Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
The Upside of Downsizing
About 2 years ago I began a journey of looking for a new home. I was moving from my very large home of 26 years where I had raised my 5 sons. Marriage and careers had now moved their lives to new destinations and the walls and rooms that had once bustled with activity, were now silent. As I would look about I could see, hear and remember in my mind everything that had happened in that big, brick house. Hard as it was, I packed everything – because of course, it was all important – into box upon endless box.
My thoughts went to so many of our residents and to all those seniors who are trying to downsize their entire life’s possessions, and question upon question flooded my mind. If it were this difficult for me now, what must it be like for them, often more than 25 years later in their lives than mine, when they are making a decision to move? Even though they want to move, do possessions prevent them from moving forward to a smaller home or community with new friends and a new lifestyle? What does this feel like for them? What is really important and what are merely possessions? What is living about, being with people or looking at things? If I can downsize now, won’t this be a gift to my family in the years to come? And most importantly, how are we assisting those moving to our communities with this difficult, emotional task?
Although most of us say we have too many possessions, making a decision to get rid of it is easier said than done. According to a recent survey by AARP with adults over the age of 60,
- 60 percent said they had more possessions than they need
- 78 percent felt “very reluctant” or “somewhat reluctant” to move considering the effort it would take to transport or get rid of things they owned
- 25 percent said friends or family had urged them to downsize
Why is downsizing so hard?
Liz McCulloch of Seniors Moving Smarter says, “So often we focus on the items that need to be downsized, but the real issues are much grander than that. It’s not just about letting go, it’s about what letting go means to the individual. When we ask a loved one to get rid of something that they have had for many years, we are unknowingly implying that what you value, I do not – OUCH. When we ask an individual to shred bags and bags of yarn, we are asking that person to be honest with themselves; am I the person who never made those sweaters I told myself I would? OUCH again. So many times it is extremely difficult to go through the downsizing process because this is really an emotional journey – one of self discovery.
There are of course things that are easier to let go than others. According to US News & World Report, the Top 10 list of “sticky” possessions is:
- Family Photos
- Symbols of other life stages
- National Geographic magazines
- Family Heirlooms
- Souvenirs and mementos
- Stuff you’d planned to use in the future
So how do we begin this overwhelming task?
- Develop a plan and start the process early. This gives plenty of time to make good choices about treasured possessions.
- Take your time. It is physical, mental, and emotional work that can be very tiring.
- Engage family members and good friends to help. There might be stories or memories that can be shared about certain objects. It is also an opportunity to “gift” something to someone; a rewarding experience that eases the pain of letting go. Pass along photos to younger family members and talk about the experiences they portray.
- Do the clutter test with everything you own…. do I love it, is it useful, when was the last time I used it? If more than a year old, decide whether you are going to give it away or sell it. Be very thoughtful about what you save. Is everything you own worthy of a space in your home?
- If there is no one to help, hire a professional who can guide you through the process. These companies can assist with everything from downsizing to packing, moving, and planning the space in your new home. Or they can simply de-clutter your current home.
As for me, my home and surroundings are new. There are neighbors and friends yet to meet. I miss my old house. But I came to the realization that it is not physical possessions stored in all those boxes that are important, but rather the memory boxes in our mind that we can open whenever we please. They can turn back the clock, bring a smile to our face, a tear to our eyes, and comfort to our heart.
As 8 of us squeezed around a much smaller kitchen table, with Chinese takeout and paper plates, I looked at all the boxes, and then looked around the table. This house may be smaller, but my life is richer than ever. I have more memory boxes than could ever fill this or any other home, and that is truly the greatest possession of all.