Change and Transformation

Clearing Space: What I Learned From My Friend’s Drastic Downsize


“What made me think buying more socks would change my life?!” my friend asks pointedly. Her expression says it all. We chuckle, but she exhales a disbelieving sigh as she opens another drawer.

“Seriously!” she adds with a laugh, “What was I thinking?! Every time I saw socks on sale I thought, You can’t have too many of those!” She tosses another unopened package my way and adds, “Apparently you can!”

My friend is downsizing from her spacious, three-bedroom home to a 470 sq. foot “little” house. I’m playing cheerleader while she purges. The process elicits much laughter, but just as many tears. It’s hard sifting through a lifetime to decide what stays and what goes.

Over the years, my friend and I have weathered many upheavals. Her divorce, followed by a frightening bout with breast cancer, prompted her life-altering decision to downsize. Drastically downsize.

It was less about changing addresses and more about unloading what no longer created a meaningful life. Today. In this moment. I watch her winnow the items she’ll keep in her new home and I ponder this fresh start. She’s choosing only what brings her joy.

Only joy.

Each item…whether clothing or houseware or personal…must serve a purpose and bring joy to her life right now.

That is a powerful thing to witness.

My mind wanders to my own clutter…the number of items kept out of obligation or memory. Things that haven’t been useful or provided joy for a long, long time. I’ve hauled some ‘memorabilia’ from one place to the next and never unpacked. I’ve been known to keep a ‘someday-I-might-need’ mentality. But minimalism speaks to my deepest soul.

Does it bring me joy? If not, why am I keeping it in my life?

Once again, poet Najwa Zebian‘s beautiful line rolls around in my head. These mountains you’ve been carrying you were only meant to climb. I realize purging is more than excess items in closets and basements. It’s old emotional attachments, too. It’s scary to admit that some clutter looks like…

  • Outdated beliefs that create stuck patterns
  • Attachments that drain, rather than fill
  • Attempts to relive memories, rather than appreciating what they were
  • Fears that restrict, rather than expand, experiences

Sometimes things no longer fit. Holding on to a pair of shoes that pinches my toes seems silly, especially when they might fit another perfectly. Likewise, holding onto beliefs that no longer fit my life seems unhelpful, too. I have to remind myself it’s okay if things no longer suit me today, even if they did 5, 10, 15 years ago.

When my husband and I first married, we travelled as much as we could afford. Our budget couldn’t handle much. Expandable green backpacks carried everything we needed. There wasn’t room to pack things which didn’t serve a purpose. Clothes and shoes required functionality and hand-washability. At first that seemed impossible. But in the end, I discovered having only one “dressy” outfit felt liberating rather than limiting. It was much simpler having it selected instead of staring at a closet full of choices!.

Less was truly more in those situations. Somehow over the course of twenty+ years, two children, and three addresses, I realize I’ve forgotten that.

Now watching my friend evaluate and purge returns me to the simple, joyful memory of carrying only what I needed on my own back. I recall the excitement of following last-minute, sudden opportunities. Traveling light meant we were always ready to go.

I’ll admit, my age and stage means I don’t travel that way anymore. I prefer luggage that rolls behind me rather than is strapped to me. But the lesson remains. What do I truly want and need around me on a daily basis?

If it’s not providing joy or serving a purpose, what is its role? The dusty DVD collection or uncomfortable coat…the long-held grudge or outdated perception…all require some thoughtful evaluation and assessment. It may be time to let them go.

My friend’s joy at creating a space full of what she loves resonates with me. It reminds me to travel as lightly as I can. I want to be ready when one of life’s surprises appears. I want to let go of heaving and hauling bags that no longer serve me so I can run toward the new opportunities appearing on the horizon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you struggle to let go? Have you experienced the exhilaration of a purge? How did it affect you? Please leave behind your thoughts and reflections. 






11 thoughts on “Clearing Space: What I Learned From My Friend’s Drastic Downsize”

  1. Cindi Allen says:

    Less is more! I have struggled to let go and and also experienced the thrill of purging. Having gone through a divorce and then remarrying has meant moving several times. Because of this it was hard to let go of the past along with its stuff but after moving several times and continuing to purge it has felt like a weight off my shoulders. I now live with less things and it really feels like a more peaceful life.

    1. Katie O'Connell says:

      Thanks for sharing, Cindi! I hear “weight off the shoulders” quite a bit from people. Interesting how items have a weight to them, isn’t it?!

  2. Karina says:

    “Does it bring me joy?” i think i will tatoo that on my forearm! Thought-provoking article. Thank you!

    1. Katie O'Connell says:

      You’re welcome! Glad this spoke to you. And if you tattoo it, please share a photo!!!

  3. Nancy Simpson says:

    So true. It’s so hard to purge, but worth the effort.

  4. Tom Palmersheim says:

    You would have been proud of me. I actually shredded and got rid of IRS forms and other financial papers from 1994 through 2003…and I intend to do more!

  5. Rusty Schwimmer says:

    ALL of this was true for me when I moved from LA to Chicago. I also packed up a lot of burdens and gave those away – friends who needed to be purged and thoughts that needed to dissolve. I left 3/4 of my “stuff”. Then…came freedom and more room to receive adventures. The existing friendships became deeper, my life became wonderfully simple and pure, and sleep was better!

    1. Katie O'Connell says:

      I am so glad this not only spoke to you, but you lived it! Lovely! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Karen M Carlson says:

    Every single time I read what you have written, it touches me and causes me to pause. I love purging and clearing, but know I still have soooooo much that is unnecessary and cluttering my life a bit. It is a very challenging process to let go.

  7. Nancy says:

    I struggle with the thought of getting rid of my grandparent’s dining room table though wobbly, my aunts bedroom set…am I saying they have no more meaning in my life?

    1. Katie O'Connell says:

      Hi Nancy. Yes, it’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I struggle to decipher if it’s the actual item that brings me joy or is it the memories I’ve associated. That’s the stickiest part for me. Yet I’ve learned I can still cherish people/experiences/items even when they are no longer around.

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