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What comes and what goes? The art of downsizing

Meet the Webers and join them on their journey to Fairway Knoll - 3rd in a Perspectives blog series

Carol and Fred Weber can hardly contain their excitement. In about a month they will be moving to their new apartment at Fairway Knoll in Germantown, WI. We introduced the Webers last fall and invited you to come alongside them to learn about their experiences, choices, and decisions as they prepare to move to Fairway Knoll. Now, they are in the throes of packing and preparing for the move. It’s often a stressful and tolling process – both emotionally and physically. Their decision to move into a smaller space requires that they make decisions about what will come with them and what goes out of their home and lives.

We can learn from them how, with planning and persistence, downsizing doesn’t have to become overwhelming. Even better, the Webers have discovered that planning for the move is building their enthusiasm about the next chapter of their life. They share their experience about how organization, preparation and tough, but firm, decisions can make the process a lot more manageable.  

Start early 
Over 2 years ago, well before they had reserved an apartment at Fairway Knoll, Carol and Fred began downsizing. “We started early because we knew that it would take more time and energy than we expected,” said Fred. Once they signed a lease in the fall of 2017, the process has been in full swing. “On one hand, I’m so grateful we’ve had this time so as not to be pressured and stressed. On another hand, moving day can’t come soon enough,” said Carol. 

Plan ahead
Carol and Fred keep a floor plan of their Fairway Knoll apartment on their current dining room table. "We look at it every day, so we’re dreaming about it every day,” said Carol. Knowing how much space they have allows them to plan for how much furniture they can bring how much storage space they’ll have for belongings. They tapped their son, Michael who is a professional interior designer, to join them in this process. “Michael came over and we went room by room to inventory what we absolutely wanted to take along, what didn’t matter, and what would absolutely not go,” said Carol.   

Pay attention to how you live and what you use
Carol and Fred have been asking themselves, “What have we used in the last year and possibly could use in our new home.”  They have been paying attention to their day-to-day routine noting and writing down which items they use the most. This motivates them to pare down duplicate items and start boxing up what isn’t useful or necessary. 

They’ve also assessed their lifestyle goals and limitations that come with aging. Fred said, “I love to bike and I had 3 bicycles. I sold two last summer. The remaining one I rode around and I could see that I wasn’t as steady.” Fred realized that at this point in his life it was best to let the bike go.  

Pace yourself and organize as you go
The Webers recognize that going through a houseful isn’t something they could do in a weekend or even a week. “I have to pace myself,” said Carol, “otherwise it can become overwhelming.” They try to be realistic and take the time to make thoughtful decisions. “We’re taking it one room at a time, box by box,” said Fred. 

Wisely, they’ve optimized holidays and seasons as an opportunity to sort. While packing away Christmas, they chose the decorations and holiday items they wished to keep and boxed them separately from the remaining items. “We had family over the 4th of July last year,” Carol remembered. My cousin commented on my garden ornaments exclaiming, ‘Oh those are my colors!’  So I said, ‘Then they’re yours!’”

Make firm decisions and compromise
The Webers have been marking their belongings into four categories: definitely bring; maybe bring; sell, give away or discard. Of course, they haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. Fred was determined to bring along his favorite bookcase and antique roll-top desk “Where will we put them, they’re massive!” questioned Carol. Once again, they consulted their floor plan and Michael’s best advice. Fred said, “I had to concede the bookcase, but the roll-top desk is going with me!” Knowing how attached Fred is to the desk, Carol is willing to make it work. Such are the small victories along the way. 

Save the memories
“No matter what we give up, we take memories that will always stay with us,” said Carol. Even so, she admits it’s not easy to let go of things that they received as gifts, especially from their family. “I wrote an email to our children and share how sad I feel about getting rid of things they gave us,” she said.  Among her many treasures, Carol collects Christmas nativity sets. “I’ve gotten rid of so many,” she said, but she is keeping a few that hold the strongest memories and bring her the greatest joy. She and Fred know that their best memories will continue to live on through photos and conversations with loved ones.

Give away to family and friends
Carol and Fred have discovered that downsizing itself can be an opportunity for sharing and enjoying great memories with family and friends. They’ve given away many belongings so that these useful items can continue to be enjoyed.  “It’s fun to see that someone else likes our things and are happy to have them,” said Carol. They’ve been listening carefully to conversations with friends and family and, when an opportunity arises, have offered items that might help out. Fred remembers when visiting friends mentioned the need for artwork framing. “So I brought up a whole collection for them to choose from,” he said. Amidst their generosity, Carol and Fred hold firm to one restriction, “Whatever you take you cannot bring back – no refunds.” 

Hold on to your hankie
The Webers admit that downsizing can be a very emotional process for everyone involved. They’ve also discovered that it’s okay, even necessary to pause and let the nostalgia take over for a bit. “I’ve had a couple meltdowns,” Carol admits. “We’ve been so happy here. Last Christmas, I had all the decorations up and it got to me. So I just sat down in the living room and cried.” They recognize how important this place and their lives in it have been and have given themselves time to enjoy the memories and reflect before deciding what comes and what goes. “This is why we started early,” said Fred, “but we can’t let it prevent us from getting the job done.”

Carol and Fred know that downsizing a home can be daunting and bittersweet but their future keeps them forward-focused. “I keep thinking what it’s going to be like after we move. I’m so looking forward to it,” said Carol. A year of imagining about how moving to Fairway Knoll will enrich their lives is almost a reality. Moving day is coming soon. So they keep at it every day, box by box. 

Previously in this series...

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