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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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Mare

I’m only thinking about downsizing but no where near ready to start. I am, however, selling things on marketplace and that works well. Now this year is a milestone for me and I came up with a great idea. I’ve been looking at Pinterest and seeing some cool things to do with mosaics using broken china. You can mosaic a picture frame, birdhouse, pots for plants- anything you like. So I’m going to offer my set of china to both my daughter and daughter-in-law. I’m quite sure they will respectfully decline as they have sets of their own. I’ll offer it to my son and grandkids and I already know the answer. So what I’ll do, is take a hammer to it and mosaic some functional items- the birdhouse, pots, photo frames, candle holder etc. Then as we celebrate my 70th birthday, they will each receive a gift to open with a card that will read:
“You didn’t want my china but you’re getting a few pieces anyway!” Cheers to 70 years!

Merf56

In my process letting go of things I thought my kids would want was made easier by the fact that they DIDN’T want them. It was freeing to realize I didn’t have to save all these things as they would toss them without a thought. This way I got to say goodbye to them myself in a respectful way. It put ME in control.

Laura

I have heard of this method. Can you explain how it has helped you to look at something you have let go of? I am afraid I will feel sadder. Any insight is welcomed. Thank you for your comment.

Catherine Vance

Good article, Sara. I am from one of those families where “things” have been passed down for multiple generations and have become a burden. Gratefully, my mother realizes the burden she felt having to safeguard dishes “that came here in a covered wagon” by her grandmother’s grandmother, etc. It will ache
when my siblings and I have to figure out what to do with HONESTLY a closet-full of photo albums and interesting memorabilia that the next generation has no interest in. These items will simply have to be
whittled down to a cherished few (your great-grandfather’s citizenship pin after he escaped the Soviet
takover of Lithuania in 1914), but the photographs are magnificent and sadly, just too many because while my grandmother was one of 10, my mother one of six, me one of six, there are only 4 grandchildren and 3 out of 4 are disinterested.

Margaret

Hi…This post hit home, as I am in the process of down sizing. It’ s HARD…I had my mother’s hope chest and found a woman who fell in love with it and was going to refinsh it.. Seeing her happy and knowing how much she appreciated the hope chest showed me I made the right decision. Also, I found when trying to part with large or small items, It’s easy to take a photo of the item. Photos don’t take up too much space and you can always look back on your treasures to relive the memories behind them. I hope this makes things easier for such a difficult task.

Peggy

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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