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Some Advice On Downsizing

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Last spring at about this time I was in the throes of preparing to move to Wake Robin. It was the downsizing of a lifetime, the move before the final move to that tiny house that awaits us all–you know, the one where there’s no room to even stand up, not that we will want to stand up then.

Over three months, a constant torrent of stuff streamed out of our house–forty-eight boxes of books, some wooden spoons, a pressure cooker, my graduate school notebooks, a coin collection, the cheese press my husband made for me….  The books went to the library sale;  the pressure cooker and the coin collection went to the auction;  and I gave away the cheese press.  The grad school notebooks I guiltily jettisoned into the rental dumpster that decorated our yard.

Now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I feel qualified to pass on the following advice to those of you who are contemplating a similar move or are simply feeling trapped by too much stuff:

Don\’t give yourself a lot of time.  It’s going to be agony no matter how you do it, so take a deep breath and rip off the band-aid in one swift yank.

Remember that you are not your possessions.  More than that, your dearly departed–your mother who gave you that vase, the friend who painted that picture–are not that vase, or that picture.  They are not even IN the vase or the picture.  They are in your memories, and in your heart.  It\’s o.k. to let go of the things they left behind.
Don’t foist your treasures on your descendants.  It’s not their fault that on your wedding day you received seven silver nut dishes for which you have no use or space.  It’s not their fault that in a moment of madness you spent half your rent money on that oak Victorian desk.  They have no space for the desk, and they are too busy to polish silver.  Possibly they have never liked the dishes or the desk.  Taste in furnishings is not necessarily transmitted in the DNA.  Don’t take it personally.
If you decide to sell things, don’t expect to get for them anything near their real value, let alone the sentimental worth that they have accumulated for you over the years.  In this day of cheap goods, we are all drowning in material possessions.  Selling your things for a pittance, or giving them away, is the price you pay to have them disappear from your life, and it\’s a small price for the relief you will feel.

Trust me when I say that most objects, once you let them go, you will never miss.  You may never even remember them.  You think you’ll never be the same without your blue glass canning jars?  Go ahead and wrap them in newspaper, put them in a box from the liquor store and send them to the auction.  Once they’re out the door, if you ever think of them again it will be with the same serene fondness with which you now recall that boy you loved so desperately in high school, and the broken heart you thought would never mend.

(Sorry for the weird formatting–I can\’t seem to be able to fix it.)

13 Responses

  1. this is beautiful and true (especially especially especailly the ending). we are trying to downsize too–not moving, just trying for less stuff. we have given away hundreds, if not thousands of books, and hauled more than five car loads to Goodwill. So far, I see no difference. It's discouraging but you are right; I miss none of it. None.

  2. Thank you so much for this. As you may or may not know, I've been thinking a lot about deaccessioning and how to go about doing it and I need every little bit of encouragement I can get. Thank you. Did I say thank you?

  3. Having had two houses for 10 years now, one we live in, and one for my weaving studio, we are about to combine the two. So we are downsizing drastically, before the move. I insist that we not drag with us things we don't need,or haven't used in years. It's daunting. But it's getting done. And you are so right, don't push any of it off on your kids, unless they WANT it.

  4. I love love love this. I've been meaning to write about our attachment to objects in an entirely different context, and this is going to help my case enormously. Thanks! (I'll link back here if I do publish.)

  5. I've finally made it here after many years of seeing your name on Indigo's and Mali's blogs. I love this too… and will have to take that first remembrance to heart, as my mother keeps trying to persuade me to take all the family furniture, despite the fact that I live in a tiny house–although not the one you're referring to–that is already as full as I want it to be.

  6. Hi, Lali— If we use natural burial, that \”tiny house\” becomes the whole Earth! 🙂 (That option is catching on, very slowly, but surely.) Your post is timely because I recently visited a relative who is decluttering and asked if I wanted to take certain things. It is tough to decide about receiving family heirlooms/sentimental items when you are trying to declutter your own home as well!

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