Now that we have downsized from our big home into a small urban apartment it seems that’s all anyone wants to talk about. All my baby boomer clients, anyone that follows my blog and all my friends tell me they are so impressed with what we have accomplished. They say they too want to downsize within the next couple of years but get overwhelmed just thinking about it.
Since it is (mostly) behind us, I can sum up the process of downsizing in two words…downsizing sucks! It’s a TON of work and seriously, the single most difficult thing I have ever done and that includes chemo. The process is obviously different for everyone, but for me, a collector of all things beautiful and meaningful, getting rid of things was at times downright painful. Imagine lining up all your friends and saying, “okay, I love you all but there is no longer room in my life to stay in contact with all of you so I am going to choose ten of you to remain in my life. To the rest… “it’s been nice knowing you..sayonara!”
Downsizing is different for everyone and to some it’s moving from 5000 sq ft to 2800 sq ft. What my husband and I did though I would call extreme downsizing. We are now living in less than 30% of our previous space, just over 1000 sq ft. The biggest lesson I learned is that downsizing is definitely a process and the more time you give yourself for the transition the less traumatic it will be. We also found there are three distinct phases in the downsizing process.
The first phase of downsizing is relatively easy. It feels great to get rid of old junk and to sell or donate household items, dated furniture, old sports equipment, linens and no longer worn clothes. Trip after trip to drop off items to various charities made me feel happy and lighter every time.
The second phase of downsizing is harder (much harder). A baby bassinet that had been in our family for over a hundred years (tossed, no one wanted it), antique furniture passed down from my parents and my husband’s parents (donated or sold for pennies on the dollar), my husband’s prized collection of over 600 record albums including many rare live recordings (sold for next to nothing), ceramics and artwork dating back to daycare years with my children’s hand prints and handwritten sentiments like “best mommy in the world” (tossed…sorry kids) it all went. It is true what everyone says, once it’s gone you really don’t miss it but it’s hard to let it go none the less.
Now for the ugly truth:
The third phase of downsizing is where we have stalled (failed). This phase involves getting rid of the most “valuable” or meaningful items you own, mainly, the family heirlooms. In our case it’s things like my grandfather’s World War I medical kit (he was a doctor during the war and served on the front lines). It’s oil paintings done by my artist grandmother, it’s a large sextant that was used to navigate the boat that brought my great grandfather from Scotland to Prince Edward Island, it’s family photo albums from the turn of the century and antique blue and white china from my husband’s grandmother….the list goes on and on. Over the years my husband and I have become the caretakers of all these family heirlooms.
This is a portrait of my mother when she was three years old painted by her uncle. I have the bracelet she is wearing with the three pearls on it. My grandfather added a new pearl for each birthday until she turned seven when the great depression hit and he lost all his money. It’s desperately needs to be cleaned and is not our style but I also can’t imagine getting rid of it.
Treasures are different for everyone but I guarantee when you downsize you will have items you simply aren’t ready to let go of. These treasures have huge value to us but sadly little to no value to anyone else. We tried out an online auction site and gave them a $700 signed vintage art print that we gifted ourselves on our tenth wedding anniversary. Here is a photo of the commission check.
In case you can’t read that number on the check it is sixty cents! Yup, our much loved framed and signed art print sold for one dollar.
So I’m coming clean to everyone who says how impressed they are with what we did. My dirty little secret is that we have not one but TWO storage lockers full of family heirlooms and things we simply don’t know what to do with. My kids might want some of it someday but they have no interest in it now and no space in their tiny Boston apartments. Now in fairness to us, one of the units is very small and almost empty and we have given ourselves a deadline of Sept to clear it out completely. The second one though seems like there is no clean out date in sight. There has to be an end though because everyday with these units feels like a loudly ticking clock and every month the storage fees are equal to a new car payment. As much as it’s causing me stress to store these items I am equally as stressed and conflicted about getting rid of these family memories. Sadly, there are no other family members to give them to beyond our immediate family.
So now that I’ve shared my ugly secret I would love to hear from you. Have you downsized? if so, was it easy or challenging. What did you do with your family heirlooms?
(side note: I’ve read Marie Kondo’s books about “tidying up” and many more downsizing articles so I am well aware of what the experts say so please don’t tell me to take a photo of it and “thank it” for being in my life).