For some, it means trading up a house for a condo. For others, it’s code for living more fully on a whole lot less. For others still, however, it is a passion – a movement, really; minimalism on steroids – a way to illustrate that the true merit of a richly observed life is not to be measured by the amount of stuff accrued over one’s lifetime. Whatever approach you embrace, downsizing can be a very cathartic experience; a liberating purge of the most, or at least ‘some’ of the things you once thought you could never live without. There are decided benefits to owning fewer possessions: less to clean, less to owe, and, to organize; more time, money and energies to be spent pursuing some greater passion, hobby or personal mantra about ‘gracious living’.
In North America, we live by a hierarchy where ‘want’ commonly supersedes ‘need’. We want to own more, so we buy more stuff, even if we don’t really need more to make us happy. There’s nothing wrong with adding to one’s personal collection of cherished things. Oprah did it ever Christmas. Alas, there is also too much of a good thing.
But when considering downsizing, some fear what they are getting rid of, giving away or otherwise donating to family, friends, charities and the trash will suddenly be needed again the moment it has left the house. Hence, being painted into the proverbial and rather embarrassing corner, either to ask to borrow the item(s) back or simply skulk off to the store to buy another like-minded replacement for these pieces lost.
Downsizing is an art. So, here are five ways to ‘downsize’ creatively and without personal angst or regrets.
1. Don’t get rid of anything you have used in the past six months.
Take a personal inventory. We all have stuff tucked in our attics or under the stairs; items left in boxes when we moved from one place to another. Why keep it? After all, if it has sat in a closet somewhere for more than six months, gathering dust on a top shelf or under the stairs, just how relevant and integral to your life is it? Make a list. Write down all the items you found that weren’t being used. An inventory helps you take stock of the things you really do not need. Sort the items by importance. Most items left in an attic or under the stairs are not garbage. They have only ceased to be important to us. But are they still in good condition? Would someone else find them useful? Hmmm.
2. Give away one item on your list each day.
Remember, downsizing doesn’t have to be about doing everything all at once. It can be about making minor adjustments to life’s inventory, cumulatively to make a greater impact in the near future. There is no rule that says ‘only’ give away one thing at a time. If you are feeling up to it, get rid of a few things at once. But give the items you are planning to purge the critical once over. Ask yourself the following questions. When was the last time I used this? Did I get good use out of it? Would I use it again? If the answer to the last two questions is ‘no’ and the answer to the first question is more than six months, then the item being contemplated is just taking up space needlessly. It has no relevance to your specific wants or needs. You can get rid of it and never look back.
3. It’s too easy to just fill a trash bag.
Moreover, either from some falsely perceived ‘sentimental value’ or just the environmentalist’s mantra, polluting dumpsters and landfills, a lot of people tend to harbor a sense of guilt about throwing away their stuff. Sure, you can fill a trash bag. But remember the old adage about ‘one man’s junk being another man’s treasure?’ So, if the stuff you want to get rid of is in good and/or working condition, you may want to consider either donating it to your favorite charity or offering it to friends and family who will have better need and use of it.
4. Get over the hoarder’s mentality.
A lot of us like to ‘collect’ stuff. The possibilities are endless. From bottle caps to baseball cards, vinyl records to vintage toasters and everything in between; collecting is an admirable hobby. Less so, however, when we are talking about everyday items around the house that have created an unnecessary surplus. Case in point: I once asked a pal why he had two rocker-recliners in his garage; one looking slightly careworn, the other still wrapped in plastic. “I bought a new one for my living room to match my new couch,” he said, “But I really like the old one…and besides, there’s nothing really wrong with it.” “And the other one?” I pressed. “Oh, that one I got for a great price.” When I pointed out the price was not good enough to get him to move the second recliner into his house, and also pointed out there was no room for another recliner in his current living space, my friend decided it was time to take the ‘bargain’ back to the store. Remember, it’s not a ‘bargain’ if you can’t use it. Saving things for ‘some other time’ is pretty pointless, because more often than not, that ‘other time’ never comes.
5. Have a garage sale.
It’s a time-honored tradition to make a quick buck on things you no longer want or need. Garage sales can be profitable if you remember a few quick tips. First, fix your price and stick to it. Haggling is inevitable. But why waste your time hosting a lawn party for your stuff if you just end up giving it away for pennies on the dollar? You might as well donate or simply give your stuff away. Also, make sure everything has a price tag. Be realistic. You’re not going to get ‘retail’ for your stuff. A good rule of thumb; depending on the condition of an item take roughly 5% off for each year of use up to a maximum of 50% off what it would cost someone to buy the same item new today. Advertise on the sale tag the difference between your price and the current retail price. People like to see how much they are saving.