In “The Downsizing Dilemma, Part 1,” we established the fact that our kids don’t want our stuff. That’s the why of getting rid of things. But even after we POGOs have accepted this painful truth, we’re still left with the how of it. All those decisions! All those fond memories! All those irrational attachments! I’m assuming you’re not a hoarder. . .are you? If you are, the American Psychiatric Association has cognitive-behavioral therapy and meds for you. But if you’re just a run-of-the-mill procrastinator like the rest of us, here’s what the experts advise:
Don’t even think about renting a storage unit
You’re just postponing the inevitable. Americans can rationalize keeping anything and apparently we do. In 1995 just one in 17 households rented a unit; now it’s one in 10. No wonder there are almost 50,000 self-storage facilities in this country, double the number of McDonald’s and Starbucks locations combined. Moreover, we shell out big bucks for these units; on average the popular 10’ X 10’ storage pod costs nearly $2,000 a year. According to Ann Gambrell, a professional organizer, “People end up spending money because they can’t make a decision.” If that sounds familiar, ask yourself:
Do I have to go it alone? A disinterested party (obviously not your spouse) can act as the voice of reason. Bribe a friend, bring in someone who arranges yard sales, or engage a certified appraiser. Also, think about hiring a teen to put all your loose photos into albums and/or do the heavy lifting.
Could I get another one easily? We all keep so many things because “We might need it someday.” But even if you ever do need it, which is doubtful, could you get it easily? Downsizer Smallin Kuper applies a 20/20 rule. “If you have a used possession that you could repurchase for $20 or less or borrow from a neighbor in 20 minutes or less, toss it,” she says.
How many do I really need? If you were living on a boat, would you use more than one cutting board, one sauté pan, and one comfy reading chair? Keep that nautical image in mind. The same applies to collections, where one fine cup could represent the whole of your mother’s old tea set, for example. If you photograph the rest, parting with it will be much easier.
Have I got room for it? Most of us vastly overestimate the capacity of our new, downsized space. One woman told me she was getting nowhere discarding furniture because every time she and her husband considered one of their pieces, he said breezily, “Oh, that will to into my new study.” “Right,” she thought to herself, “if it were the size of Versailles.” She finally had to bring in a space planner to bring him down to earth.
Could I resell or get a tax deduction for the castoffs? If the answer is yes, you might get a lot more excited about selling and donating. Many people do well on Craigslist, eBay, and other online resale sites, especially if they do their homework on how comparable items are priced. Other people use Close5 and letgo, apps that connect buyers and sellers who live near one another. And still others are comfortable with no-tech solutions, such as yard and estate sales. Giving away has its advantages, too. Tax deductions can become meaningful if you donate a substantial amount of goods to charitable organizations. The psychic rewards can be even more meaningful, because you’re helping the less fortunate today while saving your kids from the pain of sorting through your things tomorrow.
Nostalgia is not your friend
Many of us could part with a ratty old sofa without too much angst, and books and clothing aren’t too emotionally loaded, either, says organizing guru Marie Kondo. (Clearly, she’s never seen my electric blue Stuart Weitzman’s with the 4” stiletto heels.) But if you start reading just one old love letter, you’ll be lost on Memory Lane for hours. The same goes for photo albums. The solution to the latter is digitizing—which guarantees you’ll never look at those photos again.
Not so susceptible to digitizing are old scrapbooks. If you can’t part with the swizzle sticks from your senior prom or the cocktail napkins that say “Dawn’s Sweet 16,” don’t. Set aside these personal treasures in a half-way space. When you come back to them after getting rid of the easy stuff and they still, in Kondo’s phrase, “spark joy,” I say keep ‘em, even if the only place they can go is the sock drawer.
Downsizers will tell you that when you divest yourself of possessions, you feel liberated and free to focus on what’s really important, like your grown kids. But, hey, wasn’t your son supposed to retrieve that 15-year-old rusty bike he’s so sentimental about? And wasn’t your daughter going to take back the moldy cheerleader outfit she swears represents the apex of her life? They better hurry up; curbside pickup is only three days away. . . .
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