Question: I am 73 happily married to my 80-year old husband who has some physical limitations.  Our home where we have lived for 40 years is multilevel with 10 stairs to enter the front door.  I know we will have to move to a smaller one-story place as soon as the real estate market changes. We have accumulated large amounts of everything.  I want to begin downsizing, yet find a million reasons to avoid it. How can I get started on this?  

Answer: Moving, under any condition,  is considered one of modern society’s top stressors.  With age, it can be even more stressful and overwhelming because of the “stuff” we have accumulated and the amount of life we have lived in our homes.

Should we become ill, infirm or exit the planet, the responsibility to downsize will fall on our children.  Not a good idea.  It’s better to take on the challenge under healthy conditions.

Downsizing can get complicated.  First we have to deal with the emotional piece.  For many, home has been the sanctuary for special memories – children growing up, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, and friends and family gathering in good and bad times.  Our memories are part of who we are.

Then there are our favorite things, which we cannot live without – that special easy chair, the doll collection from our youth, the china closet our parents brought with them from Europe, crystal that has been handed down for generations, our children’s artwork since kindergarten, birthday cards we received for the past 25 years and letters from the love(s) of our life.

Then there is the practical piece, which drives the decision.  What can we physically manage?  How much space do we need?  How much care is required to maintain our home? And what are the costs?

One would think that in our sixth and seventh decade of life, change would become easy.  Not the case.  William Bridges, in his classic 19980 book “Transitions,” made some poignant observations about change.

Twenty-five adults attended a course Bridges was teaching on transitions.  Some individuals were recently separated or divorced, others were newly married or remarried, one had just acquired a ready-made family of four children, a woman just had her first baby, a man recently had a heart attack, another just received a promotion, and others were returning to college after raising their children.

Bridges observed similarities among these folks relevant to most transitions in our adult lives.

Observation #1:
No one likes endings.  College students cannot wait until they are out of school, yet become weepy at their commencement.  Older adults cannot wait for retirement, yet often are very sad upon leaving.

Observation #2: Each new beginning begins with an ending.  For every change in our lives, it is likely that we are giving up something.  A move is a prime example.  One gives up familiarity, the “home” for the family, the neighborhood and treasured memories.

Observation #3: Each transition begins with an ending, and ends with a new beginning.  Between the ending and new beginning, there is a gray, fuzzy time when one may feel uneasy.  That uneasiness might be a disincentive to begin downsizing activities.

Several families shared their tips with me on what they did to survive downsizing.

“Be organized with your things on an ongoing basis.”

“Don’t accumulate stuff; do a yearly identify-and-toss exercise.”

“Start with the easy items.”

In sorting piles, consider individuals who might be able to use the items. Children’s toys might go to families you know, schools or shelters. Cookbooks might be given to friends who enjoy cooking.

“Tell your adult children they need to claim their stuff in a timely manner, and give them a deadline.”

“Keep photos for their value as enduring memories.”

“Do not dwell on past memories”

“If you can’t use it, get rid of it.”

“Make three piles:  keep, give away and undecided.  In the undecided pile, repeat the process until that pile is gone.”

If you want some outside assistance, check the phone book or search online for Organizing Services.  There are professionals who specialize in organizing and getting rid of clutter in preparation for a move.

Thank you for your good question, and best wishes in successfully getting ready for your new destination.  At any life stage, less can be more.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

Question: I am 73 happily married to my 80-year old husband who has some physical limitations.  Our home where we have lived for 40 years is multilevel with 10 stairs to enter the front door.  I know we will have to move to a smaller one-story place as soon as the real estate market changes. We have accumulated large amounts of everything.  I want to begin downsizing, yet find a million reasons to avoid it. How can I get started on this?  

Answer: Moving, under any condition,  is considered one of modern society’s top stressors.  With age, it can be even more stressful and overwhelming because of the “stuff” we have accumulated and the amount of life we have lived in our homes.

Should we become ill, infirm or exit the planet, the responsibility to downsize will fall on our children.  Not a good idea.  It’s better to take on the challenge under healthy conditions.

Downsizing can get complicated.  First we have to deal with the emotional piece.  For many, home has been the sanctuary for special memories – children growing up, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, and friends and family gathering in good and bad times.  Our memories are part of who we are.

Then there are our favorite things, which we cannot live without – that special easy chair, the doll collection from our youth, the china closet our parents brought with them from Europe, crystal that has been handed down for generations, our children’s artwork since kindergarten, birthday cards we received for the past 25 years and letters from the love(s) of our life.

Then there is the practical piece, which drives the decision.  What can we physically manage?  How much space do we need?  How much care is required to maintain our home? And what are the costs?

One would think that in our sixth and seventh decade of life, change would become easy.  Not the case.  William Bridges, in his classic 19980 book “Transitions,” made some poignant observations about change.

Twenty-five adults attended a course Bridges was teaching on transitions.  Some individuals were recently separated or divorced, others were newly married or remarried, one had just acquired a ready-made family of four children, a woman just had her first baby, a man recently had a heart attack, another just received a promotion, and others were returning to college after raising their children.

Bridges observed similarities among these folks relevant to most transitions in our adult lives.

Observation #1:
No one likes endings.  College students cannot wait until they are out of school, yet become weepy at their commencement.  Older adults cannot wait for retirement, yet often are very sad upon leaving.

Observation #2: Each new beginning begins with an ending.  For every change in our lives, it is likely that we are giving up something.  A move is a prime example.  One gives up familiarity, the “home” for the family, the neighborhood and treasured memories.

Observation #3: Each transition begins with an ending, and ends with a new beginning.  Between the ending and new beginning, there is a gray, fuzzy time when one may feel uneasy.  That uneasiness might be a disincentive to begin downsizing activities.

Several families shared their tips with me on what they did to survive downsizing.

“Be organized with your things on an ongoing basis.”

“Don’t accumulate stuff; do a yearly identify-and-toss exercise.”

“Start with the easy items.”

In sorting piles, consider individuals who might be able to use the items. Children’s toys might go to families you know, schools or shelters. Cookbooks might be given to friends who enjoy cooking.

“Tell your adult children they need to claim their stuff in a timely manner, and give them a deadline.”

“Keep photos for their value as enduring memories.”

“Do not dwell on past memories”

“If you can’t use it, get rid of it.”

“Make three piles:  keep, give away and undecided.  In the undecided pile, repeat the process until that pile is gone.”

If you want some outside assistance, check the phone book or search online for Organizing Services.  There are professionals who specialize in organizing and getting rid of clutter in preparation for a move.

Thank you for your good question, and best wishes in successfully getting ready for your new destination.  At any life stage, less can be more.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.