It starts with selling the regulation-sized pool table that you bought years ago hoping it’d keep the kids at home instead of out on the streets with what-all going on. Next, it’s the year you decide not to plant a summer garden or put up a Christmas tree with all the decorations during the holidays.

That’s how downsizing began for us.

“Instead of all the work of the 7-foot holiday tree, let’s just put up a miniature one on the dining room table.” This was only a momentary reduction one year without a thought that this change might be permanent going forward. The kids didn’t play much pool before the table was gone anyway, and the holidays were joyous without the mammoth tree in the living room, safely away from the fireplace, and without Santa decorations in every room, including the bathrooms.

Downsizing is a part of aging.

When it’s just the two or one of you, when cleaning and maintaining a huge house gets to be more effort than seems reasonable, and when other aspects of getting around and getting things done overshadow the effort it takes to maintain a larger life, we downsize. Exactly what the downsizing looks like depends on many variables including money, location, availability, and how much junk, uh, I mean stuff you have.

Like everything else, there’s a massive emotional component of downsizing, from letting go of boxes and boxes of memories to steeling ourselves with smaller, sometimes less personal, spaces where our lives are stored in our memories instead of being on display to share with others.

It’s completely understandable that people may be feeling anxious, depressed, unsure, stressed, sad, and/or overwhelmed when downsizing. These feelings are normal no matter how much you believe you’re making the right decision. You may be saying goodbye to a familiar community or having to discard possessions because you will have less space in your new home. Letting go of stuff that reminds you of the best times of your life is particularly difficult.

How to cope with downsizing

Seniors experience a lack of control when it comes to downsizing. If you haven’t made the move already, experts recommend starting the process early and perhaps taking it in stages, not making the most significant changes at the very beginning. Another suggestion is to involve other family members. Perhaps some of the things you need to get rid of will be used and appreciated by your children or other relatives. And don’t forget about the needless paperwork that we cart around in boxes or filing cabinets when most of it exists online forever.

In any kind of downsizing, it’s beneficial to separate what you don’t need or want into the categories of donating, giving away, or selling. If you’re still in your large home and if your neighborhood supports it, a yard sale might be the way to cull some of the items you wish to let go of. It’s my suggestion that you save those precious items that are loaded with meaning and sentiment to the very end before deciding whether to keep or get rid of them. It’s best to hang on for awhile longer if you’re not sure. I’d hate to have anyone grieve more for an item that was given away before its time.

Finally, it might be a great idea to ask for help. An objective person, like a friend or even a professional, can help identify the pros and cons of keeping or disposing of something you’re attached to. My experience is that family members have their own agendas about possessions that have meaning for them, so it might be best to use others helpers.

Like any other part of aging, downsizing is not always easy and may require a longer process to accomplish. Don’t compare yourself to others who have successfully moved into smaller spaces and be gentle with yourself at all stages of the process.