This is Your Life, So You’d Better Take the Reins: When Downsizing is Right-Sizing


This is the second post in a series on downsizing, written about my own personal experience with this painful yet liberating process. The first post, “When Downsizing is Right-Sizing,” can be found here.

There’s a scene in The Sopranos where Carmela, Tony Soprano’s wife, is a bit lost, her world beginning to unfurl. She was realizing, painfully, that being the wife of a violent mobster had consequences. She lived in a mansion in the suburbs with every conceivable luxury, doing all the things that ‘regular’ people did…except she couldn’t have ‘regular’ relationships with people, because she was the wife of a violent mobster. And she got there, not through conscious, purposeful decisions, but rather by letting things happen to her, by going along with things, by her lack of purposeful decision-making — which some would say is in and of itself a kind of decision-making. And it is. How does the saying go? “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

That scene stuck with me.

Because I, too, was married to a violent mobster.

JUST KIDDING! Of course.

But what stuck with me was this notion that you can end up somewhere, not through a series of decisions, but rather through a series of non-decisions. And as my husband and I found ourselves in a situation in 2013 that felt like we were suffocating — with mounting debt and zero steady income — I decided that I would NOT just let things happen to us.

Because this is the thing, and it’s important to really internalize this: there are no white knights to ride in — YOU are the white knight. The odds of winning the lottery are slim to none, and that next great deal/project/job is far from certain. And you know it. If you are honest with yourself, you really know it. And if you sit and wait for those things to happen, you risk sinking further and further into the quicksand.

It’s hard to tackle something that you can’t see, to grab a ghost or tackle a whisper. You need to name it to address it, to unveil it and put a title on that demon. So, one cold and snowy January morning, we dropped our youngest off for a ski trip and went to Chez Cora, a local breakfast spot. It was still dark out, very early, too early for the line-ups to start. We ordered our coffees and pulled out the lined paper and home files, and we began to put all of our expenses on paper (long list), along with all of our income (short list).

THIS WAS SO PAINFUL. But it had to be done. It had to be done so that instead of an unnamed tremor of tension defining our interactions in the house, an underlying fear and stress, we were starting from the same page, a named page, of a book that we were both reading.

And in the end, laying it all out was reassuring — not because it wasn’t all that bad, oh hell no — but rather because it was right there, named, defined, on paper. And now we could get to work.

If you are hiding from your bills, not talking about things, not looking this right in the face, or if you find that your spouse is not willing to talk about things, you need to be brave and put everything on paper. This will take some time and work, of course, and you might cry…or yell…or have more wine than you should. But you’ve got to face the thing that shall not be named. You’ve got to put it ALL on paper, to know exactly where you are, right now, and exactly where you’ll be if you do nothing. But you are not going to do nothing.

“I understand now that my priorities were wrong before…that I let life happen around me, and I didn’t take responsibility for it.” (Gillian MacMillan in What She Knew)

Taking responsibility is empowering; hiding from the truth or floating through each day is not. This is your life. Take the reins. Don’t be Carmela Soprano.

In coming posts, I’ll walk you through exactly what we did. Follow along with me, and know that you’re not alone. You are NOT alone.