As we age, we are often looking to downsize or eliminate clutter and excess. Many of us embrace the concept of living with fewer things to maintain and that tie us down. The reality is that actually releasing our things can be challenging.

When my husband and I decided to sell the house we built and raised our family in, we moved from a four bedroom, three bath, 4000 square foot house to a tiny two bedroom cottage. I knew that with less space I would need to remove more than half of our possessions. At first, getting rid of things was difficult; I liked my things. Out of necessity, however, I learned to let them go.

If you are struggling to get rid of years of accumulation, consider some of the following strategies which worked for me.

 
 

Downsizing Dilemma 1: You Are Overwhelmed by the Enormity of the Task

The Solution: Sort one small space at a time.

When I was moving, the thought of clearing out every room in the house was overwhelming. The garage and basement alone were mammoth tasks. Remember Klinger on the TV show M*A*S*H? He declared he was going to eat a jeep. How could he accomplish such an impossible task? By taking one small bite at a time.

The same principle works here. Chose one closet or one drawer. Sort, clean and immediately remove unwanted items from your home.

I tried to do one smaller space, such as a box or drawer, each day and one bigger space, such as a closet, each weekend. If you are consistent, you will make progress. The key here is to physically remove the items regularly or you will build up more piles of unwanted things that will sit around until you have to go through those piles again. Every time I left the house I had books to donate to the library or clothing for the shelters or something to drop off at the thrift store.

Downsizing Dilemma 2: How Do You Part with Great or Expensive Items?

The Solution: Ask yourself, does this item represent how I wish to show myself to the world now?

Your possessions should enhance your life. Many of our things were perfectly good and maybe even expensive, but wrong for us. Everyone has received gifts that didn’t quite work, ended up with decor that is not their style or been given clothes that don’t represent who they are right now. No matter how well-intentioned, that ultra-modern lamp is never going to be happy in your coastal cottage.

Even if the item is in great shape, if it isn’t useful to you or doesn’t help you feel great about your life, out it goes. Have a yard sale or donate it to a charity you care about. What you will be left with is all the stuff you really love and use. I may have gotten rid of half of my things, but now I love being surrounded by only my favorite things.

Downsizing Dilemma 3: What Do You Do with Things You Might Need Someday?

The Solution: Be realistic.

This one is tricky. Who knows what you will need someday? I got rid of a pair of crutches. It turned out that I needed them six months later. I bought a new pair for $16.00, hardly the end of the world.

I am also a little embarrassed to admit that I had five coffee carafes. In my new little cottage, I am not likely to have a party large enough to need five coffee carafes. I kept one. If I ever need more, I will borrow them.

Consider the cost in space and money to store excess things you may never need. It is likely the cost of extra square footage or a storage warehouse will far exceed replacing something if you find you really do need it.

Downsizing Dilemma 4: How Do You Sort out All Your Clothes?

Clearing out clothes can be difficult, especially if you are changing your lifestyle, because as your lifestyle changes, your clothing needs will change. Eliminate the clothes that are for a life you don’t have now or know you won’t have in the future. For some of us, it is business suits, for others ski wear.

This also works for clothes you are going to fit into “someday.” If you lose a lot of weight, you are going to want to buy new clothes, not wear your former smaller ones.

Get rid of things that are past their prime, duplicates – I had a closet full of black sweaters – and anything you have never liked, doesn’t look good on you, or isn’t comfortable.

If you struggle with getting rid of clothes, go shopping, not to buy, but just to look at all the great new clothes. Seeing what is available to you in the future will make it easier to get rid your old clothes. There are always better clothes available than the two sizes too small ones you are hanging on to.

Downsizing Dilemma 5: How Do You Get Rid of Sentimental Things?

The Solution: Give things you care about to people you care about.

I couldn’t take my grandmother’s china to a thrift store. I kept it for years, even though I never used it and couldn’t imagine that I ever would. I didn’t want it to end up in boxes in the basement for my children to have to get rid of someday.

My solution was to give things I cared about to people I cared about. My daughters didn’t want Grandma’s dishes, but my niece did.

This opened the door for me to give away other things. My daughter took my leather furniture; my nephew took my favorite dresser and several tables. I gave most of my large children’s book collection to new teachers. I gave furniture, lamps and rugs to college students who were very grateful. I found I didn’t mind giving away things when I knew they would have a good home.

As for the sentimental keepsakes of childhood, each of my daughters has a large plastic bin with the best of the baby quilts, first photo outfits and special childhood memorabilia. I saved the handmade Christmas ornaments because they were small and easy to store.

If your children’s or grandchildren’s school projects are important to you, take pictures and let them go. I will proudly hang children’s artwork on the refrigerator, but I don’t need to keep it forever. I think of it as a revolving gallery. If you ask them, you will find that most adults do not want the salt flour map they made in fifth grade.

Now that the dust has settled, I have found that I really don’t miss the things I left behind. A little breathing space, it turns out, is good for the soul. I am conscious of the things I add to my home, and living with less has made me desire fewer things in my life.

What about you? What are your struggles with downsizing? Have you mastered the art of eliminating things? How have you dealt with the sentimental and childhood items? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michele Meier VosbergMichele Meier Vosberg, Ph.D. is a writer and freelance educator. She left her career of over thirty years in order to create the life of her dreams. She is passionate about helping others understand their unique personality and gifts and design their best lives. Michele is married, has two grown daughters and lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Connect with Michele at liferedesign101.com.

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