Let me surely call out this truth: while we have downsized, others have downsized (and done other radical things) even more than we have. And for much of the world “downsized” is the way life has always been and having less is not desirable. In the western, privileged world, needing and choosing to downsize is quite a luxury. And maybe in part our attempt to rid ourselves of some of our material overhead is a tacit recognition of our place in the world and what’s right.
That said, we still have a couple cheats (a small storage area in the basement for living items and a Units/Pod storage unit for stuff we think we’d want when eventually move on). So it’s with that acknowledgement and admission that I reveal our downsizing effort.
All in all, we gave away around 3/4′s of our material possessions. And we went from 3,200 sqf to 700 sqf of living space. After 9 years of living in a large house and going from 0 to three children and the baby years of their life, we had collected a vast amount of stuff.
It was weird though. If you’ve looked at photos of our old house on this blog, it didn’t feel like we had a ton of stuff. We worked hard to reduce clutter and keep things very clean and clear. We didn’t have lots of knick-knacks around and we continually got rid of outdated, broken or otherwise unused items. But, it turned out, we had vast amounts of stuff. Just stuff. And more stuff. Stuff that defies definition, but some how accumulates where you don’t realize it’s hiding.
Stuff, stuff everywhere and not a notion how. And ours was not extreme stuff either.
So, after we had mapped out exactly what we would be moving into our new space (down to the inch, the placement of decorations and the items that would sit on shelves and everywhere else, we had to go through and get rid of things.
The first wave was the hardest by far. There were many many waves, but the first felt like a real barrier to walk through. Or a mountain of stuff to climb. We did that first wave in full spirit of doing it but later realized that it was only half-hearted. We meant well, but it was just not easy. And that was just mostly the “junk”. Things that were broken, or old electronics (which I had a real tendency to keep and keep and keep and horde), or old clothes (like 2o year old college t-shirts – what’s up with that?) or broken toys (which we had kept since the boys had played with them for a while when they were 3).
Maybe it’s because I am inherently a packrat. I have always really struggled with getting rid of things. I have kept every card that Heather has given me since the very first one she gave me when we were dating in college (which could be sweet, but when it takes up a box, it’s just kind of weird). I kept notebooks from high-school and college. I kept old clothes. I kept old guitar picks. I kept old patches from awards and paper awards themselves. I kept old books and magazines, and maps and notes and trinkets and my old toys (that sadly I never let the boys play with because I was worried they would break them, only later to have them not be interested and find myself donating them to someone else – I really regret that). I kept nuts and bolts and screws and wires and cables and everything. And yet somehow it didn’t seem like too much.
But then after wave one, we looked around and realized we had a looooong way to to. So we embarked on Wave 2. Then Wave 3, and Wave 4, and 5 and 6. And I don’t know how many waves we really did, but it went on and on for months.
We took the seats out of my minivan (aka the “Rox Box”) and filled it 9 times. And donated it all to a local charity/thrift store that serves the local community. Then we rented a 14′ U-Haul and filled that and made a huge donation (although 2 couches did go to my office). Then we set up a day for anyone who wanted to come and take anything else that we had not earmarked to keep ourselves.
It was like a tidal wave of purging had come over us.
And as we went, it got easier. And it made more sense. And it felt lighter, and clearer and more focused. And a few waves into it, we looked back at the first few waves and almost laughed at how we had wanted to hold on to certain things. I remember going through the closet in our bedroom (again) and finding things I thought I couldn’t part with, that now I couldn’t believe I would have ever held on to.
The very last thing we did was go through the closet in the basement. The one place that had all family items, memorabilia, photographs, momentos, collectables and things we felt we couldn’t part with them. We had been saying that we needed to get to it, but I think we really did need to do that one last. Had we not gone through all the waves previously, we never would have been able to go through that last one.
We sat on the floor for several hours, pouring through memories and picking things that we wanted to keep. We supported each other on what should go and what should stay. Things from our parents, grand parents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents. Things from own childhoods, things we remembered, things we didn’t. Lost friends reappeared, lost achievements and hopes and dreams floated by in a sea of paper and cardboard boxes. Our lives seemed to unfold before us as we pared through the chaff.
And then we were done.
And the moving truck was packed, the storage unit was packed. Then the home we had became a house and was empty.
It felt weird. Giving it away felt weird. Seeing our friends excitedly take away our furniture felt weird.
And it felt really good.
And although we can recall some of our material possessions and memories along with them, we have not missed our stuff at all.
I believe we are now different people than we were before, and it feels right.