Cycle of Life, Cycle of Stuff, the Art of Downsizing

I’ve recently found myself thinking about the cycle of life, and how it parallels something my wife and I now call the cycle of stuff. We are both retired, and we decided to downsize. We are moving from a 2400-square-foot home to a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with half the square footage. The condo is in Florida, and we are not. So, this involves chaos, movers, chaos, deciding what to get rid of, chaos, angry daughters that don’t want us to sell the house, and more chaos. I’m not a fan of chaos.

We have lived in the current home for almost 30 years, raised three daughters there, and the cycle of life dictates that it’s time to move on. The amount of stuff that we accumulated over those 30 years was terrifying. This is where the cycle of stuff comes into the equation.

We spent an entire month going through the house, triaging, selling, giving away and throwing away everything that we could. Some of it has fond memories attached, making it more difficult to let go of. Our youngest daughter lives in NYC in a small apartment. She has no place for her stuff, so most of it was still in the house. She works long hours, and didn’t have time to come home to triage. We had to move her stuff into a climate controlled storage unit.

As my wife and I sorted through the seemingly endless amount of stuff, it struck me. I am towards the end of the cycle of life. I spent 40 years of my life working to buy all this stuff. Now, here I am, wishing I didn’t have all this stuff and disposing of it anyway I can. This is the cycle of stuff.

It starts out as important. I need this treadmill to stay in shape. I need this stereo, these flat-screen TVs, and video games to entertain myself. This pool table might be useful in case I ever lose my job and need to make a living as a pool shark.  A guitar would be nice, in case I ever want to start a rock and roll band as part of my mid-life crisis. It would be really fun to have a lawn tractor to cut the grass, haul the mulch and mostly drive around the yard. I need this drill with cement bits, just in case I ever have to screw anything into cement. Stuff, stuff, everywhere stuff!

It ends with, I can’t hear the music from the stereo without my hearing aid. With my eyesight, I can’t tell the difference between a hi-def and no-def flat-screen. Treadmill? I’ll fall off and break a hip. Video games? I get frustrated after a few minutes and throw the controller at the flat-screen that I can’t see very well anyhow. Lawn tractor? That thing’s lethal at this point. My poor wife isn’t safe within a mile of me when I’m on it. See a pattern here? The cycle of life renders the stuff pointless, which results in the cycle of stuff. Maybe if I hadn’t bought so much stuff, I wouldn’t have had to work as hard. Maybe I wouldn’t be so tired if I’d worked less and bought less stuff.

The main motivation for the cycle of stuff is the downsizing, which also comes from the cycle of life. I used to paint the house, take care of the lawn and plants, rake the leaves, blow all the detritus off of the decks, and clean the eaves troughs every year. Removing trees, cutting them into logs and splitting them up for the fire, I thought I was a lumberjack. That ended when I did the wrong kind of cut on a large limb that subsequently fell on my knee. Now, just thinking about all of this maintenance sends me to the couch for a nap, or to the medicine cabinet for some more Ben-Gay, extra-strength, and that old limp starts up again (probably psychosomatic?).

A 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo comes with very little maintenance. The condo community where we are moving keeps a full complement of strong young men on staff to care for the grounds, maintain the exterior walls, roof, eaves troughs, etc. We already spent last winter there, and I took great joy, between naps, in watching them do their thing.

We have triaged, disposed of and packed up the things that we are taking to the condo in our permanent move there. It was a difficult job, but the cycle of life demanded it. The condo came furnished, so we sold our home with most of the furniture left in it, although we are taking a “few” pieces with us, and boxes of stuff. The movers are coming in a week, and I walked around the house yesterday counting the boxes and assessing the furniture that we are taking. I’m impressed at the amount of stuff that we got rid of, but am wondering if we let go of enough.

The cycle of life demanded that we engage in the cycle of stuff. I’m concerned that we didn’t cycle enough stuff. I had this nightmare last night that when the movers left, the condo was filled to the brim with furniture and boxes, and my writing desk was left sitting in our assigned parking space, with boxes flowing over into our neighbor’s parking space.

But, I’m a very practical old man, and a survivor. I have made damned sure that when they moved my daughter’s stuff to that climate-controlled storage unit, there’s still enough room for me in there. I will survive!