Can less be more? Is it still possible to have a home that you love after purging your long-treasured belongings and significantly downsizing your home? For sure you can! But, to get to that place where you feel liberated and lighter, there are a few essential steps you can take to make this process easier.
According to Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn, Psy.D., the decision to downsize is often made amid other difficult life transitions. It can happen at retirement, after divorce, when your nest is empty, or at the death of a partner. During these times of transition, you are already coping with a variety of complex emotions. Add to this the monumental task of paring down your life, it’s little wonder the idea of downsizing can feel overwhelming.
Furthermore, the concept of downsizing can carry with it some discouraging implications. It might signal to you that your youth is behind you, and this represents the end of an important life chapter. You might also feel that you will have to let go of everything that you once held dear, to squeeze into a new smaller space. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, paring down your life can be great for your lifestyle and potentially easier on your pocketbook too!
1. It’s OK To Express Your Emotions
Your family home can represent a lifetime of dreams and experiences. It’s likely where you raised your family and created lasting memories. No matter how much you know in your heart that moving on is the right decision, feeling grief and sadness at letting it all go is completely normal. As you sort through a lifetime of possessions, give yourself the gift of time to adequately process your feelings and reflect on your most meaningful belongings. Before you release them, permit yourself to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, and revel in the stories of your past. It’s only when you can let go of the past that you can prepare yourself for a new future.
You may find your emotions are all over the map, ranging from sadness and anger to anxiety and grief. Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a California-based psychologist and author of the book Joy from Fear reminds us that emotions hold important information for us. She says, “Feelings aren’t good or bad, it’s what we do with them that matters.” She recommends that we learn to acknowledge our feelings and not judge ourselves for having them.
You can normalize your emotions by identifying them, talking about them, experiencing them, and then letting them go. According to the University of Kansas Health System, expressing your emotions helps reduce the grip that the emotion has over you. Furthermore, it can help you see your problem in a new light, loosens the power of the emotion, reduces anxiety, and helps you make better decisions. Self-calming techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and listening to calming music are useful ways to diminish strong emotional responses. This allows you to take back control of your thoughts so you can manage the task at hand.
2. Getting Started Is The Hardest Part
I often think about a client who was overwhelmed at the prospect of moving to a significantly smaller home. She described feeling “paralyzed” at the prospect of sorting through a lifetime of accumulated belongings. The magnitude of the task encouraged her to enlist my services as a retirement coach. My first job was to help her acknowledge that downsizing can indeed be a daunting task and that her feelings were completely valid. It was reassuring for her to understand that letting go of a lifetime of belongings is an enormous undertaking and that her entire range of feelings were completely normal.
Moira Brennan from the National Association of Senior Move Managers says that “one of the hardest aspects of downsizing is simply getting started.” She goes on to recommend getting started as soon as possible, and to not be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, and professionals. For my client, this was the advice she needed. I asked her to think of just one item that she could easily part with. Without missing a beat, she leapt at the chance to donate a box of baseball caps that had been a constant source of irritation and had been taking up space in her closet for years. It wasn’t much, but it was the start she needed. Once she broke through her “paralysis,” she gradually gained momentum for the task and went on to create a system of sorting her belongings in a way that made sense to her.
3. The Difficulty Of Letting Go Of Sentimental Items
So often we are surprised when mere objects cause memories and strong emotions to come flooding back. We forget that objects, photos, and treasures from the past are symbolic of memories that we hold dear. We hold this belief that if we let go of an object, then the memory will also disappear. In fact, it’s unlikely that if you let go of the seashells you collected on a wonderful family vacation, you will also forget the vacation! Sometimes seniors believe that their memories are the only thing that they have left, so they cling to the “things” that invoke those memories. As a result, parting with family memorabilia can be a challenging process.
4. How To Release Attachment To Material Things
Sorting through your belongings can be like a walk down memory lane, a chance to re-visit and savor your family history. Lis Golden McKinley, a certified professional organizer and owner of Let’s Make Room, says, “the key is taking the time to curate your collection of sentimental items and giving away what you don’t want to the right people (or places).” Take the time you need to adequately process your feelings and say goodbye to your precious possessions with the gratitude they deserve. Start early, start small, and don’t try to do it all at once. Experience the joy in giving things away. It’s often more powerful than the joy of owning them. Share your excess with those who can really use it. It can be helpful to share your memories with family or friends, take pictures of your things, record memories in a journal, or perhaps even record a video. You might want to share the history of these treasures with loved ones by creating a memory box or scrapbook. Your family stories can be passed on in these forms for generations. Focus on the fact that it is not the stuff that you need to hold on to, but the people and the experiences that you associate them with.
5. Guilt And Hurt
Some people express guilt over letting certain things go. It can be hard to part with a gift from a loved one or toys you have saved over the years for future grandchildren. Giving away items that you always wanted to pass on to your children is tough, especially when they don’t seem interested in any of it. It’s not easy to come to the realization that items that were once valuable may not be anymore. A whole industry exists that helps older people get rid of their clutter. Experts in the downsizing industry will tell you that your adult kids are rarely interested in your stuff. It might feel hurtful when nobody is interested in your china dishes, furniture, and your jewelry, but it’s time to accept that many of these items just aren’t relevant to them.
6. Keep A Positive Attitude
Start with the attitude that you are releasing these things to create space for something new. Consider that you are exchanging the burdens and expense of a big home for a more streamlined life with more opportunities for leisure. Focus on the positives this downsizing will offer. There will be less maintenance, you can highlight the things you love in your new space, and free up more time for fun activities. As a bonus, your life in a smaller space will probably be less expensive! It will be easier to maintain, and you’ll have fewer household tasks and potentially more cash flow as your utility bills and mortgage payments will be lower. You might also be less inclined to buy more “stuff” as there won’t be any place to put it!
In an article called, “The Emotional Impacts of Downsizing Your Home,” Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn notes that most people are thrilled when the work is done and they find their smaller, uncluttered space to be liberating. Downsizing can be an opportunity for you to make a mindful exit from a past way of life and make room for a simplified lifestyle that aligns with your current priorities. While the process of downsizing may be emotional, once it’s done, you can look forward to creating a fresh set of memories and experiences in your newly updated home.
“To change skins, evolve into new cycles, I feel one has to learn to discard. If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects. They reflect one’s mind and the psyche of yesterday. I throw away what has no dynamic, living use.”— Anais Nin
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