My husband and I recently discussed the fate of a small, homemade end table. "Let’s take it to the thrift store," he said. My heart sank. I couldn’t justify keeping it, but neither could I bear the thought of parting with it.

My father made it nearly 50 years ago; now he’s in a nursing home, paralyzed by a stroke and failing physically. Disposing of the table felt wrong, as though I were throwing away a part of his legacy.

"I’m not ready to let it go," I said. "Can we wait awhile? I just need some time to process this."

Keep focused on the goal

Downsizing from a spacious home to a small townhouse prompted many similar conversations. Moving meant trading a storage room and a double carport for limited storage space under the stairwell and a single carport that came with rules – no bikes, no barbecues, no boxes allowed. But we knew it was worth it.

Downsizing meant eliminating and simplifying. The benefits: Less stuff required less time spent on repair or maintenance. Fewer knick-knacks to dust. Less floor to vacuum. A smaller yard meant less to mow and fewer dandelions to pluck. All combined, this would leave more time available for what matters most – grandbabies, church activities, community involvement and short-term ministry opportunities.

So knowing what was best, and with only 30 days to make our transition, we began sorting and whittling, stupefied by how much we had accumulated. The process left us exhausted physically, but we fit everything into our new home with relative ease and learned a few useful tidbits along the way. They may help you, too.

Downsizing tips in midlife

Be ruthless. View your belongings, especially those that tug at your heartstrings, with a critical eye. Ask yourself, "Does this possession serve a useful purpose, or am I clinging to it because of an emotional attachment?" Some items, such as the kids’ baby teeth in the nightstand, are no-brainers. I took one last look at them and then bid a forever farewell. The solitary china teacup inherited from Grandma, however, took a little more thought. I chose to keep it because I can use it for tea while savouring memories of the gracious woman she was.

Another question is, "How long has it been since I used this item?" When I dug into the boxes in our storage room, I discovered items I’d forgotten we owned – wooden candle sconces for the living room, lime green kitchen canisters and outgrown ski pants. We hadn’t used those items for several years, so we could do without them now.

A professional organizer once shared her secrets with me. "When you sort your belongings, go from room to room with three boxes," she said. "If items are in decent condition but you simply don’t use them anymore, put them in a ‘give away or sell’ box. If you have enough time and energy, price these and have a garage sale later. Next, place unusable items in a ‘throw away’ box. Place belongings you wish to keep in a box labelled ‘save.’ " Her advice worked.

Be respectful. Your spouse may have sentimental attachment to an item that holds no appeal to you. Resist the temptation to discreetly dispose of it and apply the Golden Rule instead.

I saw this principle in action when my husband and I discussed the fate of the homemade end table. He listened as I expressed my emotional tug-of-war then agreed to keep it until I had ample time to process my feelings. His response made me feel valued.

When you and your spouse cannot agree, keep the item and revisit the discussion after you’ve settled into your new surroundings.

Enlist the kids' help. Dealing with one’s own personal belongings is one matter. But what about the kids’ stuff? Our three kids are grown and gone, but they’d left some possessions in our home because their living quarters are cramped. We explained that our new house was much smaller than the former, and although we’d be glad to take some of their belongings with us, we couldn’t keep everything.

The children came home and sorted through their things, either tossing out or taking what they could with them and then boxing their most treasured possessions for us to store.

What happens if the grown kids are unable to come home to sort their goods? Ask their permission to do it on their behalf. Be honest about how many belongings you’re willing or able to store, and discuss expectations for when they will retrieve them. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to ship their belongings to them or ask them to rent a storage facility.

Be realistic. Downsizing sometimes means painful parting with personal possessions. Because our townhouse is smaller than our former home, we had to sell several pieces of furniture, including our daughters’ dresser, nightstands and bunk beds. I felt as though a piece of their childhood walked out the door with the buyers. I caught myself thinking, Maybe we should keep this furniture in case our kids can use it for their own children someday. It was a nice thought, but the reality is that our kids have their own tastes. Besides, keeping stuff "in case we need it someday" defeats the whole concept of downsizing.

Selling our piano played with my emotions, too. Although we’d enjoyed its presence for nearly 20 years, reality said that our living room simply wasn’t large enough to hold it. I was sad to see it go but glad that it now belongs to a family who uses and appreciates it.

Overall, downsizing was not easy, but we’re now reaping the benefits of our simplified life – more time for ministry, fewer possessions to worry about and greater financial freedom.

Grace Fox and her husband lived in Abbotsford, British Columbia at the time of publication

© 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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