Downsizing is an enormous undertaking, whether you or a family member are moving into a smaller residence or you’re decluttering your own stuff. I knew it would be hard to downsize my parents’ house, but there were 3 lessons that I learned which took me by surprise. Knowing these can help you be better prepared for your project.
Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 36
The Situation I Was Facing
After I interviewed professional organizer Janine Adams about how to approach downsizing when you’re a family historian, my sisters and I started the process of moving our parents from their house of 35 years into an apartment in a senior living community. This was the house that they had lived in for 35 years. My parents have been married for more than 60 years, so you can probably imagine the scope of “stuff” that we dealing with.
Besides the wonderful finds, such as a photo of my great-grandparents, there were lessons to be had.
1. Downsizing Brings All Kinds of Exhaustion
The process was exhausting in every way. Sure, there is a lot of physical activity in sorting, packing, and moving. In some ways, the physical exhaustion was the easiest kind to deal with.
It was mentally exhausting. Decision fatigue is a real thing. There comes a point where you simply cannot make any more coherent decisions. For my mom, my sisters, and I, that point usually came around the two-hour mark.
It was also exhausting emotionally. We hold so many emotions in the items that we keep. Some are happy, like the doll my dad gave to mom when he proposed. Some are funny, like my horrendous marching band portrait. (I was sure I had burned all of those!) But then there are the sad memories, the things that remind you of people who are gone and the reminders again and again of how time just keeps going on…
2. Downsizing Takes Longer Than You Think
Besides the exhaustion slowing down the process, downsizing encompasses more than you’d think. Even if you’re just decluttering and you’re going to tackle one closet, that one closet has a LOT of stuff in it, all of which needs to be gone through.
My advice: Start now. If you have the luxury of time, take it. When you are hurried, you’ll miss things (like how I almost missed the only photo I’ve ever seen of my great-grandparents.)
3. It’s OK to Let Things Go
Janine and I talked about this in our interview, but the lesson was one that my sisters and I had to keep reminding ourselves. You cannot save everything.
An item in and of itself doesn’t have value. It’s what that item represents—the person or the memory—that is the real value. Getting rid of an item is not the same as getting rid of that memory or that person.
Some items were donated to charity, some went to extended family. Some items are being kept for now, with an eye toward repurposing them so their stories can be better told. As my daughter pointed out in an interview we did on what millennials feel about family history, it’s the story that’s the important thing.
Downsizing a house that’s been lived in for more than 3 decades by a couple who has been married for more than 6 decades is no small feat. We knew it would be tough, but it was still surprising to have these lessons brought home.