Why Downsizing is so Hard (and 10 Tips to Make it Easier)

The hardest part of letting go is admitting to yourself the things you wanted for your life aren’t going to happen the way you planned.

In 1999, I was a soon to be bride, engaged to a man I was in love with; envisioning the home we would have – celebrating special occasions with a family of our own and entertaining friends.  Our wedding registry included 12 place settings of Mikasa china and Waterford crystal stemware.  It wasn’t used quite as much as I planned, realizing I enjoyed the parties much more when everything could go into the dishwasher.

Fast forward 22 years later when our divorce meant I would need to go through the last of our shared belongings determining what I would keep.  When none of my three children wanted it, I gifted the china and crystal to a newly married couple I’d never met, thanks to an acquaintance who’d seen my Facebook post.

I thought I understood downsizing having both cleared my childhood home when my stepfather died and also when I moved out of the marital home into a smaller townhouse taking only the things I wanted but having the ability to leave everything else.  In these cases, I was revisiting my childhood and sentimental items handed down from generation to generation. I shared the items with my kids, gave them the items they wanted (they wanted very little) and I took pictures of things like my old Girl Scout sash and prom corsage. This downsizing experience was easier as it felt more like a pleasant walk down memory lane and a bit like “show and tell” with my kids.

But, the hardest part of downsizing comes when we let go of our dreams and aspirations. like giving away my china and crystal.  I was saying goodbye to the dream of future grandchildren who would never sit at my table and have Thanksgiving dinner on the family china.  Could I have kept the china and crystal – yes,  but the reality was, none of my children wanted it as it didn’t hold the significance for them it held for me.  I also understood holding onto these items were like holding onto  “malignant memories”, a phrase I learned at a NASMM conference. They would be a constant reminder of disappointment. Holding onto items out of guilt or from bad relationships would be allowing poison into my life. I wanted a free, open space –  for a new life with possibilities.

Another hard part of downsizing is letting go of the familiar.  Routines are one of the most comfortable things we can do to anchor ourselves in a sea of uncertainty.  For someone who is downsizing and moving, even if life isn’t “working” it’s scary to let go of that broken life raft.  In this case, despite the condition, if you use it on a daily basis AND it makes you happy, keep it.

My personal feeling is if you didn’t use it or repair it while you were stuck home during quarantine, you likely won’t ever need it or use it.

So what do you do when you realize downsizing is inevitable and having too much clutter is detrimental to your physical and mental health?  

Here are my favorite tips for getting unstuck:
  1. The first step on any journey is taking the first step.  Start small, break the task down into manageable pieces and have a goal in mind.  (For example, schedule a donation pick up one week from your start date otherwise you’ll just be driving around with the pile or storing it in your house.)
  2. Remember perfect is the enemy of done.  Just do something even if it’s not everything. 
  3. Acknowledge the discomfort and find ways to reward yourself for taking even small steps.
  4. Visualize the life you want to live and how having less stuff will support this life you imagine.
  5. Photograph any items you don’t need (and none of your loved ones want) and discard appropriately.
  6. Think of the downsizing process as an exchange of energy. Put out into the universe good things and good things will find their way back to you.  Try Freecycle.org and Buy Nothing on Facebook to share your unwanted items with others. (As a side note, I could have sold my china and crystal for pennies on the dollar but for me, it felt much better gifting these items to someone else.)
  7. Do the “Trash Bag Tango”. Set your timer for 10 minutes a day and sort through belongings into trash and donations.
  8. If the cost of an item is keeping you stuck, “amortize” the item’s use. If a couch is in good shape but is 20 years old, you got your money’s worth.  You can also use ebay.com to look up similar items that have sold.
  9. Don’t get your feelings hurt when no one wants your things. Generational differences mean a change in values and priorities.  Younger generations value experiences and convenience.  Today, in our disposable society,  replacement costs and mindset are different.  Just because they don’t want your china, it doesn’t mean they don’t love or won’t remember you.
  10. Practice the Buddhist practice of non-attachment.  “The root of suffering is attachment.”  

One of the many rewards of being a senior move manager is the crystal ball we get to look through when helping our clients sort through a lifetime of belongings.  Clients with easiest transitions, pick their most treasured, favorite or necessary possessions from their home and leave behind the rest for us to sell and donate. 

Rather than focusing on all they will lose, they find the “silver lining” in their next chapter and are open to the possibilities of all they will gain.

For more information on downsizing or to work with your team, visit www.SilverLiningsTransitions.com