Welcome to an experience that could be one of the most rewarding times of your life.
Don’t believe me? I understand. You’ve probably gotten the impression that downsizing should be a fear-inducing task. Honestly, how could it not be?
As you travel through life, you encounter milestones that require you to comb through the stuff you’ve gathered: relocating to a new city; getting married and combining homes with another person; hitting tough times that send you into a smaller home; kids growing up and leaving the family home empty (and unnecessarily large); or the death of a spouse or parent.
When you downsize for these changes, you’re likely to confront some of life’s deepest questions. That’s one reason why the process is so often painful. Downsizing requires us to confront our insecurities, our relationships, and our own mortality. The stuff you sift through has the power to evoke deep emotions and memories, which can easily derail you.
Downsizing can require you to shrink a houseful of possessions so they’ll fit into a new space that may be much smaller than what you have now. Many of these possessions are things you really, really like. They’re probably things you couldn’t possibly live without! To make the mission even more challenging, you’re likely working on an uncomfortably tight deadline.
Or maybe you’re facing another common type of downsizing scenario: the task of wading through a lifetime of items that belonged to someone else, like your parents, grandparents, or other loved ones. Their home contains stuff that might be important to you . . . but you probably have even less time to manage this kind of downsizing.
While standing on the brink of a downsizing project, you might be terrified that you’ll make a bad decision, throw out the wrong thing, alienate your family, infuriate your parents, or just disappear into an abyss of clutter and never be seen or heard from again!
It does to me. The challenge of downsizing the possessions in a home—whether their own or someone else’s—petrifies many people. I know this well, because I’ve helped thousands deal with the clutter in their homes. Thousands more have asked for guidance on what to keep and what to let go while moving or downsizing. I’ve also had to downsize under trying circumstances that faced my own family.
My mother cared for my father for years during his long illness. Four years after he passed away, her failing health brought her to an assisted living facility. Old age and steadily advancing dementia made her last few years difficult, and then, hard as it was to believe, she was gone, too.
My younger sister, Julie, and I stood outside the facility on a chilly Australian day just after her passing. We were there to clean out her room. Of the few possessions Mum still owned, we donated most to a local charity. The rest fit into the two boxes Julie and I clutched in the cold.
She turned to me and asked, “Mum lived for 92 years, and here each of us is carrying a cardboard box. Is this the sum of her life?” Those boxes held the last few treasures that were important to my mother, Kath, at the very end of her exceptional life. Growing up in a poor farming family, she didn’t complete the 8th grade. Instead, she left home at 14 and traveled hundreds of miles across Australia to train as a nurse. A few years later, caring for wounded soldiers would be her contribution during World War II.
By the time she was 34, she had 5 children under the age of 7 and would go on to add 2 more kids to our family. My siblings raised 12 children of their own, who all became successful, well-educated professionals.
My sister and I kept only our mother’s hairbrush, rosary beads, photos, and notes she had jotted down about her family to jog her memory. That was it. These few things were the last of the mementos that could represent our mother. All the other objects that she had touched and used during her life had been distributed long ago.
I finally found the words to respond to Julie’s question. “Mum’s life was not about the stuff,” I said. What made her life shine had nothing to do with any of the objects she owned. Whether she held on to it for a minute or 90 years, her stuff was ultimately finite and temporary.
The intangible things Mum left behind—her laugh, her wicked sense of humor, and her wise advice—will live on. In the following days and months, my siblings and I would take great joy in understanding her legacy: her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Amazing stories from old friends at the funeral service. A flood of wonderful cards and condolences. And quiet snippets of conversation that revealed so much about the goodness and kindness of the amazing woman who was my mother.
Earlier, when we were downsizing my parents’ home, one of the few things I kept was a green glass pie plate she used for making desserts when we were children. Our now-scattered family once gathered around this plate. Our mother’s hands held this plate. Her serving spoon left a few scratches on its surface as she fed us and adored us.
This object is so much more than a plate. For me, it’s a truly treasured possession.
I’m telling you this so that you don’t think my advice for downsizing will be simply to discard everything! The amount I kept worked for me, and I’ll help you find the amount that works for you.
I know why so many people think downsizing is scary. But I can promise you that if you do it correctly, the process won’t live up to the disruptive, divisive, and stressful reputation it’s gotten.
Many people, feeling overwhelmed, have come to me looking for a system that solves their downsizing dilemma.
Here it is.
The Let It Go way of downsizing makes the process logical, manageable, and as swift as possible. This method provides solutions to the pressure and turmoil you may feel when you trim down your belongings or your loved ones’.
The Let It Go method also corrects the wrong impressions about downsizing that you may have learned! I’ll lead you step-by-step through a different sort of downsizing process, one that prepares you emotionally and mentally beforehand, then helps you rapidly sift through your pile of stuff and discover benefits that others rarely find, like:
- New insights into the memories you’ve made and the relationships you’ve had over your life, which you’ll discover while examining the keepsakes linked to these memories and relationships
- Better communication with your loved ones who are going through the downsizing process with you
- More happiness, focus, and confidence as you head into this next phase in your life
DOWNSIZING IS A NORMAL—AND NECESSARY—PART OF LIFE
Most homes are filled with items that represent a lifetime’s worth of adventures and accomplishments. Some of this stuff is truly necessary. Much isn’t.
You have cookware and bedding to help you eat and sleep. Your books, magazines, and electronics entertain you. Your computers, woodworking tools, and musical instruments help you create. Your clothes, cars, and jewelry inform the world about the status you’ve achieved or hope to attain.
But as you travel from one stage of your life into another, sometimes you need to shift direction or venture through circumstances that are a little more cramped. Your new reality means that you won’t be able to comfortably bring all your possessions with you.
Or maybe a parent has died or needs to move into a smaller home, and you have to sort through family possessions and decide what to keep. As you’ll see in several people’s stories later, keeping too much can put your happiness at risk.
To move forward, you have three choices:
- You can stress yourself mentally and physically by trying to bring along stuff that no longer fits in your life or space.
- You can do the typical kind of downsizing that people dread, quickly speeding through it while giving it as little thought as possible. This often leads to later regrets.
- You can downsize in a way that gives you peace of mind and helps you enjoy the next stage of your life to the maximum. This is the Let It Go way.
PEOPLE NEED A BETTER WAY TO DOWNSIZE
Downsizing isn’t just a spring cleaning. It’s far more than a casual decluttering project. Instead, it requires you to seriously inspect your stuff and offload a large portion of it. Chances are that you’ll only go through a downsizing project a few times in your life.
This process presents a special challenge because you’re already struggling with other major changes in your life. The distress of parting with stuff can be an ordeal on its own. But you’re probably also confronting painful memories and uncomfortable realizations during this time: “I’m grieving over the loss of a loved one,” or “How will I get by on less income?” Just in case that weren’t enough, you may be trying to sell a home, buy a new place, and schedule the moving trucks, too.
The Let It Go way helps you efficiently make the right decisions about your possessions, even if you’re feeling these hardships. I’ll cover the common downsizing difficulties that people face, and I’ll help you apply the techniques and methods I’ve developed to your specific challenges.
It starts with this central idea: As you look around the rooms filled with the stuff you have to process, the hurt or confusion you feel about getting rid of some of it is not about the stuff. You’re only seeing the surface level. You have to dig deeper. Way down, underneath all this clutter, is where you confront the idea that:
- You are not your stuff or your bank account, either, or even your career. If you’ve defined yourself by what you own or what you do for a living (don’t feel bad—a lot of people do this!), downsizing requires you to examine your way of thinking.
- You’re entering a new phase that will change your identity. The milestone that has prompted your downsizing is an announcement that you’re no longer a child, a single person, a married person, a career worker, the owner of a big house in a prestigious neighborhood, a person who can call home and talk to mom and dad, or whomever you were before the downsizing event.
- Many items you need to shed are firmly glued to you with a sticky layer of memories, sadness, anxiety, and guilt.
- Family tension may arise as soon as you start talking about shedding possessions.
Sometimes our attachments to our stuff become overwhelming and paralyzing. In my experience, when you get to this point, your ability to make decisions becomes impaired. Focused action becomes nearly impossible.
When you can’t let your stuff go, your stuff won’t let you move forward.
LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD AND GET OUT OF YOUR RUT
I’ve worked with people who filled a storage unit with the entire contents of grandma’s house after she died. Twenty years later, they were still paying rent on that unit but not once had they looked at the stuff inside. Some people may fill their own homes with a departed relative’s memories. Or they still hang on to their kids’ childhoods after these sons and daughters have started their own families.
Your physical possessions—and the emotional weight they carry—can become so heavy that your wheels sink under the load. Even if you move into a new stage of your life, you can’t appreciate it fully because you’re crushed under your old stuff.
When you downsize well, you will emerge lighter and liberated. You will be surrounded only by items that bring you joy and pleasure. You’re able to make the most of your new opportunities.
Rest assured that you won’t simply wipe your slate clean of all your treasured possessions and walk away empty-handed. That’s not the Let It Go way. If you simply jettison your possessions without confronting the deeper issues attached to the objects, you’ll still have all your old traumas, and all your sadness and anxiety and guilt. You’ll still have unresolved family conflicts and disappointments. All these invisible burdens will come with you. They’ll hamper you from enjoying the next stage of your life (and you’ll just buy new stuff to conceal them).
So what is the Let It Go way? You’ll purposefully confront the items now filling your home. Which ones bring up bad memories? Which ones are creating a wall around you that will keep you from grabbing the new prospects your life is about to offer?
Also, which possessions represent the legacy of your loved ones that you want to preserve? Which possessions can someday carry on your legacy?
Likely, this process will involve some of your loved ones—perhaps your children, whether they’re young or grown; your spouse; your siblings; or your parents. The Let It Go way of downsizing presents an amazing opportunity to resolve problems, strengthen connections, and rediscover meaning in these relationships.
This kind of downsizing does take work. It also takes time. I understand that you may already feel frazzled and overscheduled, with little desire to take on more challenges. But using this approach can actually make downsizing faster and easier. And it’s going to make the next phase of your life so much better.
In recent years, I’ve dealt with several of life’s big milestones. And I have more coming in the near future.
As I write this, my husband and I are contemplating moving to a smaller home in another city, which will require us to let some of our possessions go. I’ve also reached an age (I’ll keep the specific number to myself, thanks) that allows me to see that the busiest phase of my working life will someday come to an end. It’s not anytime soon . . . but it’s not the hypothetical scenario it was when I was 30.
Here’s what I have discovered, both from my own life and from so many other people’s stories. These milestones that mark a new transition can shake you to your core. They can leave you wondering what you did with your life and worrying about what comes next. “Have I made the right decisions so far? Am I making the right decision now?” you might ask.
But with these challenges comes a great opportunity to start anew— if you’ll just let yourself do it.
Releasing your possessions can be terrifying, because without them, who are you? When you do it well, downsizing will answer that question.
It will also provide many other gifts. One of these is relief. But too many people miss it because they’re squabbling with a sibling over a doll collection that neither really wants. Another gift of downsizing correctly is freedom. But too many people overlook it because they’re frantically loading a moving truck with dusty boxes that they’ll put directly into the attic of their next home.
Your life is changing, and you may or may not have asked for these changes.
But you now have the greatest opportunity that you will ever get to create the life you want. I want to help you make the most of it. Ready to let go? Then let’s go!