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Downsizing Your Home as a 60+ Woman: Facing the Discomfort of Uncertainty

By Sara Hart July 16, 2022 Lifestyle

The only thing in life that’s certain is death. Everything else is to the contrary. Now that’s not very comfortable for most of us. We tend to be most comfortable living with the illusion of certainty.

I think one of the things that makes the ever accelerating pace of climate change so difficult to really grasp is that if we do, we have to face the fact that things we’ve taken as “certain” – e.g., catastrophic weather related events occur every once in a great while, the oceans stay within their boundaries, we’ll always have good air to breathe – are no longer certain at all.

Downsizing Brings Discomfort

On perhaps a lesser scale, I think the same thing happens to us when we consider beginning a major downsizing of our home. And this is especially true if coupled with that downsizing is a move.

Right now we know exactly where all our seasonal holiday decorations are. We know where our yard and garden implements are and the approximate month when different tasks need to be done.

We know the general outline of most days: what time we’ll get up, who we’re likely to see when we go outside, how long it usually takes to get to the grocery store, where we usually like to sit or stand to have breakfast.

And then, what happens when we go to get our very favorite old sweater to drape around us as we read, only to realize that it is one of the items we threw out? We may remember saying to ourselves, “I do not need this old, ratty sweater with holes in the elbows.”

Yet now we feel almost bereft because it has become a symbol of all the things we’re used to having around us that now are gone. It can suddenly feel as if nothing in our lives is any longer “certain.”

The sobering fact is that it’s true.

Moreover, it was true before our downsizing, but we somehow managed to “trick” ourselves into certainty about our environment and our lives because things were so familiar.

What Remains Is Memories

What does remain steady and go with us as we downsize and move? What I would advise any of my downsizing clients is to remember that the major thing that goes with us is our memories. Many of the things we will get rid of as we downsize have memories attached to them.

We remember the vacation where we got the seashell. We remember the graduation where our daughter or son removed the tassel before tossing the cap into the air.

We remember the total joy on the face of our grandchild the first time they sat in that little rocking chair with the ponies painted on the back. And on and on.

And if we try, we will realize that we don’t need that chair to clearly remember the look on that little face when that chair was first spotted. The memory is deep inside us, and we will take it with us wherever we go.

That’s such an important thing to remember as you begin the process of downsizing. The most important part of most “treasured” things you need to get rid of are the memories attached to them. It’s not the physical thing itself.

The What Ifs

There’s also the uncertainty of “but what if I need this thing again?” Clearly, it is not possible to imagine all the things you might need throughout the rest of your life. None of us can do that. But a reasonable clue is to figure out the last time you used the pan, or [insert appropriate item].

Quite often, you can’t even remember the last time you used the thing in question. You may even be surprised to find it as you begin clearing out!

If either of those is the case, that’s a big clue that it can go. In cases of “but what if I need it?” it’s better to use guidance from the lack of use in the past than the uncertainty of a possible need in the future.

Get Comfortable with the Truth

It’s also important to try to get more comfortable with the truth of uncertainty. It’s just the way things are.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly uncertain or anxious about a situation, I try to remember to tell myself, “Well, I’m OK right now!” and then, “And right now!” and to also try to realize that what I’m feeling most anxious about are things that “might” happen that haven’t happened – and might never happen.

I love the quotation from Mark Twain: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Trying to hold on to the illusion of certainty will not prevent “bad” things from happening, although it may make us less flexible and alert to the reality of the preset moment.

I went through a major downsizing last year, and it was accompanied by many difficult feelings as I explain in my book The Upside of Downsizing: Getting to Enough.

Although it’s not easy, I believe the best way to deal with the uncertainty we all feel during a major downsizing is to face the certainty of uncertainty instead of trying to fight it.

Trying to get control of all the things we have no control over not only is futile, but also adds to the exhaustion of the downsizing and moving process.

You can do it! Just take a deep breath and begin. Good luck!

Through the years past, how often have you had to downsize and move? What did you feel in those moments? How did you cope with the uncertainty? What did you do to get back the feeling of comfort? Please share in the comments below.

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The Author

Sara Hart is a business owner, speaker, author and coach. Her project, the Sign of Enough, is designed to help us answer the question, “How will I know when I have enough?” with a focus on the emotional side of downsizing, not the practical. Please visit here

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