What Should You Keep? Well, Who Are You Now?

Like so many of our contemporaries, we were forced to downsize because of a big financial reversal: my husband’s industry shifted overseas, and he was left without a livelihood, not to mention his vocation of over 30 years.

At the same time, I was facing an empty nest. Even though I’ve been a writer for years, my primary occupation was full-time mom of a large family. By the time we downsized, some of our kids had already moved out, and the others were approaching that age.

So both my husband and I were faced with the thought, “Who am I now?” Aside from the philosophical side of that question was the very real issue of which of our things should we get rid of and which of our things should we keep because we might need/want them in the future. When you no longer know who you are, everything looks like something you might need down the road.

This partially explains why we didn’t get rid of hardly anything before we moved (the first of three moves in four years), and why we kept two storage units full of stuff before we finally settled in the little house we now call home.

I don’t recommend doing what we did. It was a big pain, as you can imagine. But we just didn’t know where we would end up or what we would be doing.

It took quite a bit of time before either of us began getting an idea of what we wanted to keep and what we could give up. Speaking only for myself, I found that as time passed and I stopped seeing myself primarily as Mom, I began to see myself as Claire again. Part of that process involved tapping into my desires regarding what I wanted to do.

I’m not talking about careers here. I can’t write 16 hours a day anyways. I’m talking about how I wanted to spend my free time. It had been so many years since I had the luxury of choosing how to spend my time that I was almost paralyzed by the freedom for a while. And even when I did do something I wanted to do, I felt guilty about spending time on myself like that.

But I’m getting over it 🙂 Since then, I’ve identified some areas of interest, things that I really enjoy doing, and as a result I was able to keep items I would need and pass along items that I no longer needed.

This may sound obvious, but when you’re faced with literally hundreds of cubic feet of stuff accumulated over a busy three or four decades, you either have to pitch it all at once or come up with a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sentimental and frugal people like me can’t just toss it all in dumpsters, no matter how much we wish we could. We need some guidelines in order to begin the sorting routine.

Once I figured out what I wanted to do, I had my guidelines. Next time, I’ll share how that process happened for me.

 

What to Do About Your Parents’ Stuff

Many people in their 40s, 50s and 60s must add to their busy lives the job of going through their parents’ belongings. Whether their folks are moving to a nursing home or assisted living, or they have passed away, it’s their adult children who have to deal with what can sometimes be an enormous amount of furniture, household items, clothes and clutter. It can be overwhelming.

If you find yourself in this situation, and you believe the old adage that “Misery loves company,” check out this article and the follow-up piece to it and learn what others are doing to tackle this huge and emotional task. You might also want to read my book, How to Clean Out Your Parent’s House (Without Filling Up Your Own).

Tiny House Living in Retirement

I recently discovered a new book about tiny houses that’s packed with photos and interesting information from people who live in tiny houses; some of them even built their own tiny houses.

Now, while I don’t think a tiny house is for me (we use our basement almost every day for our work and our hobbies), I can see how well the concept works for some people. In the new book Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building & Living Well in Less than 400 Square Feet, author Ryan Mitchell shares the stories of a variety of tiny house residents.

My favorite is that of Kathy, a retiree whose son began building her a tiny house without her knowledge (“He knew if he told her ahead of time it would be a much harder sell, so he waited until it was almost done to show her.”) Kathy now lives in the tiny house with her husband, and has found that the tiny house has made some big positive changes in her life:

She can do all that she needs to do in her home, without a mortgage and with very low bills. Her power bill tops out at $25 a month and water is about $12—not because she uses that much, but because that’s the minimum charge to keep the service on….Since she is retired, it is very important to keep her living expenses low and it means that she can do much more, like visit her grandchildren more, go out to eat with her friends more, focus on her hobbies and simply not have to worry about the bills as much…..For the first time she has had the money and the time to visit her grandson for his birthday….

So many Baby Boomers don’t have big pensions waiting for them and were unable to save up much for retirement; a tiny house might be one answer to living successfully in retirement on only Social Security and some modest savings. If that sounds like you or someone you know, you should check out this book!

In the story about Kathy, she says that her friends with large houses are beginning to wish they had smaller homes to care for and more free time like Kathy does. But she says something holds them back:

“It’s because they don’t know what to do with all their stuff that they spent their whole lives trying to pay for. They are so inclined to having stuff that it’s scary for them to think of paring down.”

To Kathy’s friends, I say “Downsize, people, downsize! Lose the clutter and gain your freedom!”

One more thing: in most tiny houses, the sleeping area is always up in a loft. Who wants to risk falling down that tiny loft ladder in the middle of the night when they need a bathroom? But Kathy’s tiny house has a futon in the living area that turns into a bed, so she doesn’t climb up into a loft to sleep. Smart!

Small House Regrets?

If anything could make me regret downsizing to a small house, Easter would have. And it almost did.

We can squeeze eight people into our eat-in kitchen. Our family now numbers 16. You do the math.

By Good Friday, I was thinking about putting up a table for eight in our living room (which would require moving furniture out of there first). The living room isn’t connected to our eat-in area, so it would be like having two separate parties. Bummer.

We couldn’t use the finished basement like we usually do because it’s so darn cold down there right now (it was a long winter) and Grandma and Grandpa get too chilled in the basement even when the rest of us think it’s comfortable.

So, thoughts of “What were we thinking buying such a little house?” began to surface.

But here’s the thing. We love this little house, and 95% of the time, there’s more than enough space for us. It’s only when the entire family gets together that it feels a little too cozy.

  • All year long, I enjoy the low utility bills.
  • All year long, I love that it only takes me a few hours to clean the entire house.
  • All year long, I enjoy the mental freedom of knowing that we have no mortgage. (We chose a small house so that we could remain debt-free.)

Weighing those things against a little coziness made it clear that we were thinking just fine when we bought this house. In the end, it didn’t matter. We had our first 80-degree day of the year, so we were able to have our family Easter gathering on the patio. What a lovely day!