Preparing for downsizing can be a difficult thing to do. For us, it was simple. Our children were all grown (and finally out of the house) and we wanted to simplify our lives. So, we sold our home, packed up what we wanted and moved to a smaller home, one that could be maintained with relative ease. We still have yard work and things to maintain, but (hopefully) we are not at the stage yet where we need help with those types of things.
For my mother, it was not such an easy transition. Dad passed away a few years back and she continued (until now) to live in their home of 55 years. Due to declining health issues, she needed to move into an assisted living community, which we found and put her on the year long wait list. Finally, the day came that there was an opening, and we moved Mom in.
Downsizing to a 2-bedroom apartment from a 3000 sq. ft home was difficult to say the least. They had things stored in every nook and cranny, as people from their generation kept EVERYTHING because “that was still good yet”, or saved broken things intending on fixing them, however never actually getting around to it.
In the few years following Dad’s death, we had tried to encourage mom to clean out some things or get rid of things, but she just “ wasn’t ready” to deal with Dad’s stuff, much less anything else in the house. So, when the day came for her to move, there was 55 years’ worth of living that had to be dealt with.
It was difficult for her, but we went through every room, helping her decide which pieces of furniture would fit in her new place; which pictures, nick knacks, kitchen supplies, appliances, linens, holiday decorations and so on. It was daunting. If you can imagine, every picture and nick knack had some story or sentimental meaning behind it.
When we finally had her items ready, the moving company came to move her in. Over the next few weeks, she thought of things she still needed from the house and numerous trips were made back and forth. (Thanks goodness she has a storage locker in her new apartment building, because it all wouldn’t fit otherwise.) Even with the locker, there were so many things she had difficulty “letting go” of. She came up with what she thought would be a good solution – rent a separate storage locker and move everything there, so the house could be sold and she could go through her things at her leisure.
This is where more challenges came in:
First; She knew for about a year that she was going to have to move, but really had no idea on how to go about choosing what to bring or what would fit. So she really didn’t do anything until a room became available and the reality of the move set in. When one finally did, she needed one of us girls (my sister or I) to help her measure things and lead her through that process in a relatively short period of time. After all, it had been 55 years since she last moved. And once an apartment becomes available in a good community, you’d better snatch it because the waiting lists are so long.
Second; By this time, her balance was affected due to her health, so there was no getting up on chairs or reaching for things or carrying things, so each closet and drawer had to be gone through with someone by her side. (Both of us work, so this made for painstakingly long days and weekends).
Third; (Which is cute now, but not so much at the time.) Mom had shoes from the 1960’s and beyond in her closet, which she wanted us to box up and send to our cousin who lived in an upscale suburb of Milwaukee. Claiming, “she wears the same size shoe as me and she might get some use out of these”. So, basically, we are supposed to box up shoes, send them to our cousin (who can purchase pretty much any kind of shoe she would ever need) because you think she might like them? When we questioned her on this, mom’s response was that if she didn’t like them, she could take them to a local charity. So, I suggested we cut out the whole boxing and mailing piece and simply go direct to St. Vinny’s (a local donation center), but she liked her solution better.
The point to that story is that many times, we way over inflate the “value” of our things. This is largely because they are sentimental, or someone near and dear to us made the item etc. This is why it is so difficult for many of us to let items go. Also, unlike clearing out a loved ones’ home after they’ve passed, she was still here and wanted to go through everything – after all, it was all her stuff.
We did get through the process, but in our situation, here was the outcome; My sister and I had spent uncountable hours at my parents’ home, (after work, on weekends and using countless vacation days from work) going through each room in the house making donation piles, junk piles, things we or the grandchildren might want and things we could sell for her. And then there was the attic, the basement and the garage to deal with. We had to recruit help for this because we just couldn’t do the heavy lifting required. The whole process ended up costing so much time and money, not to mention stress and frustration. And the frustrating part is that this really could have been avoided. I mean, did they ever think about all of the stuff they had and wonder what was going to happen to it when they were no longer here? During 55 years, “savers” save a lot of stuff!
I’ve heard stories from people that it had taken them years to clean out their parents’ home after they passed. I can now believe it. Although, where does the money come from to keep paying the mortgage, or property taxes and gas and electric bills etc. on a home where the owners are deceased? I know mom didn’t have the money to pay for her new apartment AND her home expenses at the same time, which is why we needed to clear it out as quickly as possible so it could be sold.
Since then, my husband and I have vowed to not leave a huge mess for our children. Our plan is to continue to downsize and purge those things we no longer need. So, look in your garage, look in your attic, look in your closets. If you don’t have the energy to deal with decluttering now, what makes us think our children will have the energy to do it later?