Contrary to popular belief, the process of downsizing is super easy. All it really involves is three things. First, penetrating awareness that you have way too much ‘stuff’. Second, a firm commitment to making some tough decisions. Third, courage – a lot of it! I thought that I had all three, but the truth turned out different.
For the past few years, I have been systematically reducing my material possessions. It all started about 10 years ago. After a move that didn’t materialize, I found myself looking at 39 boxes of stuff that were waiting patiently to be opened. I was overwhelmed and started a downsizing initiative to reduce my possessions to just 200 items. Items, in total.
Admittedly, there were some things like books, and postcards and photographs, paperwork, handmade items and children’s art that I allowed to remain in limbo for many years. It was not until this year, that I began to tackle them.
So how did I get to 200 items? Some of this was guided by a travel experience. I was going on a trip to India to visit close friends. I knew that I wanted to take gifts to friends and charities I supported, so accepted there would be baggage limitations on my international flights. I culled and honed, and selected and made decisions like a crazy person. I felt great and a little self-assured that I had been so disciplined.
So, off I went to London from Seattle with the following entourage! I took three purple suitcases filled with clothes, gifts, and goodies. In addition, I carried one small pink roller carry-on bag with an extra change of clothes, more gifts, and miscellaneous treasures.
Next was my trusted leather Tumi computer bag carrying my laptop, charger, extra phone battery, mouse, book and my famous ‘just in case’ bag. Finally, I carried a small crossover handbag with my wallet, passport, kindle, phone, makeup, pen, paper, and chocolate. Jet Blue to New York City – no problem. Virgin to London – no problem. Emirates to Delhi (via Dubai) – problem.
Now, at that time, I honestly had no idea what on earth a ‘kilo’ was. I figured it was around a pound – so even though I knew the suitcases were bulky (with clothes, gifts and a few of the chosen 200) no idea on real weight. But the little machine knew – 74 kilos.
Ok, I do freely admit that is a LOT. 30 kilos went free and then came the shocker. Emirates Airline policy was to charge $25 for each additional kilo. Yes, it was, apparently, in the fine print.
At this point my mind froze. I was trying to multiply as the blood rushed through my brain, but thank goodness for Emirates efficiency! The airline representative knew right away that 44 extra kilos would cost $1100 for my 2 suitcases. Obviously, this was an impossible scenario. With 90 minutes left to my flight, there I was in Terminal 3 with two suitcases chock-a-bloc with everything I honestly thought was totally essential.
So, I went to a quiet spot, opened both suitcases, and went through them one item at a time. I made decision after decision. Do I want to carry this grey t-shirt or that white one? Do I really need that purple sweater? Do I take back that jacket or that scarf? I burst into tears a couple of times and tried to disguise my despair for insanity. In an airport like Heathrow, this seemed to be totally acceptable behavior.
A couple of people passed me and shook their heads like “ah, poor woman.” But with every decision, I felt lighter, physically and metaphorically. My mind moved from “Oh my goodness, what am I going to do” to “Why didn’t I downsize this far in the beginning?” I donated the one remaining bag to charity (Thank you, kind person, at British Airways Terminal 3 Info Desk) and with a much lighter suitcase holding 18 kilos of special treasures off I went.
Now, funnily enough, I can’t remember what I left behind – so that tells you how important everything I thought really WAS. I did keep some pretty silly things like a funky handmade mirror, but mostly all I have now is what I really need. But this process was the ultimate forced decision-making. I am eternally grateful that I was given the opportunity.
Have you ever had to make tough decisions about items in your life that you need to let go? What is the most courageous downsizing decision you have ever made?