There are more rites of passage for baby boomers than we can count, but certainly one that is either ahead of most of us … or already behind us … is the task of downsizing. BoomerCafé co-founder and publisher David Henderson himself has just washed off the dust, after making a lot of fairly hard decisions. They’re hard because when it comes to downsizing, those decisions are permanent.
I still don’t comprehend downsizing. It’s like many of us decided to molt our feathers or get age spots on our hands at the same time of life. I didn’t realize how many of my friends had also decided to actively downsize — to whittle down a lifetime of possessions and stuff — until I started my own downsizing project and found that I could not give away things to anyone, stuff I thought someone would like. “No thanks” was often the reply, “I’m also trying to cut back.”
Heck, my old high school pal Fred said no to a framed sketch of Tops Drive-In in Arlington, Virginia. It was where we all hung out as teens, like the Mel’s Drive-In featured in the early ‘70s film American Graffiti. Tops closed decades ago, replaced by a McDonald’s. Come to think of it … why the heck did I have a sketch of Tops Drive-In anyway?!
What is it that seemingly intuitively taps us on the shoulders and whispers that it’s time to live with fewer things, less clutter? Something in our DNA? Awakening to a particular rustle of the leaves in the wind? What we see in our eyes when we look in the mirror … and just know it’s time?
Where did all that stuff come from anyway, all that stuff which I had collected and stored? Family heirlooms? Treasured memories? Just plain junk? My wife is a wise woman and simply says, “It’s from your long and rich life.”
I just recently finished the job. My downsizing project was four months of diligent, hard, and sometimes emotional work. There was the day I opened a box filled with two-inch broadcast videotapes that contained many of my reports during my years as a correspondent at CBS Network News. It was still exciting to see a yellow “CBS News” label that indicated my story had aired on “Cronkite,” meaning The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. But, here’s the problem: two-inch videotape is long-obsolete, replaced first by newer videotape formats, then in more recent years by high definition digital formats. It’s a heck of a process to find someone with a still-workable two-inch videotape machine that didn’t end up in a junkyard. So, I snapped a couple of photos and placed the box with a stack of other rubbish.
Cutting down on possessions for me started with my collection of several thousand music CDs. There were 14 boxes. I copied and archived most into iTunes, then gave them all away on the great community bulletin board website, NextDoor.com. I found loads of people more than enthusiastic to repurpose music CDs.
I had boxes of paper — drawings by my kids when they were really just kids, letters written long ago by my parents and grandparents, and yes, countless scripts for CBS News stories. I found a divorce decree from a deeply sad chapter in my life. I don’t know how you might decide to handle such things but I respectfully put most of them into large trash bags destined for a dump. You just can’t keep all those things … except for a couple of personal letters.
My biggest challenge during downsizing was deciding what to do with all the photos … thousands of them … that I’ve taken since I was a kid. I decided to keep them at least temporarily. I bought a photo scanner and will digitize them on some cold and snowy day this winter. And then they too will be thrown away … but not all, of course. There are images of my parents, children, family that cannot be parted with … at least not now.