Last year I went through a major downsizing of my home. Are you preparing to do this? Are you thinking it may soon be time? For many of us, going through this process can be difficult and even painful at times. It certainly was for me, as I’ve discussed in my book The Upside of Downsizing: Getting to Enough. The Upside for me was discovering what Enough was, and realizing I was perfectly content with that.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.” And after a downsizing, “what there is,” you will find, is completely “enough.”
But getting there isn’t easy for many of us. Before you begin, it helps to reevaluate what’s really important to you. For many of us, that will include friends, family, pets, and past accomplishments. You may have some additional categories. Just identify them for now. For me, fun times with friends is very important. And so when I realized I was going to have to sell my sea kayak and all the gear, I was very sad. They all represented many, many good times and some slightly scary adventures I’d had with friends years ago.
In order to assuage this sadness, I could have focused on the “years ago” part and logically told myself that I hadn’t kayaked for a long time and wasn’t likely to do so anytime soon. But that isn’t where the sadness was. When we’re feeling deep feelings, it’s unlikely to make us feel better by explaining logically to ourselves why we shouldn’t be feeling that way! When I reevaluated what was really important about that kayak, I realized that it was the memories of those times. Selling the kayak was not going to take away those memories. Subsequently I sold the kayak and all the gear to a young man who was so excited to get out on the water the next weekend that I got excited for him!
Another area that was really hard for me was all my books. I had several bookcases chock full of books, many of which I’d hauled around for years. (At one point someone helping me downsize had asked incredulously whether or not I was going to read all these books again. My thought was that here was someone who didn’t understand books! Our biases run deep!)
Ultimately, I donated hundreds of books to the local library that supports itself largely through used book sales. I realized that what was really important to me was that those books be helpful to someone. They really were no longer helpful to me as I moved them from place to place and dusted (or not) them. Many of them HAD been helpful, and it was fun to remember those times.
In both the cases, I’ve described that what was important to me were the memories I had, and in these cases, that the things were helpful to the people or places they went to.
So, if you’re getting ready to downsize or think you might soon, try the following:
1. Make a list of the things you think now it might be hardest to get rid of. For now, think in terms of categories (e.g., toys or other things that were your children’s favorites). Keep the list to no more than 4. Strong suggestion: if the things actually belong to someone else, tell them you are getting ready to do a major downsizing, and ask if they want those things. And don’t agree to keep the things for them if they won’t take them now.
2. Look at the first item on your list. Really think about it. Where in your body are you feeling whatever you’re feeling about that thing or category of things? Often we feel deep feelings in our belly or in our heart or in our throat. Go into that feeling.
3. Now ask yourself, what really is important about this thing or category? It may be memories of good times. It may be how you felt at that time in your life. It might be a poignant reminder of the loss of a person in your life who was very important to you and has died.
4. When you’re as clear as you can be about what really is important about that thing or category, ask yourself if you need the physical object/objects to keep the deep feeling of importance. Usually we don’t, and we realize we can let the thing go without losing the feeling of importance.
5. Decide right then what you will do with the object, and make a plan for selling, donating, throwing out, etc.
6. When you feel completely done with the first item you put on the list, move on to the next one. This isn’t a process you necessarily can finish in one sitting. Take as much time as you need, AND DO keep going.
You may find this process challenging, or even painful, so consider providing yourself with some extra support. Ask a non-judgmental friend to help you by sitting with you and asking you what’s important as you reflect on each item. Or consider hiring a coach like myself to help you.
Downsizing isn’t always easy, but if I can do it, so can you! Stay focused, take the time you need, and you’ll get it done.