Stop Work Travel | Downsizing the Decades: Shed It, Shred It, and Reach the Other Side

Downsizing the Decades: Shed It, Shred It, and Reach the Other Side

January 19, 2016

The first step in creating the life you want is to get rid of all you don’t.

— Joshua Becker

I opened my first commercial storage unit after my mother passed away.

The Downsizing Whirlwind

The Downsizing Whirlwind

Years before that, she had asked me to claim what I wanted of the family goods and let her know. She had begun donating books, clothes, gear, and tools that were no longer wanted.

At age 90 she decided to sell her house in southern Alberta and move into a retirement lodge. I hired a professional organizer to help her.

Mom Models How to Downsize

Mom sold the house in 5 days, at the top of the market (go Mom!!) She moved into a small apartment with a kitchenette.

Sixteen months later, she had a heart attack. She passed very gracefully, for which I am forever grateful. She let us know she could feel the love we were sending her, and that she was “ready to go.”

When it was time to deal with the apartment, I began washing and sorting clothes, towels, sheets to and other items to donate. I flipped through books she had still kept – 800 paperbacks neatly stacked on shelves and in the closet…the pile left after donating a few thousand books!

I gave away items to her friends – china tea cups, furniture, kitchen tools, supplies, books. Her reflexologist, Addie, who had come to the hospital several times, happily took some items. Addie offered to give me a session. How could I refuse!

I sat in my mom’s chair; she sat on a little stool my dad had made fifty years back, a sentimental item of my mom’s that I didn’t know what to do with. “Your mom always sat there, and I always sat on this stool…”

I was grateful to close my eyes, relax, and shed a few tears. I am feeling grateful for all the times Mom got relief from the arthritis in her feet from this sweet person who is now ministering to me.

After the session Addie said, “Your mom always did a little jig afterwards…” So of course I got up and danced my version of a jig. Addie then asked if she keep the stool – perfect!

I donated remaining furniture, books, clothing, pots and pans, and towels. Even after a massive downsizing, Mom had kept 60 towels – a mysterious act of excess. I chuckled over that.

For ages, she had stored boxes of mine containing books, letters and photos from my student days living in China. Of her stuff I saved dishes, a lamp, books, and family photos.

The wonderful organizer who had helped her downsize and move, Jackie, came to the service. She thanked me for giving her the opportunity to know my mom, and we hugged. She invited me to dinner and we had a lovely chat.

The next morning a light bulb lit up in my head – could Jackie help with this last effort? Yes! She would be honored. She came right over.

A Professional Organizer Saves the Day

Within 4 hours, everything my family and I wanted to keep was packed up – amazing! Jackie didn’t want to accept any money for this valuable and heartfelt service. I told her my mom would not approve at all, and she finally relented.

I had a total of 12 boxes, just enough to fill a rental car. It would be a hassle to take a Canadian rental car across the border, unload everything, then rent and pack a different car from a U. S. agency. What to do? Addie graciously offered to take me and my stuff over the border. Once again it seemed I was the recipient of karma from my mom’s generosity and kindness.

I drove for three days through Montana, Idaho, Oregon and California, a great way to decompress after everything I had been through in the last few weeks. When I finally reached home with my car load, I rented a storage unit, loaded the boxes in, and locked the door shut.

Time to have a good cry.

Three months later my house sold. Only then did I return to the storage unit – this time to open another larger unit for stuff that wouldn’t fit into my new, smaller digs. I rationalized that the cheaper cost of my new rental would excuse the cost of two storage units.

I didn’t open the boxes of my mom’s stuff for a long time.

It Takes Money to Store Stuff!

Six years later I tallied up the “low cost” of storage, realizing it had accumulated to over $6,000.

What value was that stuff to me or anyone while sitting in storage? I could have pared it down years earlier – I always kept that task on the back burner. Was it fear of overwhelm to see mom’s stuff again, or avoidance? Probably both.

Only my strong motivation to live light and travel more was going to drive me to sort all those bins and boxes I had stored for years.

My hope: tackle it with gusto and a plan this time, and end up with only a small stack of bins. I was not going to cheat and throw unwanted stuff in the trash either – better to donate, sell, recycle, digitize, and shred.

I needed a plan, people to help, and to GET ‘ER DONE!

The Whirlwind Begins

A friend who is an organizer helped me open up and sort those boxes of memories. (Can you tell I appreciate the work organizers do? We get attached to our stuff – they don’t!)

As we toiled away inside the storage unit, I swear I heard a familiar voice – why are you still keeping this dish? That lamp? Only keep what truly makes you happy. It seemed Mom was at it again – “let’s finish the job I started!”

I gratefully realized how much I could now release.

An upscale flea market for a favorite charity spurred me to big action. For days I made sweeps through the bedroom and closets. I donated furniture, books, jewelry, art, CDs and gently used clothes. Many boxes flew out the door that week.

My friend Valerie asked, “How could you give away this gorgeous Kuan Yin painting?” My reply, “I enjoyed it for years, and I’m grateful. Now I’m ready for someone else to love it.” I had the same answer for quantities of other stuff!

As the next weeks flew by, I asked friends to take anything they wanted and sold other items. A dad bought the commode for his daughter. A friend’s grandkids loved the kiddie chairs and tent. A new friend bought my love seat; an old friend happily rode off on my bike. Costume maker friends got fabric, sewing notions – and a old green Chinese robe.

Reed Loves the Robe!

Reed Loves the Robe!

The VCRs got converted to MP4 files, papers still of use got scanned. I sorted cassettes to convert to MP3 files, and 35mm slides to convert to jpeg format.

I was starting to feel lighter. I was on a roll. Perhaps I would even succeed at truly downsizing!

I gathered old papers that could be shredded to take to a commercial shredder. My first load was 47 pounds. What a huge rush to watch it all pulverized to little bits in a matter of seconds!

The second box weighed 40 pounds, and the final one 20 pounds. When I showed up with the last box of papers, the staff grabbed it from me with a big smile, and blasted it through the shredder at no charge.

My energy seemed to be infectious!

Aargh..Still Feeling Aatachment!

The hardest things to let go were my ergonomic bed and my car. The bed was too darn amazing, giving me heavenly sleep every night. Too bad it stubbornly refused to travel with me! The car was put to work moving boxes day after day. At the very end, I found a foster home for the bed, and a buyer for the car.

A friend kindly agreed to let me store the remaining boxes under her house. I was done…as done as I could be.

What I Learned

It was a lot of work. Though I didn’t completely finish, I have a much smaller set of tasks for the next round. I’m glad I accomplished so much! Friends and strangers came forward to help and are happily using items I released.

It felt terrific to liberate myself from so much stuff.

I feel that I honored my mom and lived up to her example.

To everyone who played a part in the project, a giant thank you!

What do you think about downsizing and going minimalist? Does it seem possible? Who has gotten right to the other side and how did you do it? How do you feel now? Did you like the story about my mom? Let me know in the comments!

See you on the road!

Jean