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Downsizing 101: Making decisions

The thing is, when you are downsizing, every single thing you do involves a decision.

Which room/area do I start in? Do I want to cruise around the house, getting rid of stuff that's easy to decide on (like, say, emptying the trash cans, or throwing out piles of old magazines) or do I want to focus intensely on one area and plough through from start to finish? Will I need an actual plough?

Those are just the start, though. Once you're in a space, every damned object requires a decision. These fall into a variety of categories, which boil down to "keep or get rid of", but are far more involved than that in practice. There are things that have sentimental value, such as the salt & pepper shakers that my grandmother gave me that she thought were so funny because the one playing the clarinet has crossed eyes, as if she were blowing really, really hard. And truly, they are adorable, right? So they are an easy KEEP. And there are the champagne flutes that my ex-husband and I got while touring the Chandon winery in Napa Valley, California. They're a terrific size and weight, but they are strongly associated with that relationship and trip, and I have some other champagne flutes anyhow, so they are an easy GET RID OF.

Of course, if something goes in the "keep" category, it means I have to figure out whether it's going to move into my sweetheart's house with me, or move into some form of storage, either at his house or in a storage unit (because hey, I've got a bunch of furniture, and two kids in college who might need/want some of it to set up their own houses once they're out). And if something is in the "get rid of" category, it's even trickier. The options there include 1) give to a specific person; 2) give to charity; 3) sell (which opens up its own hornet's nest of hows and wheres and such); or 4) throw away/freecycle at the curb. The basement desk, for instance, is moving to my pseudo-stepdaughter's house, and the basement desk chair, which was a bit busted, went off in the back of a stranger's pickup truck the night before last week's trash day.

These are decisions that have to be made for every single item in my house, whether it's a piano (sell, if I can), a cake plate (keep these two, give away/sell the other - why yes, I have three cake pedestals, don't you?), or table linens. And it applies to every. single. item in the kitchen. Every wooden spoon, every skewer, every spice jar, utensil, appliance, teacup . . . you get the picture. And that's just a "for instance", since I've been working on the basement for the past three weeks, where the issues include every picture from elementary school that I kept (meaning photos of the kids as well as drawings by the kids), essays and poems and homework that the kids did, two six-foot tall bookcases full of books (still full after sending seven boxes to the library and a full box to my pseudo-grandkids), an enormous amount of scrapbooking, quilting, cross-stitch and other craft supplies, and more.

I am happy that I've started the process now, since it's going to take a while to get through everything. And I am happy, too, that I do a bit every day, and that I don't do more than an hour or so at a time, max. Because all of those decisions add up, and after a while, you get "decision fatigue", which, it turns out, is an actual thing. I first heard of the notion when reading a profile of President Obama in Vanity Fair last fall, when it's explained that he only picks blue or gray suits so as to avoid having to make a lot of choices (although the actual term is not used in the article):

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

I suppose that what I'm suggesting to those of you who are considering paring down, whether it's for a future move or because it's just time to scale back and free up a bit of space in your current lair, is to limit your sessions (if you can), so that you don't hit the fatigue point. In my case, it meant that it took something like 9 sessions over the course of 5 days to go through a bunch of photographs, and I still have all those craft supplies to tackle. But so far, I haven't driven myself nuts.

Which is a good thing, since my downsizing is in advance of an eventual move into my sweetheart's home, and there are a whole bunch of decisions to be made there, too, which adds another complication . . . but the end result is so worth it.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm finding these downsizing posts so helpful and encouraging. I need to downsize too and at the outset it all just feels so overwhelming. I think the hardest decisions for me to make are with the objects that have sentimental value. No one wants to get rid of a good memory.
Jun. 5th, 2013 04:23 am (UTC)
One of the helpful tips I've found about sentimental objects is to go through the following analysis:

1. Do you love the object itself, or just the sentiment/memories attached to it? (If there is guilt or negative emotion attached to it, I find it best to feng shui it on out the door, even if the guilt is of the "I wish I'd liked this" or "I wish I used this" sort.)

2. Do you USE the object?

If the answer is that you don't really love it or use it, then you can take a photo of it to remember it by, and give the object itself a chance to find a forever home where someone else really loves it. If you love it AND use it, it's probably a keeper (as long as you have space to keep it). If you love it and don't use it, it probably should go in the "take a photo" category, unless you'll have room to store it at your new place.

I'll probably boost this idea for a separate post, come to think of it, because I can think of lots to say about it, so THANKS!
Jun. 5th, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, these are helpful steps to consider with each object . . . but what if the reason you want to get rid of some things is so that you can make room for other new things? :D I guess that's not really downsizing at all.

Taking photos is a great idea, and I do like the thought that someone else may find the item useful. Clothes are easy to sift through -- it doesn't fit, out it goes. I've stopped hoping I will lose enough weight to wear the size I used to wear. No guilt over brand new, unworn clothes.

Looking forward to more of these posts, Kelly :).

Jun. 5th, 2013 09:27 pm (UTC)
I suppose you've heard of the "one in, one out" rule? It's used by a lot of people for things like clothes and shoes, but it can apply to sets of dishes, too. (Um, I know you collect dishware, but also? I happen to have at this moment six full sets of dishes in my house - and that's after sending two sets to college with Sara. Just didn't want you to think I was singling out a particular item in your house.)
Jun. 6th, 2013 12:46 am (UTC)
Yes, I've heard of "one in, one out," but it never works with dishes -- my weakness, as you so astutely noted. :)
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Jun. 5th, 2013 04:29 am (UTC)
Funny, but true: I typed the words "decision fatigue" into my post in an effort to label it, then thought "huh, that sounds like it might be real", and in googling, I found that it WAS the real term for it. And then I recollected the Vanity Fair article, so I googled "decision fatigue obama" and came up with these interesting pieces on the President's productivity tactics: Lifehacker.com article and 99u.com article. And there's this more scientific piece from Huffington Post.

Isn't it great to know that it's a for-real thing with actual, explainable basis in fact and neuroscience?
Jun. 5th, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC)
You forgot the "maybe" pile. That's the pile I make when I'm not sure I want to keep it or not. You have to save that one for dead last--because after going through EVERYTHING, they're more likely to end up in the "go" pile. :)

I am so ready to downsize. So ready. You've seen my house, the size of it--and you didn't get a glimpse at the full basement and finished rooms over the garage. All I want now is a tiny house in the woods, a kitchen, sitting room, office/library/loft, a master bedroom, a spare room for visitors and a couple of bathrooms. 1500 squares, tops. I could do with less, I swear.
Jun. 5th, 2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
Your house is entirely charming. But less to clean would be nice, right?

And I didn't really forget the maybe pile, although I can see why you'd think so. I try really hard not to make one, actually, since it's just making a decision now to make the decision later, which isn't really solving anything. So I usually opt for keep or get rid of, with an occasional pull-back from the get rid of before it goes out, and a few "never minds, this can go" moments that work the other way. However, if I've hit the point of decision fatigue (isn't it great to know what to call it?), I sometimes opt for a "maybe" pile because I simply can't go on. And, like you, it usually goes later.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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