Does the thought of decluttering and sorting through your “stuff” cause your inner child to run for the hills or fill you with dread at the task?
I recently talked with a dear friend who was a pivotal person in aiding her mother to down-size her home. In fact, due to her mother’s slowly debilitating condition she and her husband down-sized her mom three or four times. First to a mother-in-law apartment adjacent to their home. Then later again to several different independent living centers and finally a nursing home. With each move the process of down-sizing was huge. This friend, her husband and family had also moved multiple times over the years, sometimes to larger quarters, and at other times to smaller ones. She had herself experienced what it means to “down-size” many times. Some of the best stories her husband tells are about their adventures moving from one state to another.
As a professional life coach and organizer I was very curious as to what her experience had been like, what had been most meaningful and confounding about the process. I am amazed at the human spirit and how we as a species can take difficult situations, the “straw” of life, and spin it into gold. I share with you some of our conversation below.
First question: Had she looked for information to help her manage each of the downsizing events and moves?
A: No, she had not, she just went about it with “a huge desire to have a lot less stuff” to meet the next space requirements.
Q: “What was the biggest problem you faced in the process”? She is a very logical woman and so her answer did not surprise me…
A: “I didn’t want to get rid of a lot of things because ‘I Might Need it’!
As she shared her experiences she told me about the thoughts that most troubled her in the process, questions she would ask herself as she fretted over each item to release or not.
- How much would it be worth?
- How much would it cost to replace it?
- How mad at myself will I be later if I need it?
- Do I really use it?
- Is it just taking up space?
- Can someone else use it?
- Do I even like it?
- Would I want to wear it or keep it for later?
- If yes, why?
The “I might need it someday” condition seems to be a number one reason why people hold on to things long after a need might materialize. In their minds they think, “I am being thrifty!” (a good trait I might add), “and efficient”. After all, if they have it, they don’t need to buy it or waste time going to get it. But often someday never comes or because they have so much “stuff” they can’t find it when that someday arrives, and so they go and buy it anyway.
But what is even more significant than the notion that “I might need it” is how frequently it is the stories associated with an item that causes a person to keep it. The “power of memories” linked to various items frequently caused her to put ten things in the give-away pile and within minutes take two back. There was no rhyme or reason to what she put back or let go she said. It wasn’t the monetary value of the item that guided the choice. Most often she said, “I kept it or had to keep it because it belonged to someone old….it was a memento.”
I was very touched by the tenderness with which she said that sentence. “The power of memory…I had to keep it because it belonged to someone old…”
What was in the “Unsaid” was an awareness of the impact that very special person had made on her life. It was important to honor that memory, that person and their story, by keeping the thing that reminded her of them. It did not have to have great value. Just great memories. In my own life I so relate.
One of my favorite grandmother’s prized possessions was a Disney figurine – Bambi. She loved that dainty statuette. Somehow in one of her many down-sizing moves the front leg snapped. She carefully glued it back together with what looked like hot glue. There was a visible band around the leg, a noticeable reminder it had been mended.
As a young woman I thought she should throw it away since it was broken, in my eyes no longer appealing. I never said this to her but every time I visited and saw it, I thought it. At the time of her Homecoming one of the items given to me was the Bambi figurine. I have no idea why I received it.
To this day it resides in my living room behind glass cabinet doors. Each time I look at it I vividly remember my Grandmother. Straw into gold.
Now, back to those questions….
Q: What were your biggest fears about downsizing?
A: I didn’t have any real fears. But “there was always a feeling of dread at the beginning. There was this feeling that this is going to take forever. Starting the process was hard, but it was ALWAYS a relief when it was over”.
Q: What was the hardest part about the downsizing process?
A: My friend shared the hardest part was realizing that for someone who has always had yard sales, getting rid of things and not getting any money for them – that was tough. Yes, it was a lot of work, but she had moved many times and had many yard sales. “At the end of the day I might put $500 in my pocket. But at (this) point in my life I just didn’t want to go through the effort”.
I feel her pain. Although I have personally never enjoyed the effort it takes to do a yard sale. My best and easiest choice is to donate to Salvation Army or Goodwill. Thank goodness for ardent “yard sailors” now you can find many ways to sell your unwanted items: Facebook Market place, Craigslist, local consignment shops, and on-line auction style companies like Everything But The House. If you have not gone to EBTH, please do.
Does any of this this sound at all like you? Are you holding on to things in your life that belonged to someone else whom you cherished and loved? Do you find letting go difficult at the best of times and heart-wrenching at other times?
I believe it is in the beginning stages of this kind of decluttering and downsizing that people can benefit most from working with a professional coach as an objective partner in the process.
It is in the beginning when you face what you are dreading that having a system laid out for you can ease some of the pain involved. You may experience a dread of the physical work involved depending on the volume of things that need to be sorted. Or you may feel an unconscious dread of sifting through memories powered with emotions long ignored.
When we are beginning to pack things up we inevitably begin unpacking things long buried. Stories and memories that bubble up bring feelings along with them. Like straw they sometimes may feel course, scratchy, and uncomfortable. Yet when you stay with them they can become golden. Those stories deserve care and attention. They are an important part of the legacy that person will leave behind. Make time for the stories. You may be hurried and harried in the downsizing process, however the benefits to being present to powerful memories enriches the experience and honors the person.
Having someone involved who compassionately supports you and helps you think and feel your way through the maze and multitude of decisions to be made is invaluable. If you can afford it, get a Coach! It is well worth the time and money. Just take time to talk with them before-hand to make sure working together is a good fit.
If you are determined to do this on your own or are fortunate to have the help of family members, a great book to read in preparation is Let it Go Downsizing Your Way to a RICHER, HAPPIER LIFE by Peter Walsh. Peter has been in the organizing business for many years and fully understands the dynamics that go along with family transition. You will glean immense benefit by reading his book.
There is more about my friend’s many moves and downsizing efforts which I will gladly share at a later date. If this has been helpful or if you have any questions or comments, or stories of your own you’d like to share please feel free to write them below. I look forward to chatting with you.
Oh yes, and by the way, here is the link to Everything But the House. And to Let it Go! Both amazing.