It’s all so clear in your head. You’ve decided to scale back. You want to occupy less space on the planet. You are paring down your belongings or moving to a smaller home. You know why you are doing this and why it makes perfect logical sense. You have a plan.
But then you confront the guest room closet. Three hours later you are sifting through old photos or remembering the house where you hung the framed art that’s now hidden behind the winter coats. Before you know it, all your rational plans go out the window and you’re shedding tears over your 30 year old child’s second grade paintings.
Why does this happen? Why is it so hard to just get rid of stuff we KNOW we no longer need?
Part of the reason is that the process of downsizing itself is emotionally laden. Letting go of things may represent unfinished business or unfulfilled dreams. You may be reducing due to a trauma or death, or as a result of financial duress. Taking apart a home is like taking apart a life you will never get back. A piece of furniture may be an emotional linchpin, and letting go is like leaving behind a piece of your heart.
Recognize the irrational thought. Imagine the worst case scenario if you don’t have a particular object. Try to understand why you have saved what you saved, and see if it still makes sense. Be rigourously honest with yourself.
Whether we like it or not, we form emotional attachments to things. More precisely, our possessions evoke memories and emotions. It may feel that you are betraying a memory, or a phase of your life, by discarding a particular item. The solution is to keep the memories, but discard the stuff.
Acknowlege the emotions. You will be grumpy. Tempers will flare. If going through a parent’s estate, old sibling power struggles and rivalries may re-emerge. Family members may have different levels of attachment – some may be throwers, some may be keepers – and this can cause friction.
One way to cope with letting go is to create a ceremony. Take time during the process to reminisce. Share memories about something that took place in the house. Audio or video tape family members telling stories about the old Underwood typewriter or the upright piano. Take pictures with the object in the room. Make the process a celebration rather than a wake.
Remind yourself that you will feel relief when you are done. If downsizing a larger home, think of the burden of maintenance you are shedding. Think about how simpler your life will become without so much to take care of. Think about what really matters in your life now and in the future. You know it’s not about the stuff.