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Recent discoveries: a downsizing post

By this weekend, I will no longer be a home owner. It is a weird realization, and has brought the following things to mind, which I am putting in list form, because list=organization. Or something.

1. Getting rid of things is hard at first, but it gets easier as you go. In fact, somewhere in the middle of the process, it's actually really, really easy. Until you get near the end, and then it becomes difficult again.

Por ejemplo, when I started paring books, the first pass was kind of easy: stuff I knew I'd read that I definitely wouldn't read before, or books that I wasn't sure why I had them in the first place. Those 20 or so books were an easy cull. And then I was stumped, and staring at quite a lot of books. I have gotten rid of literally hundreds of them in the past year, and it all started with small steps. Like "okay, but what about books I haven't read yet, but am pretty sure I'll never actually get around to?" or "what about books I have read that I liked, but have no real interest in rereading?" (I mean, they are just trophies at that point, right? They serve no useful purpose.) And once large batches started moving, it was easier to include books I had read and might read again someday, maybe. Etc. Until I got down to the "books I'd read and really want to keep, dammit". And there were still too many books.

It doesn't help that I have 90 linear inches (one full tall but thin bookcase) of Jane Austen-related books, and no, I can't get rid of any. At least, not yet. Maybe someday, after my Austen book sells, but not yet, because RESEARCH.

2. Even after you have whittled and pared ALL THE THINGS (books, dishes, kitchenware, linens, etc.) down to what you think is the bare minimum, you will likely find, as I have, that you still have too much stuff.

I'm not saying this just because it happens to be true of me, but also because I have read this countless times in the various articles on downsizing that I have read. And there have been A LOT of articles, because when I start any new project or need help, I research and read. I'll bet most of you do, too, because that's what readers and writers do.

The "experts" tell you to have two sets of linens for each bed, and two sets of towels per person, plus one set per spare bedroom for guests. I'm betting most people have more than that, if only because it's so easy to keep stuffing things into the linen closet rather than paring out. Most people only need one set of dishes, and most couples only need eight place settings. This is rough on people like me who like dishes, and already own multiple sets, including several with 12 place settings each. Same goes for flatware. And table linens - two or three tablecloths at the most, and that's if you use them all the time (and we do).

I am fortunate that I am not in trouble with respect to linens, but that's probably the only category. The only linens to jump houses were dish towels (because my sweetheart owned three and they were in need of replacement, and I had nicer ones), two twin comforters (because we needed them and he had none), one queen-sized quilt (because we like it and it fits our bed), and some bed linens that Maggie wanted. The rest (every single towel, sheet, pillowcase, and bathmat) have all made their way to the Animal Orphanage, because puppies and kitties need that sort of stuff all the time.

What I've found is that I retain the hope of doing some actual craftwork, even though I've done pretty much none of it in ages and ages. As a result, I "couldn't" get rid of all my scrapbooking stuff, although I did get rid of most of it. And I "couldn't" get rid of some of my quilting stuff, although gobs of that went out the door, too. I'm giving myself a year in which to use them, or they all have to go, done or not. Because, really, they take up space. And space is at a premium.

And despite divesting myself of three sets of dishes, with one more in a box to go to someone soon, I still have too many sets of dishes. And too many serving pieces. Yeah, I got rid of two cake plates, but I still have two more. I got rid of a few platters, but there are still many. We are going to do a bit of entertaining soon, and if stuff doesn't get used, it's going on the "getting rid of it" list. Because, really, they take up space.

3. There is no magic bullet, and there is no way out except through.

Unless, of course, you are willing to let someone else come through and make all the decisions for you, and probably you aren't. Your husband might be perfectly willing to get rid of your grandmother's Blue Willow pattern dishes, or those sheets with the embroidered pillowcases that you love, and, well, all that craft stuff because what is it for anyhow?. And you might be more than happy to get rid of four of his Phillips head screwdrivers, because he has six, and why does anyone need more than two? Would you both be happy if you let the other have free reign? Probably not.

You just have to pull up your big girl (or boy) panties and get to work.


And then again.

I'm learning this lesson the hard way.

4. There are tremendous benefits, physical and psychic, to having less stuff.

Whether we realize it or not, all "stuff" comes with an obligation to care for it and keep track of it and such. It's basically one more responsibility. Each spoon, each lamp, each book, each pair of nail clippers, each photograph: all of it is one more obligation. After all, they all have to be cleaned, cared for, put away/taken out, stored, etc.

Think of how many individual items you own. Scratch that -- it's too hard for most people to tally. Look around you where you are now, and start counting individual items. Just on my desktop right now, there are more than 25 items (some of which are notebooks in a stack, but still). TWENTY FIVE! That's a rather lot to keep track of, and that's not counting the many additional things I can see using just my peripheral vision. There are wall-to-wall, nearly full bookcases behind me. There is a closet that has little available space at present. And this is all the stuff that I couldn't part with. I couldn't have fit the rest of the books and objects that I let go before moving. And I have found that I don't miss them. Not even the stuff in the box that went to Goodwill by mistake.

The weight of all those things, and all those responsibilities and obligations, is enormous. Every time I sit down to meditate, I start by trying to relax. And I become aware how much tension I am holding throughout my body, even after I have "relaxed." I have a sneaking suspicion some of it is the stress of all those obligations pulling at me. Paring down allows you to let go of quite a lot of stress that you probably don't fully realize you're holding. At least, it seems to be helping me.

I hope those of you who are downsizing, moving, or just paring back will share your own stories, too.

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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
If you are really and truly sick of your sheet sets, and they are still in good shape, why not donate at least one set (or all of them) and buy some newer ones that you love? I base this on my "Official Policy", which reads Get rid of anything that does not bring pleasure, beauty, or purpose into your life. Sheets are useful, yes, but they are not bringing you pleasure or beauty at present, and their purpose seems to be to make you annoyed.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 19th, 2014 05:52 pm (UTC)
Given the ages of your sheet sets, none of them owe you a thing, in case you decide to swap some new ones in. It's funny to me that you get tired of them - we buy plain sets, really, and alternate them. Right now we have one set of grey and one of blue, and they take turns. Because they're plain, I don't get sick of them, the way I did when I used to have floral sheet sets. Weird but true.
Mar. 18th, 2014 02:39 am (UTC)
I love these posts because they both show how hard it is and yet how it can be done. Too many of the articles and books talk about the reasons and logic of it all, but you acknowledge the reality of shelves full of Jane Austen books and scrapbooking stuff that you'll probably use, and that is really helpful.

One of my biggest obstacles is getting caught up in the idea the stuff has to go the "right place" for donations, and it makes me second guess a lot. But today I have three bags of clothes outside for pick-up, and it's a nice start.
Mar. 18th, 2014 03:22 pm (UTC)
Finding the exact right place is hard. I have found it's best for me to find places that want the stuff that will use it to good purpose. Goodwill will sell the stuff inexpensively to people who really want/need it, and they do a lot of job training for people who need it, so they work for me, even though I know there are some places that question the salaries of upper management in the organization. The same can be said of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters, who sort the stuff and sell it to various places, then use the cash for their own programming. And many (but not all) of the veterans organizations are really awesome for all of this stuff, and Lord knows the veterans aren't getting the sort of support they need in government benefits, so having organizations that help them out is a great thing.

All of this is to say that you can indeed make yourself crazy with choices, but if you find an organization that you like, give all the stuff they will take to them. (Sometimes the veterans leave things like framed art and mirrors, and they have to go to Goodwill, etc.) Because on any given day, there are shifts in who "needs" something more, but you really do need to get the stuff out of your hair!
Mar. 18th, 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
I love these posts, Kelly! I grew up in a house without a lot of clutter or knickknacks, and my husband grew up in the opposite, so I try to understand that we're approaching it from different backgrounds - but the amount of clutter in our house - especially now that both of us work from home - does kind of stress me out sometimes. I think over the next few months, I'd really love to tackle one room a month and go through and de-clutter and significantly pare down. Last week I went through my closet, which was ridiculously overstuffed (strappy sundresses that worked in my 20s, but not so much now; giant sweaters people gave me for Christmas that I've never worn, bc I don't even LIKE big bulky sweater; etc). I created 2 bags of stuff to throw away and 4 bags to give away. I'm going to invite a younger friend over to look through and see if she wants any of the cute strappy sundresses, etc, and then to Goodwill it goes! I do feel lighter. Now to tackle some of the other misc "stuff" that has accumulated on our dressers, nightstands, etc...And then the linen closet! *shrieks in horror* I do weed through my books every few months and donate non-keepers to my BFF's classroom library, but that's about it.
Mar. 19th, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
I find that I can work with some clutter and things in disarray . . . right up until I can't, and then I have to clear things up and find homes for them. It does help to keep the largest surface (or at least a large surface) in each room clear and tidy, so your eye has someplace easy to rest. In the bedrooms, it means making the beds and not piling stuff all over them, in the dining room, it means trying to keep the table clear, which turns out to be a MASSIVE challenge here at my new home, since my sweetheart is used to stacking mail, half-read magazines, and lots of newspapers all over it. But we are working on it.

Good for you, getting rid of the things you don't want anymore! The linen closet is a lot of fun, once you get going, but yeah . . . the one at my old house was insane. Eight sets of towels for the hall bath (in various states of completeness), way too many sets of sheets, some with stains or rips or shot elastic. The Animal Orphanage made out well when I cleaned all that stuff out and pared down, and again today when we dropped off the REST of everything!
Mar. 18th, 2014 10:39 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you learned so much and inspired many, including me. And I'm happy you're holding onto Jane Austen. Research, yes!
Mar. 19th, 2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
I took a look at my submission tracker for Jane and realized there are still LOTS of places she could go. And she almost sold once, but for a similar sort of work by a better-known poet who was already under contract at that house for a work set in almost the same time period!!

Mar. 19th, 2014 10:34 am (UTC)
I wish I'd had you around to inspire me back when we were making our transatlantic move, Kelly! I agree about the relief that comes from letting go, and the inevitability of hard decisions, too. Like you, I don't miss much - only a few books (out of nearly 1000) and a robin's-egg blue pot. I'm glad the rest is gone, and happier still that it made other people happy to get it!
Mar. 19th, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
I hope you find a replacement for that robin's-egg blue pot. Maybe not the same item, but something you love just as much!

It really does feel good to have less stuff, and I know we have some more paring down to do here at my "new" home, too, despite having done quite a bit over the past year. I am positive I've moved too many things. I'm pretty sure I've got another set of dishes to get rid of, which is a bit sad, because we love them, but truly, we could use that space for other things!
Mar. 21st, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
Wow! I didn't realize the closing was so soon. I kept thinking of it happening in a month or so. I guess the month whizzed on by. Congrats!
Mar. 22nd, 2014 11:20 pm (UTC)
It sure went fast!
Rita R. Mitchell
Mar. 30th, 2014 05:26 pm (UTC)
We aren't downsizing, yet, but are working on decluttering in anticipation of future downsizing. I find your posts thoughtful and comforting. Knowing you're not alone in the angst that comes with getting rid of your possessions helps to make it... well, not exactly easier, but more tolerable. Thanks.

PS. I pledge to go to the basement today and choose 5 things to throw out and 5 things to donate.
Mar. 30th, 2014 10:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Downsizing
The decluttering thing is best when taken slowly over time. The faster you have to go, the more decisions you need to make in one day, which means the faster you get a headache and get overwhelmed by so many decisions. Ten items a day is a worthy goal - and a smart way to manage the process!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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