“Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor. It’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living.”
My friend Rebecca Phillips from RYouReadytoOrganize? is a professional home organizer who encouraged me to declutter and downsize my home. With her help I was able to clean out twenty-five years of accumulation without losing my mind!
DOWNSIZE: to make smaller or reduce in size. That sounds like a word I might use talking to a client or perhaps in a blog post about self-control to lose weight. But I never used this word when talking about my home. Throw out junk or clean up stuff is how I always referred to getting rid of objects I no longer needed or wanted. But downsize is what was needed. My adult children have moved out and I don’t really need my big house anymore. Or do I? What should be the next step? Regardless of what I decide to do I came to the realization that my house needed to go on a diet.
MY BACK STORY
My current home is the only house I’ve had as an adult. Previously I lived in an apartment in New York City. The apartment was not very large so there wasn’t much throwing out needed when I had to downsize and declutter. Most of the contents of my apartment were clothing and some household equipment. There wasn’t even furniture to move. But I have lived in a sprawling four-bedroom ranch with lots of nooks and crannies and closets and drawers to put stuff into for twenty-five years. I had a lot of downsizing to do!
Normally I face every task head on. That’s my nature. Move forward and do what’s necessary. However, downsizing my home was something that I really did not want to do. I think the reason I dreaded it so much was the experience I had a long time ago. When I was twenty-two my mother died suddenly of a massive heart attack. The job of cleaning out our family home where we resided for over 20 years was left to me and my sister.
My father so generously gave us one week to complete this task. Because we needed to rush through our home so quickly it was necessary for me to discard most of my childhood possessions. Today at 68 I can still see my bedroom with all my little things on top of the dresser. I can still see all the furniture in my living and dining rooms. I remember so many of my mother’s beautiful outfits. Everything went to trash. There was no time to carefully go through 20 years of life in one week.
PUT ON YOUR BIG GIRL PANTIES AND DO IT!
This experience left a permanent scar on me. It was if my whole life had been erased when I needed to downsize and declutter. Having to throw everything away wanted me to never have to throw anything away. The mental anguish I felt after losing my mother was incredibly painful but leaving behind my “things” was devastating. The connection of who we are and what we have is a strong one.
To handle the task at-hand which was to downsize and declutter my home, I knew I needed to put away my feelings for a while. I needed to go slowly so I could take the time to let go. Initially I decided to do a first pass through my home. That meant I would go into each room and just throw out all the items I knew were 100% garbage and not needed any longer. That part was quite easy because I was basically just throwing out junk. An old tee shirt, an old pair of shoes, a frying pan I hadn’t used in ten years and just all the miscellaneous pieces of junk that I had accumulated over the last twenty-five years.For me I thought it would be easier to do my downsizing in steps and that’s exactly what I did after the first pass. My plan was to concentrate on one room and thoroughly go through the closets and drawers and nooks and crannies and decide what was staying and what was going. This phase was a little more difficult as it required me to be more intimate with my decisions but I didn’t allow myself to think too much as I tossed away.
After those two passes it was now time to really get down and dirty with the items still left in my home. I would bring in one or two trash bags into one room and not leave until they were completely full. This phase required me to be intimate with each item in deciding its fate. I was overwhelmed with feelings, something I had not anticipated. I was amazed how upset a drawing done by my son when he was four-years old could make me. I’d be a liar to say there was no crying. How can a paper mache mask made by an eight-year old girl be so important to me? But it was.
I found that I packed up and kept many more mementos than I did tangible items. I could always buy a new crock pot or blender or pair of green pants but I could never buy a poem written by my daughter or story written by my son when they were children. This was very difficult for me.
I soon came to realize that needing to declutter and downsize my home was actually very good for my mental health. Although I didn’t enjoy the process, I did find that I felt calmer without all that extraneous stuff around. Also, the decluttering process reintroduced me to wonderful memories I had long forgotten – a school trip, a special birthday, or a fun family vacation. There was hurt but there was also joy.
I had hoped that this downsize would help me to determine what my next phase in life would be. Should I rent my home? Should I sell it? What should I be doing? I can honestly say that I have no idea what my next chapter will be but I do know that making the thousands of decisions over tiny scraps of paper and worn out pairs of sneakers have given me a clarity that I did not have before.
This experience highlighted the most important things in my life. Although painful, downsizing my home was both healing and cathartic. I received much joy from coming upon little momentos of my past. I would say that downsizing has helped me to focus on where I’ve been and perhaps where I should be going.
But don’t think I’m done. When I have as little as ten minutes I often times will go into a room I thought was stripped bare and find a whole garbage bag full of stuff to throw out. I feel empowered. And I believe I am evolving into who I should be at this phase in my life.
“The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”
HAVE YOU GONE THROUGH THE DOWNSIZING PROCESS? SHARE WITH US YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.
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