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The True Meaning of Downsizing: What to Keep, What to Release

By  •  2 months ago  •  Downsizing, Reinventing Yourself, Simplify Your Life

Downsizing (and simplification, more generally) has been a passion of mine over the last several years. And, one of the things that I have discovered through this process is that downsizing isn’t so much about letting go of “stuff” as it is letting go of emotions, memories and psychological barriers to change.

So, let’s talk about how to get ready for downsizing at any age. Have you already gone through the process of downsizing your home? Or, are you thinking about doing this in the years to come?

By mid-afternoon, my close friend Sonja and I had made two big trips to local consignment stores. It had taken us hours to load, pack, protect, and then transport two huge carloads of items that I had decided to release. As I placed them carefully into the back of my Honda, I said goodbye to each.

Many of them represented a long, sad wave to a way of life that would never be again.

It’s Not About the Money

Sonja reported to me that our first foray of goods to a spot up in Boulder had already resulted in nearly $300 in sales, which was heartening.

I’d given away so many things to Goodwill. At least this would mean something to put back. Sonja always has first choice of what I am releasing, and she invariably cherry-picks the best. She deserves them; she is helping me so much in this process.

It’s not just the physical work. It’s the deeply painful, confusing, and heart-rending work of letting go and making room for the next phase. I have no clue where I am headed. And that’s part of what Margaret is speaking of above.

When Sonja arrived yesterday, I was on the phone with my financial advisor. I had sent her a list of what I saw as my 12 main options, ranging from selling outright and moving to a new city to staying in a friend’s basement while I rent my home out to living overseas.

We painstakingly went through each one. Whittled that long list down to four viable options. Before we hung up, Erwin (who is my age, in her 60s), said,

“Do What Gives You Peace”

This is such a huge part of the puzzle. However, in the middle of ripping apart my home of 13 years, considering giving up the one place that I have loved the most and lived the longest, this is a challenging gauntlet. There’s nothing peaceful about it. At least right now.

Because I love to travel, I want to spend as much time doing adventure travel as I can for the next 3-5 years until my body or my finances (or both) cry “Uncle!”

I have to give up something to be able to do this. This is the whole point. If I am willing to let many things go: comfort, a certain belongingness, the deep and abiding wish for predictability in life (which is never guaranteed) I can have that life.

But I must give up my house. One way or the other – rent it or sell it – it makes no difference. I have to give something big up to have something bigger. If only for a while.

Part of the critical process of moving through a huge life change, especially later in life when the stakes can be much higher, is leaning on the wisdom and love of those we trust the most. I did that four times yesterday. Difficult, emotional, tears-filled talks with people who know me best.

Gather the Community

There is no time more important than during a huge life shift to gather your community. These are the people who have known our struggles, pain, joys, and hopes. And they will be more honest than anyone else.

They will not impose their own versions of what they think is best. Rather, they will keep asking kind, thoughtful, probing questions of us, as we struggle to find a path forward. That’s love.

I have lived in Denver for 47 years. I feel it’s time to go, but not before I throw myself fully to the winds for a few years while my aging body continues to serve me well.

Last week I booked a trip in Africa and Mongolia. When I do that, I put the bird back in my chest, to use the words of the inimitable Dr. Carl Safina. In fact, Safina is one of my inspirations.

So, I might add to the proviso about peace:

Do What Gives You Joy

Sometimes, to have what gives me joy I have to do what does not give me peace. For a while.

It is indeed difficult to dismantle a beloved house. To give away, sell, and forfeit many things that once gave me visual comfort. Each time we carried another load out to our cars, I saw the bright purple blossoms budding in my front yard.

The fruits of many hours of hard labor (and some losses, let’s be fair) from last year’s investment in my garden. It’s breaking my heart. I planted those. They made it. They’re my babies.

Yet I have options. Many do not. The process of letting go reminds me that not only do I have many, many years ahead, as I release each item to the Universe, it makes room for something else. For new experiences. New friends.

Sonja and her new husband are moving, possibly to Arizona. Away from the snow. There goes one of my emotional anchors. That is a gift, too. Rather than a loss, now I have one more reason to travel south.

If we are to live the life we have always wanted – especially after 60, when so many different and remarkable options are open to us – we must first give up something. For me, those are comfort and predictability, stability and safety. Those are big rocks to forfeit at this point in my life.

The process of downsizing, while both challenging and emotional, allows me to steadily make room for my joy. For me to put the bird in my chest. Eventually, when I am ready, I’ll settle again.

But not until I live my pure joy.

What have you done recently to make room for new joy and excitement in your life? How has downsizing or moving to a new place opened up a brand new life for you? What have you learned along the way? Please share!

This article by Julia Hubbell was originally published on Sixty and Me. 

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