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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Downsizing and Moving On

Castle
Are you ready to move from your big house?
In the last few months I’ve had several family reunions and visitors from afar staying at my home. We are all baby boomers in various stages of retirement or contemplating retirement, so it wasn’t long before the conversations turned to downsizing and what to do with all the stuff we’ve accumulated over a lifetime. Would any of our heirs really want the decorative tins from England, the old concert programs, or the hedgehog collection?

A tiny house
To your tiny house?
My sister’s problem is on another level. She inherited valuable Asian artifacts and a library of rare first editions from her husband’s family and she has no children to leave them to. It turns out to be quite hard to sell a Ming vase for anything like its value. Apparently museums have enough of them already. She can’t wait to downsize to a small maintenance-free apartment so she is working on donating everything to a university.

Meanwhile I have been grappling with piles of papers left by my parents. As I sort through them I find poignant stories from our family history that I knew nothing about. I am organizing them all into archival boxes so the next generations can easily access them. One box is labeled World War II and contains my father’s British army records and my mother’s memoir of growing up in Belgium during the German occupation. I imagine some future descendant using the contents as primary sources for a school paper.

Getting rid of stuff, organizing what really matters, and moving into smaller spaces seems to be on everyone’s mind in our generation. One book kept coming up in our conversations. Everyone seems to have heard of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The book is not for everyone. My informal focus group thought that folding socks like a sushi roll bordered on the compulsive, but that evaluating objects for whether they give you “joy” was good advice for those inclined to hang on to too much stuff.

Basement full of stuff
Does this give you joy?
Here is a selection of other books with helpful advice available in MCPL libraries:

Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go by Marni Jameson.

Downsizing Your Home with Style: Living Well in a Smaller Space by Lauri Ward.

Get it Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To by Melanie Cullen.




Online articles with useful information:

This article focuses on advice for how children can help their parents cope with the practical and emotional stresses of downsizing. 

"Declutter Your Life - Now!" 
Advice from professional organizer Barbara Reich is one of many useful articles at the AARP website.

A guide to preserving your family’s letters and documents by the FamilySearch blog includes links to further resources.

All excellent sources of information, but the book that sparked the most humorous reactions from my visitors was the new book explaining the Swedish concept of dostadning, from “do” meaning death and “stadning” meaning cleaning. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson is decluttering so that your family is not burdened with doing it after your death. Your family will appreciate that you leave behind you the most important and precious items in a well organized manner. This is an ongoing process. Clean and organize every day as though you may die tomorrow. So we go from Marie Kondo’s “magic” and “joy” to a preoccupation with gloom and death.

I couldn’t help thinking of Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal in which the grim figure of Death plays chess with his intended victim, but now I saw Death with a feather duster in his hand! In truth the book is full of humor and good sense and insights into Swedish culture, which really isn't all gloom and doom.

As for me, I am plugging on with sorting family papers and donating items to Goodwill. But despite my daughter’s urging, I’m not quite ready for the downsizing step yet. It’s been really nice these past few months to have plenty of space to host visiting friends and family. I couldn’t do that in a tiny house.

Rita T.

Rita T. 

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