Downsizing and Decluttering:
Purging the Stuff, Keeping the Memories
Move in day at Bunny Manor twenty years ago. Our heads forgot to tell our hearts these little girls would be college bound in seven short years!
After about five years of endlessly talking about it, my husband and I recently made the decision to speed up the timeline on downsizing. We both have a hard time with change, finding inertia to be like the cozy, down-filled chair you want to snuggle down into and never leave. We still listen to the ’70s radio station, cling to memories of college days and, if left to our own devices, would probably still have a lava lamp. As much as we like things to stay the same, we know we need to find a home we can “age in place”; a kind way to say a house with no stairs that can accommodate old geezers and the paraphernalia that may come along with getting old. We want to make the decision while we’re still young enough to make the choice and the move on our own. We even met with the real estate agent, a big step for two people that have a tendency to drag our feet on changing. This isn’t going to be a fast process, but it’s time to get started on our first step, decluttering!
When we got married twenty years ago, we both sold our homes and bought our current home together. I brought two pre-teen daughters, three cats and the truckloads of“stuff” you can imagine goes with that kind of crew. My husband brought one cat, a triathlon hobby and the “stuff” that goes with that lifestyle. Together, over the next two decades we filled every inch of our home with fun family memories and even more “stuff”! You know the saying, “If we build it, they will come”? I’ve apparently taken on the idea, “If there’s space, we will fill it!” When we moved into our home, we naively believed we needed all this space. When we signed the mortgage papers, the kids were more than halfway through their childhoods, yet in our distorted view the path ahead appeared lined with endless family dinners, evenings of homework, slumber parties and basketball games in the backyard–a halcyon vision of never-ending family life. But Bunny Manor (our house’s name) and its occupants were not immune to the passage of time, and like many people in this stage of life, my husband and I now find ourselves rattling around a big house with rooms we rarely even step foot into. So here we go with the process of purging all the material items we once deemed necessary for our happiness so we can downsize into a small home, most probably our “live in until we die” home.
Our house’s beloved namesake, the wooden bunny sculpture, has sadly already succumbed to the Grim Reaper.
Marie Kondo advises her readers to only keep those items that spark joy as you’re going through the de-cluttering process. Seems reasonable on paper, but what if there are so many items igniting sparks of joy that you’re about to burn down the house?! She must not understand how many of the objects in my house may look like junk to an outsider but are imbued with memories of my children’s lives, inanimate objects intricately linked with the stages of their lives when we all lived under this roof together. How can I possibly be expected to throw away that scrap of fabric with cowboys and horses printed on it when just holding the 30-year-old material conjures visceral memories of my baby girl insistently wearing her beloved, “made by grandma” special dress every day the summer she was three? How can I casually throw aside the stuffed “kitty, kitty, kitten” my oldest took to school every day for months, eventually forming a club with all her friends who also owned these cute little stuffed animals? She loved that kitten so well and so long, it’s as if her 7-year-old self is permanently embedded in the matted, faded fur. Decluttering is obviously going to be way more difficult than I imagined.
It may look like a scrap of fabric, but it has the magical power of transporting me back in time almost thirty years!
When my oldest daughter came to pick up her son after a sleepover, I roped her into going through some of the items left from her childhood, beginning with a cardboard box that had been sitting in her closet for years. We sat on her old bed, the one she slept in from the ages of three through eighteen, and she started going through papers and pictures. The box contained pre-school drawings, kindergarten graduation pictures, diaries containing tales of middle school angst and notebooks from college filled with organic chemistry and molecular biology notes. My daughters’ childhood summarized in a box. We threw some away, put papers in the recycling bin, and saved some special things for her box of memories.
The next day she texted me and said, “Mom, going through that box made me realize how fast it’s all going to go with Callister.” It gave me pause to think. She’s right in so many ways; it does go by fast, and she’s ahead of the game to realize it now. Childhoods are fleeting, although some days certainly don’t feel that way. Is it realistic to tell young parents to cherish every minute because their children will be grown in the blink of an eye? The cliched phrase is almost an albatross around their neck as they trudge through the day-to-day work of potty training, refereeing sibling fights, chauffeuring to activities, and cleaning up messes all the while attempting to hold down a job and maintain a marriage. I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten some days were merely about surviving, counting the minutes down until stories were told and prayers were said so I could retreat to my bedroom and eat my hidden Snickers bar. (Hey some parents like the wine, I like the chocolate.) So what did I say to my daughter? I said, “Yes, you’re right, it does go by fast, but the good news is each stage brings new joys and although it’s corny to say, being a grandparent is maybe the best part of parenting! You have many years to look forward to!”
I considered adding the warning to not keep everything like I did, but I stuck with my rule of not giving unsolicited advice; I have enough trouble running my own life, and my daughter seems to make good, logical decisions. We still have a long way to go before we can get our house on the market, and I predict there will be a lot of reliving my daughters’ childhoods as I go through the process of ridding the house of all the excess possessions. I vow to remind myself that the memories will remain even in the absence of the possessions. I do have to throw out the junk, but I’m not required to clean out the corners of my mind and heart, which are filled with scenarios of my sweet girls’ childhoods. I’m sure there will be some tears, but they will be tears of happiness; parenting is a journey with bumps along the way, but it’s the golden moments the heart holds onto. I’ll miss Bunny Manor; it was a great place to raise my kids, but I know our new, much smaller home will be an opportunity to build even more memories with our adult children and grandchildren. And if I move a few things too many to the new house–well, that’s why they invented attics.
Do you think the new owner would notice if I left the overabundance of Christmas decorations in the attic? Who was that woman who looked like me but thought every room needed its own Christmas tree?!