Thursday, February 2, 2012

Downsizing - Lessons Learned So Far.

Written by Karen
Santa Cruz, California
When Adam and I determined that we would take a year or so sabbatical away from our current lifestyle and travel around the world, we started to downsize. It was a practical decision.
In the Bay Area, storage facilities start at $200/month for roughly the size of a suburban bedroom. That’s not much space when you consider we currently have a 1400 square foot house with 3 bedrooms, 2-1/2 bathrooms and a full garage. Even with significant reductions to the amount of stuff we currently have, it will still be an expensive proposition to store and manage whatever household items that we decide to keep. So, starting to reduce the amount of stuff we had accumulated over the past twenty-five years was a motivating factor in our decision to downsize.

Lac d' Annecy, France
But there was also a philosophical component to our decision as well. Over time, we have become increasingly aware of how unnecessarily complicated and routine our daily lives have become. We wanted to change our focus regarding how we spent our time and our money from being on autopilot to being purposeful. The decision to travel lightly – and slowly – around the world contributed to this desire. If we were in some out-of-the-way area, we didn’t want to have to worry about bills being paid on time or to stress over whether money transfers had occurred without a hitch. We wanted to become nimble adventurers unfettered by routine complications and completely open to the possibilities presented.
Santa Cruz, California
The progression from beginning to physically downsize to also looking at ways to simplify our lifestyle came naturally. The combination seemed relatively straightforward. Less stuff equals fewer things to manage; fewer monthly financial obligations equals less stuff to manage; less stuff to manage equals more freedom and flexibility. Our plan became two-fold: reduce the amount of extra stuff we had; and, simplify our lifestyle. 

At first, the low hanging fruit of simplifying our lifestyle was easy enough to dispatch in relatively short order. Our first objective: reduce the amount of unnecessary monthly financial obligations. We started unraveling the outer layers of entanglement that had built up over time. We cancelled our landline telephones, unused gym memberships, multiple magazine and online subscriptions. Although it took time, that was the easy part. 
Salzburg, Austria
However, as we evaluated our routines and our habits, the answers became more difficult. It seemed that each step of the way required us to thoughtfully evaluate our current lifestyle – our status quo – and make a judgment. 

Because here’s the bottom line when you downsize and simplify your lifestyle: You have to really evaluate what is important to you. How you spend your time. How you spend your money. Who you are today. What your priorities are now. You can’t just continue down the road on autopilot doing the same old, same old that you have always done. Choices and determinations must be made. 

Amsterdam, the Netherlands
It’s complicated because our lifestyles are really an outward reflection of who we are and how we present ourselves to our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. We get so caught up in the day-to-day that sometimes we forget what our true values and priorities are as we shuffle from one obligation to another. We often feel unbalanced and yearn to achieve that elusive work/life balance as we run multi-tasking to another appointment. But, it is not until you actually step back and evaluate things in their entirety and in perspective that you begin to realize and determine your life priorities for this stage in your life. The process of downsizing and simplifying our lifestyle has put that topic front-and-center and in crystal clear focus for us.

It really comes down to how you currently choose to define yourself as an individual and as a couple. 

Yosemite, California
This was a light bulb moment for me. It’s not just about getting ready for a trip. It’s about taking the time to understand who we have become, taking stock of our changing priorities, shedding layers and things that have been accumulated over time, and getting in sync with who we are again. We are beginning to rebalance the scales of lifestyle, values and priorities and redefining who we are today. 

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
We are still in the throes of downsizing and in the beginning stages of simplifying our lifestyle. This process takes time, patience, persistence, and hard work. It’s also important to both of us that we make this transition from our current lifestyle to the unknown gracefully. This may result in our own travel timelines being pushed out a bit. So, we might be taking things a little slower than others might. 

Zaanse Schans, the Netherlands
Whether you are downsizing for a long term travel adventure, moving to a smaller house, or just trying to downsize and simplify your life, here’s what we have learned so far: 

1. Take the time. Downsizing isn’t about just indiscriminately throwing away random stuff. There is a reason why we have kept a particular object in our house for all this time. Maybe the reason doesn’t matter anymore, but I found that it is important to thoughtfully evaluate how downsizing and simplifying your life will affect you and your partner. Understanding what is important to you now – and how you have changed over time - is helpful to determine priorities and future plans. It also gives you a basis for deciding what to keep and what to toss.

2. Start early. Downsizing and simplifying your lifestyle is a huge undertaking. Huge. Don’t underestimate the time, effort and hard work that is needed to successfully downsize and simplify your lifestyle. Changing the status quo is an incredible challenge. 

3. Take inventory. Look at what you have with a fresh and objective set of eyes. After looking throughout the house, we kept things/household objects that were either meaningful to one – or both – of us, beautiful or practical.

4. Don’t be sentimental. This can be a challenge. I tend to keep cards, college papers and other documents for some unknown future reason. I was ruthless. Anything really important, I scanned into my computer. Otherwise, bags and bags of old, saved paper were shredded and tossed.

5. Stop buying more stuff. Enough said.

6. Think before you spend. Ditto.

7. Imagine your future. What could your/our new lifestyle look like? What do you/we want to do in your/our next chapter? I have begun to fully explore the possibilities that are out there. And, because I am still learning that you can’t always plan your destiny, I am trying to remain flexible and open to the unknown. I don’t know exactly where we will end up, but I can visualize a 2 bedroom flat with our remaining furniture and other personal objects comfortably surrounding us. I don’t know exactly what type of work I will be doing in a year or two, but I can visualize working part-time in areas/fields that interest me.

Zaanse Schans, the Netherlands
8. Play with color. Be bold in how you begin to redefine yourself. Step out of the black-and-white lines and roles that currently define you and play with the endless possibilities of color. Don’t limit yourself. 

9. Trust your instincts. Only you know what’s best for you. Only you as a couple know what’s best for you as a couple. Be confident as you sketch out and discuss ideas for the future. Do your research and know thyself. Balancing your lifestyle with your values and priorities is the first step in starting your next journey into the future.

10. Keep your sense of humor. Seriously.

"There comes a time when one must risk something or sit forever in one's dreams." 
                                                                                                   Trevor Peterson


SurlyTraveller said...

Boy, can I relate with your comments about downsizing and simplifying! It's certainly not easy, but feels so liberating. I actually get a real kick out of downsizing, it feels like a burden taken off my shoulders, one bit at a time. Of course, I don't have a large house and garage so it was an easier process for me, but I can relate with your pain :)
I think that the hardest thing for me (as you mentioned) was to not be sentimental- I get attached to books, to papers, to this and that. But like you, I was ruthless- old diaries were read through and only 1/100th was saved, the days that really stood out, or that captured that time in my life. Books were donated- except for a very few special ones. Not easy, but well worth it- like you said, it does open up freedom.
I'm excited for you both that you are making this kind of progress, soon you'll be free and enjoying that sense of lightness :)

Observers of Life said...

Thanks for the words of encouragement! It’s great to hear about your experience. We are still going through this process, but are beginning to feel the first hint of freedom that comes from not having so much stuff. :)