It’s Just Stuff…Right?

Learning to Manage the Emotions of Downsizing

By Darcy Thiel, MA, LMHC

One of my businesses is called “Less Mess, Less Stress.” When I first started, it would be what I envisioned- helping people clean out that junk room, or maybe the garage so it could be parked in. For a while, it became more hoarding or condemned houses. Sometimes I would hire an entire crew and would literally have to shovel the house out.

I always say that this job overlaps quite a bit with my counseling profession. People’s relationship to their belongings is often very emotional. Especially when there is grief involved because of a deceased person’s belongings, my counseling skills come in handy. It is my job to help people let go of things. The vast majority of Americans need to downsize. You don’t need more space, you need less stuff!

The aging population must face this issue, especially when moving into a different type of living space than they are accustomed to. Recently, we’ve been helping my dad make the big decision about living in a smaller place where there isn’t so much upkeep. It’s not only a decision about housing, but about aging, which is almost always about acceptance. And aging is about approaching death as well, which is also about acceptance. It’s emotional for Dad, but also for all us kids too.

After months of no, no, no, Dad has decided he’s ready to move. And when he is ready, he means now. We have been trying to sell the house, find him an apartment, downsize his belongings, and everything in between. Some of the most fun times for us as a family have been going through cupboards and reminiscing. And some of the most tense times have been going through cupboards and disagreeing whole heartedly about how to help Dad make the shift.

That’s where I have to remember I’m a daughter before an organizer. No one in my family has hired me to take this on. I’m used to doing it though so sometimes I get a bit bossy. I also think that initially Dad (like all of us) needed a little nudging to move forward. Now there is no stopping him and the rest of us can’t keep up. It has been interesting to observe how he has changed over the years.

We have gone through various memories and belongings and initially so many things were untouchable. They were sacred. No one could bear to part with anything that belonged to our family members we had already lost. Just looking at things would cause us to tear up or cry. Now time has gone by. I ask Dad about certain things and he looks at me like, “Why would I want that?” I know without a doubt that he still deeply misses and loves all those people he has lost. But he is moving on. I want to be that way too. We don’t need boxes of things and pictures galore to remember our loved ones. I see it as growth. After all, it’s just stuff, right? Well, that all depends on what year you are asking! Good thing to remember when helping people navigate through this time of change.