Small House on the Street


Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

My husband and I have been retired for over thirteen years. We’ve really enjoyed the freedom of the last decade or so but now we have finally decided to move closer to our children. (Not on top of them, mind you. We’re all too independent for that arrangement.) We have sold our house here and purchased a little two bedroom bungalow – very cute with a nice yard for me, a huge garage for my husband to putter around in, and best of all, it’s in the sunshine most of the year!

The trouble we’re having is downsizing. We have spent the last forty years in a 2,400 square foot house and we still seem to use every inch. We converted the children’s empty bedrooms long ago; one is a sewing room for me and one is a den for my husband. We have figured out how to use the new house for our hobbies. It will be tight but manageable. Obviously, however, we can’t move everything we have into 1,200 square feet.

How do we even begin to sort through a lifetime of belongings? I sure know it’s going to be hard on my emotions but really, we need to get rid of some of this stuff. Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you,

Dear Reader,

Congratulations on your decision and upcoming move. It sounds as though you have found a charming house with plenty of good weather. I also appreciate your attitude about not living “on top” of your children. The kind of awareness this reflects makes me believe you are all going to have a more positive experience.

You are correct in identifying the emotional challenge to this task. The move alone is enough to keep your heart preoccupied with all kinds of feelings.  But sorting through belongings that reflect a a family’s collective lifetime can be bittersweet. It’s a process that involves revisiting many old memories, both positive and negative.

In reality, some things simply cannot make the move with you. Here are some suggestions on how to approach this task:

*  Give yourselves plenty of time. Pushing decisions on what to get rid of will only lead you to frustration and perhaps regret.

* Begin by collecting/identifying sentimental items. Invite your children to town for a family give away. Have them select what they might want – a favorite chair, Grandma’s painting. (While they’re home, make sure they cart away anything left over from their childhood that might be hiding out in the attic.) When your children have had their turn, invite your closest friends to do the same. Knowing these items will be with people you love and care about will be easier for you move on without them.

*  If there are  sentimental items left over and you simply cannot move with them, take a photo to remind you of what they meant. Then donate them to your favorite charity. Sure it’s not the same as having the actual item but it will live on with purpose and you’ll still have your memories in the form of a photograph.

*  Start small, do one area, one room at a time. Focus  on the things you don’t use on a regular basis.  This will help you keep the task contained, more manageable.

* Decide which big pieces of furniture you’ll need. Take those that have  more than one function, like a coffee table that also has drawers for storage. Make sure these pieces are scaled to fit in a smaller home. Once you have identified the basics, fill in around them. Give away, sell or donate what remains.

* Avoid holding onto things that are impractical and serve no purpose. Be brutally honest with yourselves.

* When in doubt, try to remember the last time you used a particular item. If you can’t remember, it doesn’t go to your new home.

Above all else, during and after the downsizing experience, remember that the “things” we possess can’t begin to compete with the special people in our lives nor the memories we share.

Best wishes to you and your husband for a satisfying new chapter in your lives!

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