Dilemmas in Downsizing #2

October 25, 2022

The love of variety is one of my challenges when I think about downsizing/decluttering.

I love decorating for the seasons, and the house never looks the same, one season after another. Not only is that because I have so much stuff, but because I enjoy rearranging and using what I have in new ways. I’m not very good with my hands–don’t sew, don’t do crafts, but I know I have a good eye and know how to put things together. And oh, how fun it is to discover something tucked away in a cupboard that is just the perfect touch on a tabletop or shelf.

My mother once commented on a neighbor, a dear friend of hers, who in all the years they knew each other never changed the centerpiece on their kitchen table. A wooden bowl of artificial fruit, if I recall. She couldn’t imagine living that way. At least I know where my comfort and desire for change comes from, but as I declutter, little by little, I wonder if there will be a time when I won’t feel the urge to change the dining room centerpiece or the living room coffee table? As I continue this process of simplifying what is tucked in cupboards and closets, will I simplify my interest in and need for variety?

Here are some positive signs:

One day last week when I sat with a client in the snug, I noticed cobwebs floating under a bookshelf. Ugh! It was time to do a more thorough cleaning, and as I did that, I gathered a few small pieces of silver sitting on top of piles of books. Just sweet little accessories collected over the years with no real purpose, but adding a touch of shine to the shelf. Each one needed to be polished, which I started doing, and then I asked myself, “How would it feel to add these to our garage sale pile? Will I miss them if I no longer own them?”

Much to my surprise, I was ready to release them. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but one thing leads to another. By the way, I did keep two pieces I particularly love–a small English chocolate or tea pot from a hotel and a creamer.

As I continued cleaning, I pulled a few books off the shelves and added them to the Little Free Library basket, and I also made another decision. Decades ago when I worked in an independent bookstore, I bought books signed by every author who visited the store, usually for a book signing event. Many of those books I have never read, and as I stood in front of the living room bookcase, I realized I probably never will read them. Obviously, I will confer with my husband about this, but I envision clearing much more space soon.

Bruce and I have been antique collectors all our married life. Going to antique shows and shops has been our hobby, a form of entertainment, and although that activity has decreased in recent years, it has not disappeared. This past weekend, however, we decided not to go to an annual fall show; one we have always enjoyed and where we have often found treasures. Making that decision wasn’t difficult. Not a sacrifice. We quite simply didn’t feel a pull to go. I recognize that doesn’t mean our interest in antiquing has retired, but it is more moderate. That feels like a good thing.

Decluttering is a process. Unless you have a team of people who swoop in, take over, and do it all, once and for all, decluttering can not be done in one big now or never moment. Decluttering is a one drawer at a time process. One closet at a time. Even one shelf at a time. And as a process, it is possible to integrate it into my daily life–to organize what is scattered and to choose what still gives joy and what just feels like stuff, and to clear space as I clean.

Stay tuned, for I have a feeling there will be more Dilemmas in Downsizing to share.

An Invitation

What are you learning in this process? I would love to know.

Dilemmas In Downsizing

October 18, 2022

“I don’t want my children to deal with this when I’m gone.”

I wonder how many times I’ve heard someone declare this as a reason for downsizing and decluttering.

On one level that is a noble idea, with which it is hard to disagree. Bravo, you! And yet at the same time, there is something inside me that isn’t 100% aboard that idea.

If you read my post on Thursday, October 13, 2022, https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/10/13/book-report-downsizing-my-books/ you know that I am not ignoring the challenge of my own stuff. That post focused on books, but I could have written about my “Dish Problem.” I inherited the problem, along with actual dishes, from my mother, and my sister has the same problem. We love setting a beautiful table with dishes appropriate to the season or the occasion. Perhaps the problem would have been more under control, if my husband didn’t also love dishes and if we hadn’t been antique collectors all our married life.

Even though I still have enough dishes to serve the neighborhood, I want you to know that I no longer have as many sets as I once did. I have pared back significantly, and am proud to say, all our dishes, other than a set of Christmas dishes, are easily assessable in cupboards and not packed away in bins. I know I will continue to evaluate what I really want to keep and use for now, and it’s certainly possible there will be more than two place settings of the white dishes we use everyday when I die or move into a care center.

Our children will have to deal with our stuff.

Is that so bad?

First of all, let me say I believe in the principle of “like with like, ” which means staying organized, and I also believe in knowing what one has, which also means staying organized and not storing “maybe I’ll use this one day” items in difficult to reach storage items. I also don’t believe in keeping things like 25 year old tax returns, and clothes that haven’t fit for 5 years and if they ever were to fit again will be out of style anyway, and stacks of jigsaw puzzles that were fun to put together once, but twice? Not so much.

All that being said, I think there is some value for our children in dealing with the stuff that remains.

A story about my mother.

My mother loved jewelry, and she was blessed with my father who loved giving her beautiful jewelry. Before she died she designated her major pieces, but that still left boxes and drawers full of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings.

One of the first days after she died, we opened up the dining room table as far as it could go and filled it with piles of her jewelry–the pearl pile, the turquoise pile, the silver pile, the costume jewelry pile. You get the idea. Then we all gathered and starting with the oldest, which was me, went around the table one by one selecting one item from one of the piles. We went round and round and round draping ourselves in the treasures until what was left was not wanted by anyone. My father in the meantime sat nearby beaming. He was so happy we were delighting in these bits and pieces of Betty Ann’s baubles.

I still fill with tears as I think about that day, which was almost 20 years ago. That day was part of our grieving process, and because my mother had not figured out what to do with all those boxes and drawers of jewelry, she gave that day to us. We told stories and laughed and honored her gypsy nature.

When my father died, there was less to do because he had moved into a senior living facility a few years before, but, trust me, there was still enough stuff. Strange as it may sound, I am grateful for the days my sister and brother and husband and brother-in-law spent together sorting and tossing and packing and moving. Because of COVID, the grands and greats were not able to be with us, and they missed our storytelling and the moments when each of us needed some comfort.

I hope when the time comes my family won’t resent the fact that somehow I never got around to creating beautiful family albums and instead left boxes of loose photos. I hope they will pass around pictures and tell stories and comfort each other. I hope when they pack up the dishes I only use in the fall they will remember how good my applesauce tasted and the baked spaghetti hot dish and the pork loin with wild rice and how I loved setting a pretty table even when dinner was only pizza.

I am not suggesting you avoid what must be done or use this post as a justification for holding on tightly to what is only cluttering your present life, but going through the stuff of our loved ones’ lives also can be a tool in the process of grieving. Just a thought.

An Invitation

What are your thoughts about stuff and grieving? I would love to know.

Book Report: Downsizing My Books

October 13, 2022

A frequent conversation among elders is what to do with our stuff. We all have it.

We know it’s only stuff. But it’s our stuff, and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our stuff.

I can feel my body become rigid, my throat constrict, and my eyes narrow if anyone dares tell me I have too many books. What is too many? I am not willing to have that conversation.

But, of course, the truth is I do have lots of books.

What to do?

I know that the next move, if and when that happens, will be to a much smaller space; one in which there will be much less room for all our books. Does that mean I need to empty our bookshelves now and never purchase another book? Or do I just ignore the elephant –in this case hundreds of books–in the room(s)?ownsizing

Strategies and Process

My main strategy is to recognize and to practice the PROCESS of downsizing. Here’s what that means:

  1. Use the library more and buy fewer books. So far this year I have checked out almost 80 books from the library, and I have purchased a little more than half that amount.
  2. Every time I read a book I own I consider if it is one I might want to read again or refer to in my work as a spiritual director or small group facilitator. If I decide I don’t need or want to keep it, it is placed in a basket of books to take to a Little Free Library or set aside for our annual garage sale or pass on to someone else and say, “No need to return.” Occasionally, I want to re-read a book I no longer own. Well, there’s the library to save the day!
  3. The last two years my Lenten spiritual practice has been to eliminate at least one book from my spirituality/theology bookshelves each day. I intend to continue that practice this year, too.
  4. Each time I return a book to a shelf or find space for a new book, I spend time looking at the other books on those shelves and often I decide I don’t need to save one of the nearby books any longer.
  5. No books are allowed to gather in piles on the floor. Books do not become the base for a lamp or prop up a table leg.
  6. There are no boxes of books in storage areas. Seeing my books not only gives me pleasure, but that prevents the “out of sight, out of mind” issue that solves nothing.
  7. The books I have acquired, but not yet read are kept on two shelves. Nonfiction books are on a shelf in the garret and fiction in the snug. That means I am aware of them when I finish a book and wonder what to read next.

Practicing Awareness

Part of this downsizing process is to ask myself –not just once, but periodically–what is the meaning of this specific category of stuff? Why do I hold on to these books?

There is more than one answer. First of all, I am a passionate reader, and I prefer to read books in their paper form. You may prefer listening to books or reading on a Kindle. Good for you, and maybe, someday I will do that, too, but not now. Books are beautiful and are part of my decor and add to the warmth and personality of our home. I feel the presence of the writer and their words by having books physically present. Also, I am a writer and a teacher and browse my books for inspiration, for answers, for reinforcement and support and for ideas to broaden my perspective. I suppose I can do that on the internet, but it’s not the same. Finally, my books offer a glance into my history, a view into who I am. And my books remind me to continue the process of growth and evolution.

I know someday I will have to face (or my family will) the challenge of what to do with all these books, and I guess should apologize for that, but oh well… I continue to remind myself that downsizing is a process, and I am in the midst of that process. I am becoming aware that each book I let go of makes it easier to let go of another one.

One more thing: I’ve noticed it is much easier to prod someone else to do something about their stuff, than it is to tackle our own stuff. I’m guilty of that, and I am trying to reform and focus on my own stuff. Enough said!

An Invitation:

What stuff is plaguing you and what are you doing about it? I would love to know.

Cleaning as Life Review

June 7, 2022

Folder by folder. Page by page.

What was once overflowing is now orderly and neat.

I even have empty drawers and shelves in the garret.

Such a good feeling.

Cleaning and home tending is one of my spiritual practices, and clearing the space is often the first step (or is it the last step?) when I move into the next stage of a project or prepare to start something new. That was true this time, for I have been in the process of discernment about ongoing work on my memoir. But this time the process of cleaning and sorting and discarding and letting go has also been a process of life review.

Each folder contained plans for a class I taught, a retreat I led, a talk I presented or a collection of ideas for an article to write or one already written.

One folder bulged with all the plans and materials for spirituality groups I led years ago at a center for those touched by cancer. I felt myself doing a bit of time-traveling, remembering the openness and vulnerability in those groups. I called one of those sessions “When Cancer Rearranges Your Furniture,” and brought in pieces of dollhouse furniture, which led to deep sharing about all the ways the participants experienced change in their everyday lives. In another session, I used Christina Baldwin’s book The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit (2002) to discuss the topic “ask for what you need, offer what you can.” Such a privilege it was to sit with people willing to explore their spirituality during difficult times. Later I was diagnosed with cancer myself and needed to probe my own spiritual grounding for strength and comfort.

Over the years I have considered writing a compilation of those ideas and exercises, and maybe now is the time. I keep that folder.

I also keep folders of materials about this stage of life, including the folder labeled “Growing Older with Grace, Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life,” a retreat I co-led in 2015; one of the first programs I did for my church. That event opened the door to ongoing ministry to older adults, a focus for me in recent years. As I toss duplicate copies and handwritten notes and scraps of paper, I remember individual interactions and responses to topics like “gratitude,” and “letting go,” and “entering the new year.”

The process continued, and I filled the recycling bin with what no longer feels relevant or no longer holds my interest or quite simply, feels done. Been there, done that.

I simplified physical space, a task many of us at this stage of our lives feel compelled to do, but I honored myself. “Nancy, you have done good work.” As I opened each folder I retraced paths of what have been important to me and ways I have used my gifts. I delighted in my own creativity and my teaching and organizational skills

And that is a good thing.

I am not done teaching or leading groups, but this clearing the space process, which is ongoing, opens me to what is possible and life-enhancing in my life. Where do I need and want to spend my energy at this stage of my life? And that is the key question for me.

The garret feels fresh and clean. And open.

An Invitation

How is the process of downsizing or simplifying the contents of your home, also a process of life review for you? I would love to know.