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Tracey Columns


Dear Tracey,

The full empty-nest — just me now in a big old house with 35+ years of accumulated treasures. None of the kids are settled well enough to take some of the furniture (some from my grandparents)or art works, toys, records (yes, vinyl), and CDs. Who’s going to want all the old photo albums when everything’s digital and no one ever looks at even that.

Trying to clean out is like tearing out a part of you, even though it is just stuff. There’s a story behind most of that stuff and no one’s going to know it and time marches on. How do you pare down to basic living to get into a smaller space? Help!


Dear Reader,

I just had to respond to your email, as downsizing is something most of us will eventually face. In fact, I’ve just had an inside peek at this overwhelming process; my brother and sister-in-law spent their entire summer downsizing in preparation for a smaller home they have purchased. After hearing their tales, it’s obvious what an overwhelming and emotionally charged task this can be.

You didn’t mention your timeline, which will have a huge impact on all of this. Hopefully, you are simply being proactive. Downsizing is typically inevitable so why not get a jump on it?

First things first. Even though your kids aren’t “settled well enough,” they still need to be part of this process. Make a couple of lists, one that identifies what belongs to each child, and another that lists what items you won’t have room for. Email these lists to your kids. Wait awhile then call each of them. Explain your downsizing goals. Fill them in on your timeline and decide when you want answers from them about what they might want. Also ask them for ideas regarding storage. (I’ve heard of adult children – not just Mom – sharing the monthly cost of a small storage space to keep collected family treasures until each was ready to settle down.)

But here’s what often happens to this very systematic approach; our emotional reactions slow us to a virtual stall! After all, your home and all of its possessions represent your adult history. It seems that every trinket we pick up evokes a memory, represents a milestone, floods us with emotions of someone special, or somehow represents loss.

By understanding the your emotional reactions to this process, as well as the sheer magnitude of the job, the best advice for downsizing is to start small. Something this simple makes for a successful approach! Pick one room or even just an area of that room. Have three piles: 1)keep; 2) sell/donate, and; 3) trash. Try to set aside time regularly throughout the week to go through things. Remember, conventional wisdom says if you haven’t used/worn something in over a year … out it goes!

And as for some of the family treasures no one wants? Consider finding “happy homes” for those items you value. Many young couples would be thrilled to have a beloved piece of furniture or art! Talk to your extended and friends. Just ask around. You may be surprised to see how easy it is to turn a negative into a positive.

Do yourself another favor. Whenever possible, have one of your kids or a friend join you for those times when you have to sort through especially sentimental mementos. Allow yourself to walk down memory lane. Having someone there to listen to your stories will help you disengage from the item. (Some people even take pictures of treasures so that their memories can live on even after the actual item is long gone.)

Speaking of photographs … if time permits, go through the photo albums and make each of your children his/her own individual album from the collected photos. If this suggestion only adds to your burden, tell your kids that the next time they are home it will be up to them to select the photos they want because, after everyone has had a turn, you’ll be disposing of the rest. How? By getting practical … just how many photos do we really need of a birthday cake or Halloween? Now is to streamline!

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