on downsizing and the things that stick


You know, it doesn’t matter how much stuff we have, Missy is going to judge us regardless, and we are all complete FAILURES in her eyes. Damn, that cat gives good shade.

I’ve been getting questions about how a person gets rid of things, which I have to tell you amuses the life out of me, because I frequently feel as though my own things are closing in on us. I know that this isn’t in fact true, but to have multiple somebodies asking for advice on getting rid of things strikes me as especially funny.

So, Wise Old Owl face on now:  the first step, friends… is to cheat and move so frequently in the beginning of your marriage/ life together as a family that you just can’t have a lot of stuff to start. It’s brilliant! Also, it still won’t exactly stop you: I had a prodigious book collection, truly epic, and probably more than a little heartstopping to any mover who had to take it on. I have no idea how we crammed that into our tiny apartment in Alexandria, but when we brought it into our Baltimore house it needed to live in boxes for months because we were too busy trying to figure out how we would put down floors around it in order to later put up bookshelves. (This is how I learned that large collections are not always good things.)

When you move as much as we did, it’s too expensive to accumulate a bunch of things, because you have to work around them so much, and stuff gets broken and lost as you transfer from one location to another. That helps a great deal with your sense of attachment to your belongings.

Really, once we settled down, the stuff did finally happen. Ten years in the same space comes with a certain amount of accumulation, and while we did periodic culls, there’s just this level of “what even is this” that shows up, including a few boxes of straight- up, “no, seriously, I don’t think these are ours” items that showed up after the fire. Sam and I don’t like having excess things- that horror of being owned by our property that I’d mentioned in an earlier post- but we don’t want to live a completely austere, minimalist life, either. There’s a middle ground, but it involves vigilance against the creep.

I started off- loading yarn earlier in 2015, as soon as I had any inkling that we might be looking to downsize. The Kids were thinking about moving out and the house seemed vulgar without them, excessive, plus the winter utilities were a beast, and THAT YARD, folks. It was easy at first; look for duplicates, the obvious largesse, and get rid of that. Then I went for anything that had been sitting for more than a few years; I clearly wasn’t chomping at the bit to use that, so let it go. All high- quality tools stayed, any duplicates going to friends.

It got harder then; emotion needed to get set aside. I can (and did) apply this idea across the board when getting rid of things, but the yarn and fiber was one of the hardest areas to work, because I was dealing almost exclusively with materials from my studio. All really emotional, all quite personal; some of those skeins, I remembered exactly who’d dyed them, the day they were dyed, and what we were doing that day. (I still remember who received/ bought them, in some cases. It’s all a thing.)

Here’s the rub: it’s just stuff. Inanimate. The feelings I’d projected on to those items are very real, based off of experiences that were real, but it had little to do with those items in that time in space. I was just keeping, hiding, hoarding. They’re made for use; I wasn’t using them and that was a shame. Nope, nope, nope. Out the door they went.

I went through this downsizing a category/ room at a time: yarn, clothes, shoes, books, kitchen, bathroom, etc. I didn’t use a book or website, just made lists and went through categories in a way that made sense to me- I felt that this might work efficiently, be more organic. Applying the same concepts I’d used with yarn to clothing, shoes, my kitchen: I ran into some mental roadblocks, the old “what if I need this later” Yankee thinking, but rational mind won. When I’d find myself stuck in that rut, I’d remind myself of two things:

  1. I need space and a sense of order more than I need this Silly Thing; and
  2. I haven’t used or needed this Silly Thing in x months/ years, if I randomly need one of these, I can borrow one from a Silly Thing- having friend.

You would be amazed at how many friends have the exact Silly Thing you need. Just last week, we had the Silly Thing someone else needed. Community is everything.

Anything multipurpose gots a second look, because we were moving to tiny house. Anything with storage came along- our coffeetable is also a storage cube, we have a gateleg table in the kitchen, my cedar chest serves as a mailing station, and what was the fiber cart now holds cookbooks, oils, spatulas, and water bottles. Wall racks are our friends. You get the idea.

Teamwork helped tons. We spent a lot of time congratulating each other on getting rid of things. It sounds silly & a little childish, but if you live with someone, making a game out of it, making it a goal and working together to make more space for your life is super motivating! I have noticed that even if your partner (or roommate) isn’t so excited about the idea, if you get started clearing the space, frequently they’ll sort of jump on board because it makes the space feel a lot better. THIS IS NOT ME ENDORSING THROWING SOMEONE ELSE’S STUFF OUT. DO NOT DO THAT THING. That is a terrible thing to do. But if you start working you might notice that your partner gets into it, too, even if they originally thought it was unnecessary.

A lot of this had to do with remembering why I wanted to do this originally: priorities. We needed to ask ourselves, repeatedly:

  • Is this item as or more important to me than a sense of space and order? (Because if I don’t cull items, I might lose my sense of space and order.)
  • Does this item have real, actual use to me?
  • Does this item add value to my life?
  • Does this item make me happy?
  • Will this item fit into our new home?
  • When did I last use or enjoy this item?

If I couldn’t answer those questions satisfactorily, then I needed to decide where the item went: trash, donation (thrift store/ internet), Craigslist, or a friend. We needed to come at this in waves, too; what seemed essential two weeks into the process seemed weirdly unnecessary after a month of clearing through things— don’t be afraid to double- check your work.

I have a one- thing- in, one- thing- out policy now (unless we are talking about groceries or art supplies, because you need to feed yourself to live & these are consumed), and we tend to ask ourselves questions before we purchase anything, too, which helps keep the amount of things down. Actually, I’m going to list my personal pre- purchase questions out, because that might be helpful here, too.

  • Is this something I could easily borrow, make, or find for free elsewhere?
  • Was this made in- country, locally, or ethically? (Support my friends first!)
  • What will do I need to take out of my home to make space for this?
  • How will this purchase enhance/ improve/ affect our lives?
  • How am I feeling right now? (ie, am I at Dick Blick because today is a pisspoor day, or because I actually need more paint?)

I’m not running this list every single time I’m picking up a head of cauliflower, but any time I step into a major retailer this is pretty much how I do it. It helps. I feel like we’re buying space and order by not buying physical goods. I generally prefer active choices- eating a healthy lunch, going for a walk, calling a friend- as opposed to passive ones like these, the abstentions. You can always “replace” an unhealthy habit with a healthy one, but it isn’t always the same— filling the ice cream gap with jogging just doesn’t work for a lot of people. This trade- off, though, works for us. I don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for anything. I’d never find it if that were the case, really- that’s just not how I work.

So there you go. There short answer is: we downsized via priorities. Funnily enough, I borrowed someone’s copy of Marie Kondo’s book shortly after we landed, because everyone kept telling me it mirrored so much of our experience, and while I’m not completely on board, I think there’s some good stuff in there, so if you’re asking me about these things, it’s probably for you.

Complete aside: if you follow me on FB, you probably saw that I made an Announcement this week. I can’t get into the nitty- gritty yet, although a lot of you have made some Very Good Guesses, but as soon as I’m able to give details, you know I will. I’m just happy I can talk about it! I’m terribly chuffed to have been asked, and while it means I’ll be buried in work for the next 6- 8 weeks, it also sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m in very, very good company. (I’m not going to lie, I’m thrilled to head out to Colorado for a minute, too. Mountains! Hallie! Travel! The great wide West!) I’ll keep everyone updated as news arrives. Thanks for all the support and good wishes, everybody.


  One thought on “on downsizing and the things that stick

  1. February 3, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    Everything you said about downsizing works. One other thing I did is how to deal with the maybe pile. I boxed it up. If I got into the box within 3 months it stayed. If it sat in the box and I never thought about it, out it went.

    I’m in the process again of rethinking so many things. I can’t go back and change what has happened but I can look at what I might have changed and make future plans that head in that general direction.

    The cull of doom is happening here. I don’t know what the actual end point really will be but there is just too much in this tiny house for my comfort. Add in three Corgi girls, one of which is blind, and I just need to clear out some space so she’s more comfortable too.

    Dick Blick…. I just have to stay OFF that site. If I lived near one? It wouldn’t be nearly as easy to say no. You have strength.

    • February 3, 2016 at 7:14 pm

      Oh, at least the Dick Blick is 20 minutes from me, so I have to SET OUT to get to it. Which doesn’t stop me, at all, but I can’t accidentally pass by, which I appreciate.

    • February 3, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      AFTER all of this, I totally borrowed a copy- of course, right? Everyone kept telling me that I sounded like her. I like a lot of what she says. I don’t think it changes your entire LIFE, exactly, but… kind of sort of a little bit.

  2. Gail Rector
    February 4, 2016 at 12:37 am

    Tortitude… It’s real.

  3. Gail Rector
    February 4, 2016 at 12:45 am

    One other thing… I’m 67 in a month, I have comforted myself with stuff for decades. Albeit cool stuff of course but after living and raised two children in this same house (not tiny but under 1000ft/sq) since the mid 80s, the stuff has tetered on the edge of winning for the last five at least. Now I’m comforting myself with making space. Why just this evening, from the back of a pantry shelf, I threw away a can of Las Palmas enchilada sauce so old it was not fit for living thing consumption.

  4. Hallie
    February 4, 2016 at 1:43 am


    • February 4, 2016 at 7:55 am


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