Downsizing: the very word strikes fear in most people. No matter what the situation, the term indicates the beginning of the end of a way of life. We hear it when older couples start thinking about giving up the trappings of a well-appointed life in order to prepare for the eventuality of death. It’s the first toll of a company’s death knell and will send employees scrambling like rats leaving a sinking ship. It’s that polite explanation that sums up pink slips, foreclosures, bankruptcies, failure and the loss of the American Dream in a single terrifying buzzword. In short, the word goes completely contrary to the success-defined-by-mass-consumption focus of our American culture. We’re told to strive to earn more in order to have the bigger house, the bigger cars and more stuff. Always more stuff.
We’re taught to covet acquiring and this becomes a way of like. But at the same time, we’re never really learn how to value the ability to let things go. Sure, things break and are thrown away and replaced, but what about things that don’t break and that still hold value in some way shape or form to us? Do we keep them forever?
On one of our evening walks, Mark and I were discussing the biggest challenge we face before leaving the country: Downsizing.
It started out with me making a comment about all the stuff I have to get rid of before we leave. In my mind, I pictured the contents of all the various junk drawers (including the four out of six desk drawers filled with flotsam and jetsam from my various careers), the receipts cluttering my desk, the non-working Xmas lights and leftover garden supplies in the garage, and all of the stuff that seemed to accumulate whenever anyone stays in one place for some time. Getting rid of the clutter seemed like something we should do anyway. Mark’s remark, therefore, took me by surprise.
“It’s really not about ‘getting rid of stuff’. It’s about letting go.”
My mouth opened to reply, but then it closed as I realized the enormity of what he was saying. As usual, he nailed the real issue. This wasn’t about discarding the unusable things we were hanging onto; it was about really letting go of everything that couldn’t accompany us into our new life. And it didn’t just apply to material things – it meant letting go of things with memories attached, relationships with family and friends, even beloved pets that we knew couldn’t travel with us. It meant really making a choice to keep or let go of everything – from the most insignificant refrigerator magnet to cherished heirlooms that held family memories. It was a much more daunting task than I thought, and definitely not something achieved overnight.
Just the idea of letting go of the pets was really hard. We had already decided Crowley would go with us and looked into what we needed to have in order to bring him into Mexico. The cats were another story. While technically, we could bring them into Mexico, they were both not young animals and not particularly well-suited for traveling or unexpected changes in their normal routine. The idea of traveling with two miserable, howling and carsick felines seemed cruel to all parties involved. As for Toad, while she had been my companion for longer than any of the rest of my immediate two-legged and four-legged family members, she could not come into the country, period. Birds were specifically barred from entry, no exceptions. So this meant we had to find suitable new forever homes for our dear friends. Just the idea of letting them go was particularly painful and I tried to tell myself that somehow this would be temporary. But the fact was that if we were successful with our plans (and there was no reason not to believe we would be), the separation would be permanent. It didn’t feel any better. I even felt bad about leaving the tankful of fish behind.
The next afternoon, as we were on our way to Raptor Ridge to pick up a wine club shipment, the subject came up again. Mark added, “It’s letting go of places too.” He looked straight ahead with a serious expression and elaborated, “Oregon has always been my home. Even when I’ve lived somewhere else, like Chicago, I’ve always known I could come back here and it would be waiting for me. This time, there’s no coming back. This is pretty scary for me.”
As we drove along the winding country road in silence, I reflected on this. I knew exactly what he meant. For me, California had been my home until my grandmother passed away. Last year, when we visited her home the last time, I felt that sense of foundation slipping away and with it, that same panicky feeling of losing my home port. I understood my darling perfectly. The last time we drove over the grapevine, leaving Los Angeles behind, I had a strong sense that I had just cut the mooring line for good. One one hand it was terrifying, but at the same time it was a little exhilarating. Oregon, on the other hand, had never felt that way to me. It’s beautiful, particularly in the late spring and early fall, but I always felt like I was looking for a place to land, rather than settling into a new home. Even though I had worked the same job for longer than any job in my entire adult life, I still felt like it was temporary. Even the house felt temporary. Oddly enough, while I had always spent time painting the walls and putting my imprint on everywhere I’d lived (even the rental I lived in when I first moved to Portland), our walls were still the same pristine white they had been when we moved in, over two years ago.
And while he wouldn’t admit it, I knew the house was something else that would be difficult for him to let go. I’ve owned several houses, and while some have been easier to leave behind than others, I always knew I’d own another house. But for Mark, this was the first house he had ever owned, and there was the possibility that this might be the last. Letting go of a dream that had seemed unattainable his entire life would be hard, especially so soon after he had put his personal mark on the kitchen.
“It’s going to be hard to let the job go,” I added later in the car, as we watched a man our age canvassing the gas station, trying to sell spray wax to patrons. He wasn’t having much luck – not many people seemed to be interested in waxing their cars on a rainy Friday afternoon. Feeling grateful for my high-paying tech job that allowed me the luxury of playing hooky on a Friday afternoon, I reflected on what it meant to leave it. Would I ever be able to find another position if we ever came back? Or have I reached the age where I’d have to settle for a minimum wage job? The idea of letting go of stability and comfort was terrifying too. I’d been so lucky throughout my career and received so many opportunities – what if my luck ran out?
But letting go also means leaving the fear and “what if’s” behind. It’s having the faith in ourselves to believe that whatever happens, the new experiences and adventures that await are well worth the loved ones, cherished items and comfortable lives left behind.
I realized we both have a lot of letting go to do before we go.