It was true. My kids were grown and gone, I was divorced, and it was time to leave my home of 26 years for something smaller and more manageable. Gulp.
The word “downsizing” sounded harsh to me. Somehow it conveyed that my life wasn’t as big as it used to be. I still felt “big,” but it was true—I had accumulated rooms full of memories and too much stuff. Now I needed to condense, but I wanted to keep the process from breaking my heart.
Step one was just math
For the first time in my life, I called on the math I learned in school. I was moving into a home one-third the size of my old one. If I was going to keep from drowning in stuff and embarrassing my kids by ending up on “Hoarders,” I realized, I could take only one-third of my household with me. Even I could do that math. My first official act? Take a long, deep breath.
I made a Maybe Pile
Some of my decisions were going to be a cinch, like unloading the Römertopf casserole I’d used twice since 1975 or donating half a closet of Size 10 clothes. The Maybe Pile, however, was large and complicated. Cookbooks, gardening tools, and not one but two seasoned woks (each with its own personality). There was the dilemma of wall art—prints and watercolors that still had emotional pull but no corresponding wall space in the new house. I had to tackle this pile first and rather ruthlessly. I weighed emotion vs. practicality. When I pictured my new little space, practicality won almost every time.
I punted. Often
How many corkscrews and tablecloths did I really need? How many unread novels that sounded so alluring during a Fresh Air author interview? I purged relentlessly. And of course once I was in my new home, that first time I reached for the book that had that great Nora Ephron quote in it, it was gone, mocking me from its new home at the Goodwill Store. I went online and Googled the Ephron quote, and wondered why I hadn’t done it that way in the first place.
I gave away
I passed down to my kids several overflowing plastic bins full of their artwork from third grade, their high school diplomas and their baby books. And I gave them a liberal supply of childhood photos and scanned the rest for me. Now they are never farther than my laptop. I also was generous with vases and lamps, in spite of the fact that few people really need another vase or lamp. My new closets, of which I have few, are thanking me.
I knew myself
I remember with fondness the days I could clean my whole house in a few hours because my in-laws were coming. Those days are gone. I paced myself accordingly by keeping each day’s list short. That way I could feel accomplished instead of being weighed down by the enormous task facing me.
I learned how to say, “Help!”
Getting the freezer out of my basement was an easy decision, of course. And as long as the guys from the hauling company were coming, I looked around realistically and saw other large items that were beyond my muscle power. The haulers turned out to be terrific college kids who wanted to chat about the Baltimore Ravens, so bonus.
I listened to music
I knew if I strayed to music that was sentimental or sad, I’d hit a bump in my organizational strategy, so I chose wisely. I got by on Sousa marches, Aaron Copland and the entire Beach Boys repertoire. And once in a while—because no one was there but me—I danced.
I wrote a letter to my house
Okay, so I’m a writer, and this made sense. My home was good to me. It housed a long marriage, the childhoods and adolescences of three delightful human beings, fun. It also contained some sad moments and a crisis here and there. In my letter, I told my house what it had meant to me when I walked through that front door after a rough day. I recalled its unique smell. Then, when I got to the new house and waited for the moving company to arrive, I took out my letter and read it. It helped me bridge from the old to the new. I got weepy. Hey, it was a good house.
I looked to the future
I pored over new paint colors and made diagrams of furniture layouts. I thought about new neighbors I would meet and not old ones I would miss. My old house had a spacious backyard. My new one has a tiny fenced-in garden off the alley. New plants, new shrubs. Smaller ones but no less important. I knew I could be happy there, too.
And I am.
Linda Hummel’s work has appeared in Newsweek, Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and many women’s magazines.