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The difficult decisions that come with downsizing

The difficulties of downsizing

29 January 2022

9:00 AM

29 January 2022

9:00 AM

I’m perched on the bed reading an old Mothering Sunday card. It’s just one item in a box of miscellanea that I must sort and prune and I really can’t afford the time to linger. That box contains a fraction of what I have to deal with before I move house and I need to crack on. But I am sweating the small stuff.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. One of the legacies of lockdown has been a longing for more space. Across the UK, families with children are falling over themselves to find bigger places. It’s a downsizers’ market right now for those of us who feel ready to let go and to set about the sorting and binning of things. It’s good for us, they say. It’s liberating, they say.

My home-moving history is not an unusual one. From student digs and a tiny cottage for two, through houses big enough to accommodate four children and, eventually, visiting grandchildren; then gently downward, gradually shedding the consequences of having a husband who could leave no flea market unexplored. A two-bed flat and now, fittingly, to 400 square feet of almshouse living. For we brought nothing into the world…

Some downsizing has felt easy. I’ve jettisoned furniture without hesitation. I own no heirlooms and I’ve been relieved to say goodbye to chairs that turned out to be uncomfortable mistakes. Lockdown was a complication. My local charity shop was closed and then, when it reopened, was so overwhelmed with donations that it couldn’t take any more. Not even seven good-as-new pashminas which I could never wear because they made me look like a fringed table lamp. Into the bin. No regrets.

What has sapped my time and resolve are the little things: the contents of cupboards and drawers that tell a story, albeit one I don’t necessarily wish to hear.


In the 12 years since I bought certain over-ambitious piano scores, a grandson has been conceived and born and has sailed through Associated Board Grade 2. Those yellowing pages are a reproach to me. Daily practice? Ha! At least I now know who to give them to, even if that means letting go of a fantasy version of myself — a version who can read bass clef without moving her lips.

The Kilner jars were another matter. I have an irrational love of Kilner jars and respectable form as a pickler and preserver. But in my tiny new kitchen there will be no room for anything so ambitious. A friend rode to my rescue and took my lovely shiny jars off my hands. Better still, she very kindly sent me photos of them, filled with good things. They had gone to a deserving home. That thought bolstered me to tackle a grimmer challenge: the Drawer of Doom.

Every home has one, usually in the kitchen. It’s the resting place of the superfluous, the dog-eared and the frankly inexplicable. Exhibit A was an allen key, carefully wrapped but unlabelled. I know for a fact that over the past 20 years this key has moved with me from England to Italy and then to Ireland. Now I’m coming home to England, should it travel with me? If I toss it, will the day dawn when I say ‘Dang! So that’s what it was for’? Will my heirs search for it in vain? I kept it.

Next up was the nameless gadget that enables me to balance my one-cup espresso maker on any hob in any country. It has proved its worth over the years, but why do I own five of them? And why does it feel rash to keep only one? Likewise, the plastic doohickeys that help preserve the fizz in an opened bottle. Should I keep two? Three? I’ve found myself paralysed by the least consequential of decisions.

This brings me, regretfully, to my inventory of screwdrivers, some of which had migrated from the toolbox, nested among the old takeaway menus in the back of the Drawer of Doom, and bred. I laid them out like surgical instruments. Seventeen screwdrivers. It would seem to indicate that I have a screw loose, and without any excuse for it. Also, one of them had been used to stir paint. I retained two slot-heads and two Phillips-heads and dumped the rest with never a backward glance. Intoxicated by this sudden rush of resoluteness, I pressed on.

A pack of perished rubber bands (assorted sizes)? Out. Ditto a box of staples for a stapler I no longer own. Two pairs of nutcrackers, both useless against the might of a Brazil shell? Out, out. A box of piping bags bought during a short-lived fever of cake-decorating and never actually opened? Out, obviously. But there’s always something that makes me falter. This time it was the tube of silver sugar stars. So pretty. And perhaps one day… See? Small stuff, again.

Old greetings cards may have detained me and unidentifiable cables and grommets may have baffled me, but it was those projects that had died aborning that caused the most sobering moments of self-reckoning.

There was fabric I have hauled around the world on the unlikely premise that I would one day turn it into curtains. Those cute little wooden ladybirds I was going to fix to something for a grandchild? He’s in his third year at university now, so the ladybird moment has likely passed. The empty sketch books and unused X-Acto knives, the broken brooch I might stitch to a hat but, let’s face it, probably won’t. And what possible reason can I have for owning two glue guns?

The pressing need to downsize has caused me some uncomfortable moments, faced with a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff. All those madcap enthusiasms and five-minute wonders. Mirror, mirror on the wall, am I ever again going to use a larding needle? Nope.

Sooner or later the need for the big clear-out comes to us all, though I suppose some don’t get round to it and the burden then falls on others. And there’s a thankless task. I may have dithered, but I can at least say this: I emptied the Drawer of Doom.

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