Seeking the right size for the next moment

Attics, garages, and staying put encourage accumulation – it sneaks up like a silent invader. A big move spurs a purge. 

Prospective buyers examine a tea table at an auction house in Bolton, Massachusetts. Baby-boom parents are finding that their children don’t want their stuff.

Downsizing seems to wander into my conversations with friends these days. Many of us are trading in familiar surroundings, reevaluating space and need. Moving helps this process of purging the unnecessary, and my grown children applaud from afar. There is nothing in my antiques-laden home that they want, and I admire their desire for simple, uncomplicated living. They do not collect.

Years of staying put encourages filling the nooks and crannies. Accumulation sneaks up like a silent invader. My antique pudding-mold collection grew to dozens as I couldn’t resist picking up another mold with a lion or sheaf of wheat, a geometric design or flowers. I even found one at an antique shop inside Disney World when the children were little. They could not escape Mother’s search for treasure and shook their heads as I carried the heavy ceramic mold throughout a day of waiting in long lines.

Home is memory that stirs the heart. I cannot part with a little metal box I bought from a boy who followed me in Yemen or the wooden sculpture carved by a young artist I saw every day in Tanzania who called me Mama. But hundreds of books could go to the library’s book sale, and ancestral china and silver could find new family lineage. Do I really need a dining table that seats 10?

A garage and attic are enemies of downsizing. Like stubborn guardians of the past, they reduce the incentive for change and provide safe harbor for clutter out of sight. Dusty boxes can spend decades unopened, waiting in vain for the possibility that someone will want their contents.

Moving across the country recently to a smaller home required some hard choices. There was no excuse for inaction with a moving van due at my door.

I was happy to read about a local young couple who were starting a residential home for those recovering from addiction. They came and took beds, paintings, tables, rugs, bicycles, and much of what filled my kitchen. Another nonprofit loaded for more than an hour, packing its truck with furniture, tools, and lawn ornaments for its resale store. I felt lighter, even buoyant, freeing myself from what was no longer necessary for my journey forward. My excess could help others.

Sometimes we feel owned by our possessions, and I wanted to break those chains. Moving is like singing the words of a loved hymn to a new tune. We can replant our sense of home in fresh soil, letting go of things that weigh us down. Shedding outgrown definitions of home makes room for new views and growth, for accepting what opens our eyes to the wonders of progress and change.

Adjusting to new tech may be unsettling. The familiar becomes obsolete. Our telephones now go with us. They take pictures and give directions. We no longer crank open car windows; letters are written online. And while I miss the whir and clatter of a slide projector, my boxes of slide carousels holding memories of travel and family have been reduced to thumb drives dropped in a drawer.

Walking with my young grandson not long ago, I paused in front of the display window of an antique shop. “What’s that, Grandma?” he asked, pointing. “It’s a typewriter,” I replied with a sigh.

Technology changes; places and possessions do, too. But we still communicate with friends and family and value what enriches our lives. As housing changes, our sense of home need not. Our true home has no boundaries or fixed location. 

Home travels with us. Unlike four walls that are bigger or smaller, our hearts can always expand to make room for more friendship and love. That’s where I want to live.

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