“Downsizing” can be a loaded term: for many older adults, it can feel like moving from a full life to one of lesser satisfaction. However, whether downsizing in order to move or to be safer in our current home, the process of letting go can prove rewarding and fulfilling in its own right.
As we age, it is natural to accumulate possessions: we need them to fulfill our roles as workers, parents, and partners. Objects become an extension of ourselves— they help define who we are, shaping our identity and our ties to others. As these roles change over time, it may be difficult to discard items that once played a key part in our lives, even though those roles themselves have changed.
For example, children’s bikes, toys, and sports equipment hold memories that seem to be part of the objects themselves. But when the children are grown, why are their bicycles still in our garage twenty years later, as if they will spring into use at any moment? An older woman who has suffered a debilitating stroke may feel an intense yearning to keep her formal punch service for twenty; her years as a hostess ended long ago, but her love of friends and family can be found in those glasses. Objects are infused with our feelings for others –at heart, clutter is often a manifestation of our need to feel loved.
What many people, young and old, are realizing is that downsizing is also metaphorical: it can be emotionally freeing to understand that our love for one another is not dependent on an object. Our ability to recognize that our past is stored in our hearts and minds, not in the garage or china cabinet, will shift us in the right direction. Downsizing should honor the past while looking toward the future. A home is not a historical museum: it should support our current roles, interests, and talents. Surround yourself with now, and allow the future to unfold.