Thursday, March 19, 2015

Channeling My Inner 12-Year-Old



Thanks to a years-long economic downturn, many of us have lost our livelihoods and must pare down our belongings and find a more affordable way of life.

It’s called downsizing your life, and it’s not easy. For me, one of the most challenging aspects was figuring out who I was and what I was going to need in my new downsized life.

It had been so long since I was free to do what I wanted, yet I couldn’t do anything expensive. I wouldn’t be able to afford to take up skiing in Aspen. I couldn’t become one of those people who go on three cruises a year. And I certainly wasn’t going to be able to open up a cute little gift shop in a tourist town; who’s got the money for that kind of overhead?

That said, those of us who tend to be frugal have always known that you don’t need much money to have fun. That belief is what finally helped me discover which few items of my oversized lifetime accumulation of stuff should be kept, and which needed to go.

In the end, what I figured out was that I still love to do the things I loved to do when I was 12. And since I, like most 12-year-olds back then, had very little money, the things I enjoyed cost little or nothing.

Why 12? For me, by age 12 I already knew my own mind but had not yet been distracted by boys (age 14+), the pressure to get good grades (ages 14-21), career success (age 21 +) and motherhood (age 25 +).

At 12, I read voraciously, often to escape the boredom of the classroom. I read books from the public library, so there was no money involved.

At 12, I learned to sew. Whenever I visited the small Southern town where my grandma lived, I stopped by the local fabric shop and picked up a bag of remnants for 25 cents. This kept my little sisters in doll clothes and me in sewing projects. Cheap fun!

At 12, I loved music. My little black transistor radio brought me great joy, as did my record player and a growing collection of record albums.

At 12, I loved to ride my bike all over town. It provided an escape from my family and the most freedom I would know until I learned to drive a few years later.

At 12, I had a garden. I grew bachelor buttons and potatoes and green beans. I still remember the taste of fresh buttered potatoes straight from the garden….mmmm!

Once I rediscovered these joys at the age of 50+, it became much easier to decide what to keep. I kept my very favorite books, my long-forgotten sewing supplies and our gardening tools. And I bought a nice high-quality Trek bicycle.

Everything else had to go, including the rest of the books. (We had accumulated hundreds over the years). Now I live with only my most favorite items, and they’re being used all the time.

Thanks to technology, many of my favorite things take up little space and cost little if anything. Books that aren’t in our public library can be stored on my Kindle. Going to YouTube lets me hear entire albums. Pandora offers a great variety of music whenever I want it.

So now I can enjoy my favorite activities with low clutter and at little or no cost; I call that the joy of downsizing!

If you’re overwhelmed by years of accumulated stuff and need to downsize your life, take some time to go back to your youth. What did you like when you were 12? How did you spend your time outside of the classroom? What did you enjoy doing before you were distracted by adult responsibilities? I’ll bet you’ll find some clues there.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

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 on their own, 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 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.