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The Hardest Part of Downsizing: Letting Go of Treasured Things Accumulated Over a Lifetime

By Sara Hart August 06, 2022 Lifestyle

The question I hear most often when I’m talking with people who are in the middle of a major downsizing or are getting ready to downsize is, “How can I get rid of things that are very, very important to me?”

For example, “How can I get rid of the chest that my mother spent months and months refinishing and making absolutely beautiful?” Or “How can I part with all those children’s books that I spent hours reading to my kids?”

And I totally agree; this can be so hard. Just thinking about it can cause a pain deep inside.

When people ask me this question, I say that if there will be space in the new place for all the “really treasured things,” then by all means, keep them. But what if there won’t be enough space?

What if paying several hundred dollars a month to rent an external storage unit to hold the things just seems unwise? There may be better uses for that money right now.

Yes, It Can Be Hard

I went through a major downsizing several years ago, and it was accompanied by many difficult feelings, as I explain in my book The Upside of Downsizing: Getting to Enough. Like many of the people I talk to, I had several treasured things that really hurt to let go of.

I had several pieces of furniture that my mother had lovingly restored, and they were gorgeous. I had braided wool rugs that she had made, and when I looked carefully, I could see traces of skirts I had worn in high school. And on and on.

And I knew I would not have space for any of those things. So, all of them went out. Was it painful? Very. Have I come to a place of peace when I think about it? Yes. How can we get there?

What Can Help?

A friend of mine recently told me that the mutual love she had shared with her mother had helped her to come to peace with selling some of her late mother’s treasured belongings.

When that deep love really seeped into her core, she was able to let go of many treasured things. I’ve thought about that a lot, and I believe that peace comes when we realize what’s important are the deep feelings of love, not the place settings, or whatever. A plate, after all, is just a plate.

I think it also helps to be thoughtful about where the items go. Going back to the children’s books, it might be easier to part with them if you give them to a local grade school or kindergarten that probably doesn’t have the funding to buy many books.

Just imagine the delight on the faces of the children who may never have held such a colorful, shiny book!

When I was able to sell some of the beautiful pieces my mother had restored to neighbors who were delighted to buy them, I felt happy that they knew the history of the pieces and would lovingly take care of them.

The same has been true for several items that I gave to friends. I love seeing these things in their homes where they are being well used.

For the Kids

It’s also important to look through all the things you may be “saving for the kids.” In my conversations with people who have downsized, one very common theme emerges: “the kids don’t want anything.”

If you’re in the situation of “saving things for the kids,” it’s probably worth checking with them to make sure they want those items. If they do, they need to take them as soon as possible. And if they don’t, then it’s time to find a new home for treasured things that you don’t have a room for.

In those scenarios you need to protect yourself from being “doubly hurt.” Once, you suffer from parting with your loved possessions, and once you suffer because your kids don’t cherish or want those things that have been so important to you.

But keep in mind they live “their life,” and you need to let it go.

Some Support Can Help

The whole process of letting go of treasured things can be very painful. I know. I’ve been through it. It may help to ask a good, caring friend to sit with you as you think about the things you’re going to need to part with. You may also consider talking with a downsizing coach.

Finally, knowing that you have a choice will ease the parting. It’s often helpful to say to yourself, “I have a choice here. I can find a way to lovingly let go of this item or I can live with the consequences of holding on to it.”

When we really focus on what it will mean to hold onto whatever it is, we may realize that things once valued will not serve us anymore. And we can find a good, new home for them. This is not easy, but it is our choice.

What is your greatest fear when it comes to downsizing? Do you have special items you’d like to keep but have no room for? Have you considered parting with them? Please share your downsizing stories with our community.

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I own a very large Estate with guest cottages I worked hard to build and design. I found the fun in making them and sharing them. The real treasures for me have always been my friends and when I lose one it hurts. Things have no meaning to me but my kids and friends have my heart. The only reason I did any of it was so that those that I love could be comfortable and have what they needed to feel enfolded. I cry for hours when losing a friend to some health issue or accident but a valuable vase could hit the floor and it gets no response from me. Everything I bought was bought from a woman needing money selling her things to leave a terrible man or whatever reason. I would ask them how much they needed and find something I could buy for that amount. Often they would tell me what I was buying was not worth that much but I told them it was worth that to me. I once paid 250 for a small item probably worth 5 but 250 was what she needed so that is what I paid for the item. I was helping them and that is what I came to do. My mission started in 1974 and I am no longer needing anything. One day these things will be left behind for someone else to create a piece of their life. I got the fun out of buying them and giving the money to a woman who desperately needed it. I was once told that entering my home the feeling of love surrounded them. No doubt because God is Love. He asked us to love one another and that is what I tried to do my whole life. I will one day heDianear the words Well done good and faithful servant enter into my rest. A life well lived and shared with others. I hope these words inspire others in some small way.

Cath 🇨🇦

Sadly, I am not included in the lives of either of my grown children (42 &46) nor 4 grandchildren ( 7-14) . I sent both packages of Christmas ornaments as memories of our trees, and later shoe boxes of photographs from baby years to close to when I was dismissed. Heartbreaking, but cannot change my reality. So , nothing here is going to either one ,since there’s been nothing from them for 10+ years.
Grandchildren are in our wills, but anything in our home is being edited slowly.

Yesterday, I held a successful book sale with all funds $377cad going to Ukraine 🇺🇦 through a local orthodox church.

I will hold another sale for household items, once loved but no longer used, perhaps in September. Anything not sold will go to a local charity shop which makes it easy to drop off items.
I consign good quality clothing, chosen mostly due to sizing issues ( can no longer close zippers on bodice) and money is going to my travel fund. Anything else goes to previously mentioned charity shop.
We plan to live here for quite some time, so downsizing isn’t in our plans yet.

Alisa M Dotson

I hired a professional.

Victoria McKinney-Vareschi

Take photos

AK Lynne

What I have done when it has been hard to give something up is take a picture of it. That has worked pretty well (so far anyway).

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 https://signofenough.com/blog/

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