At some time in our lives, we all downsize. The first time was probably when leaving our parents homes for small college dorm rooms or swinging bachelor pads. The last time may be when we move to our last homes in assisted living or nursing facilities.
In the time in between, there may be a variety of reasons that we have to downsize our living arrangements. Sometimes it is due to divorce, unemployment or disability.
Shortly after my wife and I married, we moved from a three-bedroom house with a full basement and two-car garage into a 650-square-foot condo. That took some serious planning and consolidation.
When downsizing, it is easier to go through your things before moving — simply to have enough room to see and sort through everything.
You have to sort things into three piles: things to keep and move; things to give away to friends, family or charity; and things that need to go to recycling or the trash bin.
You will probably need to go through the "keep" pile several times to pare down your possessions to fit your new reality. This process can be quite tiring.
For every possession you pick up, your mind involuntarily races back to remember where and when you acquired it. Those memories can be mentally tiring, and emotionally exhausting. It can make the process of downsizing much harder. You have to acknowledge those emotions, plan for them, and make time for them, or you will end up trying to move too many possessions with you rather than deal with process completely. Bigger isn’t always better.
Sometimes, a downsizing happens too quickly to properly plan for the move. Ours certainly did. The best I could do was to pack everything that wasn’t to be thrown away, and properly label the rest. We packed the boxes to the ceiling, and are still, four years later, going through things trying to eliminate what we really don’t need.
Our move was precipitated by our marriage. In these hard economic times that began with escalating rents and then the market crash, many are finding themselves having to downsize, or pair up to financially survive. Still, those forced into downsizing by finances have to go through the same motions to reduce possessions as an affluent couple who are downsizing from their family home to a luxury retirement villa.
We have been pre-programmed by our society to think that bigger is better. Surprisingly, we are actually more comfortable in our small condo than we were in that large house. That may seem hard to comprehend, but it’s warmer and certainly cheaper. A smaller space is quicker and easier to clean and maintain. In our case, the fact that our condo is handicap accessible, is certainly a plus since my wife walks with a crutch.
There are certain adaptations you have to make. When you do not have horizontal space, you have to go vertical. Very tall bookcases or storage units are helpful. Anything that can have multiple uses is also a bonus.
The woman we bought our unit from had custom storage units, but she took them with her when she left. So with a tight budget, we turned to the best solution we could find at the time: used office storage. Some might call it shabby chic, but one of our friends labelled it as nouveau-office.
Most people would balk at having their TV perched on top of used filing cabinets, but it has actually worked out well since we both wear bifocals and having a lower TV would cause viewing issues.
Small does not have to be lonely and inexpensive doesn’t necessarily mean tacky. Last Thanksgiving, we entertained 28 people in our living room and kitchen. Stackable chairs are our salvation.
By North American standards our home is one step up from a hovel, but to someone living in Tokyo or New York, it would seem huge.
We try to make sure everything has two or more uses, and purchase secondhand whenever possible. Perhaps instead of shabby chic, we should call it recycled chic.
— Austin and Catherine Mardon live in Edmonton. In 2007, Austin was awarded the Order of Canada for his advocacy for the disabled. Catherine is a retired attorney working on a master’s degree at Newman Theological College.