John Maeda said, “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” For anyone who has experienced downsizing to a smaller home in the hope of replacing real estate with freedom and adventure, you know that the act of simplifying is not synonymous with simplicity. Culling years or decades worth of belongings is both physically and mentally draining. Most of us have spent our lives accumulating “things” that we may not want to part with for many reasons…those things have memories attached, they are worth money, they might be useful in the future, they were given to us as gifts, or they were passed down from previous generations.
The process of moving into a smaller space is often laden with complicated emotions…sadness, excitement, anxiety, anticipation, and overwhelm. But for empty nesters whose adult children once lived in the home they are leaving, there may be another unexpected emotion that presents itself. This feeling has certainly reared its ugly head for me during the course of my husband’s and my decision to downsize. The emotion I am referring to: GUILT
Asking ourselves to drastically pare our possessions down is one thing, but asking others to do so feels selfish. After all, we are the ones reaping the rewards of moving to our personally-chosen, if much smaller, new home. Our children, who currently have little storage space and/or are not permanently situated, are expected to whittle the treasures they have left at home down to miniscule proportions or, worse yet, remove them entirely with no tangible benefit to themselves. Every bit as difficult is the vast collection of memories they have from the years spent in this house. It feels so wrong to walk away from all of that history.
And what about all of the future holidays and family gatherings – the ones we dreamed of, when they would return home with their kids and pets in tow, spreading through the house in love and laughter? There will be no room in the small new place to accommodate large dinners, let alone overnight guests! Are we squeezing our own family out, and will we ultimately regret the move and the lifestyle we are so looking forward to? These are the really difficult questions we keep asking ourselves and each other, even as we excitedly select cabinets and appliances for our new digs and tag our furniture for sale. But we made a commitment and, for better or worse, we are ready to plunge forward into a fresh start.
Zig Ziglar said, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. The best is yet to come.” There are so many relevant reasons for empty nesters to consider downsizing. The practicality of simplifying life with less space to maintain and fewer expenses is obvious. And while young adult children may not necessarily be able to appreciate it at the time, the burden of deciding what to do with so many obsolete possessions has been lifted from them in the future. How many of us have had to disperse years worth of our parents’ hoarded inventories? It’s heart-wrenching, not to mention a real inconvenience.
Don’t we deserve to be autonomously happy after all those years of sacrificing our own needs and desires for those of our children? Our priorities change when the kids move away and begin lives of their own. We’ve endured the pangs of watching them leave the nest, and we’ve adjusted our heart-space accordingly. So should we still feel guilty about disrupting the original family vision?
The honest answer is “no.” It’s time for us to spread our own wings once again, to rediscover what lights us up as a couple and as individuals. We can create new family traditions. Maybe we’ll be a nomadic family, celebrating Christmas at one of the kids’ houses. When we have grandkids, we can invite them exclusively (no parents allowed) for intensive weeks of full-blown spoiling.
“It will all work out,” we keep telling ourselves. But we’re still parents, and the guilt lingers…