Downsize is an interesting word.
After extensive online research – no exaggeration, I spent at least 3 solid minutes googling the etymology of downsize – I found that the word was first used in the auto industry in the ’70s to describe the building of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. “We’re downsizing” uses eight fewer syllables and 29 fewer letters than “We’re building smaller, more fuel-efficient cars now.”
In the mid-’80s, it spread and became part of corp-talk, probably right after a reorg. Downsize became a euphemism for firing people. It helped CEOs and HR execs sleep at night after a round of… downsizing.
Now, downsizing means any activity that purposefully diminishes the size of something. Living space, for example.
My wife and I began thinking about downsizing when our son stayed in New York after college graduation. We became empty-nesters.
Downsizing’s not an easy thing to think about. It seems unnatural and un-American. Bigger has always been better. Like most plants and mammals, we spent our life upsizing. Going from small to BIG to BIGGER. Now we were contemplating going from BIG to SMALL to smaller. It goes against the natural flow of things.
Maybe it’s preparation for the ultimate downsizing: into a box and under a stone. Heavy. (The thought, not the stone. Actually… probably both.)
Once we made the decision, downsizing unfolded in four stages.
Stage 1 – deciding what to get rid of – was tough. It involved answering a very basic meaning-of-life question: What do we really need in order to live? Not just, what do we need? We’d spent decades accumulating answers to that question. This was more basic: what do we really need? (In my 70+ years, I’ve found that questions with italicized words are a lot more difficult to answer than questions without italicized words. More thought required.)
Much discussion ensued. We need both refrigerators, right? I mean, Thanksgiving dinner without a second fridge?? We need both cars, and that means two parking spaces. Indoors. Come on, that dresser belonged to my grandmother – our son’s great-grandmother! And the treadmill? How do we expect to keep our waistlines downsized without a treadmill in our downsized home?
Stage 1 went on and on, and overlapped into stage 2: getting rid of – let’s call it offloading – stuff we didn’t really need. This was a lot easier than anticipated. Strategy is the hard part; execution is simple. Just do it.
We discovered Brown Elephant, Goodwill, Divine Consign, Virtual Garage Sale and Craig’s List. I learned how to get large things into the trunk of my car. Offloading was fulfilling. We saw empty spaces where there was stuff before.
Stage 3 was fun: exploring. We began open house bingeing, spending Sundays going through old, elegant condos, sturdy Chicago bungalows, and modern 4-level townhouses. We weighed the pros and cons of condos vs. small houses.
And finally – after finding and buying a condo with a price we couldn’t walk away from – we entered stage 4, the toughest of all: putting our home on the market. We didn’t just put a house on the market; we put our home on the market. All because we were downsizing.
As I write this, it’s one year later, and everything worked out. We’re now living the downsized, offloaded, empty-nest life: less space, more travel, lower taxes, more flexible spending, and less autonomy. It was the smart decision.
And I have more empathy for those HR execs in the ’80s who coined that emotionless word, downsize. It probably wasn’t easy to let those employees go, but they had to cut costs in order to remain viable. Downsizing our life was tough, painful and rewarding, all at once. We gave up stuff in order to get other stuff.
And it was the right thing to do. Heavy.