Melanee Morin

The Art of Downsizing with Peter Walsh

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With the rising temperatures and sense of renewal, spring is the quintessential time for cleaning and brightening up our homes from our winter hibernation. While a thorough cleaning is always beneficial, one of the most important things you can do to improve the ambiance, organization, and comfort of your home is downsizing your possessions. Peter Walsh is an organizational design expert, TV personality, and bestselling author of organizational books, such as Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight. In his latest book, Let it Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life, Walsh tackles the often emotional and fear-inducing task of downsizing. It is a task that we will all have to complete at some point in our lives, probably several times, and is also important in maintaining your current home, whether it’s a 6-bedroom farmhouse or a studio apartment.

Throughout the book, Walsh emphasizes that you are not your stuff (or your career or bank account), and freeing yourself from useless or emotionally-laden objects can be a wonderful experience. It’s also important to remember that the objects you choose to surround yourself with reflect who you are. If a stranger came to your home, what would they deduce about you from your surroundings? “The way you decorate and fill your home echoes your personality, your desires, and your preferences. These are characteristics that help form your identity. Your home, in turn, has great power to affect your mindset.” These objects affect you consciously and unconsciously, so it is important to choose items for your home that reflect the person you are (or want to be) and create the right atmosphere to be your best self. Walsh writes, “It’s amazing what happens when you empty a space of physical stuff. With the clutter gone, the vacant area is ready to be filled with an air of peace and calm, a sense of purpose and motivation, and an environment that’s welcoming and nurturing.”

Walsh also offers specific advice for those who are downsizing due to a major life event: moving to a new home, combining two households, seniors moving to smaller homes or assisted living facilities, and cleaning out a parent’s home after they have passed away. He details how to decide which objects are worth keeping, how to preserve important memories attached to certain objects, and how to deal with family members in these situations. With many baby boomers now reaching retirement age, Walsh notes that it is important to consider downsizing while you are still able to participate in the process, and that removing all the excess clutter and objects is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children, removing this burden from them when you pass away. This idea echoes the current trend of Swedish death cleaning, the process of cleaning your house before you die – it might sound morbid, but it’s actually very liberating and comforting. Check out The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson for more on this topic.

When Walsh’s own mother died, there were only two boxes of items left of hers at her nursing home, but these items did not represent the sum of her life – the relationships she made, the effect that she had on the world, her bright personality. Walsh notes that a box can’t hold your life either, “even a box the size of your home.”

Let it Go is available at the Cornwall Public Library and online.

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