I hadn’t moved house for 30 years, and until a year ago I had no particular plans to declutter or downsize my home. In Part 1 of this blog I introduce my thinking around downsizing, and summarise the process through a two minute video.
Part 2 of my blog analyses some of the available research about downsizing. From this I’ve learned more about the wider benefits of downsizing, for the benefit of society and the economy.
In this third part, I describe the nine key reasons that helped me decide why, when and how to downsize my home.
The more I indulged my vague thoughts about downsizing, the more I discovered reasons to take on this life-challenge as soon as possible. So what persuaded me personally?
Here are the nine reasons that made up my mind to downsize. Do you recognise any of these? Can you identify with any of them?
Nine reasons why
- Health matters
- Letting go of my past
- Live every day …..
- Unleashing my creativity
- Ethical and social influences
- Financial stuff
- Changing needs
- My wellbeing
Even if you are not at the point of wanting to downsize, this list may be a useful starter to inform your thinking. Here’s a bit more detail behind my nine reasons.
Shortly after exiting the day job in early 2018, I picked up a stubborn sports injury. It became quite difficult climbing stairs and walking for several months. I guessed (rightly) that the injury, the slowness of diagnosis, then my recovery were all age-related. Early warning sign duly heeded.
I also noticed that the house was getting bigger, and less practical. Low-level cupboards were mysteriously less accessible! Under-stair shelving was almost a ‘no-go’ area these days. The staircase was getting steeper. This rekindled fleeting memories of my mother, in her failing health, looking up her staircase, and christening it ‘my mountain’.
Added to a long-term back condition, the sports injury crystallised to me that if I was going to move house, I mustn’t delay.
Adopting the principles of an ancient Chinese proverb:
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
Letting go of my past
I no longer felt the need to stabilise my life through staying in the big old house. This is what I had clung onto it after my significant relationship concluded a long while ago, toddler in tow. This is what I had as a child, and what I wanted for my child. I was desperate to give her continuity and stability, as I became an individual parent, with all that entailed.
To provide financial stability, I’d worked in difficult corporate roles for over twenty years, which didn’t necessarily suit my free-spirited nature or enquiring mind. Juggling motherhood, full time work and travelling is never easy, however we came out the other end relatively unscathed.
I have raised my daughter to the best of my ability, kept the same roof over our heads, and prioritised parenting in everything I planned and did. She is kind, caring, industrious and fun. Having recently achieved a first-class honours degree in psychology, she is loving her new role as a mental health support worker. With ambitions to become a clinical psychologist, I feel she has not only survived, she has thrived. A part of me feels that ‘my work is done’.
At last I knew it was my time.
Live every day ….
Strange things happen to people as they progress through life’s decades. It’s very common to want to strip out the unnecessary experiences, and negativity in your life. The things that make you feel restricted, inadequate and sometimes that you can’t breathe deeply enough. Things – or people – can suck the air from a room, and get you in a stranglehold before you realise it.
I certainly have that feeling that I no longer want to live my life through others’ expectations and assumptions. Whether it’s:
- involvement with groups that don’t feel quite ‘right’ for you
- neighbourhood parking arguments
- resource – intensive tender applications
- one-sided or high-maintenance friendships
Sometimes it’s almost easier to continue with these – except that it’s not.
I can best explain this in a phrase inspired by Marie Kondo and Dr Dale Atkins:
“Let go of the all the things that don’t spark joy, and get to the essence of who you are meant to be.
Get to your reason for being.”
Unleashing my creativity
I am a creative person, and this is reflected in the way I think, the way I work, and the way I join the dots in life. I have always loved renovating and refurbishing old houses, after buying my first one at in my early 20s. That is when I discovered what a table-top bath was. Even the ‘big old house’ had an outside toilet when I moved there in 1987! So for forty years I have lovingly renovated every home I’ve lived in.
I reasoned that the right type of little home would provide the perfect opportunity for me to get creative again. Hopefully without quite as much expense or hard graft compared to continually updating the big old house. I wanted to move somewhere that needed a makeover, not a rebuild.
Ethical and social influences
Apart from the financial and practical cost of staying put, I started to seriously question the ethics of hanging on to this big house. I knew that a young growing family would snatch my hands off for it. I also reflected on my level of consumption and ‘need’ in the big old house. I started to feel I was being greedy, selfish, and could be happier with less stuff, less space and more time to enjoy my third age of precious life.
As I reflected on what was important in life, my goods and chattels diminished before my eyes. I realised that when you work full time, you compensate yourself by purchasing things that you don’t really need. While I don’t like to think I have been frivolous about finances by any means, the fact was I had accumulated ‘stuff’ that I hadn’t really used for twenty years.
I felt I was paying to own and to heat a lot of air that I wasn’t using. I felt I should consume less energy, and use less space. I needed to find a much smaller ‘air pocket’ next time round. I needed to hand some of my personal footprint back to help the bigger situation in some small way.
At this time, I was also becoming aware of bigger global issues – the housing shortage, the demographics and climate change. I’ve since learned that these are, or should be, central to any downsizing story (see Part 2 Blog Research section for more).
The ethical and social factors are a big part of why I’m writing this log. I could have just put my feet up at the end of it. But something compels me to share my story. I want to help and hopefully influence others to consider these wider, important reasons for downsizing.
The reality for fellow WASPIs (Women against State Pension Inequality) is there is a gap of several years between retirement from full-time occupation, and receipt of the state pension. It isn’t something I’d had much warning about, so I hadn’t made provision for the pensions trap.
I knew I could reduce my energy bills by moving, and that I could free up some capital, without getting trapped into a ghastly ‘equity release’ scheme.
I also wanted to support my daughter into a suitable career path, and onto the property ladder. I didn’t particularly have that type of encouragement from my family, for reasons not just of their making. I was anti-establishment, which meant I declined to dutifully follow their career paths.
I inevitably trod some interesting paths to make up for lost time, financially. However, it’s not to be recommended for everyone, and my daughter is far too level-headed and sensible to entertain such waywardness. So fortunately my latent maturity will now help us both to achieve our dreams and goals in life.
I had ‘stuff’ that I no longer needed once I’d given up the day job – from business suits, to wheelie-briefcases to lunchboxes to adequate risk-assessed space for ‘working from home’.
From 2015, I’d reduced my hours in the corporate role and established my own Change Management business, and a full-sized office in my home.
Fast forward five years, and I increasingly store material online. I communicate electronically with collaborators and clients, and utilise remote workspaces when possible. I now work part-time, and plan to close my business next year. I no longer needed an entire room for a home-office.
I had to acknowledge and embrace the different stage of life I was approaching.
Also, I was determined that the next home I renovated would be largely cosmetic. The days of rebuilding and hard labour were over for me. The tools of the trade were surplus to my future requirements. So the big pantry full of tools, paint, and ‘just in case’ fixtures and fittings accumulated over 30 years had to go. Miscellaneous garden tools, including the lawn mower went the same way.
I found myself relying so much more on my small phone to find things out. I didn’t need all the dictionaries, travel books, cookery books or ‘interesting fact’ books as much. I needed to be brave to part with many of these things, however once done, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared.
I’d cleared the loft a few years before, as the size of children’s toys reduce with their age and dexterity. Replacement iPhones and laptops took up very little space. Note-pads, pens and papers became surplus to requirements as electronic devices improved by leaps and bounds.
For all of the above reasons, I started to realise the ‘big old house’ was sucking up resources and energy, while the opportunities it had undoubtedly presented were turning into challenges. I no longer had to prove anything to myself or to others. I’d been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. I’d completed forty years of hard labour, and had paid off my mortgage.
At last the time had come to focus my energy on other things that would make me feel equally happy and fulfilled, without the physical slog, the emotional drain or the financial upkeep.
So – what’s not to like about protecting my health and wellbeing?
I wanted to make the changes while still lap-top literate, and in possession of most of my skills and faculties. I’ve heard too many people say ‘It’s too late for me now, or ‘I should have moved years ago’. I think my change management skills kicked in, and I had a good idea of the timeline, the scale and the steps to get me started on this lifestyle project.
In summary – there was never going to be a better time to move.
It really was time to wake up and smell the decaff!
If you are considering decluttering and downsizing your home, or other big life-choices and need more information, please get in touch. I have enough for a book!
If you want to know more about Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering homes, here is a link to her Kon Mari approach.
Without initially realising that we take similar approaches, my next blog describes how I used some of the same Japanese approaches. However, I used these project and lean management tools to not only declutter, but to radically downsize my home and my life too.
Good luck in your change endeavours, whether downsizing, other life-changes, or business change.