Years ago, I held an “everything-must-go” garage sale right before I moved from New Jersey to California. I was in my late 30s at the time and was shedding my old life’s skin for an adventure in the land of golden sunshine. I was buoyed by the excitement of the unknown as I sold off or gave away literally everything I owned that didn’t fit in the trunk of my car. I packed my two dogs in the back seat, and off we went on a one-way road trip west to our future.
My move to Los Angeles three decades ago worked out just fine. My career flourished, as did my love life and even my mental health. There’s no comparison between California’s perpetually bright sun and New Jersey’s perpetually grey clouds. I instantly fell in love with my adopted state’s natural beauty and the creative energy of its people.
Now, I’m shedding my skin all over again. But because I am 70 this time, there is apparently a real namel for it: “You are downsizing,” my real estate agent says. “Yeah, no,” I corrected her.
True, I am semi-retired, an empty-nester, and no longer want or need this big house so I am selling it — along with the baby grand piano my daughter no longer plays, the bells-and-whistles kitchen tools that I used to cook for a small army of hungry teenage boys, and the big backyard lawn where the pool we never got around to putting in would go. Instead, the grassy lawn doubled as a sports practice field and made a lot of gophers happy.
But what may look like downsizing to everyone else is just me prepping for my next adventure. I like to travel with just a carry-on bag when I go places or transition to new life phases. I never check a bag when I fly anywhere, nor will I ever put anything in storage. I get attached to the people in my life, not my possessions. For the sentimental possessions, I just take a photo of the item and then move on.
Sadly, the word “downsizing” comes with connotations for people my age. Too often it is a sad event, viewed as an ending, not a beginning. One downsizing friend cried when she took her grandmother’s good china to the thrift store after her own kids said they had no interest in it whatsoever. The china had sat in a box in her attic for at least 20 years; even she didn’t use it. But still, it made her feel sad because she was “downsizing” — saying goodbye to things.
Another friend wanted to keep the door frame to the garage because that was where she measured her kids’ growth — marking their heights and the date in pen along the frame. “What if the next occupant wants to paint over them?” she wept.
Me? I gleefully am dropping off boxes of my old table linens and perfectly good throw pillows from two color schemes ago because I am, again, shedding my skin — much as a snake does. And why do snakes and I do this? Because shedding our skin enables us to grow more. And that’s what I plan on doing.
Ann Brenoff was a staff writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where she won a shared Pulitzer for coverage of the Northridge Earthquake. Most recently, she was a senior writer and columnist for HuffPost based in Los Angeles.