“Simplify, simplify!” wrote Henry David Thoreau. “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”
When you work in the traditionally conservative senior housing industry like I do, you don’t meet a lot of people who describe themselves as Thoreauvean thinkers. But on one point, even the staunchest capitalists see eye to eye with the author of “Walden”—as we get older, it gets harder and harder to justify all the extra work we put into maintaining our property.
As we slow down, we find ourselves asking, “Is it worth it—the expense and the hassle and the physical effort of keeping this big house just so it can store all my stuff?” For a lot of people, the answer is finding a smaller place to live — a smaller house or maybe an apartment. But making the decision to pare things down is only the first step. The second is figuring out “How?”
Some people call the process of selling or giving away excess furniture “downsizing” or “rightsizing,” but however they frame it, the prospect of parting with cherished treasures isn’t easy. So I’ve come up with a short list of tips on how to tackle what might otherwise be a daunting prospect.
Tip 1: If you can, take your time. This is one of many reasons I encourage older people to plan ahead and make decisions about their housing accommodations while they’re in good health. Rightsizing is a difficult, often emotional process, and it’s not one you want to have to do in a hurry because of an emergency change in your medical condition.
Tip 2: Make it an event to remember. You’re not the only person with an emotional investment in your house and possessions—invite friends and family over to talk about the old times in the old house. And while you’re at it, take lots of pictures and write down your memories as a keepsake. Making a smart move and being sentimental aren’t mutually exclusive, you know.
Tip 3: Plan your new apartment ahead of time. Your realtor or sales rep may have a copy of your floorplan. Make sure you pick up some extras so you can sketch in how you’d like to arrange your furniture. It really helps put things in perspective when you know about how much floor you have to cover.
Tip 4: Look at everything with a critical eye. For each thing you’re about to pack for the new house, ask yourself, “Is this really important?” “How often do I use this?” “Do I have anything else that could do the same job but which looks nicer/works better/takes up less space?” Keep telling yourself, “There are no sacred cows here. Just because I’ve used this dustpan for the last twenty years doesn’t mean I’m going to need it in a house with no tile floors.”
Tip 5: Get help from the kids. And not just for the heavy lifting! Use them as “tiebreakers” when you’re debating whether or not to get rid of an item. Remember: college-aged grandkids are especially good at making do with less space.
Tip 6: Figure out how to handle discards. Call local charities, find the phone number for Goodwill, and seek out area resale shops! You know who’s good for this kind of information? People who hold yard sales frequently. If you aren’t one yourself, surely you know someone who is. (This is the Midwest, after all.)