Don't Let Downsizing Break Your Heart

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" sounds harsh to me. Somehow it conveys your life isn't as important -- as vital -- as it used to be. Like most people my age, I'd accumulated rooms full of memories. Now I needed to condense. But I wanted to keep the process from breaking my heart. Here's how I did it.

1. Be mathematical, sort of
For the first time in my life, I called on the math I learned in high school. I was moving into a home 1/3 the size of my old one. To keep from drowning in "stuff," I realized I could take only 1/3 of my household with me. My first official act? Take a long, deep breath.

2. Eliminate the Maybe Pile first
Some of my decisions were going to be a cinch, like the Römertopf casserole I'd used twice since 1975, or half a closet of Size 10 clothes. The Maybe Pile, however, was long and complicated and filled with items that could go both ways. It had to be tackled first and rather ruthlessly.

3. Forgive yourself if you mess up
How many corkscrews did I really need? How many of my unread books? Tablecloths? I purged relentlessly. Trust me on this one though. You'll go to reach for something you need in your new home only to realize you donated it and it's now for sale at the Goodwill Store. Live with it. Or go there and buy it back.

4. Give away mementos
If it has meaning but no more real usefulness, give it to someone you know. They'll appreciate the thought. Even if they really don't need another vase, remember, you don't either. And you'll enjoy seeing the once-loved vase getting a second chance at life.

5. Keep each day's list short
That way you can feel accomplished instead of weighed down by the enormous task in front of you. Remember the days when you could clean your whole house in a few hours because your in-laws were coming? Those days are gone. Pace yourself accordingly.

6. Know your physical limits
The freezer in 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. And the haulers turned out to be terrific college kids who wanted to chat about the Baltimore Ravens, so bonus.

7. Listen to music while you pack
Just stay away from tunes that are sentimental or sad. I got by on Sousa marches, Aaron Copland, and the entire Beach Boys repertoire. Dance a little if you can.

8. Write a letter to your house
Okay, so I'm a writer and this made sense, but think about doing it. My home was good to me. It housed a long marriage, the childhoods of three delightful human beings, fun. It also contained some sad moments and a crisis here and there. Tell your house what it meant to you when you walked through that front door. Try to recall its unique smell. When you get to the new house, take out your letter and read it. Let yourself get weepy. Hey, it was a good house.

9. Concentrate on where you're going, not where you've been
I pored over new paint colors and made diagrams of furniture layouts. I tried to think about new neighbors I would meet and not old ones I would miss. My old house had a spacious backyard. My new one would have a tiny fenced-in garden off the alley. I could be happy there, too.

And I would be.

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