“ I have learned that what the next generation will value most is not what we owned but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved.” Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe and Pulitzer prize winning journalist. And a columnist I never missed reading as I was growing up.
I start every class about downsizing with this quote.
“…who we were and the tales of how we loved.” Doesn’t sound like it’s much about keeping the wok we want to use someday or the French books from college, does it?
But it IS the story telling tradition. Back again and in vogue!
This quote and its meaning are never more poignant, never more clear to us than when someone we love has recently died. It’s so clear that it’s not about our stuff and our toys, but the essence of the person, the tales of how the life was lived, what he/she brought to each one of us, and what we learned. There are always people in my classes who have quite recently experienced the death of someone they loved dearly. The classmates are a wise voice to hear for us all.
Emotionally, downsizing is difficult, but in different ways for each person. At first, the hardest part always seems to be: Where do I start? I have a whole house to go through. We’ve lived here, raised children here, worked and played here, for 30, 40 or more years.
Where do I start? The understandable feeling of overwhelm is almost contagious, it’s so palpable.
Once we get past that and get started, the hardest part is living up to the quote from Ellen Goodman.
Downsizing is difficult because we’re reviewing our lives. Every object is judged and a decision is made about whether to … for example, keep all or some of the Hummel collection.
We’d taken years to collect our statues. Each Hummel has its own story, so how can we decide? This one was the anniversary edition because we’ve been in the club 20 years. This one was from my favorite aunt, who enjoyed singing, just like the Hummel she gave me. And so on.
If you don’t enjoy collecting them as much as you used to, and if you’d like to pass along the “evidence,” how about taking a photo of the collection, or of you with the collection? You’ll have the visual for your memory. You’ll tell the stories about each statue. You could write down the stories or audio tape yourself. Or what if you went through your collection with the person you’d like to give the statues to. All of these lovely ways to pass along family stories the next generation will retell for you.
What a beautiful way to tell the “tales” of who you’ve been. Tell the stories as you gently pack each statue for its new home. Maybe you’ll keep one or two or a smaller group of favorites, reducing, but not eliminating. Reduce, don’t eliminate — watch words. No regrets decisions is what I espouse and teach.
Right after I give my classes the quote about “evidence” and “tales of how we loved,” we talk about moving forward. I use the phrase “rightsizing” for our next chapter in life.
Sure, of course, it’s necessary that that we tell the tales (and even grieve sometimes) about what we’re gifting to other people, about what we are genuinely giving up of our past.
But go at your own pace, not someone else’s. Take your time. Drop the word “should” from your thinking and language. Whose “should” is it anyway? Not yours, I’ll bet (from experience!)
But once we’ve done that, we need to look at our current life. Where are we headed? Why are we downsizing? What are we looking forward to? What’s coming up? What do we value?
It’s a new chapter, and just like in that book you just finished reading, the end of one chapter is a sad thing sometimes.
But then… remember how you feel with anticipation of starting a new chapter? Or a new book ? And all the excitement that goes with it?
Life is like a book, with many chapters. Live life in chapters.