member login | 1-866-549-1039
Call Us For Help Toll Free: 1-866-549-1039
Helpful Resources

Letting Go and The Inner Journey of Downsizing

Barbara Z. Perman, Ph.D.

"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present".~Jan Glidewell

Some years ago, a friend of mine spent a retreat weekend in the mountains. One of the activities was rappelling. Here is how he described the experience:

"Letting go may seem like the very opposite of doing something, but it can be a bear sometimes. I was in a ropes course in the California mountains and was relishing all the exercises - until we got to the Rappelling Station. I'd seen people doing this before and was anxious to try it. Dangling by a rope, pushing off the rocks and dropping, swinging into the face, pushing off and dropping again - what could be easier?"

When it was my turn and I was harnessed in, I went to the edge of the sheer cliff, leaned out over it backwards and looked down between my legs at the treetops hundreds of feet below. The instructor said, "Let go."
I nodded my head in agreement. But my hands were frozen around the safety rope. They plainly had a mind of their own and were saying, "Are you crazy?"

The coach said, "Are you scared?" I nodded vigorously.

"Good," he said. "Watch it all the way down." Somehow it was all right then to take that fear along with me. I jumped - and had the time of my life rappelling down.
This story teaches us that when we are stuck with an idea, we can't be fully engaged in living. Letting go of the rope - either literally or figuratively - can be not only fun but downright liberating!

Worrying about appearances can hold us back, like driving with the emergency brake on. I used to hesitate to have people over because after a full day or week of work I didn't have the time and energy to clean up. Then I noticed that when I went to people's homes they had piles of mail and newspapers lying around just like I did. Since I've let go of the idea that the house has to look a certain way, I've seen more of the people I care about.

Maybe worrying about those wrinkles is tied to a boomer myth of eternal youth. After all, we're the generation once suspicious of anyone over 30. Now that we are collectively turning 60, it's pretty hard to look in the mirror and deny that the passing of time is bringing changes to our bodies. But hey, what if we were to let go of the 'denial rope' and plunge into embracing the idea of growing older? We just might find that life opens up for us.

Several of my friends tell me that as children they were raised to avoid conflict by keeping their opinions to themselves. This idea persisted into mid-life, but now they are finding it liberating to say what is on their minds without worrying about what anyone else thinks.

Many boomers I know are worried about the need for their aging parents to relocate from the house they've lived in for so long. If Mom and Dad are resisting the idea of moving, maybe it's because as members of the GI generation they're holding the idea that the old homestead is their castle -- a symbol of independence, a monument to all they'd accomplished in the post-WWII world. Meanwhile, in these later years the place may have become just the opposite -- a prison fraught with hazards and undone tasks that remind them of their limitations and dependency. If we proceed patiently with understanding of their beliefs and empathy for their dilemma, it may help them loosen their grip on that particular rope from the past.

Some principles of inner downsizing:

Use it or lose it.
As a moving management consultant, I often find family china or other treasures that haven't been used for years--even articles of clothing purchased in the past with the price tags still on them. People have been waiting for some special time to use these things and meanwhile doing without them. Bring out the good stuff and enjoy it!

Find good places for things.
My mother had a piano that had belonged to her mother. When she moved, she couldn't bear to part with it. When we put the word out to family, my cousin volunteered to put the piano in his home and sell the piano he had.

Craft memorabilia.
A client whose mother had died was having trouble parting with clothing her mother had made. At our suggestion she had a pillow made from her favorite pieces of fabric.

Tell stories.
Last year my older son Uri got married. I was happy for him and glad he had found a companion to go through life with, but while I knew Uri and I would always be close, I needed a way to let him go. Before the wedding, I found myself in the attic gathering up some of his childhood clothing, artwork, schoolwork and other keepsakes. At a luncheon the day before the wedding, I used the items I had collected to present a 'roast' of Uri for friends and family that made us all laugh until we cried.

Taking the inner journey of downsizing gives us more room for joy, more space for new life to flow in. It opens us to receiving the gift of the present.

2009 Barbara Z. Perman, Ph.D. Moving Mentor, Inc. This article may not be reprinted without the author's permission.