In my last post, I shared my experience of downsizing my parents. Even though I didn't realize it at the time, it was the first step toward a career in helping others manage their downsizing transitions. I wanted to know what my dad thought about this process and asked him to share what he remembered feeling at the time. He graciously agreed, and I've shared it below.
Every person who goes through the downsizing process is different, of course, but I think my dad touches on many of the feelings and thoughts that clients have shared with us. If you're helping a loved one downsize, it's a good reminder to stay compassionate. And, if YOU are going through this transition, try to be kind to yourself. It can be a lot!
by Alan Basting
That's what it felt like. When we decided to retire early and sell the home we'd built and raised a family in, it felt like we were leaving home for the first time...shoving off for college or a first apartment. So many memories and family objects we had purchased through the years...how could we part with the things that had made us...US? We didn't want to admit it, but over time our possessions had helped define who we were and where we had been. And we really weren't ready to purge--to shed the weight of them and let go. The thought of it was like letting go of the hand you had been holding for a lifetime.
When we finally recognized we couldn't move everything, some practices were easy to employ, such as, “Well, I haven't looked at that or used it in more than five years, so it's gone.” But other things that wouldn't fit in the new place, or couldn't be stored easily or indefinitely, were like asking ourselves which finger or hand we'd prefer to lose. We gradually realized, and began to accept, we'd be losing little pieces of ourselves when we let them go. So it was hard...very hard, to accept these decisions and move forward. We began wondering, “How many of these things can we let go of before we are no longer the individuals we imagined ourselves as?”. This was particularly hard for us when it came to leaving some large paintings and antiques behind, after we realized no one else had room or had a special place for them in their homes. In short, leaving our “things” was depressing.
So what did we do? We went into a kind of early retirement/downsizing DENIAL. We rented as much storage space as we could, at least until we could sort out our feelings about what was truly important and had to be moved and what could be affectionately re-purposed for someone else, sold, or, finally, pitched if it had to be. Truthfully, the storage business and sorting went on for a couple of years until we could get our heads around what was necessary and could be accommodated. We were lucky to have children who were patient with us and backed us out of our former existence slowly and helpfully. In the end, the new place and smaller spaces allowed us to freshen up a little bit...choose new things and arrangements for a different kind of lifestyle, which we had NOT realized we were embarking on when we began the retirement and downsizing process. A new home or apartment offers new challenges and new ways of looking at what will help define you going forward. Life moves on--and happily, at that!