A decade ago when I walked away from my more than three decades of marriage I found it challenging to down size my belongings and wound up leaving a lot of things behind. I left him all the house equity, the new truck, most of the three bedroom house full of furniture and many other joint belongings. I didn’t care about many of those things because they represented a life I wanted to leave behind. What got to me were the sentimental things, the photo albums, the family keepsakes collected over the years and my beloved books. How was I ever going to part with my hundreds of books?
Well, I will tell you. I parted with many of them book by book. When storing many of these things at my former marriage home was no longer an option, I took what I could stuff into my one bedroom apartment and drove the rest to the thrift store. Book by book. Ornament by ornament.
My years of dabbling in Interior Design after earning my Interior Design Diploma saw me building collections of textiles from zippered cushion covers to draperies and bedding, cabinet hardware as well as scads of different styles of art. It wasn’t hard to find storage for these items while living in a house. There was always a spare room, a large shed or garage and ample crawl space. Condensing a house full of memories and things I loved down to a one bedroom apartment didn’t happen overnight. It took me quite a few years to get it right.
The funny thing is I didn’t plan it, I just inched into it as changes in my life occurred and decisions had to be made. Like many of the jobs I have held in my life, I just seemed to land in the situation I needed to, learning to declutter by coming into it all sideways. That was how downsizing and decluttering happened for me. It was little by little and as I went along, I really began to see just how much mental, emotional and physical real estate these things were costing me to keep.
At first I was a bit angry that I had to even consider getting rid of so many things I had collected over the years. Then as I drove car load after car load to the thrift store, it seemed I could see clearer and clearer with each trek. What had befuddled me and torn me in half to think of parting with became an easy call as I realized what really mattered to me. The more I had to do it, the easier it became.
For a few years I lived in a two bedroom apartment but the square footage was actually less than my previous one bedroom suite. Recently I had to move again, not by choice but a serendipitous move for me it was. You see, I had to downsize again because I am now in a studio suite that simply will not contain all the things I once owned.
My photo albums matter to me so I have all twenty of those with me. Some books I know I can never part with including all those with my mother’s hand writing in them when she gifted them to me and a collection of literary classics she gave me in my thirties. I was able to pass on to beloved young family members some treasures and gifted other young loved ones with some books and furniture they could use or sell if they wished. It felt a bit like coming full circle to be giving these things away and not feeling badly about it in any way. My emotional ties were not severed, they just weren’t involved in the practicalities of it all. It was as if my higher self knew this was the right thing to do for all concerned.
My clothes closet was another story altogether. I had hundreds of hangers, over a hundred pairs of shoes and I bet you I had 20 black dresses. When I knew I was moving to a studio apartment near the sea, I knew I would no longer have two closets. My new apartment has very little storage. Off to the thrift store again I went with bags and bags of clothes and shoes I had not worn in years. I whittled it down each week until I was left with 15 hangers not including coats or jackets. This was a massive downsize for me. Gone were the desert boots I hardly wore, the spiky silver sandals I bought for a wedding and never wore again. Gone were all the black dresses save one because, I now know, one is all I really need. Same for my drawers. I had three dressers and am down to one with only what I need in it. And, oddly enough, some days that still feels like too much.
I think it feels like too much because it is still needy, still needs care, maintenance, cleaning and still takes up valuable real estate. This is the way I view “things” in my life now. I have to really really love it. Or need it. Or I can live without it. I know this now because I am doing it and happily so. Having too many things can absorb a lot of time and that doesn’t make me feel happy. I know many who declutter talk about the sense of freedom. I don’t know that I would call it freeing but it certainly frees up a lot of valuable time. I remember a friend who was downsizing years ago saying “If I have to dust it, I can live without it.” At the time I couldn’t understand her thinking. Now, some twenty odd years later, I get it. She was right. If I have to dust it, clean it, maintain it, store it or otherwise spend my valuable time on it, I don’t need it.
Doing better with less wasn’t something I planned but I am grateful for it because I now look for ways to continue living minimally. Have you ever had to downsize or declutter? How did you handle it and what did you learn about yourself in the process?