I’m seventy-seven years old and, like most of my contemporaries, I’m downsizing. I live in a tall, narrow house (lots of stairs!), and I know that in the next few years I’ll need to move to something smaller.
To transform the chore into a worthwhile experience, I’m thinking about what I’m doing – and writing about it, because writing is what I do to make sense of things.
Downsizing, I’m discovering, involves creativity and imagination. To make the innumerable decisions between “keep” and “discard”, I have to envision what my future life will look like. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been creating my life by setting goals, making choices, inventing, and imagining. It’s not surprising that this continues into old age: downsizing is, in some ways, a lot like upsizing. Choices about acquisition always did say something about who I was and who I wanted to be. Along with practical matters, these decisions drew on images of how I wanted to live and how I would like to be perceived by others. Now, too, images are useful: I think about old people among my family and friends and consider what kind of old person I am.
I can’t yet visualize the physical space into which I’ll move, but I can make preliminary decisions about what I will want to have there: this desk, those chairs, these dishes (but not those). This is what I’ll need for my continuing work; this is how I will design the living room, where I will spend time with friends and time alone.
In smaller quarters, I will of course still want to have as much as possible of the life-enhancing quality conferred by books, music, pictures on the walls. I think of this quality as enrichment. Will five pictures be as “enriching” as ten, or 500 books as enriching as 1000? Probably not, I recognize soberly, but I have to cut down. So there will be (again) choices and compromises.
Moreover, besides reducing the numbers, there’s also the challenge of moving and recreating the atmosphere of “home.” I will want to “move” my prime writing space, the attic. That is, I will have to pack not only the papers and the pencils and the stapler in cardboard boxes, but also try to capture and pack the creative atmosphere and reconstruct it somewhere else. Will I be able to move that deeply-engrained but intangible quality that supports my creative work and helps to provide the momentum that carries me from one writing session to another? I’ve done it before; can I do it again?
Downsizing is therefore about both intangible matters and very practical ones. At both levels, it’s about yardsticks – how I decide what to dispose of and what to keep. The yardsticks for the practical side are comparatively easy; those for the intangible side are not so easy but are, in general, ones that I’ve used all my life: guidelines about identity, values, memories, plans, and hopes. What’s new at this stage is that maybe – with care and thought and wisdom, with self-knowledge and common sense – I can use the need for downsizing to focus on the essence by carving away what conceals and muddles it. Discover the essence. It’s pruning, the kind of pruning that is beneficial to a tree, encouraging growth, bringing out and enhancing its form. Within a framework of necessity, perhaps there can be yet another flowering.
© Marianne Brandis, 2016.