It was the process of helping our parents downsize into retirement communities that prompted my husband and I to look at each other and say, “Age 80 is too late!” You see, by the time you really need to downsize, you probably won’t have the health or strength to do it. There is nothing that creates more self-awareness about ones living habits than to go through someone else’s closets and drawers. With much eye rolling and many OMGs sorting through our parent’s things, I came home to look at our own closets and drawers and think others, probably our children, could soon be rolling their eyes at us. I did not want to do that to my children.
And so, the process started. I call it a process and not a project, because in our case it took over five years to clean out the home where we raised our children and downsize to a two bedroom, two bath condominium, perfect for the two of us. Here are some tips to help you get started with your own transition.
1. START EARLY AND TAKE YOUR TIME
My tolerance for purging is about two days. After that, I am mentally and physically exhausted and need to live in the present moment. Energy ebbs and flows, so flow with it, get productive, then retreat to rejuvenate. It is a war, not a battle. So, attack, then retreat. Attack, then retreat. You’re starting early, remember? Don’t beat yourself up by killing yourself before you get to your final destination.
My children are grown and live out of town. When they are home I try to organize short bursts of activity to help in the downsizing process. They are stronger than we are and move much faster. Many hands make light work. I limit these bursts to an hour or two, with lots of family fun in between. You do not want your children to stop coming home because they feel they are spending their hard-earned vacation days cleaning out your basement.
2. YOUR KIDS DO NOT WANT YOUR STUFF
In fact, they don’t even want their stuff. Give them one ask and a reasonable deadline, then let it go. “I’m a forward thinking guy,” my son proclaimed, as I tried to get him to go through old photos, trophies, certificates, etc. “I don’t dwell in the past, and I don’t need a bunch of old stuff.”
News alert for the next generation- get over the participation trophies. The kids did not earn them, and when they turn 21, they do not want to take them. We should have just taken them out for pizza or ice cream and said, “Great job, kids!” (He did take his baseball cards. They might be worth something.)
I still have the newspaper with my grandmother’s graduation announcement from 1915. It does not take up much space and I think one day my children or grandchildren will enjoy reading it, if it does not disintegrate first. (Even the author of this article, with all her wisdom, didn’t downsize perfectly.)
My kids were more likely to take practical household items than family heirlooms. Their generation decorates sparsely, and they have no interest in dusting chotchkies. Donate your stuff, take the tax deduction, and let your kids buy other people’s junk at thrift stores or garage sales, as they are inspired by their own tastes.
The sooner you get over the fact that your valuables aren’t very valuable, the smoother things will be.
3. PUT A PAUSE ON PROCUREMENT
The less you buy, the less you have to get rid of. I have never been particularly materialistic, but I have never been great at cleaning out either.
There is nothing like experiencing the pennies on the dollar you get from trying to sell old electronics, videos, DVDs, etc., to make one pause before purchasing anything new.
Living in a smaller closet makes me think twice before I make a clothing purchase, knowing that each new item means an old item has to go. To really assess what you are actually wearing, turn all the hangers in your closet backward. When you wear something, hang it back up with the hanger hanging forward. In a year, anything with the hanger still hanging backwards goes, regardless of how much you think you like it.
When you do buy, consider the clearance rack, thrift stores and consignment shops. The less you have financially invested in your stuff, the easier it is to get rid of when it no longer suits your needs. There is lots of great, previously used, stuff out there. Does anyone really pay full retail? Do not be that person.
4. DO SOME SELF-REFLECTING ABOUT WHAT YOU REALLY LOVE
Sometimes we keep things just because they’ve been with us for a long time. Pack some things away that you’ve had a long time, and see if you miss them. If you do, get them back out and use them. If not, take them to a consignment store and sell them for someone else to enjoy.
5. CREATE YOUR OWN SUPPORT GROUP-YOUR FRIENDS ARE GOING THROUGH THE SAME THING
Your kids might not want your stuff, but your friends’ kids may. After all, your stuff is new to them. My son did not want to haul his old mattress across the country. He has a good job and he treated himself to a new one. My friend’s son moved only a state away, and was glad to throw our old mattress into a truck and move it.
Check in with your friends on what they are doing with their stuff. You might find some consignment shops or charities you didn’t know about. By the time you are ready to downsize, you probably have gotten your money’s worth out of most everything you own. Sell what sells easily, then give away or donate the rest. I have not missed or regretted any of the hundreds of items I have let go. In fact, I’m still looking at things we brought to our new condo, knowing I still have much more than I really need or want.
6. EMBRACE THE LIGHTER LOAD
For some people, emptying the nest feels like a loss, like a life passage that begins before we are ready. A wise senior once told me, those who do it willingly find new experiences and new happiness. Those who go with resistance, kicking and screaming all the way, will never be happy. Go to the happy place voluntarily, and make your children happy too.
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