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Downsizing? You’ll get by with a little help from your friends

One of the most challenging aspects of downsizing is the feeling of isolation. While no one has the same attachment to your things as you do, many people have gone through the downsizing experience. And getting their support can make a big difference.

In support of that idea, this month, we’re getting a little help from our “friends” as well and are sharing two articles both well worth reading.

The first, written by NASMM colleague Marni Jameson offers thoughtful steps for people who are downsizing after they’ve lost a mate.

The second article, written as a Facebook post by Jimmy Dunne, is a first-hand report from someone who reluctantly embarked on the downsizing journey, and found a wonderful, unexpected gift at the end.

Do you have something about your downsizing journey you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it!
Marni Jameson’s 8 expert tips to help bereaved partners move on at home 

1. Don’t try to meet anyone’s expectations for grief. It has no timetable. The pace and manner in which people grieve is varied and personal. Only surviving partners know when they are ready to make changes in the home. Don’t push the process, but try not to wallow, either.

2. Expect foggy thinking. Brain fog is real. Don’t make any big decisions, including whether to move, too quickly. 

3. Start with the easy stuff. When you’re ready, begin by getting rid of items you don’t need, love or use that slant toward the partner. Save highly personal items, like clothes and jewelry, for last.

4. View your decor through a new lens.  Homes should reflect the lives of those who live there. They don’t need to reflect those who once lived there. While the desire to honor a lost loved one is normal, clinging to all their belongings is not the best way to do that. 

5. Consider your visitors. How do you want guests to feel when they come over? A home that is a shrine to your late mate will telegraph your sadness, and make guests feel sad, too. A home that has been appropriately edited and tailored to your life now will put guests at ease by telegraphing that you are adjusting.

6. Capture the essence. Rather than leave your late loved one’s material presence all over the house, try to capture that person’s spirit through a few small objects. For instance, if your partner was a gardener, baker, knitter or fisher, gather items that reflect those passions: a favorite trowel, a rolling pin, knitting needles or fishing flies. Then create a discreet vignette that represents the person, and let the rest go. 

7. Donate with purpose. The biggest impasse professional organizers run into is clients who say they don’t know what to do with the stuff they should let go of. Make sure items go to a cause you feel good about: a church, a program for at-risk kids, an animal rescue. When they know the items are being donated meaningfully, it softens the blow. 

8. Make choices now, while you’re in control of your decisions. Leaving clear instructions about what you want done with your belongings later will spare your partner the headache, and let you move forward gracefully. 

Jimmy Dunne’s reflections on Downsizing 

My wife Catherine and I recently moved. 
I realized I had something I never knew I had.

Thirty-four years ago, I carried my wife in my arms over the threshold in our home. Thirty-four years ago. From newlywed days, to witnessing our babies go from little girls to young adults.

So many great memories in every inch of every room of our home.

I didn’t think I was ready to ‘downsize.’ What an awful word. I liked walking through our girl’s bedrooms and still seeing their stuff on the walls and on the shelves. I liked our backyard. I liked imagining our kids coming down the steps every Christmas morning.

We put it on the market, it sold in a couple days, and suddenly agreements thicker than my leg were instructing me to clear everything I ever had and knew – out.

Every night I found myself saying goodbye to our backyard, to our garden of roses that Catherine would till and trim, to the sidewalk where the girls drove their Barbie cars and learned to ride their bikes, to our front lawn where we hosted tons of talent shows with all the kids on the block – and the red swing on the front porch.

We found a condo in town and started lining up our ducks of what we were keeping, and what we were tossing. We vowed, if we’re going to do this, we weren’t putting anything in storage.
I literally threw out half my stuff. Half. Half of the furniture. Half of my clothes, books. And the big one… way more than half the boxes in the attic.

The attic was more than an attic. It held our stories. Every thing in every box, every framed picture was a story.

After we gave away almost all of the living room furniture, we split the room in half and brought down everything of the girls from the attic and from their rooms.

We invited the girls over, handed them a cocktail and said, “There’s good news and bad news. We’ve saved all this stuff; your outfits, drawings, dolls, skates — for you. It’s now yours. The bad news, whatever’s not gone by Friday at 10 in the morning, it’s getting chucked in that giant green dumpster in front of the house.”

The girls thought we were Mr. and Mrs. Satan. But they went through it, and that Friday, most of it went out the front door and right in the dumpster.

I filled the entire dining room with boxes of all my old stuff. Grade school stories and pictures, report cards, birthday cards, trophies, you name it. Boxes of old plaques and diplomas and just stuff and stuff and stuff like that. How could I throw any of this out? I may as well have been throwing me in the dumpster!

But this little jerk on my shoulder kept asking — what are your kids going to do with all this a week after you’re six feet under? They’re gonna chuck it all out!

Here’s the crazy thing. The more I threw stuff in there, the easier it got. And I started to kind of like throwing it up and over in that thing. I started to feel lighter. Better.

And we moved in a half-the-size condo – and the oddest thing happened. It became our home.

A picture here and there on the wall, Catherine’s favorite pieces of furniture, all her knickknacks in the bathroom. We blinked, and it looked and felt just like us.

And then I found that thing I never knew I had. Enough. I had enough.

The wild thing was that having less – actually opened the door to so much more. More in my personal life. More in my career. More in everything.

All I have to do is look in the eyes of my two girls — and they take me back, every time, to the most beautiful, colorful, emotional scrapbook I could ever dream of having.

All I have to do is hold my wife’s hand, and it hypnotizes me back to kissing her for the first time, falling in love with everything she did, seeing her in that hospital room holding our first baby for the first time.

It sure seems there is so much more to see, and feel, and be – if I have the courage, if I have the will to shape a life that’s just… Enough.

No matter your situation, downsizing is always easier when you have someone to offer support and perspective. If you could use a little help, please let us know!