Downsizing in Retirement – Can You Live with 200 Items?
Retirement is a good time to assess what is important in our lives. By focusing on our priorities and downsizing in retirement, we can make space for the things that really matter. In a literal sense, “downsizing” can mean moving to a smaller house or learning to “traveling light.” For me, it is so much more than this. After a lifetime of accumulating “stuff,” downsizing allows us to create mental space. It helps us to simplify our life on a fundamental level. It all starts with shifting our focus away from “things” and towards experiences and people.
Could you live with only 200 items? Do you think that this is even possible? This is exactly what I decided to do when I moved to Switzerland.
My Experience with Downsizing in Retirement
I decided to get rid of most of the clutter in my life and focus on the items that were, to paraphrase William Morris, either “useful or beautiful”. After several months, and a few tears, I finally made it to 200 items. Not everyone will want to be this extreme, but, I can honestly say that I have never felt lighter or more alive. With less “things” around me, my home is a reflection of my priorities and my passions. I love it!
Now that I have gone through the process of downsizing my life, I would love to offer some advice to the other women in the community who may want to do the same. Here are a few practical ideas for downsizing in retirement.
Take an Inventory of What You Own
The first step is to make a long list of all of the categories of things that you own. Don’t forget all of the items that you have in storage or in your garage! You may be surprised by how long your list of possessions has become over the years. I remember, when I went through this process, asking myself “How on earth did I end up with so much stuff?!?”
As you create a list, keep an eye out for duplicated items. Do you really need 4 sets of dishes and 5 sets of Christmas lights? Maybe your old barbeque would bring more happiness to someone in your family than it does to you, sitting in the back of your garage.
Designate a “Starting Zone”
Ironically, the fact that we have so much stuff can be a major barrier to downsizing. We have so much stuff that even clearing a space to sort our items can be a challenge. As a result, once you have created an inventory of your items, the next step is to dedicate a space to the sorting process. For example, if your son or daughter’s room is now empty, you might designate this space as your “sorting room” temporarily. For me, I just chose a table in the living room.
Setting up a “starting zone” can also help to take some of the emotional sting away from decluttering your life. Since all of your sorting will take place in one area, you won’t have to be confronted with your old items until you are ready. When you do enter your starting zone, keep your tissues handy. Downsizing can be an emotional process, but, it is worth it in the end.
Trash, Sell, Give Away
Once you have created a “starting zone,” it’s time to prepare it for the decluttering process. Get a few large bins and label them “Trash,” “Sell” and “Give Away.” As you go through the rest of the steps in this article, start to sort your items accordingly. Once again, creating a rational sorting process helps to soften the emotional blog of getting rid of your stuff and the emotions and memories associated with them.
Perform the “6-Month Test”
Downsizing doesn’t happen overnight. One simple way to quickly sort your items is to apply the “6 month test.” As you start to look through your possessions, ask yourself whether you have used each of them in the last 6 months. If you haven’t used something in half a year, the chances are it isn’t that important. If this is the case, the item may do more good for the world if it is given away, sold or recycled.
After you resize, it’s a good idea to practice this test on an ongoing basis because downsizing is a way of life not a onetime activity.
Get Rid of Clothes Automatically with the “Hanger Trick”
When it comes to downsizing, clothing can be an especially difficult category to deal with. How many clothes do you have sitting in your closet that you are keeping “just in case?” Another problem with clothing is that it’s hard to remember what we have worn recently.
One simple technique that helped me to sort my clothes was the “hanger trick.” This involved turning all of your hangers around, so that your clothes are facing backwards. Then give yourself a set amount of time (3, 6 or 12 months, depending on your comfort level). Any clothes that are still facing backwards at the end of this time can be safely thrown away.
This is an easy way to make decisions about which clothes to keep, without any emotional drama or self-recriminations.
Set a Timer
Downsizing can be a bit overwhelming. As a result, it makes sense to break down the process into more manageable chunks. Rather than trying to do everything at once, set a timer for 45 minutes and try to tackle a specific task – cleaning a bookcase, sorting one pile of clothes, etc. You will be amazed by how quickly your life takes on a sense of order if you spend just 45 minutes a week on this process. You’re on your own with shoes!
Have a De-cluttering Party
Decluttering doesn’t have to be a lonely process. Why not invite your friends over to help you simplify your life. Tell them that they can keep anything that ends up in the “recycle” or “sell” bins, as long as they help you to clean for a few hours. Serve wine and cheese. Make it a party!
Scan All Paperwork – Kids’ Art, Legal Documents, Etc. and Then Shred It
I have to be honest. There was one category of items that I had a lot of trouble with – documents. No, I’m not talking about legal documents or old tax returns. The items that were hardest for me to throw away were my children’s artwork and my old scrapbooks. Of course, if you want to keep these items, there is nothing wrong with this. After all, the entire point of this process is to get your possessions down to the most important ones in your life. If pictures fall into this category for you, then great!
I decided to take a slightly different path. Rather than continuing to drag 8 boxes of scrapbooks, photos and books of fish-paintings, I digitized everything. Then, I created multiple backups. All of the images are stored on a hard drive in my house. I also uploaded them to Dropbox.com, so that I can recover them if something unexpected happens.
So, I have finally made it to 200 items. But, oddly enough, I don’t feel “deprived.” I feel energized! What I learned the most from my simplification journey was that decluttering doesn’t have to be boring. For me, living small allows me to live large. I am free to travel. I can find everything in my house in an instant. Most importantly, I am surrounded by the things in my life that bring me the most happiness.
Even if you don’t want to get down to 200 items, I hope that you apply some of the tips in this article to simplify your life just a little bit in your 60s. You won’t regret it.
Have you downsized your life in retirement? What tips would you give to the other members of the Sixty and Me community who may be trying to simplify their lives? Please join the conversation.
Whether you are considering downsizing for retirement or just looking for ways to simplify your life, this episode of the Sixty and Me Show is for you! In this episode of the show, I speak with Dr. Dale Atkins, a well-known psychologist.
We talk about downsizing and disconnecting emotionally from the stuff we have collected in our lives.