The U.S. census and Finder.com report 9.4% more bedrooms than actual people. The NRDC reports that 40% of all our food finds its’ way in the trash. A UCLA study of 32 middle class families concluded that more stuff means more stress.
What can we say? If ever there was a case for downsizing, it was certainly just made—or was it? We spoke with a few recent re-locators and a few relocation specialists, to help us paint a picture of the process of, going from big to small, lightening up and reconfiguring life.
Marie Kondo, author of the mega book and movement The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, asks that before you decide to keep something, you should ask yourself ”does this bring me joy” That question, although posed with total seriousness, sounds like the run-up to an SNL bit. Perhaps the more pertinent question is: Is this something I am saving to use in everyday scenarios or just the exceptional scenario? In other words: will I need this teacup for my morning tea or just when the Queen comes to tea?
Cheryl Americus, a recent downsizer, says that downsizing isn’t for sissies. “You have to be tough,” she said and “ no one really needs more than two sets of sheets.” What worked for this Pittsburgh realtor, and empty nester was a method that involved going from room to room and packing only what she was certain she would have a place for in her new smaller home. She claims not missing anything and her only regret is not getting rid of the things that her mother and kids insisted she save. She didn’t think she had a place for that stuff and in fact, she does not. The unanticipated upside of downsizing is that the good dishes became her everyday dishes.
Karen Harvey, President of Senior Transition Solutions in Palm Beach, rises to the challenges of downsizing every day. She is a moving machine and often helps the adult children of clients move their elderly parents. She claims her job is equal parts packing and therapy and admits that it is the emotional aspect that drives her. She is one of those rare people who love the challenge of taking apart a home that has been really lived in and over-accumulated and re-ordering that into a more manageable situation. When it comes to parting with possessions, Harvey says that most people are on autopilot, and need help accepting that they probably won’t ever wear that fur coat that hasn’t been worn since 1973. She has noticed that, more and more often, people are willing to part with possessions, if asked to describe how they really feel about that treasured item and if they know it might be used again by someone who really needs it. Harvey concludes, “It’s not really ever about the tangible item but rather the memory of when or where they acquired it. “
“Most everyone is miserable through the process,” says Harvey. Rather than be overwhelmed by a big change, I try to get clients to commit to what she calls the “rule of ones.” One hour or one drawer a day and definitely only one room at a time helps to take the enormity of moving off the emotional table. “ Moving is a minefield of triggers,” says Harvey, but when it is all over, my clients are always happy – to be in a new place, unencumbered by all the things that have been weighing them down.
Once they made the decision to sell their 5500 square foot French Provincial suburban home, Karen Cohen, a fashion stylist decided that it was “go small or go home” and now lives blissfully and much more minimally in an 1100 sq. foot apartment in Manhattan. She and her husband made the move so quickly (30 days) they didn’t have time to mourn the loss of all the stuff they and their three grown children had accumulated. Cohen says it was all about “detaching” and once committed to the mindset, it wasn’t hard. Her only regret might be that she didn’t have time to digitize all those photo albums before they hit the dumpster, yet still insists “Things don’t make memories and I have all those memories in my heart, anyway.” She opted for an apartment with spacious closets because even this now committed minimalist is certain that “ no one should ever run out of paper towels, and as a committed cook, she still wants to keep six cutting boards”
Gail Furgal founded OuttaSight Organizing in NYC in 2003 and is a veteran of the downsizing wars. New York City IS all about downsizing, says Furgal who prefers to work hand in glove with her clients. If going it alone, she suggests starting really small like the very bottom drawer of a dresser or a junk drawer and then working your way up to more challenging tasks like the china closet. Furgal has followed her clients from starter homes to grand residences and back to the empty nest again. It amuses her when she encounters boxes that she packed and identified 20 years ago, as yet unpacked.
Both Cheryl Americus and Karen Cohen agree that it feels so freeing to downsize and even though they’ve never even spoken, they share the exact same sentiment: “only crazy people pay for storage.”