The Agony and the Ecstasy of Downsizing and Leaving D.C.

DC_packing_up_051314The greatest stressors in life are disease, death, divorce and déménagement. Debbie and I are in the midst of the latter and although it may be the least important, still…

We are spending a month in Washington to enjoy our last foreseeable spring in Georgetown, a gloriously gardened and architecturally resplendent enclave. Spring is beautiful in D.C. and Georgetown is the most beautiful neighborhood.

That is the upside. The downside is that we are packing the house for our final retreat, our preantepenultimate downsizing. Intellectually, I am good with that. We cannot carry unnecessary housing square footage. Emotionally, too, I am good with that. I want to be in a smaller and quieter place. But somewhere in between intellect and emotion, I am torn.

Everywhere I look there is a decision to be made: keep, toss, sell, give away. I don’t want to make the choice. I have used none of the contents of the house for a year and most of the contents have lain unused for much longer. I have no need for any of it in rural Maine where our small house is comfortably furnished, clothes are worn into comfortable rags and most people are uncomfortable with high society affectations.

Yet I am frequently stuck or only haltingly willing to let go. I don’t need those neck ties or cufflinks. I don’t need a leather chair. I don’t need a tuxedo any more. But memories swirl around each object. What makes me cling to them? Is this the hardest move, away from upward mobility?

Then I look around this neighborhood of extraordinary prosperity and I see fresh construction, moving vans, delivery trucks, heavily laden shoppers and I want to reach out and shake some sense into my neighbors. I want to say, “Hey, stop acquiring things, you will just have to let them go later.”

Downsizing hurts but it shouldn’t. It should be empowering. It should be liberating. It should be about gaining freedom – not giving up “stuff.” Maybe I can keep the memories.

Radix malorum cupiditas est

9 Responses to The Agony and the Ecstasy of Downsizing and Leaving D.C.

  1. Andy Franklin May 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    You have so beautifully captured what most our age are facing. I keep trying to get rid of stuff, but my dear wife has hoarding tendencies – though she is getting better. But, I cringe whenever anything new comes into the house – hoping that two things can and will go out. But, it rarely happens. I don’t even like it when she comes home from the grocery store with bags of food.

  2. William Perkins May 13, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    Well, I happen to have three of the four D’s happening right now, so I can relate. But I would argue for “radix malorum est thesaurus” as some online dictionary lists “thesaurus” as collected precious objects. It is easier to put money in a bank or spend it than it is to throw those cufflinks in the trash or box them up. And are you an incipient anarchist, Sam?

  3. Minor May 13, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    As you liberate yourself from material things, we are here to support you. We stand ready to take on the burden of possessing, say, the barstools, some lamps, and the leather chair. Don’t forget that we are just a Uhaul trip away.

    Keep your black tie getup. You’ll need it at least a few more times.

  4. Ray Daly May 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Photos. Photos are practically free so take lots of them.

    Think of your sacred items as subjects for a slideshow. Again lots of them. If that tux holds lots of memories, take lots of pictures and put the memories into captions. Or do a video selfie interview. Turn them into art. “Pasttimes are past times.”

    Take the bookshelf and find pdfs online. Carry them with you in dropbox on your phone. Nothing like whipping out James Joyce during lunch while hiking up a mountain without the weight. I now have more technical books in dropbox than on bookshelves.

    Digitizing things is working for me. That said I still have a shirt from each of my three kids when they were three years old in my sox drawer. And all of my Marshall McLuhan books.

    • Debbie Weil May 22, 2014 at 6:19 am #


      It’s great to hear from you. Intriguing idea. We could create a folder in Dropbox titled “Memories” and put photos of “Stuff” in it. The biggest hangup for me is probably physical books. I’ve given away hundreds. But still own thousands.


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