Note: This post was first written when we lived in Austin and had just moved to a downtown apartment. I’ve recently updated it with some new content after I revisited the subject of decluttering cards and letters.
The Number One Comment
The number one comment I hear when we tell people we’ve moved downtown goes something like this.
“We could never do that – we have waaaaaaaayyyy too much stuff.”
I thought the same thing. Until we did it.
It’s a Transitional Process
For us, moving downtown was a transitional process that was years in the making.
I guess when you think about it, any move is transitional. But OverFiftyers have accumulated a whole lot of stuff, and the transition from much to little can be a very emotional task, which may best be done in stages.
Especially when it comes to decluttering cards and letters.
Feels Like Full Circle
Mike and I started out in a tiny apartment on 1st Avenue in our college town. Many years and several cities later, we bought a house on two acres, with plenty of room for a horse and a big ol’ barn. Now that we’ve gradually transitioned to a downtown apartment in the heart of the Texas capital (wow!), we feel as though we’ve come full circle.
From Maximum to Minimum
If you’re OverFifty and have childen, there’s a strong chance they lean toward a more minimalistic lifestyle than you do. Experts claim there are many reasons for that choice, one of which is that 80% of millennials prefer living in an urban setting. Another selling point is that they really prefer to fill their lives with friendships, travel and experiences, which doesn’t include dusting shelves full of keepsakes and décor.
Five years ago, I would have thought they were living in some kind of millennial la-la land, even a phase that could termed as temporary.
Now, not so much.
The trend has taken a pretty good hold with millennials, and it’s also become quite attractive to their empty nester parents.
Gaining Steam With OverFiftyers
OverFifty-ers who find themselves at the 3000-square feet of bursting-at-the-seams-full-attic-no-cars-in-the-garage-because-of-all-the-stuff stage are largely re-thinking it all.
In pretty impressive numbers, once the kids are out of college and on their own, couples OverFifty are selling the big house, buying a small condo, or opting for carefree apartment life.
While some of us still dearly love taking care of a yard and a home, many can be heard belting out Idina Menzel’s hit song, Let It Go. Many men lament that if they could get their wives on the same page, they would love to return to a remembered and cherished state of honeymoon simplicity, when obligations were both fewer and less time-consuming. Women are also embracing less and have become tired of pursuing more.
Tubs and Storage
But, as I said, this shift from acquisition of much to purging toward little is easier when it’s a gradual process. I’ve been through plastic tub after plastic tub, but this one with the cards and letters is among the very last.
I hadn’t had time to go through it before we moved to Austin, so first, we stored it in the garage. Then, we moved it to the storage unit we rented, the contract on which is nearing its last day.
So, heresits the tub, on the floor of the guest room in our downtown Austin apartment.
Years of Handwritten Notes
This tub was filled to the brim with years and years of cards, announcements and letters – handwritten letters. Some of the hands that penned the letters are no longer here. What a gift it is to hold their thoughts in my hands.
I absolutely had to purge some of it, because we simply don’t have room to keep everything, even in organized plastic tubs.
So, I took all the notes out of the envelopes they came in. That was at least a start! I kept the notes and trashed the envelopes, my friends.
And that’s as far as my sentimental self could go for today.
1825 Notes Per Year
Several years ago, I worked for an attorney who was an absolute pro at writing cards and letters. He consistently reached his personal goal of 5 notes a day. It was my job to take those notes to the mailroom, and I couldn’t help but be astounded at this guy’s regular routine.
What a great way to live. Five people a day were blessed by a word of his encouragement or appreciation.
And how about this? He even wrote notes to parents of college students or new attorneys who worked in the office, telling them how proud they would be of their son or daughter.
When I asked my friend how in the world he started this fine upstanding habit, he told me he had read a life-changing book and gave me a copy.
This simple book with its handwritten title makes a significant impact on its readers. Two parts motivation and one part how-to, you’ll be excited about firming up the technique of a well-written note.
Gifts That Keep on Giving
Linda Wright penned the following descriptive Goodreads review about the book and about the beauty of handwritten notes.
The Art of the Handwritten Note is not a stuffy narrative about manners. The author makes it clear that the handwritten note is still alive and well in our high tech 21st century. A note that arrives in our mailbox is first, a surprise, and then a personal interaction between two people. It’s not publicly posted online for strangers to see. It’s special. And as human beings we will always adore being made to feel special.
That’s why personal notes, letters and cards are so very hard to declutter. It totally explains and affirms my decision to store a whole lifetime of them in attic after attic all over the Texas panhandle.
Handwritten notes are gifts that keep on giving. No matter how many times they are taken out of their place of storage, each new reading is like untying a beautiful velvet ribbon from a box full of buried treasure.
But Here’s the Thing
We are just not likely to look at them very often at all.
For one thing, getting up in the attic requires climbing up the ladder and then moving other boxes to get to the one you want to open.
For another thing, there’s a strong chance that the love you feel from reminiscing through the notes will pale in comparison to the guilt you’ll endure over the full to bulging attic.
And for yet another sobering thing, if we don’t do something with all those words, our kids will have to do it when we’re gone. Can you imagine that they will sit on the floor and go through them, laughing, crying, commenting on how many people loved their mom?
That could happen, but comfort yourself. It can happen with a few just as it could occur with the many. Our kids won’t need a whole bin of notes to know that people loved us.
Repeat after me.
Paring down the number of thank you notes, Christmas cards and high school love letters that I’ve kept for all these years is a good thing for everyone.
However, Keep a Few (Unless You Don’t Want To)
Remember, decluttering OverFifty is very much a transitional process. If you’re at a place where “out of sight, out of mind” is good enough motivation to chunk the whole tub of cards and letters, I say do it.
However, keeping a few is not at all a bad idea. Key words: a few.
Here’s are some ideas to help:
Give yourself a time limit, a hard and fast d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e.
Spread out in a place where you won’t have to move the mess and start over. A spare bedroom may be a better choice than the dining room table.
Take pictures, text them to the people who wrote the notes and tell them how glad you are to have them in your life.
Decide where you’ll keep the new box. Under the bed is okay. If there’s room. LOL
Pare down the whole box, then go through the saved notes again for a second paring. Do it again once more. By the time you’ve read through the whole lot three times, there will be no doubt which ones you really want to keep.
Ask a friend to bring her tub over, turn on a Hallmark movie and read your notes to each other. Be sure you have a nice bottle of wine to share. Or if Pepsi is the favorite drink of the only friend you would trust with these memories, get a six-pack.
Let your grandkids help you decorate a (much smaller) container.
Reward yourself when done. Want some new shoes? Go for it. This task, completed, deserves the reward of your choosing.
Speaking of Rewards
I love to reward myself when I finish a difficult task. Since my favorite reward is homemade cookies, I’ve had more than sufficient motivation.
The biggest reward, though, has been the freedom that comes with having less. The closets in a small downtown Austin apartment don’t allow enough space to stack big blue plastic tubs. There is, however, just enough space for two empty nesters having the time of their lives.
Encouraging a life filled with everyday intentional adventure, the writing of many heartfelt handwritten cards and letters, but the keeping of only a few,