As I discussed in a recent post, retirement may bring with it an opportunity to move. While figuring out where to move to can be exhilarating and fun, at the same time, we may be strongly attached to the place we already live in and to the things we keep there. Especially if we are living in the home in which we raised our family, the prospect of moving, and the downsizing that usually accompanies it, can turn from being an exciting adventure into an endeavor both a little sad and more-than-a-little daunting.
We loved the house on Cape Cod that we moved from three years ago. But because we also loved the house we were moving to on the Gulf coast of Florida, we wanted a fresh start, so we were reluctant to drag along all of the things we had accumulated at the Cape. That house was overcrowded with possessions from a consolidation of three locations that we made right after retirement ten years ago: our former house in Connecticut, my office, and the already-furnished house on the Cape that we had been using as a vacation home. We had duplicates of many things – can openers, sets of silverware, guest towels – and in some cases, triplicates – three paper shredders, anyone?
But what to do with all that stuff? Even some things we had only one of meant something to us in one way or another: keepsakes from the long-departed, souvenirs from trips, boxes of holiday decorations, spare parts for appliances, extra furniture that ended up in the garage, books and books and books, knickknacks galore, a whole closetful of photo boxes and albums, and on and on. These all could have very likely stood in our way of a smooth transition from Massachusetts to Florida.
But we were determined to downsize. Yes, many of these things had precious memories attached to them. Even after many years, just looking or touching some tangible thing can evoke a strong emotional response. But something we also knew and needed to keep in mind: they were just THINGS. We found out that we could keep many of the memories without keeping the objects themselves.
The miracle of digitizing
Many of us stopped buying “real” books a long time ago, in favor of electronic books, with the obvious space-saving (and other) advantages. But we went a step further – the books we had been holding onto over the years for various reasons badly needed culling out. We ended up giving most of them away and the ones we truly treasured, we bought again in electronic form and put them in a file marked “Special Books” on our computers. And sure, we saved some really, really favorite books in their original form, but the result took up a lot less space!
If you haven’t already digitized all of your photographs, you’re missing out. Not only does it make it much easier to preserve them and to share them with others, the electronic form takes up a lot less room! We went from that closetful of photo boxes and albums to a few memory sticks, with the added benefit of it being so much more well organized now. No more hunting for family pictures in the boxes of trip photos! Once digitized, you can sort the pictures by person, date, location, or any other way your heart desires.
But it doesn’t stop there. I had a large box of papers having to do with my mom, who died about 19 years ago, including her high-school diploma, her marriage certificate, stories she had written as a young woman, and so on. I really wanted to keep all these things to keep me connected to her, so I digitized each item and I now have a file of these mementos on my computer that I can look at any time I want to. The large storage box is gone.
More ideas for digitizing
I can honestly say that this purging can be a big relief! There’s a wonderful book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing which recommends that you should keep only those things that genuinely make you happy and everything else should go. It’s the “Konmari Method” and you can read more about it here. Together with digitizing, downsizing can actually be a joy rather than a misery.
I'm Linda Fleit. My husband and I were lucky enough to retire when we were 61, about nine years ago. We love being retired and want to share all that we've learned over the years about this wonderful stage of life.