The Art of Downsizing

Keep it, sell it, thrift it, trash it but don’t ignore it.

No matter who we are, most of us would agree that we have too much stuff. Too much clothing, too many kitchen gadgets, too many tools (although most guys don’t think that’s possible), too many of this and that. The challenge is determining what we truly want and need to keep. 

I’m a big fan of Marie Kondo. She taught us to keep the things that give us JOY and thankfully release the rest. I really wish my parents had met Marie. Let me say that again. I really wish my parents, especially my father, had met Marie. She could have done an entire series on downsizing for depression-era parents. We are in the process of sorting through over 90 years of their lives. They kept EVERYTHING. 

We’ve made many intriguing and nostalgic discoveries. We’ve also called out their names in humorous aggravation as we find yet another folder of old taxes (dating back to the 1950’s), boxes of old receipts, non-functional electronics, wires with both ends cut off, a plethora of plastic bags, mailing packaging, clothing from days gone by along with dozens and dozens (and dozens) of items that were truly not needed anymore. They weren’t hoarders as much as they were keepers. They just knew they might need an item again one day so why throw it away or repurpose it? 

Not to be morbid, but regardless of your age, know that someday, someone – usually a grieving family member – is going to have to sort through your possessions. Drawers, closets, cupboards, filing cabinets, book shelfs, offices, shops, garages, and storage units. If you own it, someone must determine the fate of your lifetime collection of belongings. It’s difficult. It’s personal. It’s emotional. It’s all-consuming. 

The result of this experience is a fierce commitment to my own personal downsizing. I assume it will be decades before my family needs to sort through my stuff but no matter when it happens, I don’t want to burden them, and I don’t want to be posthumously embarrassed. So, here are some downsizing tips and tricks to consider as a favor to your surviving loved ones. 

Keep 7 years (not decades!) of taxes and important financial records. Hold onto birth, death, marriage, divorce, military, social security, and other essential documents permanently. Warrantees should be filed for the duration of the warrantee and then discarded along with purchase receipts. Home improvement records and receipts are helpful in verifying equity and should be kept until the property is sold. There really is no reason to keep receipts that have no tax or other relevance. 

It is important to properly dispose of documents with any sort of account number, financial information, or personal details. This means shredding or burning. Many banks offer complimentary shredding services to their customers and commercial shredding is readily available. 

When it comes to personal items, if you haven’t worn it, used it, or needed it in the past 12 months, you probably won’t wear it, use it, or need it in the next 12 months. Like Marie says, take every item of clothing out of your closet and drawers. Put them on the bed and only put back the items that “give you Joy!” and will be worn again. Carefully fold (we do love her standing vs stacking trifold) what you want to keep and thrift, sell, or trash the remaining items. Don’t hold on to your “skinny” clothes. Reward yourself with new ones when you drop those pesky pounds.

Repeat for the kitchen, bathroom, shop, living and storage areas. Remove everything and lay it all out. It doesn’t work to simply look in the drawer or cupboard and tell yourself it is sorted. Items become invisible after time, so you need to touch them and think about them to truly determine their fate. Make three piles … keep, thrift/sell, and trash. You might be able to pick up some extra cash organizing a garage sale or selling higher value items online. 

For the things you are keeping, be neat about returning them to their rightful location using organizers or small boxes so that you can appreciate your hard work and maintain an organized lifestyle. Keep a vacuum and a rag handy to clean out drawers, closets, and cupboards for a fresh start. 

Don’t attempt to do this all at once. If you take on one zone a month, you will make incredible progress over the course of a year. And above all, don’t begin collecting again. Before you buy, ask yourself if it is a need, a want, or a future giveaway. A good habit is to get rid of one old item for every new item you purchase (such as with clothing) so you don’t accumulate again. 

Believe it or not, it is liberating to reduce the volume of your material possessions. You can’t take it with you and one thing is certain, if you hold on to it indefinitely, your family will wish that you had.

The opportunities for your next Montana adventure are unlimited and Cherry Creek Guest House is ready to serve as your home away.

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