June 15, 2014

Downsizing - Weeding the Dandelions

Downsizing has its pros and cons.  Over the past six months I’ve gone from living in an overly abundant 3,500 square feet,  to a moderate 1,100 square feet with storage space that was more than enough for one person, and then just recently to a "cozy" 580 square feet.  Though the choice from move to move was mine, it was no less a challenge reducing my belongings scaled to 3,500 square feet down to 1,100 square feet, and even more so from 1,100 square feet to 580 square feet. (The primary reason for me quoting numbers in this case is because, let's just be real: in the case of space, size does matter.)

These subsequent reductions in space challenged my attachments to my personal possessions in a way that surprised me.  After all, I am no hoarder, or so I thought.  Growing up, I was a purger, doing “spring cleanings” twice a year, tossing books and toys that I didn’t need anymore, reducing the unnecessary clutter in my bedroom, a child's microcosm of a grownup's house.  But as you get older, get married, expand your living space, you collect things both intentionally and unintentionally: china from your great grandmother, Christmas ornaments, greeting cards both received and for future use, winter clothes/spring clothes/summer clothes, wrapping paper for every season purchased end of season from Target - you get the idea. 

Downsizing to my current living space was perhaps less emotional than my initial move, but it was no less challenging.  Because my first move was the result of leaving my marriage, packing up the pieces of my life that I decided to take along with me was extremely difficult, especially because it meant that I had to choose between X and Y, both of which were linked to memories, most of which were fond.   

So while that move involved packing stuff into boxes, the things I took and the things I left were much heavier.  And every single thing that I left or placed into those boxes bore the weight of emotion: a potpourri of guilt, abandonment, sadness, fear, and also, of course, love.

This time around, particularly because I was moving further geographically from my relationship there were still emotions involved, but because the things I was packing had since been desensitized from the first move there were less tears.  This was counter-weighted by the self-imposed reflection on, “What do you I really need?”, which of course transpired into a series of philosophical questions about materialism and connection to stuff.  And even though I’m far from a hoarder, I'll be the first to admit it: I am a member of the Finer Things Club. You're welcome for the homage to The Office.

Personally, I thought I had done a great job getting rid of precious cookbooks that I loved but had never used, clothes that I hadn’t worn in a year, serving dishes that had yet to be pulled from the above-fridge cabinet since I had moved into my apartment five months prior.  This was only confirmed by my frugal friend, who said, “That’s a good roasting pan – are you sure you want to get rid of that?”  “Yes,” I responded with the confidence of a newly minted minimalist.  "Those are good wine glasses in that box."  "Yes, I'm sure."  This was before I entered my new pint-sized apartment in the city, of course, where minimalism was no longer a more luxurious exercise, but a mandated requirement. 

There, I was faced with the dilemma of getting rid of things like camisoles - the necessary staple of every woman’s closet – of COURSE you need one in every single color and all the assorted Bell canning jars that looked so homey and chic in generously-sized cabinets and which suddenly appeared greedily plump competing for space with efficiently slender packets of beans and nuts.  And let’s not even get into the pots and pans situation or the wine-glass situation or the button collection.  And I won’t even mention the tchotchkes.   

By the time I had pared down my belongings to the bare necessities, giving away my nearly 10-year-old Cuisinart food processor (that, let’s be honest, I may have used twice a year, which was nothing that my streamlined basic Ninja couldn’t serve), those wine glasses that had to be given up for more functional drinking glasses, and unused gift boxes, et al., I felt kind of empowered by the challenge of getting rid of possessions that previously I had not been able to part with.

When I was faced with the dilemma of Do you need/use it vs. Do you like it? the plaintiff clearly won.  While my appreciation for minimalism has been developed out of sheer necessity, I now understand the greater importance of not being too attached to material things.  But perhaps even more importantly, I’ve realized that weeding out the dandelions in your life makes way for the morning glories to grow, for which morning glories need not only water and sun, but space too.