How to overcome the emotional obstacles of downsizing

Jul 31, 2023
When it comes to decluttering possessions, start with the hardest task. Source: Getty

So, you’ve decided to move, you feel happy, even excited about it, then reality sets in and you may be overcome with a sense of being stuck and not knowing where to start.

However, there is no need to feel alone as it is probably the most common feeling for many of my clients. We are all ‘attached’ to certain things. Perhaps it might be something that belonged to a loved one who has passed away, photos or mementos of a trip we’ve taken, letters and cards from family, friends or past loves, or even that piece of furniture we worked so hard for and is extra special to us.

Those items may be the hardest for you to start going through. If you are downsizing, there is every chance that you will be going to a much smaller more manageable size home so there may be quite a bit to do. When working with clients, I never tell them what they must go through first and dispose of. Everyone is different. You may need to sort through the least emotional items first, so by the time you get to your particular Achilles heel, it may make it much easier to start letting go.

Photos, letters and cards were my sticking point, so I knew I had to start that before anything else. I remember the day very well. I took myself into my office and started on box one. On the top were cards that had been given to my parents. It was difficult to get going, but I decided to only keep the special ones their grandchildren had made over the years and a few special ones they had written to each other. The rest were thrown out.

My cards and letters – again I kept all the special cards and letters that came from my children and grandchildren. They all went into a special box. There were many birthday cards and letters with names of people I had no recollection of, so out they went. My children’s school books and special pieces of art.  Now that was the hardest, especially those that had belonged to my son who had passed away nine years before. But I went through every item and kept the most precious and reluctantly disposed of the rest.

Source: Getty Images.

It sounds like this was an easy task but it wasn’t. I was in that room for almost eight hours. I shed many tears and had a few chuckles during that very long day, remembering many special moments. I was a bit of a mess by the end of the day, especially looking at the boxes of things I was throwing out and at times, had second thoughts about actually making the decision to walk out to the recycling bin and putting them in.

But once I had sat and had a cuppa and thought about what I had accomplished that day, I realised firstly, that all those memories are still with me, regardless of a card or letter. Those special moments are in my heart and soul and will stay there until I can remember no more. And secondly, I asked myself the question, how often I had gone through these cards and letters – probably once if that, and when would I be likely to do it again – perhaps never?

So sorting and disposing of the hardest things first for me, was by far the best way to start my downsizing process. The rest was so much easier. They were all just things.


This article was originally published on June 11, 2020 and was updated on August 1 2023.
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