How moving is bringing up my stuff (literally)


Sullivan claims his “right size” at the top of the hierarchy of our new home.

It’s been a month since my last post here, and for good reason: I moved to a new home two and a half weeks ago.

Well, sort of moved. I’m still somewhat in transition between the old place and the new — living in the new place, but going back regularly to the old to sort, organize, and get rid of before the place is officially sold. In other words: There’s a lot of letting go going on right now.

I lived in the house for ten years. When I first saw the second floor apartment (it was a two-flat), I had this inexplicable feeling of being home, and I knew I wanted to live there.

There are a number of complex reasons for my leaving the house, but let me just say that, over time, I have become the sort of “default” property manager.

And, as a friend of mine once wisely said, “houses are very greedy.” Especially old houses (this one was built in the 1880s). Although the house is in good shape for its age, its care, ultimately, has felt like too much for me to manage.

Still, I hung on until May, when some offers were made on the house and it became real to me that I really could not stay.

I am in a place in my life where I want to travel a bit more lightly in the physical world — and that means, less house and less stuff. But, as it’s becoming painfully clear, oh, do I have stuff!


When I moved into the house, I had been living in a teeny-tiny apartment, and I wanted to expand. I wanted to have people over for dinner.  I wanted to have get-togethers in the backyard. I wanted to have more room for beautiful things.

So when I moved my two-small-rooms-full of furniture and belongings over to the house (which had seven rooms), I could not begin to fill it up. And I kind of went hog-wild doing so. I had space! I was going to fill it with exactly what I wanted. I bought artwork — tons and tons of artwork — to cover my walls. I bought mirrors, and lamps, and ceramic cat statues, and, over time, lots of books and clothing as I became this new me who lived in this new space.

I was so in love with that house that I was determined, ten years ago, to live there for at least ten years. (Which, as it turns out, is what I did.)

But. It seems I have changed. Starting around five years ago or so, the house no longer fit me like a glove. It was almost imperceptible at first, the change — something just felt slightly off. It began to feel to me that there were too many rooms, rooms whose purpose was simply to house my stuff.

And those people who were supposed to come over for dinner and have barbecues in the backyard? Those things never really happened. The real me, it turns out, does not like having more than one or two people over at a time.

How could the house feel too big? After all, I was only living on the second floor of it, not even in the whole house! How could that be too big? I’d moved there in the first place because I wanted my life to expand. And plenty of my friends, and my parents, lived in much bigger spaces than this.


In the past few days I’ve been involved in two conversations about showing up in the world at our “right size.” Visionary types (and I do consider myself one) often encourage us “not to play small” and to “live a big life”. But is it really about being big, or about claiming our right size in the world?

And shouldn’t our living space support us in being our right size, having our “right effect”, in the world? Can our living spaces elegantly support us in living the lives we want to lead, the way we want to live them, rather than taking over our lives or defining us?

I guess what I am coming to is that the house, for all its aged charm and familiarity, grew over time to feel more like the house I thought I “should have” than the living space I actually wanted.

I know that I do not want to work hard to being able to pay for a living space that feels oddly “too big” and “too greedy” in the care it requires. I want to enjoy my work, and have a right-size-feeling living space that gives me the comfort and efficiency to do that. And somehow the word “cozy” applies here. It is important to me that my living space is cozy.


What this all means is that I have a lot of letting go to do. I’ve donated quite a lot of clothing, shoes, and household things over the past couple of months. And some of my beloved artwork will likely be given away, sold, or put into storage. (Only some: I’m hardly a minimalist and I can’t imagine my living space without artwork I adore surrounding me.)

This is hard. I had not realized how much I was identified with my stuff. How much I keep for sentimental reasons, how much I keep “just in case I need it some day”, how much I keep because it reminds me of a certain time in my life (even if I no longer particularly want or need to be reminded of that time).

And it’s not just about what I keep, but how hard I cling to what I keep.  There’s a part of me that says, I’m not going down without a fight! I will hold onto this Anthropologie sweater purchased in 2004 until my fingernails bleed! (And believe me, clothing is the easiest stuff for me to let go of.)

Even more than the stuff, I have been attached to the house itself. Its friendly oldness, its lovely crown mouldings, its creaky wood floors, its semi-treacherous winding staircases, its clutch of small rooms in unexpected places, its red back door with the cut-glass window.  Its retro 50s-diner-look kitchen, its bathroom with the green marbled tile from the 60s. Its arched walkways. The overhanging trees in the backyard, the across-the-street-neighbors’ dog we saw being walked several times a day, always with a white bandage on its hind leg. The house and its small swatch of neighborhood had character, and personality, and they met me where I was when I moved there.


It seems like every third person I know these days is reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo — I saw it referenced in two blog posts just today! Since I haven’t read it, I don’t know exactly what she talks about, but I have a sense that I am going through my own version of it right now.

I’ll write more on my (sometimes excruciating) letting go process in a future post. But for now, let me just say that, although it does not yet feel like home,  I am liking the new place (which I share with my dear boyfriend and Sullivan the Supercat — don’t tell him the vet says he’s a “senior”).

I'm a little grumpy that you've made me move ... but really, it already feels like home.

“I’m a little grumpy that you’ve made me move … but really, it already feels like home.”

One of the joys of moving in here has been the relative ease with which Sullivan has adjusted. He yowled his displeasure as we sat his carrier on the floor on the first day in the new place — but by day four, he was doing his usual intense shelf-climbing. (Sullivan is what cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy calls a “tree dweller” — he’s most himself in high places.)

What about you? What have you noticed about how your living space and your “stuff” reflect who you are and what matters to you? I’d love to hear from you.

18 thoughts on “How moving is bringing up my stuff (literally)

  1. I could go on quite a bit on this topic, having lost all my “stuff,” including all my writing, in the Berkeley-Oakland Hills fire of 1991. Now we have been 21 years in the house built on the same site. It’s large, but we have live-in/ part time help in an apartment on the second floor.
    I have just left the cabin/house in northern Idaho, which is part of a family compound on beautiful Lake Pend Oreille, which has been in the family for over 100 years. I left early, because it was so smoky — and scary from all the fires. I have removed family photos and memorabilia to a safer place on a farm nearby, as the possibility of a fire starting on the mountain behind us and sweeping down is very likely, given the dry conditions.
    The cabin and its contents are pretty much as my mother left it. i’ve been going there all my life, and this cabin was built in 1958, when my grandfather divided up his portion of the property so that 4 of his 5 children could have their own cabin. But some of the things there go back earlier than 1958, as they came from my parents’ ranch in eastern Idaho, where we spent summers from 1949 on. I noticed as I was packing up that I am more attached to that space — so much smaller than the Berkeley house — and those items, such as a Franklin wood stove with green Delft tile, or my father’s huge oak “school teacher” desk, than to anything here in Berkeley. I’m still using kitchen equipment, table things, towels, linens, that my mother used. I’m still wearing her swim shoes and using the clothespins she put our initials on for the linen napkins. (And we still feel guilty if we put a milk carton or a jar of marmalade on the table.) Since we’ve just sold my mom’s California residence, I like being surrounded by items that bring her back in my mind and feelings.
    As I get older, I abhor clutter — I don’t want anything around that I don’t use or feel strongly about.
    I’m very glad Sullivan is adjusting so quickly, and I’m sure you will too, very soon, Jill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So good to hear from you, Fredrica! I loved reading what you wrote about using your mother’s things and how you feel about them, and the cabin. (And I’m certainly hoping that the fires will miss the cabin — what a sad and stressful thing for you!) It’s so interesting how we are attached more to some spaces, and the things in them, than to others, and what that says about us and our emotional history.

      I’m with you — I am starting to only want things around me that I either use or feel strongly about. Sullivan says hello. I hope your writing is going splendidly! 🙂


  2. I can relate to a lot of this and will try not to go on and on… But first, one of the things I really love about my little place is that I really do USE all the rooms. There is the bedroom for sleeping, the second bedroom as a study for freelance work, the living room as a relaxation space, and the kitchen/bathroom for their respective purposes (although they do need renovating). I would love a teeny bit more space to have a proper dining table for a small group of friends to sit around, but otherwise the space is pretty perfect. (Except I have too much garden it turns out. I really liked the idea of having a garden, but I suck at maintaining it.) I tell myself I need more space for nice things, but really I don’t.

    As for letting stuff go… this is really hard, I agree. I’ve just watched my parents purge a huge percentage of their stuff in order to develop their block into two new townhouses. This has been huge for them — and I’ve probably acquired a few things I shouldn’t have. They’ve inspired me to declutter gradually — for example, the number of dishes in my kitchen cupboards that haven’t seen the light of day in 10 years is ridiculous! I am going through things gradually and feeling good about it. But I think it’s still good to have some frivolous things — like the silver collection I acquired from my grandmother, and the antique secretaire in the corner. Sometimes it’s nice to have pretty things just because. 🙂

    Good luck with the rest of of your move.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved reading about your living space, Ellen. It sounds great that you use all the rooms — that is what I have been craving. Now, in my new space, I could probably use one more room, but at least the space I do have will be used. (And I’m lucky to have a good amount of storage space.)

      I can relate to how hard it was to see your parents let go of things. “Going through things gradually and feeling good about it” is my intention, too. It really is so satisfying! (And, I do agree that it’s good to have some frivolous things, just for fun! I have a rocking chair with some gargoyles carved into it that isn’t in good enough shape to use, but I love it!) Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds like you’re making a good move. Five years ago, my husband and I downsized from a huge country home, to one in town half it’s size. Purging was difficult, but as the days passed, It started feeling really good to get rid of stuff that really felt burdensome. We sold some of it, gave some of it away and felt lighter as we got ready to move into the new house. I love our new place. It’s easier to take care of, the garden is much smaller so there is much less work there, and while it’s in a park like setting, we’re close to everything.

    I hope you enjoy your new digs as much as I do mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Joan! It’s so good (and encouraging) to hear that you are loving your new home, and feeling lighter having let go of things and having less to take care of. And being closer to everything is a plus for sure! I have sadness coming up regularly as go through things, but I’m inspired by your story that on the other side I’ll be glad I let go. Thanks for reading! 🙂


  4. As I was reading your post I was reflecting on what my husband and I are going through now. We have too much house and it takes up most of our free time to care for. We have been planing our next step, and with that in mind I picked up Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up. I was not surprised to see it in your post as, it is a popular notion now for many to purge our stuff.
    Good luck with your new beginnings and it’s always great to read your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to hear from you, Dianna! It’s so interesting that while big houses are wonderful at some points in life, at others their needs become overwhelming for us! I’m wishing you and your husband the best as you go through your “home process”, whatever it turns out to be. Very curious to hear what you think of the Kondo book as well. I happened on it in a shop today and almost bought it! Thanks so much for dropping by. 🙂


  5. Beautiful! So much of what you say here rings true for me. I’m in a constant state of releasing things, and feeling more and more like I want less of them. Cosy is a huge thing for me too, one of my core values actually. {Not sure cosy is a value but it is for me!} I used to think cosy meant ‘a lot of stuff’, but I’ve noticed that having less of it doesn’t mean sacrificing cosiness. It means making sure that what I have feels cosy to me, which sounds obvious really. I read that book and really the best thing I took from it was asking myself if each thing I own sparks joy. The rest I found a bit too confining. Still plenty to let go of but it always feels so good it’s something I love doing. I also did the same thing about envisioning having people over and then realising that’s not really how I work. 🙂 My home is in quite an old building too and I do find the constant upkeep quite challenging, but worth it for now. Wishing you every happiness in your new cosy home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tara, I love the idea of “cosy” as a core value! I had never thought of it, but I think it might be one of mine, too! And that gets me thinking about what that means for me, exactly. 🙂 Thanks for your feedback on the Kondo book — I’m curious about it now and think I will probably read it and see what I take away from it. Letting go of things does feel good, doesn’t it? Which is such an interesting thing, since letting go is also hard. Thanks so much for the good wishes on my new home — always wonderful to hear from you!


  6. One more comment: many people writing about the craft of writing and the development of a character say that any change, even a positive one, entails loss. I think of instability, fear of the future, fear of the past (did I do the right thing?), fear of mortality, death being the ultimate change. I think your story of downsizing touches on that and inspires us. And in regard to clutter, to accomplish anything, I see I have to struggle constantly against the clutter of distractions (Internet! phone calls!) and the endless To Do lists — yes, give them up in order to have a clean space for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fredrica, yes, that is something I think about often — how even positive change involves loss. I think a place I see myself (and others) get stuck is when we try to avoid loss — it’s just not possible! So you’re exactly right, downsizing brings up all that fear of loss and of doing the “wrong” thing, and can we handle the letting go?

      So true, too, that the “clutter of distractions” is something we need to protect ourselves from in order to create space for creativity! Thanks for adding those thoughts, Fredrica. Gave me much to ponder! 🙂


  7. I do hope you are continuing to settle well into your new space, as I see it’s been a while since you moved there. Reading your wonderful post reminded me of a passage in a book I read recently which I’d like to share with you,
    ‘It is no accident that so many of the world’s great religious leaders chose to be drifters, to be without a settled home, to wonder across the face of the earth. “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the son of man hath nowhere to lay his head.” Having a home can mean a narrowing of vision; having too comfortable an armchair to travel anywhere in.’
    What I take from this is how much freedom can come from having less stuff, how actually an outer ‘shrinking’ can be an invitation for the inner to ‘expand’…so perhaps being outwardly smaller, we become inwardly bigger. Personally, I have a bedroom which is part of the recompense for the work I do at the moment cooking in a retreat centre, all else is shared, but I notice how much I enjoy visiting my mother, or my father, my sister, friends in their homes…I love it, being surrounded by familiarity, memories, comfort, but I don’t think I want to give up the freedom I have now in order to acquire one of my own. I want to be able to follow where life calls me immediately life makes the call. Oops, I’ve gone on a bit…fabulous topic!!! Lots of love and blessings to you, Harula xxx

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    • Harula, thank you for sharing that quote, and I think you read my mind! For about two years before I moved, I’d been having a strong sense of needing to make my external world (home) “smaller” so I could expand my focus on my inner world, and bring that inner world “out” more. Somehow, trying to keep up with managing my external world was taking me away from that important inner work and preventing that expanse. It is really interesting to ponder the relationship between home and a feeling of freedom. It sounds like your living space is congruent with where you are in your life now — and it’s nice that you can enjoy the homes of friends and family while also realizing that’s not for you at this moment.

      I’m so happy to hear from you — I had just been thinking of you a week or so ago! Thanks for your terrific thoughts, as always. 🙂


  8. Hi Jill. I just now (2016 July 9) reread this because of the link you included in today’s post. Ten days ago my wife and I moved from a three-bedroom house, which included a large basement, a large garage, and a large backyard, to a two-bedroom condo. The main goal of our move was to reduce our commutes to work and to live closer to my parents. We chose to downsize because we both realized we don’t want to care for an entire house and everything that comes with it. Also, the two of us don’t need so much space. The moving and downsizing involved a lot of physical work and mental stress, and our place does not yet feel like home. But, my wife and I are certain that we are now living in the space that is right for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jim! Good to hear from you. Totally hear you about the stress of downsizing and moving — not an easy task at all! But a shorter commute, closer to your parents, and less space to care for (space and house stuff that you’ve realized you don’t need) should definitely create more ease in your life. And that’s worth a lot. Thanks for commenting, and congrats on your new place! Wishing you and your wife the best as you make the transition. I find that, nearly a year in, this place is feeling much more like home. 🙂


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