I'm at the tail end of the baby boomers, so lots of friends have gone before me in the nest emptying and the downsizing and the we-don't-meet-our-neighbors-because-our-kids-aren't-terrorizing-their-dog-ing. My sister, who once had a garage you couldn't walk through, has simplified to a house half the size of the former, keeps it cute and tidy, and has a grown-up job that doesn't revolve around supporting children. I have a lot to learn from her.
We still have that garage so full we can barely get through it to the yard tools. We have textbooks, not just from homeschooling kids, but from our own college years. Books that used to belong to parents. Three file cabinets full of papers we never need to look at. Closets overflowing with coats that don't belong to anyone who lives here. Food for at least three different cooking & eating styles -- scratch made, convenient-but-healthy, and whatever-I-can-find-that-I-don't-have-to-cook.
We've had to let go in other ways, though. As we cut our budget, we gave up a few luxuries. More cuts and we gave up buying new clothes. Another income drop and home maintenance got deferred. Now at 20% of the income we had eight years ago, we don't have working tools for yard maintenance; we won't be repairing the fence anytime soon; that roof damage from the skylight leak will be with us for a while; the bathroom will get painted someday.
These are painless compared to what some people lose. Imagine a fire taking your home. Or an earthquake or flood. At least if the bank repossesses you have time to take your most treasured belongings. What if you lived in a war zone and had to run, taking only what you could carry? What if you lost everything and had to live in your car with young kids, and still try to get them to school in clean clothes and find a way to do homework?
We have grown so fond of having stuff, and it's such a status symbol, that we've given up quality so we can have more. More clothes, more cars, more furniture, bigger houses, more closets and cabinets and offsite storage spaces for more and more and more. We've even given up nutrient-rich, deep-rooted perennial crops for quick volume. Grow, harvest, mill, ship, repeat. Faster, bigger, more is better. Right?
I've resisted every cutback in my life. I've hated leaving every job, missed every convenience, wished for things I used to have. But there's also a peace than comes from letting go of unneeded stuff. Was I happier when I had a 5-bedroom-3-bath house, pool, hot tub, gazebo, palm trees, a nanny, a yard guy, a pool service, and pretty much any stuff I wanted? Nope. Not even close. Just busier, taking care of all my stuff.
We have tremendous capacity to let go, adapt, make do, move on. We hate it, but we can do it. Perhaps if we embraced the natural occurrences of letting go, there would be enough stuff for everyone.