I once worked with a woman who has kept every single piece of clothing her children wore from birth until they went off to college — including underwear, torn jeans, stained t-shirts, and socks with failed elastic. The clothing is stored in a room in her basement and it lines the walls on custom designed clothing rods. The items are organized by child and then by size. The room looks like a boutique children’s clothing store, except, of course, the clothes are not for sale.
Whenever I read an article about downsizing, my mind always returns to this woman. I wonder what will happen to the early-1980’s infant sailor suits, the haphazardly created Halloween costumes, and the Bedazzled worn-out Keds when my former co-worker leaves her family home for an apartment in a retirement community. Will she take any of her collection with her? Or, will she try to give it away to her children, a new parent, or a charity?
We all have collections like this — albeit probably smaller — that have meaning to us and possibly no one else. Maybe you’ve kept every fortune cookie fortune that has crossed your path or never parted with your favorite childhood action figures? Whatever it is, you care about it and have made space for it in your home. But, when faced with the possibility of moving to a smaller place, you might decide to let it go.
Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone gets to decide what makes it into a new place when they downsize. Instead of making the decision for yourself, you might be the person making this decision for someone else, such as an injured or ailing parent. If this is the case, you have to make choices about the things other people value — and this can be extremely difficult.
“Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now.” — Fred Pearce in the article “The shock of the old: Welcome to the elderly age” in the April issue of New Scientist.
If you are preparing to downsize (either yourself or for a family member), keep the following thing in mind:
- Emotions are strong during this time, even when the move is desired. Take the time to carefully sort through everything. Whomever is downsizing needs to be heavily involved in the process and have time to share stories about the items with others.
- Snap digital photographs of anything you plan to throw out, donate to charity, give away, or recycle that has an emotional connection for you or your loved one. This might be the one time you want to print the photographs and stick them in an album for easy viewing (especially if an older person who doesn’t have a computer will want to look at the pictures).
- Consider hiring a senior move manager to help with the process. Having a third party involved who isn’t emotionally tied to the situation can help significantly.
- Measure the new place and know exactly how much stuff can be moved into it. You may need to go through the “taking with me” pile multiple times to ensure that the right amount of stuff will be transported.
- If family and friends are interested in some of the personal items in the current home, only let the person or persons who are downsizing decide what pieces go to whom. Try your best not to let the person moving spaces be bullied into decisions. When financially valuable items are involved, you can contact an appraiser to provide information so the best decisions are made for the person downsizing.
Downsizing can be a wonderful experience, especially if emotions are respected throughout the entire process. It can be liberating to rid yourself of the responsibilities of caring for so many possessions — even the objects you spent years collecting and treasuring. Take the time and say farewell appropriately to your family home.