Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Upside to Downsizing

This past Sunday, I spent several hours with my family at an old-age home celebrating my grandmother’s 92nd Birthday; an afternoon that turned into something more enlightening than the boring & uneventful dinner party that I thought it might have been! And although the evening didn’t include adventure, alcohol, or a room filled with friends, it included much story telling, reflection, and time with our family. After about three hours, I left dinner feeling reunited with my family, as well as, being provided with a further appreciation of life. 

Prior to going down for dinner, we sat around listening to my grandma tell stories of the past, to my dad’s perspectives to many of those memories, and in turn had more than a couple of laughs. As we listened patiently to this 92yr old voice, I also spent the time gazing around at her small 1 bedroom ‘condo’ and everything she had around her. She had everything she needed and on this particular evening she also had a majority of her family with her to enjoy this special day. But that was it. That was the ‘light bulb’ that turned on… ‘she had everything’ she wanted or needed in a mere 300 sq ft. place. And that’s the swimusptream lesson of the day. 

In life, it has been engrained in us that we spend the first forty years of our lives working hard to enthusiastically accumulate stuff and the next forty trying desperately to get rid of the excess. The word “stuff’ uses the dictionary meaning of “household or personal articles collectively; belongings, worthless objects; refuse or junk.” Let that speak for itself.

As young adults we start out with purchasing the trendy clothes that are in style (only to go out of style in months), the latest sporting equipment (only to realize that new ice skates don’t make us any faster), or the next new gadget (only to find out that it is obsolete momentarily after Apple releases the next generation). Soon after we find ourselves are quickly acquiring furniture and household accessories either donated by family and friends (gratefully accepting anything free) or racking up our newest Visa. Weddings generate gifts, often in multiples; sometimes items we didn’t even realize existed. Once we have a place to live we head to our stores of choice, buying everything we’ve been told we must have; new cars, new furniture, more gadgets, and the list continues. And we keep on accumulating until, one day, we realize that we have been buried alive, that too much of our time is spent managing stuff or just trying to find it. It may not be until a major life change or transition happens (and it will happen) that forces us to take action against our stuff.

Our relationships with stuff are like any other relationships; they must be managed and maintained. Newly married, beginning a family or as a new homeowner, we love our lives, our home, and all of our pretty things. We can’t imagine feeling otherwise. And then we get older and one day something shifts - we realize that our relationship with our stuff just isn’t the same anymore. Because everything we had purchased & filled our time with, really just attempted to mask the critical things that are important - the time with friends, family, our significant others, and our children. It wasn’t the next new gadget that was fulfilling us long-term, it was the life experiences & memories with those we care about. 

Bigger isn’t always better. There is a pervasive prejudice in our culture that more is preferable. That building up is preferable to scaling down. It is the same mentality that assumes that moving to a smaller place is a step downward, that having fewer luxuries makes you appear less successful as a person or that taking a step back in your career to focus on the important things in life (health, happiness, and family) is a ‘demotion’. It is actually a heightening of focus on the things you love and that are important. It means stripping away the clutter of what no longer fits or does not contribute to making your life easier. 

And as I sat listening to my grandma and witnessing the simplicity of her life, I realized that the most important accumulations in her life were not the possessions she owned but the memories that she had created. So, as we enter a New Year in less than a month, let this spark some motivation and encourage you to be confident and comfortable on the upside to downsizing your life. Because the more we get rid of clutter and its’ maintenance, the more we gain in time - our one truly non-renewable resource.

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