Downsizing our lives

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Boomers need help dealing with their parents’ ‘stuff’ | Business & Technology | The Seattle Times.  The attached article by Sacramento Bee reporter, Claudia Buck, provides sage and practical advice for those who are downsizing a parent’s belongings when said parents move into a senior housing environment, and for those who are dispersing the parental belongings after their death.  Please read Ms. Buck’s article; it contains extremely useful information.

The following list gleaned from the article provides a few suggestions worth your consideration:

  • When you set out to eliminate stuff from a residence, don’t get rid of the memories in the process.  Once you’ve dispensed with the goods, you’ll never get them back again.  My mother died in her sleep – no one in the family expected it or prepared for it.  After the funeral event had passed and my brother and sister had returned to Washington and California, I remained to help my father with a massive downsize of his house.  There were obvious sentimental items that were boxed up for later, but for the most part, we stuffed large Hefty bags with items and placed them into two piles: donation-worthy, and garbage.  Not a bad idea, actually, but we didn’t pause long enough to properly discern what should have been kept.  With both parents now deceased, us three adult kids have far too few tactile sentimental items in our possession.
  • Creating a shadowbox of the most precious mementos.  Having read the attached article, I’ve decided to create a shadowbox of the few items remaining from my parents’ lives so I can reminisce at the sight of them.  One thing is for certain: containers full of sentimental nick nacks stacked in a closet do not honor a memory.
  • If you absolutely know that some of the nicer items will not be enjoyed by your household, give them away or donate them so others can.  Look at it this way, your and your parents’ legacies will live on in the lives of others.  Not a bad consolation if I do say so myself.
  • My family in the 70s. I no longer have the red dress I'm wearing, but I do have those earrings my mom is wearing.
    My family in the 70s. I no longer have that red dress but I do have those earrings my mom is wearing.

    If at all possible, prior to any parent’s death, document the items that are meaningful to each family member.  You’ll be glad you did.  Within three months of my mother’s death, my father moved into an independent living senior community taking with him the bare necessities of furniture and kitchen items, as well as the aforementioned sentimental items that he and I had boxed up earlier.  As he aged, he wisely decided that the next time each of us kids visited him, we would designate which items we would most like to inherit at his passing.  Dad documented our wishes, and when he died all I had to do was retrieve the list from his files and distribute that which us three kids were interested in.  Sure, conflicts can arise, but a little give and take go a long way towards preserving the value of each memory.

  • Speaking of taking steps in advance, what about you?  Do you have clothing you haven’t worn in more than a year and probably won’t wear in the years to come?  How about household items for which you have duplicates?  Is there any chance whatsoever that over the years you’ve acquired items that could be re-purposed, donated, or tossed?

I’d say with 100% confidence that you have belongings that you no longer use or need.

Donating to charity is very commendable because it’s always a good thing to provide for those who don’t have the means.

And just think of all the room you’ll gain in your closets once you’ve successfully downsized your life by adding to the lives of others.

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4 thoughts on “Downsizing our lives

    Theresa Hupp said:
    August 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Another tip: If you don’t have room to store meaningful items, take digital photos of them. You won’t have the tactile mementoes, but the pictures will bring back the memories.

      boomer98053 responded:
      August 8, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      That’s a fabulous idea. Thanks so much for the tip!
      Have a great weekend Theresa.

    aswiftcurrent said:
    August 5, 2014 at 6:39 am

    I love that you are still have your mother’s earrings from the photo! I think that is one of the loveliest ways to honor the past; to integrate some items into your every day living. But when challenged with the task of doing everything (in our case clearing out a 3 bedroom house where my mom had lived for 40 years), you do make “mistakes.” In our case, it was, at the very end of an exhausting process, finding reel to reel tapes (possibly treasures like the letters mentioned in the article). In our exhaustion, and not owning one of those old fashioned recorders, we tossed the tapes. It haunts me now…the possibility that my parents voices were preserved on those tapes…and what they might have said. I will never know.

    I think that is an example where working side by side with a professional organizer could have helped…I think we could have used another opinion in that moment.

    Thank you for addressing this topic and posting the link. This is such a crucial issue, and yet difficult to discuss. As I wrote on A Swift Current, I could not coax my mother into tackling even one drawer, so all the heavy lifting, emotional, physical et al, were ours. And while my sister and I tried to devise a strategy and address the task methodically, it remains a topic that is imbued with “should haves”.

    But on the positive side, I am very happy that we devised the little ceremony as we left our home for the last time. And another friend (who just sold her childhood home) left a few family photos with the names of the people under a floorboard…so in a way her family’s history is still there…perhaps to be discovered one day.

    Great post. Thank you, Hallie

      boomer98053 responded:
      August 5, 2014 at 7:59 am

      I think your advice about hiring organizers is spot on, as long as the family is able to afford the service. Regardless, an unemotional third party person would be very helpful during the packing up process. I am glad that I am following your blog. Thank you so much for commenting on my article – your story is relevant and helpful.

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