- Stop acquiring, start divesting.
Sift through all the material possessions we have and determine which ones we want to keep.
Sift through all the psychological baggage we have been carrying and determine what we have to discard.
Get rid of the non-essentials.
Make sure the non-essentials to be thrown away are much more than the essentials.
Repeat this process until we have whittled down our physical and psychic load to the barest minimum.
I’m posting this memo in big bold letters where my husband and I can’t miss it. Since complete retirement is just a few months away, and we’re about to embark on a completely different, more mobile lifestyle, we have to start downsizing now. Really. And as many of us know, it’s like getting one’s teeth pulled – it’s painful and bloody and it’s a task that justifies procrastination. Like years of it.
Many years ago I got into a more positive mind frame about the physical part of downsizing. I went through everything I owned and donated/sold those that I hadn’t used, would not use, and were not essential to my existence. To jumpstart the process, I scheduled a bulk-garbage pickup in two weeks and bought a huge stack of black garbage bags, a box of disposable gloves and face masks to ward off the dust. And hooray, I did manage to get rid of the contents of long-forgotten boxes in the garage and our closets, and donate a mountain of old but certainly still wearable clothes and useless knickknacks with price tags still attached.
I remember feeling so happy and light afterwards. Along with shedding the weight of things. I had also confronted and discarded the feelings that had, consciously or unconsciously, bogged me down for years (and were associated with the stuff I threw away). I welcomed the freedom to shape a new life that was more suited to my age, circumstance and psychic state. But since my circumstance then dictated that I stay put, stuff started piling up again no matter how hard I tried to temper my acquisitive tendencies and psychic luggage. (For example, for every new piece of clothing I would buy, I would give away two, which worked for a while until it didn’t.)
Now our situation is different, we have to really get rid of stuff so we can travel lightly. And since we are doing a lifestyle change rather than mere house cleaning, we have to confront the real reasons that made us accumulate – and keep -- so much in the first place, both the material and psychological.
Questions to ask ourselves:
Did I go on shopping binges to mask loneliness?
Is my weight gain an indication of unhappiness?
Why can’t I part with (take your pick: stuff, food, bad memories)? Is it because of guilt, an inflated sense of self-importance, or fear of changes?
The process of self-examination doesn’t end when the physical act of digging through the boxes and closets begins. It goes on even as we sweat in the gym, go on a diet, take control of our credit cards, keep driving towards home instead of stopping at the mall, or discarding phone numbers of people we never call. It even accompanies us as we shed the tears that will wash away the cobwebs in our minds, hearts, attics and garages. Are we doing the right thing, we will constantly ask ourselves. Is a downsized life worth living?
Getting rid of the tangible stuff is the easier chore. The other extraneous things that populate our existence require more steely determination. Weight and ailments are difficult to shed, outdated ways of thinking and bad habits more so. There is no sure-fire formula for making such tasks less painful, except to keep in mind that simplifying our life means we have more time and space to cherish within us those that mean most to us.
When we think of it this way, we will better appreciate the spirit of personal downsizing. For us on the threshold of a bold new adventure, it’s really rightsizing.