Downsizing can lead to some tough questions. Like, how do you throw out a lifetime of memories?
By Sandra Bornstein
The author's family in Colorado, 1991.
It took me a few seconds before I summoned the strength to open the first box on my cluttered basement shelf. Labeled “treasures,” it was filled with my children’s old drawings and art projects, each one wrapped in white tissue paper. As I started to unpack, memories from my four sons’ early school years raced through my head. Each item made me hopscotch back and forth through time.
There was one—a piece of paper marked with a few colored scribbles—that I couldn’t place. But it brought me back to my eldest son’s preschool years. He rarely sat still and had almost no interest in art.
I found colorful handiworks in another box; an elaborate mask and an assortment of ceramic pieces made me pause. These were done by my other sons—they definitely had more artistic talent than their older brother.
Each one was indeed a treasure. But were they all worth saving?
Early on, I had chosen to hang on to most of my children’s artistic endeavors. I wanted my kids to know that I valued their efforts and was proud of their accomplishments. I knew what it felt like to have one’s creativity shunned. My mother always threw away my art projects the same day I brought them home. I didn’t want to repeat that behavior. Instead, I showcased my children’s artwork for at least several weeks. Some noteworthy pieces stayed on display indefinitely.
Weeks before, my husband and I had decided to downsize. We simply couldn’t take everything with us. Every item in my house had to undergo a new level of scrutiny. I shed a few tears as bits and pieces of my children’s childhood were smashed into black plastic bags.
So much about our decision to move was difficult. My family had relocated to Colorado to be closer to the fresh mountain air of the Rockies. This was my dream house, filled with fond recollections. The home itself was amazing, each room designed for a large family. We spent movie nights gathered around a large screen with a professionally wired sound system. We exercised together in the basement, which was outfitted with fitness equipment. It wasn’t possible to envision that the house would become hollow and lifeless when our kids became adults.
Maintaining a big home once my children were gone was hard enough, but after my husband was in a near-fatal ski accident, it no longer made sense. We had new priorities. We wanted to travel and enjoy the nearby Rocky Mountains.
It took a couple of months to sort through all our things. I discarded the notion that I needed to save an item simply because it might be needed at some unknown future date. I was overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff I had voluntarily chosen to keep. Each week, we filled our two large trash receptacles and the oversize recycling bin.
Now that the tedious and sentimental process of downsizing is behind me—and my husband and I are happily settled into our new, smaller home—I am relieved and content with my decision, as overwhelming as it was at the time.
I am thrilled that I have two less bathrooms to clean and that my vacuuming routine is considerably less onerous. Moreover, I am now enjoying a less-expensive life that includes lower taxes, utility bills and mortgage payments. But most important is the fact that my husband and I have more time and money to enjoy life’s adventures—and to make some new memories in the process.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of the award-winning book May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. Sandra currently writes a blog that focuses on life as an empty nester, book reviews, author interviews and travel. For more information visit sandrabornstein.com.