Downsizing — Not for the Faint-Hearted

There’s something about downsizing that really makes you wonder how you ever accumulated so much junk! Americans, especially, are known for their voracious consumer appetite for stuff, for wanting the latest of everything. Of course, most of us had plenty of help in that department. We didn’t buy or inherit all those things by ourselves.

Maybe we’ve had arts and crafts hobbies over the years, growing shelves full of fabric, yarn, beads and whatever, and our spouse was a nutcase about electronic gadgets, now broken or obsolete. Our in-laws, including the aunts and uncles, left their houses so full of furniture, dishes, pots and pans, books and knickknacks that we were hard-pressed to find any neighbors or charities that could use it. Usually, the kids don’t even want our “ugly,” dented, torn, or “useless” stuff, let alone grandma and grandpa’s relics, unless they’re collectibles with monetary value.

If you haven’t donated to any charities in a few years, don’t be too shocked at how picky they’ve become about what they accept. It’s largely because they can’t afford to waste their limited cash donations having our junk hauled away if they did accept it.

The various charities generally leave it up to their truck drivers’ discretion as to whether something is accepted, but frankly, the poor or homeless would be delighted to have some of the items local charities here have been too snooty to accept. Even so, there just isn’t any way of getting things directly to the already-homeless, especially when they don’t have any imminent hope of shelter. We can’t just illegally dump it along the highway for other people to stumble across, so it goes into the weekly trash pickup.

Once in a while, a private organization will have a swap meet that’s an actual swap meet. And it doesn’t matter how much you bring (as long as it’s something useful). You can then pick over things and take what you need. The annoyance with more-public swap meets of that kind is that some people will haul away armfuls of stuff and then go sell it on eBay or elsewhere. Most so-called swap meets aren’t swap meets. They’re flea markets where almost everything is for sale.

Many people don’t have any hobbies or an avocation. At best their lives have revolved for decades around their employment, and maybe, their religious activities. Outside of that, nothing. They’re probably going to be bored out of their minds when they eventually retire, but when it comes to downsizing, they might, just might, not have anything to get rid of. So in a way, I envy them, but not really. I’m glad I have hobbies, even when time for them is pretty close to non-existent these days.

The emotional toll

Outside of the physical strain of downsizing – personally, I only work on it for 30 minutes a day, if that – downsizing takes a heavy mental and emotional toll. Perhaps it’s harder for widows, but I can ponder for hours over whether I really want to get rid of something or just hang on to it for a few more months. And back in the corner it goes. I’ve already given away chunks of myself, and many pieces of what used to be my husband’s identity. Every treasured memento brings tears, and those items I keep.

A few things get shipped to my stepdaughter or to my husband’s best friend. I try to place other useful items with a worthy charity rather than the trash bin. But so much is just pure junk! Why didn’t we go through these 30 boxes of squished Christmas decorations decades ago and throw it all out, instead of just tossing three or four boxes?! What were we thinking? And dismay sets in.

Surprises are sometimes nice but not always

On the way to moving to a smaller place, we might actually find some items that were misplaced. I know I still have a few items from my homeland. They get buried and we’ll be happy to come across them again. But sometimes, moving a box or a piece of furniture uncovers a few things we’d rather not find. Not just dust bunnies and spider webs that must have been there since Miss Havisham was jilted at the altar, but concrete dust from a few years ago when a friend’s handyman used improvised tools and didn’t know enough to hang sheets of plastic around the work area. (Neither did we know enough to insist on that.) Never again will anyone do that kind of work for me, even though he was affordable at the time.

As much as I want to keep things, I know I can’t, not without renting a storage unit, and that comes close to defeating the purpose of cost-cutting by downsizing. Staying here and providing free storage for things that other people may or may not want a few years down the road doesn’t make a lot of sense either. But downsizing is a lot tougher than I expected. It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

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