A Tumultuous Downsizing Project

By late October our life had taken a nose-dive toward the uninhabitable center of the earth. We decided to put our house on the market for only the month of October to let fate determine whether we’d finally downsize to our little cottage. Fate decided. We downsized.

For three weeks in November we were betwixt and between two houses; not fully settled into one, not fully moved out of the other. Some people find the whole process invigorating (me) while others find it quite miserable (my husband).

It’s difficult to describe the amount of purging required to fit ourselves into 975 square feet of space. To make matters worse, those 975 square feet had already been furnished for the vacation rental market so there were two houses to clear out instead of just one. We dealt with the furniture first.

My sister was fortunately in the position to take several entire rooms – accessories, art and furniture. Julie, our friend and dearest of all realtors, took another significant portion of furniture and a variety of other things for the very extraordinary vacation rental properties she’s renovating. The two of them saved the day. We kept four rooms of furniture and sent the rest to consignment stores all across town. Then for the next two weeks we dealt with stuff.

For almost everyone I know (except maybe our friends the Markham’s), we accumulate stuff we don’t need. We had buckets of old photos, candles of every color and size, four hammers, three ladders, too many bottles of glue. I had several dozen pairs of shoes, purses I didn’t use, and a matching robe for every pair of pajamas.

Our gym upstairs housed three different types of stationary bikes, a treadmill and a full set of free weights. There were towels in every bathroom, multiple sets of linens for every bedroom, 25-year old Christmas ornaments, a music box my parents gave me 50 years ago, and every medal, racing bib and trophy from the past 11 years of road racing.

There was no chance I would throw everything down to the curb for it to end up in a landfill, so I sorted everything and tried to find the appropriate home for all of it. More than likely I’ve touched everything I own a half-dozen times each.

Eventually the purge ended, and we left our house with barely a whispered goodbye. We were exhausted.

The first week that we lived in the cottage our neighbor across the street walked out of his house and had a massive heart attack right there in the middle of the road. Another neighbor and I reached him about the same time while my husband dialed 911. The neighbor and I performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, and then they worked on him for some time before he was pronounced dead at the scene. It was upsetting for the neighborhood as a whole. I had trouble sleeping for several weeks.

Sunday before last was a beautiful warm day. I spent the afternoon working in the yard and decorating the cottage for Christmas. The man’s widow was out walking their two dogs so I worked my way across the street to offer condolences. The dogs were on especially long leashes and reached me first. Still wearing my gardening gloves, I reached out to let them smell my hands and instinctively bent over to say hello. One of the dogs jumped up and bit right through my nose. A trip to the E.R., a visit to a plastic surgeon, and eleven stitches later I was glad to still have something that resembled a nose on my face. Three days later my son arrived from Texas with his new wife and their two dogs.

We had planned their trip months before we sold the house that had extra bedrooms and plenty of bathrooms, so we booked them into an Airbnb down the street and kept their two dogs at the cottage – along with our three. It was a full house: five dogs, four people, and also love and fun all around. Their trip ended with a freak snow storm that hit Western North Carolina over the weekend leaving us with oodles of snow and only a generator for power.

Ours has been a tumultuous transition, but we do enjoy life at our little cottage – and for the first time since October, there’s nothing to pack, move or get rid of, nothing on our schedule, and enough time in every day for a run. Life is good.

De-Cluttering My Life

My husband and I bought a small cottage to downsize one last time and live a simple, care-free life by the lake. The decision has tormented me every day since.

There wasn’t an immediate need to downsize, so we’ve spent the last few months readying the cottage for the vacation rental market. We could make a little money while creeping down the path to old age, and then we’d downsize. But it’s such a sweet house, and it has everything we need. Not an ounce too much. We found ourselves daydreaming about the day we’d live there.

Then we’d come home and our house seemed so excessive – and so much work. We started seriously considering downsizing sooner rather than later – maybe within the next year.

A year seemed like enough time to reduce our footprint, but moving into a house that’s a third the size of our current home was overwhelming. A decision looms everywhere: will this fit, will that fit, do I need this many shoes, books, house plants, or flower vases? Sometimes the answer is don’t-even-ask-I-can-not-possibly-part-with-that. The longer I attempt to downsize the more I’d rather toss everything and start over – except I don’t think I have the nerve.

That’s when I set a goal of getting rid of one thing a day. Some days are easy with dozens of things making the cut. Other days I close my eyes and hold my breath as I hand over a solitary pair of shoes at the Goodwill drop-off.

I’m familiar with the guideline that things should either be functional or beautiful, but we don’t need thirty wine glasses in our cupboard or three sets of china – no matter how functional or beautiful, and I won’t even admit to how many decorative pillow covers there are in the linen closet. Those beautiful, silk pants with the side-slit up to nither have been hanging in my closet with the price tag still attached for years. It was a daring purchase at the time, and I realize if you haven’t been brave enough to wear daring by the time you’re 58, chances are good you won’t – or shouldn’t be daring now.

After several weeks of this torture we had a change of heart – or clarity of mind. There’s a better way to find out if we can survive life in a small cottage with three dogs: we’ll move in. Now. Before we downsize.

The vacation rental strategy is on hold.

We met our landscaper at the cottage yesterday, and it was dreadful. Our little sliver of a back yard is filled with mud. The porch isn’t finished, which denies us that final check-off on the last inspection, and our lead carpenter has had the flu for over a week.

Some days are downright discouraging, but nonetheless we are on a path to giving this little cottage a trial residency – and that’s exciting. I guess no matter which house we ultimately live in for the immediate future, I’ve learned some things about the soft under belly of our belongings.

There have been days during this cleansing process that I looked around the room and imagined if I could only take one thing, what would it be? I’m glad I won’t have to only choose one item from each room, but it makes you think hard about what’s most important.

Another thing I realized was how good it feels to free myself from things I felt a responsibility, or an obligation to keep. It’s agonizing to imagine getting rid of mother’s china. She loved that china, but she didn’t use it and we don’t either.

For the life of me I can’t remember the details surrounding the conversation I had with my dad as he drove me to my high school graduation so long ago, but his advice from that day was that you can love something, appreciate its beauty without having to own it. That advice has been more helpful than ever these past few weeks.

The downsizing won’t go away during our trial residency, but there’ll be oodles of time to sort out my strategy. And if things go awry somehow in our tiny house experiment, we’ll just move back home.  🙂

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Almost ready for occupancy.