All our life we strive to acquire. As children we spend our hard-earned pocket money on Lego, on computer games, on skateboards and cricket bats, on Polly Pocket and Barbie dolls. The cash from our teenage holiday jobs goes towards our first old bomb car, so we can experience the freedom of having our own wheels. We leave school or graduate from Uni, and the big save is on as we scrape together the deposit on our first home or investment property. And then we want to fill it: with furniture, with clothes and shoes and handbags, with toys, with collectibles, with all the stuff that makes up a life. And that’s where the trouble starts…
I spend lots of time with clients in the post-acquisition phase of their lives. Men and women who, like the rest of us, have striven their whole lives to own a home, raise a family, and surround themselves with possessions. But now, as they age and their bodies become frailer, they are moving; downsizing from substantial family homes into smaller apartments or retirement villas, and the weight of a lifetime of possessions suddenly becomes overwhelming, more of a burden than a blessing.
How do you decide which possessions—all accrued over a lifetime of living and loving, raising children and making memories—will make the cut? What has to be boxed up and shipped off to Vinnies or, with the help of a tech-savvy grandchild, put up on Gumtree or eBay?
There are, of course, no hard and fast rules about how to make these sometimes gut-wrenching decisions. Every client is different and every downsizing decision must be taken in light of individual experience and circumstance. But I have distilled some questions which I have found useful in helping my clients make difficult downsizing choices.
- Do you, or could you, use it every day?
The precious bone china dinner set Grandma left you is exquisite. So drag it out from its box in the back of the sideboard and use it. Move on your own boring, chipped, utilitarian white plates and bowls, and glory at every meal in the beauty and elegance of Grandma’s beautiful pieces. As the commercial says, you’re worth it.
- Do you need that many of them?
Your Irish bed linen is superb…all 15 sets crammed into the linen cupboard. But space is limited now, and you have only one bed. Could you pick your two favourite sets—one on the bed; one in the wash—and gift the remaining sets to your granddaughters?
- Could someone else benefit from it?
It’s hard to part with possessions that have been important to you, especially when they are still in good order. Could someone else benefit from your generosity? There are many people in our community for whom a donation of furniture or bedding, clothing or toys, can ease their financial burden. Professional organisers are often linked into effective ways to give within their communities.
- Is it occupying prime storage real estate in your home?
Storage space is always at a premium, whether in a four bedroom home or a one-bedroom retirement villa, so the items you use every day should be front and centre. Only use the large beach towels in summer? Relocate them from the linen cupboard into vacuum storage bags under the bed over the cooler months. Don’t pull the slow cooker out til wintertime? Take it out of the coffee cup cupboard and slide it to the bottom of the pantry. Sewing machine gathering dust in your wardrobe? Move it into the spare room or even the garage.
- Do you need to own it to remember it?
A difficult and poignant one, this. So many clients struggle to part with possessions because of their sentimental value. Maybe it was a handmade trinket made with love by a young grandchild, or a gift or memento from a long-dead, much-loved partner. Firstly, we take a moment to acknowledge the emotional gravitas of the item and the relationship that made it special. And then I encourage my clients to recognise that people are not their things; that memories will live on in the heart and the mind, even if the item is no longer with them. Sometimes we take a photo, and upload it to a laptop or a phone. I also encourage clients to consider the essence of the person and select one or a few small pieces which call to mind their spirit. Perhaps a colourful scarf, a single tea cup or a letter addressed in their handwriting. Shadow boxes and memory boards or books are wonderful ways to retain the essence of a person, place or memory.
Downsizing your home can be a difficult and emotional process, but as we live longer and in better health, more and more of us will need to go on this journey. Sometimes, the support of a compassionate and experienced professional organiser can ease the physical and emotional burden.