Downsizing Your Mansion (It Ain’t Easy)

By Holly Toenjes

Sounds like a great idea! Everyone’s doing it these days, and numerous books and articles are written about the subject. Financial gurus recommend it for retiring seniors, and self-help books tout the freedom and stress relief you will experience once you accomplish this goal.

From personal experience I can tell you that downsizing, and decluttering will give you a great sense of calm. Financial freedom is only part of the equation, but it can be significant.

But I can also tell you: It’s not easy.

November will mark four years since my husband and I officially moved from a 3400 square foot “mansion” to a compact and spare 900 square feet. It’s unassuming, uncluttered and perfect in every way. However, our story started two years before the actual move was accomplished.

Epiphany at 30,000 feet 

It was two days before Christmas and we were flying from Denver to Switzerland to visit our daughter and grandchildren. I was in a contemplative mood as I had just buried my 40-year-old son two weeks prior. Although his death was not unexpected, it did make me realize I needed to make some changes in my life. I turned to my husband somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean and said, “We need to move.”

Thus, began our journey. I am a determined person (some would say stubborn), and I approached the task of downsizing with quiet determination. The first order of business was to identify a property we could picture ourselves living in and enjoying. I am fortunate that I own property, so I chose one that was leased at the time, one that I knew needed a significant amount of work as well. I am grateful that we had that six-month period while the property was still leased. Virtually every extra minute was spent hunched over graphing paper, drawing and re-drawing plans, and writing lists of what was important to us in a living space.

We came up with this:

  • A large kitchen with the ability to entertain 6 – 20 people.
  • A luxurious master suite.
  • A small but functional home office.
  • A cozy fireplace to gather around.
  • 2 bathrooms. (A must for a happy marriage!)
  • An outdoor area that could become an extension of our living space.

While the list seemed daunting, you would need to see the space as it was when we took over to fully understand; we are optimistic people and always believed in the process. Planning and dreaming were the fun part. But there is another, very essential element to downsizing.

Thanks for the memories

The process was both painful and exhilarating. We made a pact that part of every single weekend would be devoted to unburdening ourselves. Some of it was easy: “Why are we keeping this thing we haven’t looked at in 20 years?” That was the exhilarating part; progress was visible and kept us going forward with anticipation. Some things were donated, some sold, and some just thrown away! Look at us go!

Then there are the things accumulated over the course of a long marriage complimented by 3 children and 3 grandchildren. Each one has a memory attached to it. That was the beginning of the painful part, but we were able to look at each piece, relive the memory and let it go. I remember fondly the days we sat on the floor surrounded by boxes of memories and we laughed until we cried. It was cathartic. Of course, not everything can be discarded. Those that were important to preserve were carefully packed away and moved with us.

I understand that I am more fortunate than most. I have a patient, contractor husband who was able to bring the dream to fruition. I have a business partner who granted me the freedom and latitude to accomplish what I needed.

I could write volumes on this subject and our story continues. The important point to this story is that at some point in our lives many feel the need to downsize to some level. I feel that the steps should be the same. Identify a property, state your absolute needs and begin parting with all the accumulated treasures. I have known people who take everything with them to their new home and then feel overwhelmed and unable to completely enjoy the freedom that comes with downsizing and decluttering.

Go ahead and downsize. Just do it. It is not easy, but it is very, very rewarding.