Friday, October 22, 2010

Downsizing by Val Matthews

It seems as if much of my life has been spent in packing up and moving somewhere – first as the daughter of a field geologist who moved around Southern Africa, then as the wife of a physicist who took me plus an ever increasing brood to Virginia, New York, and Cambridge, England. Later as a widow, I packed up the family and took them back to South Africa and then after some years brought them back to Virginia.

Time passed and offspring grown, I moved with a new husband to an old farmhouse in the county. Now, a widow of advancing years, I am in the process of moving again, this time into a bungalow in the city. This, I tell my offspring, is likely to be my last house and I feel very comfortable saying that.

But now the reorganization has to start – the downsizing, or as a recently moved neighbour said – the streamlining of one’s lifestyle. Another concept came to mind, as well – crystallizing my life.

I started with the hardest task of all -- my books. Studying the bookshelves was like seeing my history, my late husband’s history, and our family history, all laid out on the shelves. Precious books saved from high school in South Africa, books of the history, natural history, architecture and literature of places we have traveled to and lived in. So, although I pruned a little bit, I also had bookshelves built in the bungalow.

Furniture next. My family and friends don’t often sit formally on couches but spend a lot of time at tables, eating, playing games and chatting. We have also squeezed more and more people into the farmhouse at Thanksgiving, everyone bringing food. When one of my dear friends heard about my planned move, she said “But what about Thanksgiving?” And so one of the biggest challenges has been to calculate how to squeeze a lot of people at tables into a bungalow for that very special holiday. Of course my mother-in-law’s beautiful old oak dresser has to come with me as well as the beat-up old dresser I bought for $60 that is the perfect music center. The big old couch that unfolds into a bed is also essential, to cope with extra overnight bodies.

Just Dogs By K F Barker 1933
A question I am often asked though is “What will you do with your dogs?” Well, a fence has already been put up and three scruffy old farm dogs will be moving into a city neighbourhood with me. The neighbours have been forewarned and say they are looking forward to meeting the dogs.

I am giving a lot of stuff away, and I know there will be many trips to Goodwill and Salvation Army. But I’ve also realized that crystallizing my life doesn’t mean I have to change my lifestyle; it just means reducing my lifestyle to its essence.

So, downsizing or streamlining, it is another of life’s adventures and I plan to enjoy it as much as I can.

                           --Val Matthews lives in Charlottesville


  1. This lady deserves a nobel prize for these commentaries. Hopefully today's youth would listen to her wisdoms and words. She could effect others with his wise words. Does she do public speaking tours or anything or has ever thinking of lettting a musician play violins or guitars behind her words. I think it would be amazing if she could find a musican to do that with her amazing words.

  2. Good for you for planning to enjoy downsizing your precious memories. I personally felt sad when I read that you were faced with separating yourself from books and furniture that must hold a lot of memories.
    Tanya Reilly Canada