Boomer Talk: The upside of downsizing

Angelena Craig

Have you ever looked around your home and realized just how much stuff you have?

Everywhere you look — the tabletops, bookcases and closets, the basement or the garage — is full of stuff (for want of a better word). You know you should get rid of some things, but then you remind yourself just how much you like your material possessions and, really, you don’t want to part with them. Not yet, anyway.

The time could come, however, when you must downsize, and that means getting rid of a good portion of your things since they will not fit into the new, smaller home or your new, different lifestyle. If you make a long-distance move to a more user-friendly climate or to live closer to your children, it makes sense to reduce the amount of your possessions.

Moving from place to place takes a big physical effort, and the process can create strong emotional distress as you determine what to take and what to leave behind, and how to dispose of the many things you have accumulated throughout your lifetime, things that are still precious to you.

But holding on to all our material possessions can be burdensome, a responsibility weighing you down, keeping you in the past while preventing you from moving on. Letting go, if done with few regrets, can lighten the load and be oh-so-freeing.

Some things you must keep.

I think about my file cabinets filled with papers from all my schools and jobs. They are so much a part of my identity and hard to part with, as are the many journals I kept for 40 years, the place where I poured out my dreams, my challenges and the disappointments.

And what of the inherited tchotchkes? I don’t want to give up a few of the dust collectors, like the vase or the soap dish, things that hold a memory of my long-gone family. There are boxes and albums full of photos going back to my childhood and my children’s early days. I don’t want to let them go. Some things are irreplaceable.

If you can agree that downsizing has its upside, you might find these suggestions helpful:

Do one room at a time. If you have a basement or garage where you store things, start there. When items are left in these places, they are more easily expendable. Attack with aggression all the boxes filled with old financial records, instructions and warranties for items long gone. There, you will find the “spare” small appliances and the extra, older linens you have held onto. You may discover the puzzles and games, sports and exercise gear, and crafting and art supplies you will never use again. If you don’t love it, need it, use it — get rid of it. Be brutal in the way you dispose of your things.

It is best to start with the easiest things to get rid of, for instance, the many useless plastic containers in your kitchen. Can you let go of the delicate teacups and saucers you will never ever use, all the many mismatched dishes and duplicate pots and pans?

Books and magazines come next. Although once dearly loved, you know you will never pick them up again. Let someone else enjoy reading your collection.

Visit your clothes closets and bureaus. Go through each and every item and ask yourself, “When was the last time I wore this”? If it’s been awhile — maybe your size changed, the color or style is wrong, you bought it in 1985, or you have no occasion to wear it — get rid of it.

Your bathroom probably has bottles of expired medicine and half-used toiletries just lying in a drawer. Dump them.

Where to put these disposable items?

Many things can be trashed, put out on pickup day or taken to the dump.

Give valuable things away to friends and family, if you think they can appreciate your recycled gifts.

Charities often will pick up and really appreciate your usable donations, keeping in mind they won’t appreciate it if they then have to get rid of stuff no one else wants.

Consignment shops are places where you might receive a little money, but it does involve work — washing the clothes, hanging them on hangers, carrying them to the shop, etc.

Hold a yard sale, if you are willing to practically give the stuff away.

Freecycle is an online network (www.freecycle.org) where one’s trash becomes another’s treasure. No money is exchanged, but someone is happy to come to your home and carry the items away.

Consider if this may be the time for you to “right-size,” or maybe there is never “a right time” to move on. It is easy to find all kinds of excuses to procrastinate on a decision to move, even when it is inevitable. It may be a lot easier to not make a big change, but freeing yourself of a lot of the baggage you carry around can be very liberating.

While clinging tenaciously to my outdated possessions, I like to remind myself of the words of Buddha: “The origin of suffering is attachment.”

Angelena Craig teaches slow-flow yoga and chair yoga and organizes yoga retreats to Negril, Jamaica. Contact her through www.anewagingmovement.com.

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