When my aunt was getting up in years it became apparent that living alone in her house was no longer a good thing. She was not really sick, it was more of a financial burden for her to keep her house and the neighborhood she lived in was getting to be more dangerous for someone living alone. With the help of my mother the decision was made for her to move into a subsidized senior apartment building. She did not have a large house, but still it was a big downsize for her.
I was young at the time and so I volunteered to help her go through everything and I do mean everything in her house so she could pack up what she wanted to take and say good by to the rest.
Thank heavens I was a patient person. I remember going room by room, drawer by drawer, closet by closet sorting and sorting every scrap of paper, every plastic bag every stack of paper, I thought it would never end.
So here’s the thing. Older folks and probably many younger ones too collect a lot of Stuff. When we live in the same place for any length of time we, like birds fill our nests with thousands of bits and pieces of STUFF. Whether it’s books, papers, clothes, nick knacks, food, whatever we have lots of STUFF! This holds true for the majority of the population with the exception of those who are minimalists like my sister in law ( she does not even have a junk drawer ) who doesn’t have a junk drawer or 10?
For those of us who are younger, when we decide to move what do we do? We load up dozens and dozens of boxes with all our STUFF! We don’t take time to sort it all out ( at least most don’t ) we just shove it in a box label it “Office” and load it on the van, only to be unloaded at our new digs and shoved back in the drawers from whence it came. And so the process goes each time we move from the time we leave our parents home till the time we find ourselves old and have to relocate to a smaller nest.
Now you see this move is not like the others. We cannot take all our STUFF with us. But how do we decide? Our nest has been so comfortable for so long, how will we live without ALL our STUFF? It’s hard let me tell you. And the older you are the harder it is. I worked with my aunt helping her sort through her stuff for over a month. Some days it was painstakingly slow. We would perhaps get through only a dresser or a closet. I watched as she handled each and every item she owned and had to make the choice, take or abandon. I could see how hard it was for her. Things that I thought were meaningless seemed so important to her. In my heart I knew I had to let her make the decisions and could not rush her to much. We finally got through everything in the house and boxed up the things she was taking with her only to find, it was to much. So we had to pare it down a bit more. The move went smoothly and soon she was settled in her new nest surrounded by the things she has chosen as most important to her. She lived in that apartment for several years until the time came when she had to move to a nursing home. This move was very different as she had developed dementia and so now it was my mother and I deciding what she could take. That was very hard, but in the end we chose the things we thought would bring her a sense of home, photos, a favorite clock, a little purse to keep some odds and ends in. I think we chose wisely, she seemed happy and this move meant getting rid of most of her stuff, that was a sad day.
In the end I learned some very valuable lessons.
Giving up our STUFF is hard and with all the other things older folks may have already lost like their independence, their home, their car, their health, and now this….it only adds to their pain.
Downsizing before you are forced to do so is a good thing. Perhaps we should all take a look around as I am right now. Look at all the STUFF we have. Do I need to thin it out a bit? Maybe 5 junk drawers is enough instead of 10 or maybe pare it down to 1!
In the end things aren’t what mean the most in life. I know it’s cliché but family, friends, relationships that is what matters in life, all the rest is just fluff.
So if you are helping a parent or another loved one or friend downsize be patient. Stop and think “what if it were me” how would I feel about emptying out my nest . That will help you help them though this very tough and often painful process.
Have you helped someone downsize? I’d love to hear about your experience and how you survived the process. We are on this journey together and learn from each other so please feel free to share.
Until Next Time