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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Get Richer Living with Less: Tips to Lighten Up

As I was winding up a downsizing talk to a group of retirees in Baltimore last week, a woman asked a question that made me want to reach for the smelling salts.


The woman, who appeared to be in her 70s, was wondering what she should do with her parents’ bedroom furniture, which she was keeping in a storage facility. This flipped at least three of my switches:

1.     Parents, please don’t leave a burden for your kids. This poor woman is saddled with not only with her parents’ furniture, but also with the guilt trip of letting it go.

2.     Your kids don’t want your stuff, especially not your old brown furniture. Used furniture markets are flooded with old furniture no one wants. This woman should sell or donate the bedroom set like yesterday.

3.     Don’t get a storage unit! Unless you plan to use it for a very short transition period, say for a couple months while you’re between houses, please, please don’t pay to store your stuff. Liquidate what you have and spare the expense. Chances are what you pay for storage (on average $2,400 a year) will soon exceed the cash value of the contents.  

Once I’d recovered from her question, a gentleman from the audience wanted to know not where to start decluttering and downsizing, but how to start. Questions like these remind me of how profoundly big, deep, and wide this problem of too much stuff really is.


Most people know that holding onto stuff they don’t need weighs them down, and that their lives, their homes, and indeed their bank accounts would benefit if they lightened up. They know that if they cleared away all the underbrush, the dormant doo-dads and bulky stashes, their house would feel, look and function better. They would feel and function better, too.


So, what’s stopping them?


Well, they also know that going through a houseful of stuff is physically and emotionally trying. Simply put, the process forces us to face our mortality, the passage of time, successes and regrets, where we’ve been, where we are, what we thought mattered once but doesn’t. Letting go of all that’s accumulated over the years, the decades, can make us feel as if we are erasing our memories, our identities, our history.


We look at those mystery boxes in the garage or attic and know that if we crack open the lid we will fall down the rabbit hole into a terrible case of the feels. We will come face to face with photos of that beach vacation with our ex, paperwork from the house that bled our bank account dry, letters our parents wrote us while we were in college, the half-finished needlepoint, all of which makes at least me want to lie on the floor and drink gin straight from an old shoe.


And so good folks do nothing. And the monsters in the boxes, in the attic, and in the storage unit get bigger.


If this reminds you of someone you know (ahem!), perhaps you can pass along this shortened version my pep talk.


·      Don’t call it downsizing. Call it rightsizing. The secret to a successful house edit, which everyone should do regularly, lies in reframing the task. Rather than focusing on the downside of sorting out and letting go, focus on the upside. You’re not downsizing; you’re tailoring to fit your life now and going forward. At every stage and age of life, your aim should be to create a home that has everything you need and nothing you don’t. This takes consistent, thoughtful editing. In other words, if you’re 70, sir, and you still have your high-school letterman jacket, you have issues.

·      Accept that humans (that’s you) evolve. The beauty of life is its stages: youth, teens, twenties, the years of growing a career and family, retirement, enjoying the golden years. At every stage, just as in nature, we must shed to grow. Embrace where you are because living in the past robs you of the present.

·      Find your motivation. Most people get serious about decluttering and rightsizing when they hit a tipping point. Say, for instance:

§  You want to move to a place that’s a better fit.

§  You want to sell your home and free up its equity.

§  You want to park at least one if not two cars in your two-car garage.

§  You want to have friends over, but you’re embarrassed.

§  You don’t want to leave a mess to your kids.

§  You’re getting married or moving in with your partner, or in with your kids or they with you.

§  You’re sick of looking at your crammed cupboards and closets, and want order, simplicity, and space.

§  You’ve figured out that stuff drags you down. What you do not have, you do not have to clean, sort, store, maintain, worry about, insure, organize or pay for the real estate it takes up.

·      Picture success. Whatever your motivation, keep a vision in mind of what success looks like. Envision an empty storage unit and no longer paying for it monthly, a garage you can park in, a tidy linen closet with room to spare, a streamlined clothes closet where everything fits and flatters. Then let that picture be the torch that lights your way.

·      Start in a big place that’s not too emotional. This could be the garage, your laundry room, or your pantry. Once you conquer these large impersonal spaces and see big results, keep the momentum going until you hit those mystery boxes.

·      Discover the richness of less. As you go, put everything you could possibly sell in a pile. Create a donation pile, too, and get the tax deduction. Whether you list items on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay, or you have a yard sale, turning your trash into cash will leave you feeling richer with less, while also enriching your life with more freedom and less to take care of. That’s motivating.

CAPTION: Spring chicks, like much of nature, show us that we must shed to grow, and that includes letting go of belongings that served us in the past but not now. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

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