extra support. Ask a non-judgmental friend (see blog post “The Importance of Friends in Downsizing Your Home”) to help you by sitting with you when the feelings become really intense. Or consider hiring a coach like myself to help you.
As is sometimes jokingly said about getting older, it’s not for sissies, and neither is downsizing your home, so be gentle with yourself.