Downsizing Dilemma

by Frances Richie

francie-downsizing“Help! I want to downsize, but am stuck. I would like to move to a retirement community while still young enough to enjoy all the amenities, but I am overwhelmed with the task of going through everything I own. What should I do?”

Whether single or married, divorced or widowed, most of us have hit the Downsizing Dilemma at some point in our lives. Flummoxed by what do with all of our “stuff”, we find ourselves full of conflicting emotions. We may feel sad we have to move. We may not even feel ready. Our kids may want nothing or everything. Our spouse might want to throw everything out and start fresh or keep everything and not part with even a favorite fishing hat! How do we start? How do we get “unstuck”?

I certainly have not moved as often as have many residents and former missionaries here at Friendsview. However, I have been able to glean some Helpful Hints for others in the process of downsizing my parents’ house and that of a dear aunt and uncle, as well as the three of my own homes. Although reading on the subject and listening to other people’s experiences have contributed to the HH list, the “School of Hard Knocks” has provided the most help. I learn best (unfortunately) by my mistakes. Thus, I am hoping this article may you help you ease into this downsizing process with aplomb.

Stage One: Pre-Planning (Talk-Plan-Pray)

  • Downsizing affects us in three ways: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Take your time, if you can.
  • Plan thoughtfully and mindfully at your own pace. Several people I interviewed said it took three years and that was great for them. Others said a few months was all they needed. Meet your own needs.
  • Your spouse/partner may have very different needs than you have in this process.
  • Discuss your feelings, hesitations, and anticipations with your spouse, and/or a trusted friend, relative, spiritual advisor. Two doctors counseled friends of mine when recently widowed, to wait at six months to a year before making any major decisions.
  • Ask yourself: Am I ready to make a change? If not, ask: What is holding me back?
  • Keep a journal and write down the roller coaster feelings you are experiencing, as you start on this exciting Journey of Change.
  • Pray often for discernment. Trust in the Lord to help you each step of the way. Ask to do His Will. Thank Him for all the blessings He has showered upon you.

Stage Two: How To Begin (The Diving Board)

  • Pick one room
  • Spend 15 minutes per day
  • Start in one drawer
  • Go around the room in a clockwise fashion
  • Increase your time each day
  • When you get tired or emotionally upset, STOP, rest, have a cup of tea! Pray.
  • Some people like a friend to help them; others need to touch all their things alone.
  • If you get frustrated, kneel down and pray for patience and perseverance. Then add, “Thank You, God!”

Stage Three: How to Continue (On a Roll!)

  • Each day pick a new room and work for 2-3 hours in a clockwise fashion.
  • Continue to use the 5 labeled bags.
  • As bags fill, put them in a holding place such as a garage, basement, or barn.
  • Remember, the whole process can actually be fun. During my last move, I displayed many things in the living room and invited family members over to “shop” for what they liked or could use. The only “charge” was that they had to remove the items in a few days. They left happy with their new treasures and we enjoyed the process!
  • Duane Comfort, a Friendsview resident told his daughter, as he and his wife Sherrill, were cleaning out their place, “You put this in your van and take it home. If you stop at Goodwill on the way, I’ll never ask about it!”
  • When ready, call a church, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, resale shop, or other volunteer organization to take away your donation bags.
  • For some, downsizing is like reviewing the past. One fellow said it was like viewing a video of his life: funny, sad, bittersweet.
  • Some people need to touch everything and cry. One woman said she had the hardest time with Christmas decorations. For others, it was their BOOKS!
  • Be prepared to grieve and know there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel.

Stage Four: The Icing on the Cake (Movin’ On)

Congratulations! You have successfully jumped over three major hurdles. Keep going. Ask God for help each day. As a hot-air balloon rises with every sandbag thrown overboard, your spirit will feel lighter each day. “Less is more.”

The quality of what you take to your new home becomes more important than the quantity. Bring objects you LOVE and are beautiful to you! Instead of 30 pictures of your mother, pick your most favorite and enclose it in a lovely frame. Have a techie-savvy family member digitize the family photos. Donate books to a university or local library. Continue to ask God for help as to what to keep and what to give away.

A wonderful book to read during this process is The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittester. It has nothing to do with downsizing, but everything to do with aging. Trust me, it will help!

In closing, I want to say the downsizing process is one of the most daunting, challenging, and important things we will do in our later years. It is also one of the most spiritual. Although we own our possessions, they do not own us. We are not the things we possess. We are loving children of God put on earth to help each other find Him. As we let go and relinquish possessions, we eventually find our lives abundantly full in our new retirement home. Our hot-air balloon has launched. We discover interesting new friends, activities, outings, spiritual gatherings, exercise and art classes, music, shop, games….the list goes on.

“Old age is not when we stop growing. It is exactly the time to grow in new ways.”

-Joan Chittester