In the past week of being snow bound at home, mid-February as I write this, my own words came back to haunt me. Time to settle down with a cup of tea and look through some boxes of carefully stashed letters and memorabilia in the back closet.
Wow! I wrote some hilarious letters back in 1971!
And my mother saved them ALL. Well, that particular box is a lot lighter now, but I did save some that I know my children will find amusing. In the process I came across some that I will have to find a Norwegian speaker to translate for me, sent to my grandmother in about 1910. The real gems came from Scotland in 1887, written in REAL INK, in a hand that I can only describe as elegant and clearly from another kind of society than ours. I’m certainly saving the ones my great -uncle wrote from France where he drove a staff car for General Pershing in WWI.
The good news is that I did manage to cull about 2 grocery bags of stuff that no one is ever going to find that fascinating.
Recent years have inspired me to look around my lovingly curated home, and start to really question what we are ultimately going to do with all the objects and art gathered in our various inheritances and travels. As a result some things are getting sent off to willing recipients. But there is lot of stuff that I find I have to put on my own “organizer hat” in order to face.
As in inspiration to myself and perhaps some of you who know what’s coming I’d like to offer the article I wrote a few years ago about downsizing. It’s been edited and updated with insights from my own familys experiences.
I hope it provides some ideas even though by the time you get it, this snow better be GONE!!
Downsizing as an Adventure:
The prospect of downsizing and preparing to settle into a smaller home or a new community can be both exciting and daunting. It can be exciting as a threshold into a new sense of security and freedom and also daunting as the accumulation of decades must be addressed and evaluated.
As we approach this transition it is important to realize that there are positive ways to prepare for and manage downsizing.
Long before making hard decisions about what to keep I strongly recommend beginning to assess your belongings in a relaxed and less pressured way.
The key here is to first reduce clutter.
Anything that is easy to get rid of should be handled first, before making the harder decisions about gifts for people, things we want to sell, store or keep.
The basic steps of organizing can be used to break this into manageable projects.
- Define a Reasonable Scope: a dresser or a closet, not an entire room.
- Schedule a time: Don’t wait for the right moment – it won’t happen!
- Decide how much time and energy you have. Try an hour just to start.
- Set up “Out” Containers: Donate, Recycle, Sell, Trash….
- Sort things into broad categories…..without making decisions.
- Purge each category, putting things into Out containers.
- Contain what stays in efficient ways that match how you think and function
- Maintain: Use your new systems. Change things if they don’t work.
If you de-cluttering first you only have to face things you really intend to keep or gift or sell
But remember: It is simply impossible to gift or get money for everything we accumulate.
There will be things that you’ll simply have to donate…and allow the universe to find a home for it.
It can be very hard to accept the fact that our treasures may not be meaningful to family members. Everyone will approach this differently; here are some ways to start.
First separate things that you have in mind for a particular person, and ask if they want them. If Yes, give it to them right away. If not, you need to move on. Try to avoid spending a lot of time asking a series of people, some of whom won’t respond in a timely manner or be willing to take it.
Instead group items for family members to select from. It is important to tell everyone that this opportunity has a time frame and that after a certain date these things will be donated or sold. Then stick to it! Only if you know there is contested item should you proceed to ask the next person.
This liberates you from managing multiple objects and people. Once you know that people want the special things you intend for them, try to consider that the rest will go to whoever cares enough to contact you and take them!
Once the time is passed, dispose of anything not being kept.
The easiest way is to donate, either to an organization that collects, or by delivering things yourself.
Selling possessions can be time consuming. Consider hiring a company to either run an estate sale or to sell things for you.
Remember that family members often have a hard time helping with the process of downsizing. This might also be time to call in an expert.
The job of a professional organizer should go beyond the objects to address the deep emotional connections each client has to their possessions. Their calm, detached, yet understanding support can often make letting go of items less stressful.
A gentle and non judgmental approach supports you to make healthy changes, and learn ways to organize both your spaces and time.
Paper and electronic information is another area where many people have trouble. There are simple, effective ways to process the huge volume of paper we all have, and systems to keep what really matters and find it again when it’s needed.
The goal is to make this transition one in which you distill the treasures and create a space that reflects your lifetime of experience in a powerful and supportive way.