Downsizing One Step at a Time

By Tricia Herban

         Sometimes it is called “right-sizing” and perhaps the reason for that is that it sounds more positive and less painful. But in fact, downsizing does mean only one thing — that you will have fewer things that take up less space at the end of the process than at the beginning. And that’s the very good news.

Perhaps you have heard the saying, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! It is a great mantra to adopt when beginning the process of downsizing. In other words, you don’t have to mentally put everything in boxes, rewrite your will, divide your furniture among your relatives or have a garage sale. No. You just have to start somewhere.

But before you start, if you can, recruit a partner. This would not be someone you live with. Heavens no! Who wants to argue over every book or dress or chair? Instead pick a friend. This sainted person should be someone whose opinion you trust, maybe even someone who needs to go through the same process.

I was lucky to have such a person. About a year before my move, a friend said, “I’ll help you go through your closets.” At that point I hadn’t even talked about downsizing.  But she had done her closets and she was on a mission. When I finally accepted, she arrived equipped with black trash bags, a pen and a lined pad of paper. She said to me “You hold it up and we’ll decide, yes or no. If it is no, I’ll put it on the tax deduction list and into the trash bag. If it is a yes, then you put it back in the closet.”

At the end of two partial days, we had filled several large trash bags and I had tons more closet space. And I also had a list of items that could be claimed as charitable deductions after I took the bags to Chesapeake Treasures, the thrift shop for Hospice of the Chesapeake. If you would rather have cash than a deduction, then you might want to take your items to be resold on a consignment basis. This can be done with clothing, jewelry, household goods or furniture, but bear in mind that the receiving store will be quite particular about the condition and age of the items it accepts. Your fur coat from college will probably be rejected as well as the tux your husband has outgrown.

Another wonderful resource is Books for International Goodwill or B.I.G. This is a Rotary International program that sends books abroad to underdeveloped countries for their libraries. Their convenient 24-hour drop-off location is a small, white shed behind the Annapolis Capital building. Volunteers sort the books. Those that are resold provide funding for container shipping of the others.

Knowing about B.I.G. may be helpful both physically and emotionally. For many, books are much more than decorative accessories on living room shelves. They represent past experiences or, in the case of unread books, intentions unfulfilled.  Parting with a book can be like parting with a friend or even with the future. Although our shelves held books two deep, books both invisible and inaccessible, when they were brought to the light of day, they still tugged at our heartstrings.

First we sorted into two piles — keep and pitch. Then the other person got to review those slated for discard. Then we sorted again, marking old encyclopedias, dictionaries, language books and travel guides for recycling. The remainder would go to B.I.G. to spread joy and knowledge in another country.

Perhaps you have some valuable books, signed first editions, for example, or heirloom china or silver. You don’t want them anymore, but you know they don’t belong in a garage sale either. In the 21st century you have options unheard of 25 years ago. You can sell the items online through eBay or Craig’s List. But if that is too burdensome, you can take them to someone who has developed a profession of selling online. That person will take about a 30 percent commission, but for that he or she will photograph and market the items, collect the payment and insure, pack and ship your goods. In my case, that seemed to be a fair deal because I didn’t have the pricing expertise nor did I want to take the trouble or the time.

Whether you throw things away, donate or sell them, your experience will probably be similar to mine. Each time that something left my house forever, I felt a little bit lighter and freer. It also felt good because I knew my family wouldn’t have to make the painful and time-consuming decisions someday. Not too long ago I found myself dealing with the contents of two houses filled with items ranging from saved yoghurt containers and socks waiting to be mended to valuable works of art. The task was overwhelming.

Remember that elephant? Just take one bite. Start with one small task. Take the easiest first. Soon parting with things will become a conditioned reaction. Those first feelings of guilt will be replaced by a sense of pride. It will get easier and you will build momentum. Go for it and surprise yourself.

Tricia recently completed a move from 5,000 square feet to 1,700 and confesses she is still making donations to nonprofits in her new community. She can be reached at [email protected]

Please support OutLook by the Bay with a subscription.

OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.