Posted on July 25, 2017 at 6:00 am
Call it what you want—downsizing, minimalism, a trending fad, or decluttering—it is a state of mind that seems to be crossing the generations. Lifestyle websites catering to Millennials promote experience over things. Baby boomers and Gen X are inheriting housefuls of lifetime collections into their already full houses. TV shows like Hoarders expose the hazards of too much stuff.
Perhaps it is the adjustment to becoming an empty nester, and influenced by the Millennial that just flew the coup, that propelled my husband and I to let go of what we didn’t need, to free ourselves of stuff and prepare to experience this next phase of our lives.
It all sounded so easy, and at first, it was.
When this process began a couple of years ago, the initial stages were quick. Funny how much stuff we had around that we really didn’t want or need, but we just never took the effort to get rid of it. I created three categories: stuff to sell on Craig’s list, donations to charity, and recycle.
When the last load left the house, I looked around and still saw a lot of stuff: things I had for a long time, items that brought back memories, gifts from loved ones, and projects I will to get to someday. It was then that I realized this paradigm shift of downsizing wasn’t going to happen with surgical precision. In fact, it became a slow, examining, and sometime painful process of letting go physically, mentally, and emotionally.
My father died unexpectedly several years ago. As with many families, it left my siblings and me with the chore of cleaning out his house. Dad had lived in that house for 25 years, and the signs of hoarding were starting to show. He had stuffed so much into his kitchen cupboards that the things at the back had broken. Magazines, while neatly organized, were piled everywhere. At one point, I opened a desk drawer to find every free, cheap, promotional key chain he had ever been given. From early morning to late night for days, we sorted, tossed, and divided-up a lifetime of possessions. There were times when a flood of memories would saturate the air, when one of us would hold up a discovered item and say, “remember when Dad…” I let these moments influence my own process of letting go.
Lessons from dealing with my father’s estate, along with bits and pieces from books and blogs, helped me begin the process of re-examining all of my possessions (beyond the necessities) again. In my mind, I established a four-part criteria for each thing:
Don’t let the four-point bullet list fool you in to thinking it was easy. So many of our possessions are charged with memories, emotions, responsibilities, and perceived obligations. The freedom found from letting go of physical things also means releasing the thoughts and emotions that go with them, whether positive or negative. Letting go is a process not always easy for us mere humans.
My mash-up approach may not be the most efficient way to a more minimalist lifestyle, and there are many methods and good advice out there to take on the task. Most likely, there isn’t one best way, as each of us are unique. However, I have made great progress, even moving to a smaller home in the last year. I have gained a sense of freedom, not only from the mental and emotional baggage but also a gain in time and energy to focus on what’s important.
The library has a lot of great resources on this subject including Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy, a book that provides a master class in tidying up. As always, the library has the most popular books and magazines on its shelves and online, keeping it all updated and organized for you—something to keep in mind when you get around to downsizing your book collection.
Here are some resources to get you started on gaining your freedom from stuff.