Downsizing your stuff used to be just a necessary step taken by those who were moving from a larger residence to a smaller one – a situation most typically faced by retirees transitioning into the latter stages of life.

 But then came the simplicity movement of the late 1990’s when Simple Living magazine and others of that ilk promoted the joys and benefits of scaling back. “Taking it back to basics” was a popular theme throughout the first years of the new century, albeit a mostly voluntary one. And then came October, 2008 and the involuntary recession.

 Now we’re hearing anew the joys and benefits of downsizing your life, along with in many cases, the brutal financial necessity of doing so.

But how do you separate yourself from your stuff? This is apparently a fascinating subject, if you go by the growing number of organizing shows on TV. The latest trend is watching compulsive hoarders – people whose continual acquisitions overwhelm their capacity to manage it all. Studies have found that  hoarders may suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder which makes it exceedingly difficult for them to part with their possessions.

Most of us, however, don’t acquire things because of OCD. We accumulate stuff because it helps us to define who we are. Or it looks nice on us or in our living space. Or because we “need” it. Or because we have money in our pocket. Or because we can’t find our other one(s). Or… just because.

 This is not necessarily a problem if we have room for all of our stuff. But what usually happens is that after a number of years, our interests or desires or life situations change and we find ourselves with a bunch of items that we’ve either outgrown or can’t fit into our space anymore.

 Thus, the need to downsize.

And the attendant problem: emotional attachment to our stuff. There’s my friend with the jar of her children’s baby teeth; my neighbor’s groupings of books-received-as-gifts; my client’s collection of her late pets’ collars and leashes; my daughter’s accumulation of childhood playthings and my own boxes full of lifetime memorabilia. Am I saying to toss it all out? Heaven forbid. We all need some touchstones and reminders of the goodness in life gone by.

But…very few people have the time, the space, or the resources to keep and care for everything that’s had value in their lives at one time or another. Decisions have to be made at some point and we need to evaluate where we are and what works for us NOW.

How does one do that?

Moving to a smaller place can certainly help because you physically don’t have the room to shift everything over. But some words of caution here: You should never ever ever move things into paid storage without a clear idea of when they’ll be coming out. I’ve seen clients pay ridiculous long-term fees for storing stuff that they never got around to processing.

And if you’re not moving, but feel overwhelmed by your stuff? Ask yourself, honestly, the following questions about each and every item you own:

Do I use this?

Do I love this?

Am I just keeping this because it might come in handy someday? If you answer yes to this question, throw the item out. Virtually everything might come in handy someday.

The idea is to keep only what you use and/or love. If you’d like to pare this group even further, consider taking pictures of items that you’d like to remember but don’t have enough storage space to save. Most of us hold onto more than we should, and are constantly trying to figure out how to eliminate the clutter. But a much more effective approach is to first identify our treasures and figure out what we want to do with them, because what we value helps to remind us of who we are and what’s significant at this juncture in our lives. Treasures can be displayed, preserved, or otherwise enjoyed but remember, if something contributes to our happiness it shouldn’t be hidden.

I’m a fan of downsizing as opposed to clutter-busting. Yes, we do have to get rid of the crap in our lives, but that shouldn’t be the focus of organizing.

Gather your favorite stuff together and have a blast. Life is way too short to do otherwise.

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