The pain of downsizing

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David Epps

You’d have thought I’d learned my lesson about downsizing by now. When I left my previous church almost 23 years ago, I gave away about 400 books from my library. When my mother died some 16 years ago, my father having passed in 1996, it fell to my brother and me to deal with all the stuff that two lifetimes accumulate. It took weeks, if not months, to transfer, allocate, re-distribute, throw away, and give away things that were once precious and seen as indispensable by my parents.

I thought, at the time, “I don’t want to have to do this again.” But here we are.

We are building a much smaller house about 15 miles from our current one that has about one-third the square footage. We are going from three floors to one and are exchanging four bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, with a dining room, kitchen, living room, TV room, and home office for one that has one bedroom, 1 1/2 baths, kitchen, living room/dining room, and home office. What am I going to do with all our stuff?

For the first 10 years of our marriage we basically had little or no furniture. Being a poor (and I mean that literally) pastor, we barely had money for food.

Finally, we arrived at a place where we were no longer at the stage where we had to count every penny and were able to buy stuff we didn’t need like furniture, clothes, and reliable transportation. Now, with the kids grown and on their own, and the wife and I AARP members and Medicare recipients, we are downsizing. But the stuff!

We moved plastic storage boxes out of a closet and found 16 of the things filled with memorabilia and records that had great meaning, at least to me. In another room are 19 photo albums detailing the history of our family.

There’s furniture, some of which I will not let go no matter what. Like the clock my paternal great-grandmother bought used in 1896 or the sewing machine that my maternal great-grandmother bought new in the 1890s. We have already decided to give away three of the bedroom sets. But there’s other pieces for which there will be no room. How does one decide?

And the books! Giving away 400 books in 1996 did not make the smallest dent in my personal and theological library. Does anyone even read books anymore or is everything on a tablet?

I have also given away 400 music cassettes (yep, somebody took them) and probably have 250-400 music CDs, and all the vinyl albums from my 1960s teen years. I still have my high school football letter jacket and my Marine Corps “dress greens.” It’s not like we haven’t visited Goodwill, either. We have taken load after load of perfectly good and serviceable clothes and shoes to the donation center.

Then there are the certificates, awards, and accolades that used to grace the shelves or walls of my offices. Certificates for academia, karate, law enforcement, trophies, news releases, and other forms of shameless self-aggrandizement. All has been packed away in boxes for years quietly resting in closets and now demanding to know if I will abandon them like I did the old socks.

Every item in the house feels like a piece of history and, in truth, it is. Each item of stuff represents something of the journey of our family. There’s the downstairs bedroom suite that my parents bought used in 1947 and, when I had pneumonia at the age of 7, slept in that very bed while they cared for me and nursed me back to health in a time when pneumonia could be a death sentence.

But I realize that most of it has meaning for me alone. My wife is not the sentimental type when it comes to stuff, although there are exceptions. She has cut through her collection of items like a scythe through wheat.

I, on the other hand, examine and agonize over every stalk of that wheat. If we were to die today, my sons, as was the case with my parent’s sons years ago, would wonder what all this stuff in the house and in the basement means. They wouldn’t know any more than my brother and I knew.

I realize that I am going through the stages of grief outlined by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’m not in denial any longer, I was more sad than angry, but bargaining (“Maybe I can rent another storage unit.”) and depression have been companions for a while. I can just see the dim light of acceptance beginning to break through the clouds.

There’s actually much to be excited and enthusiastic about in this move. The ironic thing is that a couple of years ago I prayed to have a “simplified lifestyle.” Now that the answer to that prayer is here I find that I am less prepared than I thought I was — in regards to stuff, anyway.

But I don’t want to be ruled by things and stuff. I admire the Orthodox monastics who, when they die, leave almost nothing behind — a change of clothes, a few icons, perhaps several books, a pair of shoes, and a prayer rope. It takes maybe 15 minutes to clean out their room.

But, the time is upon us. In the next three to five months, decisions will be reached, things will be allocated, kept, distributed, or disposed of and a new stage of life will begin.

In the early days of our marriage, we moved 14 times in 10 years. Most moves were accomplished by packing the kids and everything we owned into the trunk of our car.

Well, the kids didn’t go into the trunk. I am grateful that God allowed us to have stuff, eventually. Now it’s time to let it go.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and is the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]