Thursday, January 25, 2018

Treasure, Transfer or Toss - Downsizing in Retirement

When I downsized before moving to Florida, I put my most cherished possessions into one small 5 x 10 storage unit and left my car with my daughter.  At the time, I was a bit concerned that I might be getting rid of too many things but I didn’t want to store anything that wasn’t useful or meaningful to me.  The only thing I took with me was my laptop and one carry-on bag packed with summer clothes.  I didn’t know how long I would stay in Florida so I only took what I needed for a short vacation.

That short trip turned into a year and a half of living in a lovely furnished condo right on the river, just a few minutes from the beach.  Not only did I not miss anything but I found that even the one bag might have been too much.  All you really need is a couple of swimsuits, sun dresses and sandals to be very comfortable in the heat and humidity.  I found that I wore a lot more sunscreen and a lot less make-up and never worried about what I had left behind. 

Emotionally, it was one of the most freeing experiences of my entire life.

Everything I had could be put into the trunk of a car and moved wherever I wanted to go with ease.  It was such a relief to not feel weighed down by a home and all of the things I had accumulated over the years.

Just a few months ago I decided to return to Colorado.  I missed my family and thought it was time to finally get the rest of my things out of storage, so I rented a small apartment and closed out my storage unit.  What I’m discovering now is that except for some of my kitchen supplies and precious mementos from my family there are very few things that I want to keep.

It is amazing to me that I still have this much after the first round of downsizing.

I kept much more than I want or ever need, like my massive supply of Tupperware that I rarely if ever use and the unbelievable amount of clothes that I haven’t worn in 10 years.  I suppose that I wasn’t quite ready to part with everything at the time.

Now, after living so simply, I’m ready for Phase 2 – this is the real test.  Am I willing to part with those things that I thought I couldn’t do without a couple of years ago? 

I think I know the answer but time will tell.  I am applying for a job that will take me all over the country and will require me to live in temporary accommodation for just a few months at a time.  I would like to keep those things that are truly precious to me, if I can manage it but not so much that I feel tied down.

This isn’t the lifestyle for everyone, but for me it feels like one last grand adventure before I settle into retirement.

I am thrilled at the prospect of being able to move freely to different locations and enjoy the experience without the burden or obligation of too many possessions.  Even coming home from Florida was frustrating when I realized how much I had accumulated while I was away.

There is also a very spiritual component to this purging for me – I do believe that whenever you clear space in your life you make room for something new to come in.  I’m ready for a change and have no resistance to letting go of those things that have given me joy.

My work now is to find the process that will be most effective for me.

I like the Treasure, Transfer or Toss philosophy of downsizing.  If it is something I love, I will keep it (or take a photo and store it electronically).  If it is something that someone else may have use for, it will be donated and everything else will go in the trash or to be recycled.  Why I thought I needed to keep 20 t-shirts or 10 pair of jeans that I never wear is beyond me.

Then there is the process of Swedish Death Cleaning.

The approach is to purge your home and organize your possessions so that your children won't be burdened by your belongings after you pass away.  I know it sounds morbid, but after having the responsibility of going through my mother’s things after she passed, while I was grieving, was unbearable.  That is something I would never want my children to endure.  

When I think about it those terms, I realize I can let go of much more and leave them with only those things that truly matter.  I want them to know that I kept that special plant they gave me for Mother’s Day 60 years ago or the lovely candle holder they made for me in grade school.  If it doesn’t have a significant memory attached it will be gifted to someone who may have some use for it.

With the new year upon us, this feels like the perfect time to begin.  I want to start fresh with nothing to hold me back from this new and exciting chapter of my life after 60.

Have you downsized recently?  Was it a difficult process or did you feel relief in letting go of things?  What changes have you experienced after clearing the clutter?  Share your stories and join the conversation!

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