Simplicana My Parents Are Downsizing! - Simplicana

My Parents Are Downsizing!

After helping many families downsize, or readjust in their space after their folks downsize, last month it was finally my turn to sit in the hot seat!

Yesterday, my parents moved from a six bedroom house to a three bedroom townhouse. Last month in preparation for this, I journeyed back to my home town of Lawrenceville, New Jersey where my three brothers and I spent a full weekend going through all of our childhood accumulations. We made a big deal about it- we invited our aunts and uncles and cousins for a weekend of partying to send the house off in style. We decluttered all day, and drank all night. Well… I made it til about 10pm. But my brothers and cousins stayed up a bit longer.

Evidence of a proper House… Cooling?

We take partying seriously in our family.

Anyway, there I was, face to face with a bunch of things from my entire life. My dad and stepmom told us that the four of us kiddos could each fill ONE plastic bin to stash in their basement in the new home, and that everything else had to go with us, or get donated/tossed. My brothers all live on the east coast, so they could haul their keeps home in their cars. But because I flew in from the Midwest, I was a little more limited. However, my parents are driving out here in August to pick me up before the three of us drive to Montana for a week with the boys and my brother’s girlfriend, and they generously offered to leave space in their little Prius for 2 bins to bring out to me.

When I say “bins” (ie, totes or tubs), I mean roughly the size of these 70 quart Sterilite bins.

And so it began.

I made 7 piles: Trash, Recycling, Homefront donations, The BURN PILE (we are a family of ceremony), “Keep in NJ”, “Keep and put in my luggage”, and “Keep and put in the 2 bins to come my way in August”.

I quickly realized that some of this stuff was going to be REALLY hard to get rid of. Believe it or not, I’m a selectively sentimental gal. I felt that I needed some validation while letting go of some of this stuff- some way to honor the things that had served me well, that made it easier to let them go. So like any class act, I turned to Social Media.

I Instagrammed half of what I went through, and made a caption about what the item meant to me. People’s comments and humor helped make it easier to let go. Here’s some stuff that I got rid of (or didn’t):


Che tristezza!

RECYCLED: My Italian books from college. I was an advanced student and I got to study abroad in Florence, where I spoke it everywhere. I was good enough to talk to anybody. What an incredible privilege. But as I recycled these, I thought, “I can visit the library or do an audio course if I ever want to brush up.” Ciao, my faithful books!


DONATED: My English grammar book from my TEFL course in Chiang Mai, at the beginning of my 9 months of living in Thailand. Now, I ended up teaching preschool and Kindergarten, so I don’t think I cracked this book once since I finished the course and received my TEFL. It would have been dead useful if I had taught older kids.


KEPT… FOR NOW: I meant to donate this silly hat. But it’s so stinking adorable. This is also an artifact of my days in Thailand. I gave it to my brother Sam as a gift years ago, but during this decluttering weekend in NJ, I thought of all of the times that my clients have said “I don’t love it, but it was a gift, so I have to keep it,” so I made sure that Sam knew that he could get rid of the hat, plus anything else I had ever given to him. (Wink wink, nudge nudge- that goes for you too, dear readers! Give your loved ones permission to let the things you gave them go.) So I meant to donate it, but I’m fond of it. A friend in Kansas City offered to take it when she saw my post of it- I may give it to her on the condition that I may borrow it back whenever I like. 🙂 (And let’s be realistic, how likely am I to actually ask to borrow it? What would I even wear it to?).


TRASHED… BUT NOT WITHOUT STRONG OBJECTIONS FROM BROTHERS: In my opinion, there are few professions where it doesn’t look a little douchey to display your degree. True, I am proud of the honors, and the double major (the latter of which is not mentioned on the degree) in Creative Writing and Theater. And I adored my college. But, I can’t display it. Nor will I need to present it to future employers- My employer said that I’m smart and pretty and can do anything I want to with my life, degree or no degree (isn’t self-employment great?), so there. But my brothers think I’m nuts to have thrown it out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it secretly got trash-picked when I turned my back. I scanned it in high resolution before tossing it. And if I absolutely ever needed a physical copy, I could call The New School and ask for a new one, even for the silly fee.


DONATED: Brown chicken, brown cooow! Not like anybody wants my childhood art, but they may want the frame. I figured that all I needed of this was a photo to remember it. Mission accomplished! Aren’t they cute animals though? 🙂


BURNED: This is a map that my mother, who was a cartographer pre-kids, made of a section of her college campus. My brother Jack and I, being her two biological offspring, felt that a photo was all we needed, and that burning this map (which would have been inconvenient for either of us to keep) in our firepit was somehow showing more honor to it than if we had crumpled it up and recycled it. It felt healing. I also burned some broken dollhouse furniture.


FUTURE DONATIONS WITH A PLAN: Oh god. Stuffed animals are the hardest to part with. Any time I even think about letting one go, she or he looks at me and says, “But I… I… I’ll always love you, Eliza!” and then I break down and have to stare in the mirror for an hour wondering what kind of sick, sick person I am. But here’s the truth: They will haunt me only until they are gone. I know this from 32 years of decluttering my own stuff, and 7.5 years of other people hiring me to help them go through the same dilemma. Once they are gone, I probably won’t think about them again (much). I know that they are just a gaggle of molecules that are arranged into loving, comforting friends. I projected all of my loneliness and sadness onto them as a kid, and they took care of me… Because I needed them to. Isn’t the child mind amazing? We create that which we need. Anyway, where are my manners? Let me introduce you. On the bottom row from left to right, we have Mother Goose, Moose, Chelsea and Monkey. In the top row from left to right, we have Humpback, Val Pink Easter, Val, Popo, Seabert and Tigger. Not shown here are Bunch-Bunch and Eagie, because they were back in Kansas City at the time; those two live with me full-time because they are never ever ever ever ever leaving me, ever. And because I have those two, plus this awesome photo, I *think* that I can finally let the rest go. Especially since I have a plan for them that makes me happy: There are no organizations in NJ that I know of that take used stuffed animals, and I couldn’t bear to place any of my friends in the trash. However, here in Kansas we have Shawnee Community Services who will take the toys in good order, and for the ones that have a missing eye or nose thanks to past family Jack Russell terriers, there is always Great Plains SPCA. Why not give them to my own dog, you ask? Because what kind of sicko watches their childhood besties get mauled by a terrier mix in front of their own eyes? Jeeze.


KEEP: For the one bin that I was allowed to fill and keep in my parent’s basement in the new house, I chose my beloved herd of Breyer horses. I spent countless hours in my childhood (fine, and maybe early teenhood too) taking these outside to the stream and playing ranch. I could see myself some day thinning out the herd and keeping only my specials, but that doesn’t have to be right now.


TRASH: My 5th grade art project- a passion flower! You know I got an A, peeps! [high fives]


KEEP: My Snoopy house! I made it in Florence during my study abroad semester in college. Why does Snoopy have three port holes in the side of his dog house, you ask? Because the assignment was to make a house or a church… So I started making church-like windows… And then got bored and just made Snoopy’s house instead. My teacher loved it. The door mat says “Go Away”.


TRASHED: My clay drinking vessell that I made in 1996 (whatever grade that was… Sixth?). The assignment was to create an artifact, and a story to go with it. I actually have the story scanned on my Google Drive- the heroine is a 13 year old girl named Little Talon. And you know what? The writing isn’t half bad, even if it is filled with well-meaning metaphors and clichés that would have anybody of Native American descent rolling their eyes. I was adorable and benign!


KEPT: Claudia, the mother of my best friend growing up, has always been a very talented crafter/sewer/quilter. When my mom was in the hospital sick with cancer on her own birthday, Claudia presented her with this elephant quilt. Elephants were my mom’s favorites. Claudia had every “fac brat” at The Lawrenceville School draw an elephant on a piece of fabric, which she then made into this beautiful piece. My mom treasured it, and I do too! I hadn’t seen it since my mom passed 15 years ago, so this was amazing to find. This is definitely a forever-keep. By the way, a “fac brat”, or faculty brat, is a child who grew up on a boarding school campus. Like an army brat!

Not shown in this post: 2 bins of papers, scrapbooks and photos to scan and then toss, my 2 baby blankets, my mom’s elephant figurine collection… Many of these things are coming out with my parents in August, when I will reevaluate them. We trashed the amazing dollhouse that my dad’s dad made for me in his wood shop, because it was covered in mouse poop from living in the attic for 13 years. That was sad. But no way I’m messing around with mouse poop after an expensive Hantavirus scare last year. Oh, and I brought our old Ouija board home, along with 5 jigsaw puzzles. I flew Southwest so that I could check a free bag, and I brought my largest suitcase.

Phew. We went through a lot of stuff. Every time I went home to NJ I’ve been decluttering a little here and there anyway, so I had a little less to go through than my brothers did, but it was still far more to go through than I had expected. Isn’t it always though?

Goodbye to our beautiful home of 13 years (and the parties I threw when my folks were out of town)! Goodbye to the things we’ve outgrown! Welcome Back to the few things I kept, that are heading my way next month.

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Showing 14 Comments

  1. Mona

    Oh, what a fun read! Thanks for sharing, Eliza!

  2. Jan busby

    LOVE LOVE reading your posts and blogs…..we had our kids do the same when we downsized and moved to Nevada. They went thru the same emotions and fun…then they stayed and we put on a monstrous garage sale and watched the pennies flow in!!!

  3. JC

    Nice post. Hurricane Sandy house!

  4. Alice Lund

    What a wonderful post – I took my time reading about every treasure, whether kept or let go. I’ll be excited to have you back to my house once school is in motion and there is some peace. Thanks for being awesome!

  5. Margaret

    I loved this! It will help lots of people figure out how to part with stuff and move on. Life is full of that–it’s a constant process but the relief you get from parting with stuff is exhilarating!

  6. Lisa

    Loved reading your article Eliza, you write beautifully!!!

  7. L. Hawkins of Woodbridge, Va.

    Hello Eliza.☺ I really enjoyed reading your description of your de-cluttering your family home in New Jersey. Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are a wonderful writer among your many talents! 😉 I just moved on July 4th to one bedroom apartment and wish you were here on the East Coast to help me declutter as I unpack things ( junk) that I have been holding onto from the 80s! I know I don’t need and Must part with, to be comfortable in my little apartment… I think of you often and will reflect on the lessons you taught me in decluttering my Stuff….I wish you well, much love and many blessings in life!! 🤗

    • Eliza Cantlay

      Hi! Great to hear from you! I remember working with you so well, how fun it was, and how I wish I was there to help too! 🙂 Thank you for the well wishes- have a WONDERFUL time in your new space! I’m also in a one bedroom, and I love it! Best wishes xoxox

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