Two weeks ago, on a cool spring afternoon, the words on the other end of the phone were so similar to the previous calls I had fielded that very same week. “With four bedrooms and 30+ years under one roof, you can’t imagine the amount of stuff we would have to go through in order to make the move. But we want to try!”
I smiled when I heard the woman’s remark because I know first-hand what 30+ years of “stuff” looks like. My parents decided to move in 2014 after living in their home for nearly 30 years. The main reason they decided to move was my father’s health. When it came time to start the downsizing process, my father became ill and was in the hospital, so I stepped up to the plate to help with the move. A natural bi-product of moving is of course downsizing.
Working in the Community Affairs office at Arbutus, I work with the Independent Residents on our campus and potential residents who are considering making the move to our community. I often meet with couples who have lived in the same home for 30, 40, 50 and 60 years! Downsizing seems to be a common roadblock for many seniors who are considering a move to a retirement community or continuing care setting.
In the spring of 2014, faced with the challenge of downsizing, I decided to roll up my sleeves and pick up the phone. Who did I call? Well for one… I called in muscle. There was no way I could lift my mother’s cherry cabinet by myself!
If you are a senior looking to move, you need to enlist help. I couldn’t do it on my own, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to either! Ask family, friends, your church community, neighbors or a moving company to assist. It made the process much easier and there was a lot less back ache involved.
The second call I made was to sign up for the community garage sale. And boy did we have a sale! I took a month leading up to the sale to go through the basement, attic and 6 car garage (yes, our garage was bigger than our house). As I sorted through bags of sporting equipment from my childhood, containers of dolls, clothing and toys, I spotted several items that brought back a distinct memory. Many items that were stored over the years had seen better days but, yet, here they sat taking up real estate in my parents’ attic. What should I do with something so old and tattered, yet so loved?
The expert advice: Identify your favorites. Jill Kearney, founder and president of Senior Moves By Design in Allentown, says that, “Most people focus on what to get rid of but a more gentle approach is to focus on what you really love. Then by default, everything else needs a new home.”
By scanning through the various rooms, I quickly identified items that our family could not part with – items that we loved. And while scanning I identified other items that could then be shifted to the side and into piles. These piles were quickly identified as a) garage sale b) donations and c) trash. It helped in prioritizing items to pack, items to sell, and then in turn what items to toss!
Memories are a big part of what makes downsizing so difficult and, yes, such a roadblock. The memories that are associated with this “stuff” that accumulated over the years make it difficult to let go of items.
By collecting items, there is most definitely the memories that come as part of that package. As I stared at a basket of toys from my childhood, I asked 3 simple questions that I think will help anyone who is tackling downsizing:
- When I am long gone, will this collection mean something to somebody else? Will it have worth (sentimental or financial)?
What is the point of keeping a collection that won’t mean anything in the end to others? I may think the world of my old Barbie’s shoe collection but will my family feel the same? They aren’t valuable collectibles. While I loved playing with the toys, my children won’t enjoy them as they will be “old” and antiquated. The memories of playing with the toys I can keep but ok…bye, bye Barbie pumps.
- Do I have room to keep this collection?
In the final move location is there room to store such a collection? If so, perhaps questions #1 and #3 don’t even need to be asked. But if space is at a premium, then this question needs to be answered. If the answer is yes to keep multiple collections, then the collections needs to be prioritized and a limit needs to be set – see #3.
- Can the collection be paired down to 5 items or fewer?
Who said downsizing means tossing, selling and giving away everything? Again, based on question #1 perhaps you have determined you can’t part with that favorite quilt collection; however, 100 quilts take up quite a bit of space. Compromise. Pick the top 5 or fewer of those quilts to save and cherish. Perhaps consider selling the rest of a valuable collection to make some money on the items. Websites like eBay or Craigslist can come in handy or local specialty shops like Value It. If you need to downsize your collection (especially if it is a photograph collection!) you can also consider photographing and digitizing items in order to conserve space but to maintain the sentimental aspect of the items.
I know downsizing is difficult. Tears are almost always shed as one parts with something they saved for 30, 40 or 50 years. In the end the most practical philosophy of “it’s only stuff” doesn’t cut it when that “stuff” is cloaked with memories.
Take a deep breath and remember your goal. Why did you set out to downsize? Whether it was your health, your future care, or the fact that you wanted to make the move on your own and not rely on family or friends – YOU decided to downsize in order to achieve that goal. With help, YOU can downsize and meet your goals.
Don’t think you have to do it alone! There are plenty of resources in our area that assist with downsizing, moving, and meeting your goals. Check out the list below. While it isn’t a comprehensive list, there are some good places to start when making an action plan.
If I can leave you with some words of encouragement, it is without a doubt the fact that I hear from our residents on a weekly basis that they wish they had tackled downsizing and moving sooner. By procrastinating and making excuses it only delayed them from their goal and from truly being satisfied with their new life of retirement living at Arbutus. There is light at the end of the downsizing tunnel and with help you can make it through the process a little lighter and ready to enjoy retirement living, sans that dusty collection of vinyl records. – rk
Contributor: Rebecca Kuzar works in Community Affairs at Arbutus