downsizing and stuff – part 1 – the nest

Many of us are:

  1. thinking about downsizing.
  2. talking about downsizing.
  3. reading articles about how to downsize.
  4. going through stuff wondering “where did this come from?” as if it had snuck in when we weren’t looking. Or better yet “why did I buy this?” and having no answer to “why did I keep 6 shovels or this roll of ‘perfectly good’ rug scrap for 30 years?” [My favorite – “I swear these hangers are reproducing overnight. I keep finding more.”]
  5. purging piles of stuff or at least trying to.

And what is stuff? Well, everything is stuff. The hardest stuff to deal with….are those once precious belongings or mementos and, yes, diaries and journals that we hold on to for….”later.” Boxes and bags gathering dust in remote corners of houses and apartments and basements and attics; the stacks increasing year by year. The packing tape yellowed, cracking & falling off. This process is often jump started when adult children move out. Really move out.

The thing is…the term “empty nest” is misleading. The nest is not empty when the kids who inhabited said nest leave all their stuff behind…crammed in the nest they flew out of. Hmmm… That is not helpful.  A good friend of mine suggested Rubbermaid storage totes. “Put all their stuff in those totes. Let them come get them.” I knew we could never downsize with buckets of toys, sports cards, dolls, stuffed animals, books, clothing, magazines, saved schoolwork, etc. The Molly doll that my daughter saved up money for? — upside down in one of those buckets, glasses askew. That didn’t seem right. She once had a seat at our Thanksgiving table. Sigh.  Well, the kids flew the nest and and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Back to stuff. The solution to getting rid of the kids’ stuff ending up being fairly simple. I offered to ship it all to them via a pod. They could put it in storage where they lived (400 miles away in a major city). Panic ensued. “We don’t have room. Wait. WAIT.” They arrived a few months later, sorted through (most of) it, pared it down and rented their own storage unit nearby – a vastly cheaper alternative. It’s been 4 years and Molly remains safe and sound and upside down a few miles away. She is surrounded by 10,000+ carefully catalogued sports cards, a dog-eared collection of Babysitter Club paperbacks, and much more. Sorry Molly.

Adult children these days (when did I get old enough to say “these days”?)….do not want their parents’ (free!) old furniture or dishes or silverware. Ew. Old brown furniture. Ew again. No sentimental attachment to the kitchen table where one made earrings out of Cheerios? Or displayed the college acceptance letters? Or spread out racks for cooling Christmas cookies? They politely decline. I am not sure what the deal is there; but it is comforting to have this ice breaker discussion with any downsized empty nester. I am not alone. Look in any Goodwill, Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity Restore facility – it is packed with old brown furniture that baby boomers have donated. Their kids don’t want it. An antique dealer I spoke to about this phenomenon snorted “all they want is that cheap Ikea stuff.”

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