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Downsizing Saga: Are We Possessed By Our Own Possessions?

Back in late 2018, the decluttering virus hit. This writer faced the dilemma of downsizing to a smaller abode. Maybe readers will recall that more than two years ago I wrote:

Now that the kids have grown up and moved out, a 4,000-square-foot single-family home with 4 bedrooms, 3.5-baths, a family room, media room, game room with wet bar, wine cellar, two fireplaces and attached garage, seemed too big for this writer and his wife.

After the garage sale, a list was made of the cherished pieces of furniture and family heirlooms that must be given away, shipped to our new tiny house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, or stored.

New staging furniture purchased to sell the house, along with original art and framed posters were recycled by my wife to furnish and decorate an Old Town garden apartment which was converted to an Airbnb.

Thankfully, the huge armoire and the grand piano are gone. Yet, I confess, hundreds of books, 10 file cabinets full of home rehab and photo files, and 50 years of newspaper clips are still in my possession.

Then, there are the signed 16-inch softballs from more than 50 championships, bats, Hall-of-Fame memorabilia, bags of game-worn softball jerseys and jackets.

During our 2018 decluttering experience, Diane Krojanker, president of Let’s Organize, a professional home and office organizer, kept repeating her motto: “When in doubt recycle, repurpose or throw it out.” She says owning fewer things means you’ll have less to clean, and less to maintain. “You’ll be able to spend your precious time on what you love.”

Luckily, we had access to basement storage spaces at other buildings and didn’t have to rent a $300-a-month storage locker like most folks.

Storage horror stories abound, and inspired “Storage Wars,” a cable show on auctioned lockers. A forgotten storage locker cost one relative $31,000 in fees over a decade, and he never visited the space. A friend forgot to pay the storage fees for his family’s rare antiques and lost the heirlooms.

Krojanker’s first mission was to help us declutter an existing storage room we had at a nearby property. The storage space was stacked with boxes and file cabinets.

They were filled with old business, banking and tax records, public relations files and awards, and outdated computer equipment. The debris we tossed filled six city garbage cans.

Unfortunately, six empty file cabinets soon were filled once again with files we decluttered from our house. With one basement storage room filled, pretty soon five decades of news clips spilled into two four-drawer files in the building’s tool room, and more archival material ended up in lateral files in a small closet housing the buildings gas meters.

Two additional armoires then housed a dozen bound copies of the Chicago Sun-Times Homelife sections from the 1980s and 1990s and placed in the corner of the basement. Our hardwood breakfast table from the big house now serves as a folding table in the building’s laundry room.

Another storage space was created by removing old plank-walled storage lockers in another Old Town basement. Recessed lighting, a dehumidifier and sleeve heat/air conditioner were installed to protect hundreds of books, more art and photos, and a bare-bones building office was created.

Treasured heirlooms such as a curved glass curio cabinet, vintage movie posters and this writer’s favorite Hemingway and Steinbeck books were moved to the mountain house, which also has four attic storage scuttles for more family artifacts.

So, after more than two years of decluttering, we still have storage places in five locations in two states.

This downsizing nightmare reminds me of that old “Morrie Mages Moment of Madness” commercial on black and white WGN-TV in the 1960s. Picture all sorts of sports equipment—bats, balls, baseball gloves, footballs and helmets, bikes, skis, workout equipment--floating in a circle in thin air over Morrie’s head.

Why didn’t I heed the sage advice of Margareta Magnusson, a Stockholm artist, decluttering specialist and author of “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”?

She said: “If you don’t love it, lose it. If you don’t use it, lose it.” The book’s grim title deals with an issue we all must face. How to put our lives in order before we pass on so our loved ones won’t have to.

Magnusson says there’s a word for it in Swedish: döstädning, which means, “death cleaning.” The idea behind döstädning is to gradually remove unnecessary things and get your home in order as you age.

It is likely that your family may only cherish a few sentimental items, photographs, and letters, perhaps some nice pieces of furniture, Magnusson reasons. Family and friends don’t need to inherit everything, just a few meaningful things.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit


“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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