Karen Lievense, of Downsizing Made Simple, knows that getting rid of stuff is usually about the emotions tied up in it. She helps people come to their own understating of that. She sat down with The Taos News to talk about the whys and the hows of ending up with so many things, getting rid of some of them and living a more authentic life in the process.
Tell me about yourself and your business, Downsizing Made Simple.
I moved here almost three years ago from Northern California. I had been a tourist here for 14 years. But I kept falling more deeply in love with Taos. And as I was getting older, I wanted to live the life of my dreams. It began to take shape when I was burned out on my design business in California. I decided to re-create my design business based on my own experience in the last four years.
How does this incarnation of your business differ from what you had before?
I’ve been doing this for 28 years. In the ‘80s, when I was just starting, it was a very flush time. My clients really wanted to show off their wealth. And we are so far beyond that now. Part of it’s the economy and the environment. I love my business now more than I ever have because it feels in resonance with me.
Is downsizing as simple as it sounds?
It’s real common for us to simply accumulate and never get rid of things. Downsizing isn’t about living like a monk. Obviously, part of the downsizing process is actually letting go, but a lot of it is looking at the relationship you have with the things in your home.
And why is that relationship with the stuff in our homes so important?
I don’t think we should have anything in our homes that don’t bring us honest joy and stimulate us to be alive. That’s the criteria I play with. It’s not realistic to hold everyone and everything to that, but it’s a nice thing to aspire to.
A lot of people just want the bed and the Barcalounger, but I think there’s a real opportunity to message the kind of feelings we’d like to have in the world: peace or love or security or beauty.
Who are your clients?
My niche group are a lot of people who have had similar experiences. I have clients who are buying second homes or vacation rentals. A lot of my clients are moving to Northern New Mexico, so they need help with going from the larger home to the smaller home.
They’re a lot of baby boomers who are letting go of the corporate life. They’re done with that, but they’re not ready for retirement. They’re more into rediscovery. You have a great opportunity to do a major check-in. You ask, “Do I want to be this person for the next 30 years?”
These sound like pretty robust relationships with your clients.
It’s definitely a relationship. I’ve had clients for 20 years. They are the kind of people who do have multiple homes or change homes, but we have a great relationship, and that means the world to me. It’s golden when it can go on so long.
What’s your biggest challenge?
The main challenge I have are people who want to live a smaller footprint, but aren’t willing to get rid of stuff.
What do you think that’s about?
I have a theory we are wired to accumulate for our survival: food, fire, shelter, weapons, tribe to support you. I think it really is a part of our DNA.
Also, our parents and grandparents [went] through the Depression, so the scarcity is still familiar in our culture. For my mother … I think she just didn’t want to be caught without. There’s comfort in abundance, but it’s almost a hindrance to have the kind of abundance where you can’t be in your home comfortably.
So how do you work through that?
I try to look at the emotions behind why we hold onto things in our homes. I don’t really judge or say what’s right or wrong. I’m more of an asker of questions.
A lot of people keep things because there’s an emotional value, particularly the memories. Do you need the thing to remind you of the emotional connection? Is there guilt or shame if you let go of it?
How do your fees work? Is it similar to the rest of the industry?
Because I provide a custom business, I don’t really have a price list. When I was working in the Bay area, I was a bit more rigid because there was so much competition. As I’m evolving and aging, I feel much more inspired to really create something that works that will let me have that relationship and provide that service for people while finding that price point that works for them.
I know here in Taos a lot of people don’t have the disposable income [my] business requires sometimes. But I really want to be of service of people in this town. There’s a lot I can do for under $1,000. It doesn’t have to be the huge redesign or remodel.
So it takes some back and forth?
I really love negotiating. I think negotiating has become a dirty word for a lot of people, but I think it’s a way of building a relationship on solid ground from the beginning because you know you’re hearing each other.
I think some folks would hear about having a “mindful” relationship with their space and think “neurotic.” How do you help people frame this conversation?
I’d rather speak to the mindfulness. I don’t use the word [neurotic]. It’s not up to me to say what is and is not neurotic. I don’t want to give the impression I deal with psychological issues with my clients.
Have you ever had a project that just didn’t work — it needed a whole new approach, not just minor tweaks?
That happens. People say they want this, but you have to really want it from deep within. It’s not just a flippant thing. It’s a lifestyle. People need a clean sweep energetically from the inside out. I help manifest the catharsis, which I think it is for a lot of people, but it has to begin and end with them.
With spring in the air and right around the corner, are you getting a flood of calls?
You start to see the leaves on the trees and the feelings of newness, opportunity and potential is contagious. I don’t get deluged with calls, but I wouldn’t mind.
I am a big fan of piggybacking off of nature, so in the winter, I really like to nest and burrow, which is what animals do. And in the plant world, we cut them back so they can feed their roots. Things die back in winter. What would that feel like? What about winter as a time to let go in the way nature lets go, letting things die?
Death is the most major letting go there is. How can we be inspired by nature to let go?
How can folks be in touch?
Anybody that’s having some issues, I’d love to hear what’s going on with them. I offer a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.
There’s a lot to be learned in the first conversation with a client. If anyone’s interested, they can visit downsizing-made-simple.com.
I’ll also be speaking July 10 at Unity of Taos.