By Guest Blogger, Elizabeth H. Cottrell,

When an idea crosses your mind in more than one way within a short period of time, it’s best to pay attention. I call these “God nudges,” but others may cite serendipity. Whatever you choose, they are often learning or growth opportunities that, if ignored, will fly away and possibly not return.

I’ve recently had two such “opportunities” by being involved in clearing, sorting, tossing, and distributing the possessions of two women I love—my aunt and my mother—who had to vacate a large home or apartment. It was a bittersweet experience, but I learned some valuable lessons:

1. I don't need “things” to remember my loved ones.

I am the oldest of five, and each of my siblings had quite different emotions about what they wanted to keep and what could be let go. One asked for the sweater Mom wore at her graduation or the lamp she and our mother bought when they were shopping together. Another felt protective of all of Dad’s military memorabilia. Another was concerned that we save anything our children might be able to use in their homes.

Was I lacking in compassion or family sentimentality when I didn’t find it hard to release most of my aunt’s or my mother’s possessions? I already had a home full of things that made me happy, including other family items that I use and enjoy. I didn’t need more except for a piece or two of jewelry that have been handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter to granddaughter or aunt to niece to great-niece.

I realized that as long as I can remember my loved ones, they will ride lightly on my heart without help from a “thing” they owned. And when my memory is gone, it no longer matters.

2. If you don’t love it, let someone else have it.

When my parents moved to a retirement community from the house where they had lived for decades, we “kids” felt we had to keep their possessions for fear of hurting their feelings. We stuffed our already-full homes with items that Mom and Dad had bought or even received themselves as gifts.

Several months later, when Mom was visiting, she saw a figurine that had been in her home all my life and which I had taken out of a sense of obligation. “I always hated that thing,” she declared out of the blue. “We got it for a wedding gift, and I couldn’t make myself get rid of it.”

Light bulb realization: just because my mother owned it for years didn’t mean it was a treasured family possession. From that day on, I felt liberated to keep only things I thought I would use or enjoy.

3. There comes a time when you should say to yourself, “Downsize now so someone else won’t have to do it.”

Clearing out someone else’s home is a huge job, and for me, this was a wake-up call to do what I can to minimize the job of clearing out our own house in the future.

Unless you’ve documented the provenance of family heirlooms, for instance, your own heirs will have no context for sorting and tossing other than their own taste. I want to save my daughter time and emotional energy by making the hard decisions now, decluttering our home, and identifying anything I want her to know about its history. It will still be tough for her, but I’m determined to make it easier by starting now.

4. A good system can maintain good habits.

There are two ways I hope to accomplish and maintain my downsizing goal:

  1. Whenever I bring something new into the house, I’ll take something old out. Wish me luck with that one.
  2. I’ll remember Gretchen Rubin’s One Minute Rule: “Whatever you can do in one minute, do it.” This may not seem like very long, but I’ve been astounded at the things I can get done in this short amount of time:
    • Declutter a drawer.
    • Toss pens and markers that don’t writ.
    • Papers can be straightened and reviewed for trash or filing.
    • Put a book I’ve finished into a donation box.
    • Examine and discard or donate knick-knacks.
    • Sort a stack of mail and discard the junk.
    • Put away that pair of shoes you just took off. Pull out any other shoes that hurt your feet and give them away or discard.
    • Open any closet and discard or give away contents you haven’t worn in three years.

I’m taking baby steps – one drawer, one corner, one small closet. Intentional downsizing makes me feel lighter and freer. And one day, my daughter will thank me.

Image of Elizabeth Cottrell

Elizabeth is a writer, speaker, blogger, and author of HEARTSPOKEN: How to Write Notes that Connect, Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire. Above all, she is a connector and encourager whose passion for note writing has launched a #HeartspokenMovement to help readers find their own heartspoken voice and learn to harness their own note-writing superpower.

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P.S. From Vicki

If you don't have Elizabeth's book, Heartspoken, then you need to take a look. You'll be glad you did. Everyone should have a copy!