My husband and I, like almost every other baby boomer I know have been talking about downsizing. For the past three or four years we have wanted to unload our big house in the country/burbs and the responsibilities of cleaning, gardening and the maintenance that goes along with it. Let’s be real here, two people and a dog do not need this much house.

our home

our home

The reason why we have only been talking about moving and not taking action is simple. We could not decide where we wanted to move even though I have spent more time on realtor.com than I care to admit. Here’s the problem, the towns we would like to buy a smaller home in are either too expensive (real estate has surged 50% or more in the past five years in towns close to Boston) or the towns are too far from my husband’s job.

So on new years day, after a weekend of discussing the feasibility of moving (for the umpteen time) we made a radical decision to sell our home without knowing where we will buy next. What’s that saying? ” jump and the net will appear”? We called the realtor and set a list date. Then we came up with an even more radical idea. Donate 60-70% of our belongings to charity, put another 20% in storage and move into a small apartment that is within walking or bike riding distance to my husband’s job. Crazy or brilliant?

On the plus side we unburden ourselves from the big house and the responsibilities that go along with it. Just as important, we take a huge amount of stress off my husband who currently has an hour plus commute each day, each way, in bumper to bumper traffic. Being close to work is going to be life changing for him.

On the other hand, can we really be happy living in a small apartment? Can we deal with getting in an elevator each time the dog wants/needs to go out? Will I be okay not being able to make any changes in the design or even paint the walls?

Now that we have committed to this plan I fluctuate between excitement of the future and anxiety that we are making a huge mistake. We are forging ahead though and tackling the hardest part….purging for the downsize. I have had so many friends tell me how great I will feel after it is done but I will tell you right now I don’t feel great at all. I feel overwhelmed and even somewhat depressed. Sorting through a life time of memories, family heirlooms, books, art work, photos and several china and glassware collections and deciding what stays and what goes is daunting. We have A LOT OF STUFF!!!

We are now three weeks into the process and this is what I have learned so far

  1. Purging takes time. We actually started the decluttering process over a year ago after reading Marie Condor’s book about decluttering, “The life-changing magic of tidying up”. We got rid of what seemed like half of our stuff. We were only fooling ourselves though because we realize now we only scratched the surface. When there is more than one person involved in the decision making purging can take longer and be even more stressful. For example, I donated 53 boxes of old books to the library and I didn’t give it a second thought. A box of my son’s artwork though from second grade and my shell collection is impossible to let go of. My husband on the other hand has no trouble donating any of our furniture, china or glassware yet refuses to part with old tools and some (fugly) art work that belonged to his parents.
  2. Just GET OVER how much the value is (was) of what you are selling, tossing or donating. We made a decision at the start of our process that we would not try to sell, consign, auction or have a yard sale.Each situation is different and you might decide to sell your stuff and that’s great but in our experience (and we have done everyone of those things) the amount of work and time involved is not worth the pennies on the dollar we would ultimately receive. Instead, we picked three local charities that we are donating everything to. (I did end up listing two things on Craigslist but only because they were too big and heavy to donate, and yes, I received a fraction of what they were worth).
  3. Have a safe place to store things that you can’t make a decision on for a predetermined length of time. One thing that has kept me from completely going bonkers is that we rented a storage locker for one year. Small living may or may not work for us so if after a year we decide to buy another house we will not have to repurchase everything. Plus some of the family heirlooms along with our bikes, skies and most of our artwork we plan to keep but there will be no room in a small apartment.
  4. Allow yourself time to mourn. The purging process can feel freeing but also very sad. Some of the things we are letting go of have great emotional attachment. Marie Kondo says to touch everything and see if it brings you joy. In my case, most things we own bring me joy so I have to be even more selective. The two questions I ask myself are #1. Why am I holding on to this? and #2. When I am gone will my children want this? If I don’t have a really good answer for #1 and the answer to #2 is NO, then it goes. BTW, fooling myself into thinking that maybe some day I will have a grandchild and maybe that grandchild will want…X… is NOT an acceptable reason to hold on to something. Bye bye Beanie Babies!
  5. Your kids don’t want your stuff. I have talked to many friends and acquaintances who have already gone through this process and in almost all cases, the kids don’t want your stuff. Mine don’t and even if they did, they are both living in small Boston apartments so have no space for it. So if it’s truly something they may want some day when they have a home of their own, put it into storage and decide how long you want to pay rent to hold on to it.

Finally, I believe you owe it to your kids to declutter before it’s too late. My mom passed away after living in the same house for 55 years and seemingly never threw a single thing out. To this day I am still traumatized remembering the amount of work and the toll it took on me to go through her house, large attic and a full basement and sort through generations of stuff. It was a nightmare I vowed I would never do to my kids.

I know small living isn’t for everyone and it may not work out for us. We are giving it a try though because to simplify our lives by living with less is the best way I can think of to up level our lives going forward.

I’d love to hear your opinions. Would you consider doing this or do you think we are crazy?

Linda Holt | Interior Designer & iPhone Coach

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