Friday, March 9, 2012

Some lessons from downsizing - Bill Smith

Sarah and I will be moving in to our new co-housing home this fall! Right now, we are living in the house we built during the past ten summers. It has been a rare treat to live in this house in the woods, right next to a tidal salt-water inlet. But our real sights are firmly set on moving to Belfast. And we know that, before it happens, we need to do some downsizing.

This won't be our first time. In fact, last spring we sold our house in Salem, Massachusetts (where we lived for 32 years) to move to our self-built house in coastal Maine. Here are some of the things we learned:

Start early. We decided to have a sidewalk sale. It's amazing how much stuff one (or two) collects living in the same place for 32 years: two bowling balls that came with the house, a tandem bike that we rode all around New England years ago, six chairs in need of repair, 200 books, a half-size guitar, duplicate pots, unused pans, two perfectly good garden hoses... But, it was an easy way to get started--not too hard, socially satisfying and marginally profitable - kind of like doing warm-ups before a run. Interestingly, the only items that attracted very little interest were the books. So, we made a cover for them and put up a sign that said "FREE"... worked like a charm. Over the course of the next few days people stopped by, browsed a bit and went away with three or four books. It felt as though our books had found good homes.

Give things to organizations that can use them. In our case, we donated lots of clothes and some furniture to a mission store that was only a few blocks from our house. Then, we found a book-donation place--home for 50 or so more books.

Think of the people you know. I had a hammer dulcimer that was one more than I needed. My friend, Jen, had always talked about learning to play one. So, I offered it to her and she took it with pleasure. Sarah had a wonderful (and quite extensive) stamp collection from her childhood. One of our relatives would be thrilled to have it, right? No thanks. Apparently, stamp collections are not big interests among today's youth. But, we ran across our quirky and erudite friend, Chris, one evening on the streets of Salem. "Stamp collection? Sure! When can I come by to get it?" This sort of thing happened often over the course of the next few months. Instead of feeling bad about losing items, we felt great to know that our friends were going to enjoy some of our treasures.

If you build it... Shortly before moving, Sarah and I invested in a mattress that we hated. It turned out to be so heavy that we could barely lift it to make the bed! No way were we going to bring that monster with us. On the other hand, who wants a used mattress, even if it is almost new? Enter two old friends who were moving to Maine for one year. They just stopped in on their way north. They were all set with a rented place, but they needed some household items, most notably...a mattress. Sarah and I could barely contain our excitement! In a half hour it was on top of their Joad-like truck and on its way.

Bring things with you in a smaller form. We had a huge collection of CDs that took up a lot of room and was usually in disarray. Sarah gave me an Ipod for Christmas and it gave me an idea. I put all 4,000 songs on the Ipod, kept the discs and threw away all the packaging. All the CD's now fit in three neat albums! Now I would like to give them away. Next, the records are going on the Ipod--should be fun.

Mostly, downsizing has been a satisfying, at times sad and reflective, process. We are about to launch into another round. I hope it goes as well as the last one. And, I hope it is the last one for a good, long time.