How to Downsize and Start Over

A few years after my husband died, I realized I needed to downsize and start over. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to hold onto everything I had because my stuff was my history, my identity, my nest and my friend. Still, as a widow, I couldn’t maintain the lifestyle I was accustomed to, couldn’t manage the load of expenses, the burdens of homeownership, and the care and feeding of a farm, the house, the outbuildings, the animals and the land. I loved the life I had, but my responsibilities were smothering me, my obligations were eating up all my time, and my brain was overpopulated with statistics like cost of living, interest rates, taxes, debt and resale value. I had to learn how to downsize and start over to find myself again.

Writer Billie Best had to sell her tractor to downsize and start over.

I had spent decades decorating my house, curating my look, foraging for coolness and strutting my panache. Then I brought in a couple dealers to see how much money I could get for a lifetime of objects. My ears curled when one woman said most of my stuff was crap. Another said my stuff was out of style. They both said my possessions weren’t worth what I thought they were worth, and they suggested I look up my stuff on Ebay to see the real price of things. There I learned the internet is a global tag sale, and my houseful of stuff was competing on price with stuff in Kansas and Georgia. To downsize, I had to give up the idea that my stuff was worth money.

Getting rid of so much of my history made me feel worthless, like I was throwing away my time. Selling my tractor was the first hurdle in giving up my identity as a farmer. I felt my grandmother’s hot breath when I sold her china teacups for $1 at a tag sale and had to give away all those embroidered pillowcases. A hundred manly men showed up for the tool sale in my husband’s workshop. It was a circus, and when it was over, I missed my husband. So much of my life was encapsulated in my stuff.

I was a member of Hoarder Nation. Stuff is a communicable disease. It comes in contact with our egos, drains our wallets, and multiplies to consume all available space. I lived like the purpose of life is to get stuff, and the purpose of work is to get the money to buy stuff. I endured a lifetime of stress for the status of stuff. When I was unhappy, I could reach out and touch my stuff, and it gave me comfort. My stuff was always there for me, a permanent reminder of who I was and what I had achieved.

I lost a map of myself when I let go of my stuff. But to change my life, I had to change my mind. To change my mind, I needed new surroundings. I had to downsize and start over to discover a fresh perspective. Now I’m redesigning my life. A new me blooms in the richness of my experience. I have more freedom than I’ve ever had before, and I’m looking forward, enjoying the elegance of a simpler life.

Tips to cope when it’s time to downsize

7 Unexpected Perks of Downsizing as a Retiree

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10 thoughts on “How to Downsize and Start Over

  1. Loved this! Until you start the decluttering/downsizing process you don’t realize how powerful it is. Thank you for reminding me! It’s an ongoing process for me.

    1. Yes, it is powerful to declutter your life. I think when we clean up our physical environment we have a parallel experience in our minds of becoming clearer on our thoughts. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Oh Billie you are spot on about our stuff being our identity. It sure is tough yet liberating at the same time.. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’m going in the opposite direction. New writing project (somewhat inspired by your weekly outpourings). Calling it The Big Balloon. Not sure when this happened or who said it, but it went something like this: “Rick. I’ve now seen at least 3 of your places. The rooms where you live. All seem as if you just blew up a big balloon and all your shit wound up on the walls and floor like a Big Bang Balloon. He’s right. I take a picture of something in the house and write about it’s origins. Worked today on the Whiffenpoof vinyl that you n Chet gave me. Wrote about you 2 and in particular about The Fish that I’d so coveted that Mehl wound up with. It’s part exercise and part nose-to-grindstone but worth the trouble and gives me something to edit. I love it when the unfinished is on the stove to be returned to again and again til it has snap and concise little clumps of words.

  4. I’m still reading every post, Billie <3
    I recently followed suit, sold and gave away almost everything and am back to van life. Once I tapped into the proper inspiration and momentum the downsizing process clicked into place.
    Headed up the California coast with Yogi….when I get to Portland I'll let you know 🙂

    1. So happy for you to be on the road again. Hope Yogi is doing well. Yes, please be in touch when you pass this way. I’d be delighted to meet you in Portland or wherever. You’ve got me thinking about my next road trip.

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