Friday, February 21, 2014

how to downsize your house in 4 easy steps

(this is for JL, who will be helping a close relative with this process soon)

Moving from a long-inhabited home into a smaller living space can be challenging. Challenge, however, helps us grow. Moving is a chance to reinvent yourself, to carry only the things you want to use in your new life. By divesting ourselves of decades of accumulated stuff, we emerge lighter and fresher.

It can still be a daunting task. Many people approach it by starting to sort boxes of things they have in basements and back closets. That can be very time-consuming and emotionally draining. Instead, when we did this, we started from what we wanted to keep, not what to get rid of. 

Here's how to start:

1.  Pack for a month-long vacation.
     a. Pick all your favorite clothes (you know, the ones that fit comfortably and don't have too many        holes and stains) and one or two special going-out outfits. Two is plenty. You can only wear one outfit at time anyway. 
     b. If you need seasonal clothes, throw in some sweaters, hats, mittens, boots and the like. The important point is to pick only the things you actually need. This will probably amount to about 1/4 of your clothes if you are the average American. 
     c. Assemble the other things you use every day. For me that is my electronic reading/writing devices. Bring things that you would take on a trip and can't do without.

2.  Assemble some housewares.
     a. Open the linen closet, slowly... Quickly reach in and grab two sets of sheets, a blanket and two pillows per bed and 2 towels and wash cloths per person. Close the door. Ok, maybe grab a beach towel.
     b. Get some boxes and start loading your kitchen items in order of how often they are used. Stop when you have three or four boxes. Seriously, two or three pots or pans are sufficient.
     c. Identify the minimal set of furniture you will need in your new, smaller space. When my father moved from his 3-bedroom house to one room in my sister's house, he took a comfy chair to read in, a small rug that Mom braided, a bed, dresser, lamp, night stand and desk. Done. 

3.  Evaluate your hobbies. 
     a. Tools and supplies are expensive to replace if you cut too deeply here. Pack up only the tools and supplies for hobbies that you actually currently pursue or plan to devote serious time to in your new life. It may seem excessive that I have two sewing machines, but I use them both, often.

4.  Sell or donate or throw away ALL the rest of the stuff. 
     a. Holiday decorations, special occasion serving dishes, karate trophies, knick-knacks, memorabilia, books you haven't opened since 1965, collections of paper dolls. Pitch. Them. Pitch. Them. All. 
      b. Here I will make the exception for family historical documents. It certainly shaped who I am to be able to sit with my parents and look at photos of my great-grandparents as babies, read the obituaries and birth notices of generations before me and hear their stories. These things are priceless and every effort should be made to preserve them.

Once settled into your new space, you will find you don't miss all the stuff you got rid of. You'll be busy exploring your new area, making new friends and finding new things to do in your community.

Attachment to objects is fleeting. After one of our yard sales, my husband remarked that seeing some of his stuff on the table marked $1 made him think about the objects in a new way. They weren't special at all. They were just stuff. 

Once the stuff is gone from your life, you can move on beyond the ties that bound you to it. You're lighter and more flexible. You can grow. You can enjoy the people and activities that really matter to you.