Panorama of my town

Panorama of my town

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Downsizing for Life

This blog edition, accounting my journey to live in the Flats at Ponce City Market, is dedicated to all my friends and family who helped me with one important and life changing transition - to shed myself of a life time of 'stuff'.   As I write this, I am thinking specifically about a friend, 20 years older than I, who sighed heavily as she cast her eyes around her own beautiful home, filled with 50 years of collected memories and ‘stuff’ and confessed she knows it’s time for her to go on this same journey.  I felt her pain. 

When does someone decide they have reached that time in their life when they are no longer ‘collecting stuff’ and pivot to a life of reduced consumption and less material things?  How does someone take count of a life time of collected holiday. wedding and birthday gifts, chachkas picked up on vacations, boxes of carefully files papers from a club, work, or school, books accumulated over decades of reading, enough kitchen pots and pans to start your own restaurant, and art brought back from all over the world and begin to pare it down for the next stage of life? 

How would I transition my life from a home of over 3,000 square feet with furniture for multiple bedrooms, formal living room and dining room and porches and decks and playroom, to an apartment of barely 655 square feet?  The task seemed daunting and a little scary.  The example of a 'small living space’ offered at my local Ikea made me weak at the knees with dread – I had closets at home bigger than their floor samples!   The idea, however, of cleaning fewer bathrooms, vacuuming less carpet,  mopping smaller floors and dusting less ‘stuff’, was most attractive.  Well, I did it, and I gotta tell you, it was even harder than I thought it would be but far more inspiring than I could have ever dreamed it would be.    

My family had owned this home in Poncey HIghland for over 40 years when we sold it in 2013.

My goal, I told myself two years ago, would be to ‘live a simpler life’, reduce the clutter in my life and stop collecting stuff I can’t take to my grave anyway.    My child was preparing for college and would be leaving the nest soon (I kept telling my much reluctant son).  My home was for sale and there was no way I was going to be able to pack all the stuff accumulated over the decades and currently housed in a 4 bedroom and 2 ½ bath edifice, into the much smaller apartment of my new life.

So, to prepare, I stood in the middle of my living room and closed my eyes and breathed deeply.  I took myself to my ‘perfect living space.’   What would it look like, how much light would be coming through the windows?  What furniture did I absolutely need?  How would I ‘feel’ inside the space? How would it smell?  I was shocked to realize that it was a very well lit, very old, very small place.  I saw myself in a space with a large southern exposure window where light softly flooded into the room and across the floor, and the view would always make me pause and smile.  It felt cozy and comfortable.  It smelled of baked bread, brie and a bottle of freshly opened wine.  But, I did not see a lot of ‘stuff’ around me in the space.

i knew at that moment that what I wanted was a place bustling with activity and noise and people and energy.  I wanted a place that was welcoming and joyous and filled with friends and family.  I wanted to be able to walk to anything I need.  I wanted everyone to know exactly where I live when I described it to them (and feel slightly envious).    I realized I wanted my family home of over 40 year, but on a MUCH smaller scale.  Then I realized, with great joy, that divesting 2/3 of the ‘stuff’ I had accumulated over ½ a century was NOT going to make any difference when it came to giving me what I really wanted.  So I let the shedding begin.

It took two yard sales in less than one year, dozens of trips hauling bags and boxes to the Salvation Army and local Thrift Shop, a large truck filled by Kidney Foundation staff and many, many friends and family who took whatever trinket meant something to each of them.  

As I decided what would go and what would remain I picked up or touched everything in my house, one thing at a time, and felt it in my hands and in my heart and then I asked myself ‘do I want to lug this around for another 50 years?’  I did this repeatedly over the course of a year, until the majority of ‘Yes’s’ became a majority of ‘No’s’ and slowly a weight began to lift, then an energy began to build and the fear of loss and separation began to dissipate.

This entire metamorphosis was made easier by the support of dear friends who listened to me processes over and over again and family members who finally came to get their own 'stuff' that had been accumulating in the family home for decades.  But mostly, it was guided by my mother, who had just gone through this very exercise the year before as she prepared to transition into a senior living facility and a tiny efficiency unit of her own.  I had listened to her as she processed and watched her eyes as she touched each thing in her home that walked her gently back through years and precious memories and then I watched as she let it go.    If she could do it, so could I.  And so I did.

I am now prepared to occupy a space that at one time would have fit inside my living room and dining room.  My son is launched with a few important pieces of furniture and kitchen supplies appropriate for a kid in college.   I have ‘corrected’ my thinking about my ‘stuff’  (well I kept all the art, I confess) and have resisted temptations to start 'recollecting.'  

In preparation for the next phase of my life, I carefully packed each remaining precious thing into boxes, and then shoved it all (the most important remnants of a glorious life so far) into a 10x10 storage unit and happily moved into my (wonderful) friend’s home in Candler Park where Loki and I are awaiting our September occupancy of a tiny, but wondrous, 655 square foot Flat at Ponce City Market, with great expectations.

I have made space in my new home for what really matters;  Living. 

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