Downsizing has been on my mind lately. My husband and I recently downsized extensively as part of a move, I'm working with a couple of clients right now on major downsizing projects, and this past week I helped my mom downsize as she moved to a significantly smaller space. On top of that, my daughter and her family are currently downsizing to a much smaller home as part of a temporary relocation. As a result, I've put a lot of thought into the process of downsizing, how it differs from simple decluttering, and how the two processes are related.
While it is impossible to downsize without decluttering, and decluttering certainly reduces the amount of stuff in a space (i.e. downsizing), in my mind there is a discernible, though perhaps subtle, distinction between the two processes.
Meriam Webster defines the word declutter as follows: (verb) to remove clutter from a room, an area, etc.
You will not be surprised to learn that, as an organizer, I have a fondness for decluttering. Indeed, for me it is a mindset, a way of life. I keep a bag, box, or bin for collecting items I wish to get rid of perched in a designated spot in my garage, and I regularly make trips to the thrift store to make donations. It wasn't, however, until this last move that I felt like I could say I had legitimately downsized my belongings. So what's the difference?
The definition of downsize is: (verb) to reduce in size. How is this different from decluttering? The distinction, in my mind, between downsizing and decluttering centers on two factors:
Let's start with scope, or extent. One can declutter, or reduce the clutter, of a surface, a drawer, a closet, a room, or an entire house. On the other hand, downsizing refers to the comprehensive reduction of one's possessions. Thus, the scope is broad and all-inclusive. When you legitimately downsize, it is with the intent of living a simpler life, one that reduces your overall footprint and requires less space.
Since decluttering simply involves the reduction of clutter, it can be performed on a small scale - such as thinning out a collection or getting rid of items that are no longer functional. If we wanted to get technical, getting rid of just one unwanted or unneeded item could be considered decluttering.
Downsizing, on the other hand, requires a tangible change in the amount of stuff you own. When you downsize, you minimize all of your belongings typically with the intent of reducing the size of your living space.
Because the scope and scale of downsizing are much broader than is generally the case with decluttering, the process can be a bit overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Since I've had to really think this through lately, I've come up with some suggestions for how to approach the downsizing process.
Define and Embrace Your Lifestyle
Often downsizing is motivated by a lifestyle change. It may be one that you have sought out, as was the case for us, or it may be one that is thrust upon you. Whatever the case, the first thing to do when you are faced with downsizing is to examine your situation. For example:
Thinking about potential changes to your lifestyle that may come about as a result of downsizing will help you come to terms with the process and even look forward to living with less. Instead of feeling like a burden, you can start to embrace downsizing as a means of reducing the burden of unwanted, unneeded, unused stuff.
Start with the Easy Stuff
When faced with a major undertaking such as downsizing, I recommend starting with the simple stuff and working up to more challenging tasks. What is the simple stuff? In this case, I am referring to those things that are the least stressful to part with - things that have no sentimental or inherent value. Here are a few examples:
Let Your Space Be Your Guide
If you are downsizing but staying in the same place, consider how you would like your space to look and feel. If you are downsizing to a smaller space, examine the new space carefully. Take photos and measurements.
Only keep those things that will fit the constraints of your space, whether literal, physical constraints, or intentional, functional constraints you have choosen to apply. Only keep the clothes that will fit comfortably within your closet and/or dresser. Only keep the books that will fit on the shelves you have for which you have space...and so forth.
Think of your space as an exclusive club - only the best of the best are allowed admission. Choose your favorites, and part with the things that are just so-so. Choose your favorite furniture, your favorite decor items, your favorite wall-hangings/photos/artwork, your favorite kitchen utensils, your favorite clothes. Imagine a space where all the things that surround you are things that you love. This quote from William Morris has always inspired me in this regard:
Search for Versatile Solutions
As you sort through your possessions for those worthy of keeping, look for items that can serve more than one function. Furniture pieces are a great example. Do you have an item that offers both seating and storage? Or a work surface as well as storage?
If your space is decreasing, it is important to choose items that are correctly proportioned. A queen size bed is obviously a better option for a small bedroom than a king size bed. Choose furniture with slim lines such as narrow side tables, a sleek sofa, a petite table, etc. Avoid overstuffed, bulky furniture. Consider how you will use the space as well. Do you need a separate desk, or can you function comfortably with a folding or portable desk? Or could your dining room table double as a work space?
Living with Less
If your downsizing efforts are brought about by necessity, and not by choice, you may be feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or depressed. It's normal to feel that way in such circumstances. Just know that, while changes is almost always challenging, it also brings opportunities for growth and opens the door for new experiences. Look for the positives that will result from this change of lifestyle. There will be many.
I just returned from a walk in the brisk fall air. I love fall. It is by far my favorite time of the year. I spend much of the summer anxiously awaiting its arrival, and I mourn its passing as mild, sunny days give way to winter's chill.
The reasons for my fondness of fall are many, but this morning as I observed random leaves floating to the ground, one in particular stood out in my mind: change. I like the change in the weather, the change in activities, the change in focus, and the changes in nature.
All this got me thinking about the concept of change, especially when considered in conjunction with some other aspects of my walk which I will share in this post as well.
We are currently undergoing a major life change. We are moving houses. I'm both excited and overwhelmed by the prospect. That is the thing with change; it can be both uncomfortable and exciting at the same time. For instance, there are many things about my current home that I love and will miss. That said, there are even more things about my new home that I am eager to enjoy. Instead of focusing on what I am giving up, I am trying to appreciate those things that I love about the old house and the enjoyment those things have brought to my life. I will look back on them with a nostalgic fondness and appreciation. I will not pine away for the loss of them. Instead, I will focus on the new experiences and opportunities that my new home affords.
Change can take many forms, but certain types of change are commonly experienced. My walk brought to mind a number of metaphors for change which I would like to share.
In recent months much of the world has experienced a narrowing of the path ahead. COVID-19 has restricted people's ability to work, socialize, and function freely. Many people have keenly felt the limitations imposed by these external constraints. Others have instituted their own personal constraints in an attempt to protect themselves and their loved ones.
At the same time, many people have utilized this time of reduced external opportunities to reflect and build inwardly. There have been so many marvelous examples of people using this time of restriction to expand their lives in meaningful ways by focusing on family, rethinking priorities, tackling projects, and purging the unwanted from their lives.
When the path before us narrows, we can choose to see it as a limitation or an opportunity. In reality, it is both, We can utilize the duality of the circumstance to look back with gratitude and insight regarding the distance we have traveled while simultaneously focusing our efforts moving forward.
Sometimes, the road ahead gets steep. Troubles seem to come in bundles. Life gets a little (or a lot!) hard for awhile. At such times, we can find ourselves asking, "What next?!" as new problems present themselves. It can feel as though we are endlessly climbing.
Just as climbing a steep hill in real life makes us physically stronger, climbing metaphorical hills can make us emotionally and intellectually stronger. The beautiful thing about hills is that they always end in an enhanced perspective. When we get to the top, we can see farther, understand our position better in relation to everything around us, and know better how to plot the course ahead.
It can be tempting when trudging uphill to focus downward on the next step. While this method will keep us moving forward, it does little to make the journey more bearable. Instead, why not pause periodically to catch your breath and look back at the distance you've traveled? Doing so can instill feelings of gratitude, accomplishment, and hope. When you resume, try to look up and enjoy the ever-decreasing distance between yourself and the summit.
Thinking in terms of time management, responsibilities, and other burdens, we sometimes need to lighten our load for the upward trek by laying aside, if only for a time, those things that are extraneous and superficial in order to focus on what matters most. What matters most at any given time will change with our circumstances and needs. Don't be afraid to tell others, "My path is steep right now. I need to lighten my load." Depending on who you tell, they may actively look for ways to help lessen your burden.
They say that what goes up must come down. When we get to the top of life's metaphorical hills, we are typically faced with a steep decline. After the difficult upward trek, it can be tempting to let gravity and our renewed energy pull us downward at an ever-increasing pace. Better to walk carefully and intentionally, enjoying the newly gained perspective.
Following a challenging time, give yourself grace and patience as you slowly add meaningful things back into your life. Resist the urge to invite too much into your life too soon, be it activities, commitments, or stuff.
Occasionally, something really big comes along. It might be an illness or injury. It might be the loss of a job or a loved one. Whatever the case may be, such life changing events tend to demand an inordinate amount of our time, attention, and energy. They force us to yield to their demands and set other aspects of our lives on the top shelf to gather dust for a time.
Such events or circumstances are largely unavoidable, and in many cases, unpredictable. Many of my clients are just emerging from (or still caught up in the midst) of a life-changing situation. Their routines have been derailed, and their personal surroundings have suffered as a result. With all their energy and effort focused on managing the 'big thing' in their life, things like order and organization have yielded. That's normal, but it doesn't have to be permanent.
When circumstances force your to yield to their demands, know that yielding, by it's very nature, is temporary. Whatever the passing obstacle, it will pass, and it will once again be safe for you to continue on your way. Don't berate yourself for "letting things get out of hand". They are just things, and over time you can regain a comfortable level of control.
While it would be nice to always be assured of a straight and shady path (like the one above), that isn't how life works. That's actually a good thing. An unbending path is a boring path void of opportunities to test ourselves and increase our strength.
I purposefully saved this image for the end. This part of the path is located toward the end of my walk. As you can see the path ahead curves. The sign, in fact, indicates multiple curves ahead. There are curves ahead for all of us, and we often can't see what lies around the bend (as is the case here). That's why it's good, when we get the chance, to sit down on a comfortable bench and rest. While we're at it, we might also take a moment or two to toss out any "trash" that is burdening us before stepping back onto the path to see what's around the corner.
Change is inevitable. Change is often difficult and almost always uncomfortable. Change is also necessary and beneficial. When viewed with the proper perspective, change can be an instrument for gratitude as we look back on past experiences and the ways in which they have shaped and blessed us. Change can also be a precursor and instigator of growth in our lives as we adapt to our shifting circumstances and improve ourselves in the process.
It isn't only our circumstances that change. We change over time as well. Our interests, tastes, needs, wants, and preferences change. Often, instead of letting go of things that held meaning or interest to our former self, we cling to them. Our progress on the path ahead, be it hilly, curvy, or wrought with obstacles, will be easier if our burden is lighter. Letting go of the things that no longer represent who you are and what matters to you, leaves you free to welcome the changes ahead.
How has change impacted you? What insights have you gained as you have overcome challenging times?