My Grandma Dorothy is an amazing woman. Among her many accomplishments: giving birth to eight children in just over a decade, driving her own car until age 90, and making the best darn cheesy potatoes known to man.
Last year this grandmother of 21 and great-grandmother of 23 (!!!) surprised us all when she calmly announced that she wanted to sell her house (where she still lived independently) and move into a senior living community. (By the way, her biggest complaint about her new living arrangements–which she refers to as The Funny Farm–is that it’s full of old people.)
If you haven’t figured it out yet, my grandma is more with-it than most of us, whether we live on the Funny Farm or not.
Which is why I approached her last November for some advice. I had been asked to give a downsizing presentation at a local senior living community and I needed relevant ideas for my talk. Thus, I cornered grandma during Thanksgiving dinner and asked her what she’d say to folks considering the move to senior living. She thought for moment, then gave a very succinct, Grandma Dorothy-like response.
“Two things,” she said. “First, I wish I had started downsizing sooner, and second, it’s just stuff!”
She punctuated this second piece of advice with a classic Grandma Dorothy gesture, flipping both hands away from herself, accompanied by a quick frown and an audible, “Uh!” I have seen her make this gesture when discussing everything from the number of tattoos on young people these days (“Even the young girls!”) to a meal she considered overindulgent. It’s one of her signature moves, a washing of the hands, a way of saying, “Let the rest of them enjoy themselves, but I’ll have none of that, thank you.” I have unsuccessfully tried to mimic it below.
Her advice–It’s just stuff–combined with this gesture have stuck with me ever since.
No matter how old we are or what stage of life we’re in, whether we’re contemplating a child’s tea set or a set of mixing bowls or a garage full of power tools, it’s just stuff.
Whether we’re worried about what to do with all our old technology or how to contain our kids’ toys or how to preserve all those memorabilia T-shirts from college, it’s just stuff.
Whether we’re worried if our children will someday want our dishes or our furniture or our artwork, it’s just stuff.
I think what my grandma is trying to tell people is that it’s not worth worrying about all the things you own. Because if you do, you let them own you. Fretting about what will happen to your baseball cards or your dining set actually detracts from the quality of life you’re living right now.
And I’m not just talking about elderly people. I meet plenty of younger folks who worry incessantly about their things. What to do with all these Legos my kids have? Ugh… my closet is an overwhelming disaster! I hate my basement… it’s still full of boxes from when we moved in.
I think my grandma, in the twilight of her life, realizes something the rest of us would do well to remember: you can’t take it with you. All of the stuff, all of the things, all of the collections will be left when we are gone, and what then? What good was all our fretting and organizing and worrying? How much better would it be to spend our precious, fleeting time on Earth holding hands with those we love, making pancakes from scratch, and laughing with friends over a glass of wine?
I think we’d all agree that yes, we want to live our lives like that, full of meaningful experience.
So I ask you: is your stuff getting in the way of the life you want? Are you spending too much time dealing with your things and not enough time celebrating with the people who matter most to you?
If you answered yes to either of those questions, I have a final one for you: Are you willing to take the advice of one of the wisest women I know?
Whether you’re eighteen or eighty, the time to downsize is now. And remember, it’s just stuff.
Rose Lounsbury is one of Dayton, Ohio’s top professional organizers and a sought-after public speaker. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less LLC, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. Rose is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and has been featured on Good Day Columbus. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, you can contact her at [email protected] or visit her online at OrganizeWithLess.com.