Retirement: Are you ready to scale down?

The cycle of life becomes very interesting as one gets older and hindsight proves to be the “exact science” that people talk about when reflecting on the past. We spend so many years accumulating “stuff” as we build our careers, homes, families and assets – and then one day we reach that point where it’s time to scale down and simplify our lives in so many different ways.

Most of us have some kind of emotional and sentimental attachment to many of the items we have accumulated in our lifetimes, yet so often a large portion of those sit well hidden in the back of a cupboard, storeroom, in a loft or garage, doing nothing but gather dust and triggering the occasional memory when we stumble across one thing whilst looking for another.

We have observed so many fascinating and humorous conversations between spouses who are deciding on what to do with the accumulation of everything from clothing to ornaments, crockery and cutlery (especially all those sets that were inherited decades earlier and never used), children’s toys and mementos of days gone by that also remain hidden in boxes for some eventual awakening in the distant future.

The only problem is that you wake up one day and the distant future suddenly becomes your today. And when you decide that you no longer want the hassles, frustrations and unjustifiable expenses of living in larger homes and properties, which have become storage facilities filled with clutter and memories, you are then faced with the daunting challenge of deciding what to do with it all.

Most people do not fully appreciate the importance of understanding how to deal with this process, which can be anything from inspiring, enlightening and uplifting to the other end of the spectrum where trauma, emotional upheaval and panic kick in. The first question you need to ask yourself is: “Am I ready for this?”

You only need to watch one episode of any of the plethora of TV series that focus on the impact of hoarding to know that this is a very difficult set of circumstances to deal with, particularly when it coincides with that time in your life where you both want and need to remove extraneous items from your living space.

Hoarding is a distant relative of “collecting”, “stockpiling” or “accumulating”; yet the three words have very different meanings and connotations, some very positive and some very negative.

We recently observed a situation where a client was upbeat about the fact that they had reached that stage in their lives where they could start the scaling-down process and simplify their living conditions and responsibilities. All the plans were laid out, ideas were thrown around and decisions taken as to what would remain, what would be “archived” and what would either be sold or donated to charity.

The change was going to be very dramatic by anyone’s measure, yet the client was all for it. Within a very short space of time, however, the emotional impact was so overwhelming that they halted their plans in order to reconsider their initial decisions.

Having spent the past two years going through a few iterations of “scaling down” ourselves, we could fully appreciate the dynamics of the client’s experience. We reduced the amount of “everything” we possessed to reach a place in our lives where we had what we needed rather than what we wanted. The experience of minimising our living space and possessions has been beyond invigorating, somewhat like removing weight from your shoulders and being left with the sensation of having light wings with which you can fly.

But the key to this is that we were mentally ready for it, understood the implications and embraced the experience, whilst at the same time saying farewell to more accumulated “stuff” than we may have initially intended to. What is very important to realise in this process is that whilst you may be reducing the clutter factor, you will not be doing away with the memories related to those items – and that, in our opinion, is what matters most. It does become a “mind over matter” scenario and one clearly needs to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the upheaval.

We took a hard line on the decluttering process and for months we lived with the best advice anyone ever gave us: “If it hasn’t been seen, used, touched or thought of in the past year, it is time to remove it from your life”. Whilst this is still a difficult process, it proved to be the best decision we could have made and with each passing day we felt less encumbered and more relieved. All in all, it has been a stimulating experience which has set the scene for an uncluttered future.