Downsizing

My former student Cat has made a career from blogging about personal finance for young adults. I like to follow her blog budgetblonde.com – pride in the accomplishments of one I shepherded through our graduate program and fascination with the creative ways she is balancing a business and a family. One of her recent posts really captured my attention: “How I Decluttered Thousands of Belongings” (http://www.youngadultmoney.com/2014/02/26/how-i-decluttered-thousands-of-belongings/)

Cat calls her weeding-out binges “decluttering.” For my age group, it is called “downsizing.” And her blog post got me thinking about what downsizing means at this stage of my life. How to approach this project and what to do with all the stuff — academic stuff, family stuff, and just plain stuff? This downsizing is different from the sorting and discarding that went on each time I moved. Then there was no question that almost all of the books, all the files, and all the objects with all the memories would find their way into the packing boxes. Now, however, I need a different set of guidelines.

So, what is “downsizing?” Google search > “downsizing definition” – companies “downsize” by reducing the number of workers. Not helpful, unless I think of my retirement as a downsizing of my department. Google search > “downsizing” — I can choose from downsizing my home, my life, or my government. And yes, there are downsizing blogs where I can “downsize to happiness” or “downsize in style.” Thinking about downsizing is about as complicated as understanding all those books I read last summer about how to “achieve financial security in retirement.”

Downsizing grows even more complicated when, like me, Mother was a hoarder who saved everything because someday she might need…the 2 feet of thread left on the spool; the Styrofoam egg cartons that could be turned into jewelry trays, and the yards and yards of scrap fabric that could be made into a quilt, someday. I am my mother’s daughter. Though there are no egg cartons in my stash of the stuff I could reuse or recycle, there are boxes and boxes of yarn scraps that I’m saving to make into knitted toys for a grandchild, someday!

For sure, there’s plenty of advice on downsizing and it’s just a click away. I started with wiki:How to Do Anything (http://www.wikihow.com/Downsize-Your-Home)
In ten easy steps you can move from a house to a mouse hole. Step one: Assess your actual needs. What counts as an “actual need?” Something I use every day? Something I use every week? Once a month? Only at tax time? Do I “use” the stuffed animal that reminds me of my daughter’s childhood? The pictures of my sister and me growing up? My parents’ wedding photograph? OK, the bed is probably an “actual need” but what about all the plants I’ve nurtured for 20 years? I feel the stress level rising; it may take the three years til retirement to come to terms with the meanings, the implications of downsizing. (And as I ponder downsizing, I understand more fully why some retirees, like my parents, resist the move from a house to smaller, more-manageable-for-the-elderly “independent living” apartment.)

Skipping ahead to a later step in the downsizing advice: the suggestion to use plastic containers to pack stuff for storage. But isn’t downsizing about letting go? Why downsize if I need a storage unit to supplement my new mouse hole?

And what’s to keep me from upsizing after I downsize (other than that financial insecurity stuff, of course)? Downsizing, I fear, is like weight loss – getting it off may be easy; keeping it off may require more discipline that what’s available to those of us who came of age in the prosperous ‘50s and were encouraged all our lives to accumulate material goods as the emblem of happiness.

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