In the past fourteen months time we have gone from a 3,500 sq ft home to a 1,100 sq ft rental apartment and in ten days we move into our new 1,800 sq ft condo. It has been a lot of packing, selling, and donating. Downsizing is hard, plain and simple. I don’t care how attached or unattached you are to your belongings, it’s a huge amount of work and a boat load of emotional struggles. The absolute hardest part of downsizing is dealing with family memorabilia. I have seen many articles that talk about decluttering in reference to downsizing. Now let’s get one thing clear, decluttering is not the same as downsizing. Decluttering is something that should be done on a regular basis, not just when getting ready to downsize. Getting rid of old clothes and extra muffin tins is not the same thing as letting go of an ancestral desk or grandpa’s hand painted decoy collection.
Letting go of family memorabilia
For me, the most difficult part of downsizing has been dealing with the family memorabilia. For reasons I won’t go into, my husband and I became the sole inheritors of the contents of both his mother’s and my mother’s home. Both of our moms were children during the great depression. I assume because of that, neither of them ever threw anything away. Their homes were crammed full from the basement to the attic of family “treasures”. A good amount of that stuff eventually ended up in the basement of our previous home but now that the house is sold it sits in storage. When it was out of sight in the basement it was not an issue. This past year, packed away in a storage unit with high monthly rental fees, it has become impossible to ignore.
Looking at all the boxes of artwork, china, photographs, books, and furniture was overwhelming. My sons have already made it clear they don’t want anything other than some family photos. So why was I holding onto all this stuff other than some self imposed feeling of obligation…or guilt? There really was no valid reason to keep everything yet I was struggling to let it go. That is until one breakthrough moment involving a set of old books.
My watershed moment
Since I can remember, my mother told me a particular set of books was very valuable (although to her everything was “very valuable”) The thing is, these books, although very old (1710) were in terrible condition. The covers were decaying, the spines were broken and the pages were stained. Even so, I can still hear my mother’s voice, “Don’t ever get rid of those books, they are very valuable. Your great great grandfather brought them over from Scotland”.
I have been the care taker of these “valuable books” since my mom’s passing in 2006. Do I care about these books? NO. Will I ever read these books? NO. Do I want to have them in our new condo? HELL NO! Although I knew my mother would be spinning in her grave, I decided to sell them. I think you can guess where this story is headed. I took them to a rare book appraiser. He carefully looked them over and said if I was lucky I might get $50 for the set on eBay. He told me, just because they are old doesn’t make them valuable. Whaat?? Years of finding a place in my home for these tattered and decaying books and they are worth next to nothing? Well that was it. What I did next opened the flood gates for letting go of all the family heirlooms that had no meaning to me.
As soon as I got home, I put those “rare and priceless” books into a trash bag. I then walked directly out to the apartment complex dumpster and unceremoniously chucked the bag as deep into the dumpster as I could throw it. I felt almost giddy. The very next day I went to the storage unit and loaded up the car with boxes of family china, artwork, and furniture and drove it all to a local charity. The curse of feeling obligated to keep all this family stuff had been broken. Now my sons won’t have to go through this same struggle when the time comes.
Three questions to ask to help let go of the family memorabilia
These are the three questions I asked myself with everything I was having difficulty letting go of.
- Do I love this or will I use this in my new home? I liked a lot of the things I inherited. That doesn’t mean I used or needed these things. Did I really need twelve cut glass champagne glasses or a dozen oil paintings? In thirty five years of marriage we have never once had twelve friends over for champagne. My great uncle was a Boston artist and had done the oil paintings. They all hung in my childhood home but I had never hung them in my house because they were dark and depressing. Why was I holding onto them?
- Is this item of true value to the family history? We inherited a lot of paperwork. Most of it was trash but we painstakingly went through everything and only kept truly important documents. We narrowed down about ten boxes of paperwork to one. Birth certificates, historic letters, and newspaper articles referencing our relatives made the cut. Old Birthday cards, letters, old house deeds and ledgers went out.
- Will my children want this someday? Even though my kids say they want nothing, I do think there are some things they might want or should have one day. I kept their great grandfather’s WWI metals and a family Christening gown. I kept two large family bibles and two pieces of family art work. One oil painting I kept is of my mother, painted when she was three years old. I also kept a pastel drawing done by my grandmother of three dogs in a field. China, glassware, furniture and old books went out.
Closing the chapter on downsizing
Our downsizing is now almost complete. It took close to three years to get to where we are now. My biggest take-a-way is that downsizing is a process and the more time you can give yourself the better.
If you are thinking of downsizing and are not sure where to start you might find this post I wrote worth reading on the The three phases of downsizing.