D is for downsizing (without moving)

Image 076Sad to say my terrific neighbour is moving out today, and while he is in the process of moving to a place with more room for his changing circumstances, I am reminded that when I moved here, my situation was just the reverse, I had to do a massive ‘down-sizing’.

Truth is moving or not, it is healthy to do a yearly assessment of what your life has become in terms of day to day living and whether you are just keeping stuff because you’ve always had it, or whether or not you are brave enough to do the assessment of what you need for who you are now. I do this a lot with clients who are parents of growing children in terms of what ‘clothing’ fits now and will still get wear in another year and what ‘toys’ suit the child’s age in terms of development. As adults we too can benefit from periodically looking at what we have outgrown and who we are in terms of our ‘things’ and what our stuff is saying about us. It’s healthy to do, and often better than welcoming in the new year because fresh starts can begin whenever. OK, so you’re wanting to get going but how to motivate oneself to do such an overwhelming task. Where to begin?

As they say, it’s all about learning how to eat an elephant. One bite at a time. Start small, use a technique called ‘flashlight focussing’. Use a flashlight (torch), and shine it on one area and only deal with the items that are literally in the spotlight and give yourself a time limit. Even if it’s just 15-30mins. If you don’t have a flashlight, then use a bed sheet, or a towel. Throw it over one area of the space you plan to work on, and memorise sheet borders.

Start in one room only, and make it your favourite room (once conquered it will encourage you to tackle another and then another). Ask yourself:

  • What do you love about it.
  • What you can’t stand about it .
  • What you need in it.
  • What you don’t need in it.
  • What you’d like to improve about it.
  • How it makes you feel when you are in it.
  • What you actually ‘do’ in there.
  • Also think about the colours in it and whether they are working for you in terms of positive emotions. Look also at which objects have the colours you want to keep.
  • Pretend, – if you were going to move, what ‘wouldn’t’ you want to put in your new life?

Next, work your flashlight clockwise around the room, and at each stage, take note of how your emotions feel as you go through each of the following steps. Don’t be dictated by the dollar value of items, we are interested in first the practical and secondly the emotional value. Now …

  • First remove any clearly visible objects you wish were not there, (note ‘gut’ response).
  • Only leave objects that clearly have a purpose and function and must remain, followed by truly loved objects (not ‘kinda’ loved objects). If not totally satisfactory think of how you could improve them.
  • Make a note of any dumping grounds, look at what has been dumped there; how long this stuff has been there; why this stuff doesn’t have a place; and how often it gets dumped there. Should that area be converted to an area with purpose to prevent ‘dumping’. In other words does each object have a ‘home?’ Does it deserve the real estate position you have given it?
  • Assess the volume of space needed for kept objects, and any practical storage functions of these items. Also look for objects that could be used for storage (e.g. an old shoebox may be able to contain socks or stationery within a drawer.
  • Look at each area in the room in terms of zones, e.g. do you or could you dress in this area? do you put make-up on here? do you watch television? do you prepare food? This will dictate the necessity items that need to be kept in that immediate space, counter-top, drawer etc. For example a tray could house coffee/tea making items atop a microwave and relieve pantry space, while keeping everything neatly together near the kettle.
  • Look at what is purely decorative, and give them a rating. This will help you decide which items to keep, store and rotate or let go of. You may find that only 5 items will work on sideboard, keep the best five that work together to tell a story.
  • Think seasonal, are the objects lingering better stowed away until winter? Is the colour scheme keeping you too warm during the summer? Do you really need that throw blanket?
  • If you are choosing to let go of items, decide on how. Will you donate? offer to family and friends? have a garage sale? sell through the classifieds,? or dispose, whatever you decide commit to a date on the calendar, and follow through. Don’t leave them in new ‘piles’.
  • If you are going to store some things seasonally, do it properly and make sure you have the room to store them without creating problems elsewhere in your home.

Incidentally the flashlight focussing technique can be applied to other areas of your life as well. I have often used it to help my son with schoolwork as often he would look at a page in a textbook or on a worksheet and be totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of reading or questions. Simply use sheets of plain paper to cover the areas of the page that aren’t being read or worked on and slowly reveal more text or exercises. This can also be applied to work ‘to-do’ lists and ‘meeting agendas’ to keep you focussed on topic.

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