Get our newsletters

Chatterbox: This way out


We’ve talked often about phases of life and about people’s “stuff.” I state up front that those of us who have been able to work, accomplish our goals, and have stuff are the lucky ones; we get that. Still, life changes constantly and fast. Recently, one of my children moved to a smaller house and recently, my husband and I have been discussing our future … or what’s left of it.

I’m convinced that we all spend the first 30 years or so of our marriage or adult life acquiring and filling our forever home, and the second 30 years getting rid of it all. It’s like, okay, our home is finally finished … and, we’re downsizing. We work to make our life and home peaceful, pleasing and functional. We acquire the things we need, use and enjoy. They’re the things we seek out, make or collect because we’re passionate about them. By the time we complete the task and display them in the home we love, it’s time to move on.

Some people move whenever the switch plates get dirty, so they cast off more stuff than most people. Others find their forever home, live there for decades and have panic attacks contemplating clearing it out and relocating to the place that they aren’t going to raise four kids and two dogs in.

Many of us keep stuff we can’t part with, and part with it only when we can’t keep it any longer, and what kind of things are these? Some are trash and some are treasure. They’re our childhood mementos, precious and possibly collectible, or things simply utilitarian. They’re things we purchased as collectibles and that one splurge on a specific potter’s piece of work. We know their value past our admiration. We know there are people who would love to have them, but how do we get our valuables and those people together? It would be great if we had a little storefront. We could sell everything we wanted to sell, and just give away the rest. We wouldn’t need to have yard sales, drive a loaded car to the donation center, or post porch pickups on social media.

Then, there’s the stuff people accumulate that can’t be jettisoned at all; those are the things that were our grandmother’s precious things, or photos and books … and what about those shadow portraits our kids made of themselves in kindergarten? The sentimental items and the heirlooms are hard choices, and if we have something that is both, there’s very little hope of it going anywhere except into another box.

Unlike the empty nest crisis of our lives, which we believe we’ll have and never actually do (Chatterbox Jan. 12, 2012), this downsizing thing is definitely the spin cycle of life, and most of us don’t think about it until we’re in it. Many of us would be emotionally challenged enough just emptying and leaving what may have been our family home for decades, but in this case we are also deciding what our new needs are. We wonder how far down we’ll downsize and how we will manage when all the children and their growing families come for the holidays. We think about pull-out sofas and how to create private spaces for visitors. Then, we must decide where to go. We will wrangle with whether or not to stay in the community we’re in, live near a child, which child, change to a new climate or even a new country. Picking wall plaques was never this tough.

Finally, there is our other stuff … that stuff we all know. It’s the stuff we now deal with because our parents couldn’t; they left their stuff to us. Knowing what it feels like, we certainly don’t want to pass the stuff our parents turned into our problems on to our kids. Furthermore, we don’t want to make our stuff our kids’ problems. It’s an emotional, difficult task, and it’s nerve-racking.

Our stuff is the evidence left behind that proves that we’ve had good years, a roof to call ours, even if it’s rented, and a place to put our table, feed our wee ones, tuck them in, and rest our head. Great, right? Of course, but, conversely – those craft supplies sure do accumulate fast, don’t they?

We salute the people we see joining the new craze of “tiny house living.” That’s downsizing hard-core; I’d love to try that ... but I must consider my Patty Play Pal doll, Tiny Tears, my Beatles albums … oh, my.