August 22, 2012

Rubber Bands In The Drawer

For the past two weeks my wife and I have been going through all steps to move my dad from his independent living cottage to an assisted living apartment. For various reasons the time was right to make this move as well as sell his car and end his driving days. You can imagine it has not been the easiest few weeks, but as of Tuesday he is safely in his new home. 

At his age of 88 change in routine is tough. In fact, one of Betty's greatest fears is he will go back to his old home by mistake and get befuddled when the key no longer works. In taking him from a doctor appointment to his pharmacy last week, he became very confused as to the location of the drug store he had driven to for years. Because we left from a place different from his house he couldn't tell me how to find it. I finally did but a simple turn left -turn right difference was too much for him.

While we going through his belongings to figure out what would fit when moving from 1200 into 500 sq. feet I receieved another lesson in downsizing and simple living. It is so easy to allow little things to build up over time. Out-of-sight-out of mind.

This photo is a great example. Dad saved rubber bands...apparently for years. He doesn't use them, but habit says pull them off the newspaper and put them in a drawer. I got home and found...a drawer with hundreds of rubber bands! Like father, like son I guess.

In a hall closet we found at least half a dozen different back braces. I assume that when my mom lost her sight and needed a support for her lower back, dad just went to the store and bought one rather than check to see if there was already one in the house.

Home I go to discover four different knee braces, half a dozen elastic bandages, and two back supports. The excuse that they were in the back of a cabinet I never stoop down to look at isn't good enough.

As we continued to work through his cottage we found at least 3 years worth of sheet music from his church choir and 15 paperback books from the library that hadn't been returned. Since he no longer sings in that organization or goes to that library branch one full drawer became clean.

Another drawer held at least 10 years worth of expense journals. He had maintained records of every utility bill, vacation expense, magazine subscription, and credit card charge. That kind of financial awareness is one of the most important lessons I learned from him. But, at some point, the written records can go. Monday was the day.

As we continued through the downsizing process he decided his days of ironing are over.  The two rather battered and well-traveled suitcases will never be used again, either. Out they went. Since he will be eating two meals a day at one of the facilitie's dining choices, the stacks of day-to-day plates, cups, and silverwear could be reduced. All of the fancy serving platters in the dining room hutch would never be needed. In fact, all the dining room furniture could be sold since the apartment had no large dining area.

After having him decide which pieces of furniture, wall hangings, paintings and knick-knacs he'd like to keep, we made arrangements for someone to sell everything else or donate the leftovers to a local charity. He will be surrounded by what is important to him; the furniture that was just taking up space in the cottage will find a new home.

As we went through all of this, I was reminded again how little most of us need to feel comfortable. It is much too easy to have stuff pile up around us, even after it's importance and usefulness to us is over. I am in the midst of reading Sonia Marsh's new book, Freeways to Flip-Flops. She relates the story of moving her family from a large home in Southern California to a hut in Belize. All of the "stuff" that filled their home and life in the U.S. was left behind. Instead she and her family filled their life with memories and experiences.

Moving my dad from a cottage to an apartment won't be quite as dramatic. But, the lesson is still there: being surrounded by unused stuff doesn't add to the the quality of one's life or happiness. After all, it is just stuff.


Did you like this post? If so, please click the g+1 button right below. It helps spread the word!

29 comments:

  1. Beautifully said.Your parents raised you well..
    My mom had journals of household expenses from the year they were married on. When we cleaned the house the girls each took the year we were born, the year we graduated from elementary and high, and the year we were married. It is a snap shot of our lives.
    BTW - the girls are all debt free and keep journals (all on line) of our financial houses as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The journal idea is great. What a tremendous way to turn something that might be considered disposable into a memorable gift.

      Delete
  2. I hope your Dad adjusts well to his new home and finds contentment there. What you found in terms of multiples of items seems to be typical according to my son who works for a company that helps people downsize or empty homes. He says everyone seems to have some item that they kept buying over and over again. In one case it was manual egg beaters. A good reminder to examine our own habits and to let go of things or not buy them in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All the furniture he really wanted around him did fit into his new apartment and he seemed to be settling in last night. He had enough of his belongings with him to feel comfortable....but no egg beaters!

      We still have to hang some of his favorite painting but I think he will be quite happy there.

      Delete
  3. Bob, Went through the same thing in 1993 when we moved our Mom into her current situation, and ourselves in 2010 when we up and moved to another part of the country. While many view this as uninteresting, I am one of those people who love checking out dated materials. Maybe my love of history causes that, or maybe it is just the hope that I will come across some historically significant artifact. Hasn't happened yet.

    I'll have to pick up Sonia Marsh's book. I would not be able to do it myself due to my wife and what she prefers, but people that can fascinate me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found 7 years worth of my mom's vacation journals while moving dad. That will make for fun reading.

      Delete
  4. When my Mom was still in the hospital for her back, my brother and I made the decision to bring her to an assisted living facility near me in Dallas as her Alzheimers was progressing and she could not live alone nor drive any more. Together we went through her house and took the keepsakes we wanted for ourselves and something for her 3 grandchildren. Loaded up the u-haul and drove it all back to Texas and set up her room so when she arrived a week later it helped her make the transition as it was filled with her belongings. I believe it helped a lot. Like you, we donated the leftovers. Although it was difficult at the time, I'm thankful it is done as when the end comes for my Mom, there will certainly be less to deal with.

    Your Dad may have had rubber bands, my Mom had lots of paper tablets - all sizes and colors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Small world: my mom had dozens of small spiral notebooks stored away in a desk drawer. I have enough to last me for several years.

      I wonder what our kids will find in our "stored and forgotten" areas.

      Delete
  5. For the past 3 years, I have taken a box of "stuff" to the Church store near my office every week. I realized that I had saved every book (over 3,000) I'd read, and every T-shirt from travel and events. Well, most books can be checked out of the the library, and if the entire Chinese Army stays at my house, they will now have to bring their own shirts! Instead of saving memorobelia, I am now taking a digital picture. Three times a year, I have a photo book made on a photo web site. BY FAR the most effective method to reducing clutter has been the introduction of two puupies to our household. Any clutter at all immediately gets destroyed. 2 old chairs and a love seat have lost their arms and pillows (so, into the trash they went). Although I still have a long way to go, "de-cluttering" has become a habit, and it is a pleasure to live with more floor and drawer space.
    Cheers! Dr. Keith

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My wife has saved old t-shirts and blue jeans from all our family members claiming she is going to make them into a quilt someday. After 10 years of moving the boxes from place to place, I am beginning to have my doubts!

      Our dog, Bailey, may have a barking and socialization issue with other dogs, but she doesn't destroy anything in the house....and that is a good thing.

      Delete
  6. I helped my mom & dad move a couple of times & helped her move to be with me when she could no longer live alone (it was me or assisted living & she wanted to have her own garden.) I found much duplication, especially office supplies (I relate to the paper tablet story) & I helped clean some out.

    When my mom passed away (after living here for 5 years) I cleaned/downsized again. I do find I have duplicates (but I'm getting better as I get older; when I moved in my twenties I had ELEVEN duplicate bottles of household cleaner hidden in a 1,000 square foot house!) and I smile as I come across scratch paper I've saved, which I now have as well as my parents' supply. Possibly a good time to pass some of it on, especially as school is starting.

    I am newly retired and going through the house to see what we REALLY need & want; lots of stuff is walking out our doors to be sold at a church rummage sale or donated to charity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The biggest hassle for us right now is storing things for other family members...and then finding they are a permanent part of our house. I would guess that 1/3 of our outside storage shed is filled with stuff that came from someone's house or apartment. It is tough enough to downsize when others' belonging keep finding their way into our space!

      Delete
  7. My wife and I have followed with interest your posts about your dad. Even though I don't know him, I breathe a sigh of relief for him to be in a place that better meets his needs. Regardless of the adjustment, it must be mentally relaxing. Our parents are still living in their homes but are between 76 and 82. We can already see many signs of excess accumulation and general clutter that leads to more confusion and difficulties as the health issues mount. Did you notice these things with your dad before now? What do you think about trying to address the issues before the mandatory requirement to drastically downsize? We are more "clutter free" in our home and can see how much easier it makes life. For example, one is usually more reluctant to dust furniture, clean rooms and prepare food if there is too much "stuff" in the way that must be moved from place to place. Sure would be nice if there was a blog written by someone in their age bracket who could speak from experience to these issues. I can understand how advice to our older parents from our generation might not be taken as seriously. My parents (80 and 82) enjoy reading posts that I send to them on these topics but they would be more likely to follow the recommendations if they were coming from another senior their age who has lived through it. Just this weekend during a visit, my parents said, "We would sell this place and downsize in a minute, but we just don't know what to do or where to go." I think a lot of older seniors may be like this about many issues.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, in most cases dad has been the opposite. When mom died he wanted to get rid of virtually everything...not only of hers but also of his. Even so, as the rubber band photo proves there were corners and drawers that escaped until now.

      He is very routine-oriented and wants a few things exactly HIS way. Otherwise, he is a minimalist at heart.

      Delete
  8. You are so right.We just don't need so much "stuff." Clutter in the house makes me feel like my brain is cluttered as well. Once of the nicest experiences I had was moving to a place with nothing but my suitcase and family photos.
    Now that we're back, my husband likes to collect camera pieces and film equipment, and that drives me crazy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sonia, got your e-book from Amazon on Bob's recommendation. Read part of it at lunch today. A great read and I look forward to the rest of it, after cleaning out the rubber band drawer, discarding old and yellowed tablets, and looking for duplicate bottles of household cleaners to get rid of.

      Delete
    2. I have read Sonia's book...and decided I have no interest in moving to a third world country. I could never have survived in the hut the way her family did for a period of time.

      Glad you are enjoying it.

      Delete
  9. Bob, As you know we moved Dave's dad recently and that is going very well. But we had moved him before from MA to PA which was more difficult due to distance. When Dave's mom died in '88 he turned the house into a shrine. Going through all of that was very time consuming but eye opening.

    For as long as they lived in that house, which I think had to be 25 years at least, their garage was difficult to navigate because there were boxes lining three walls that went from floor to ceiling. Whenever they came home mom, or whoever was with him, had to get out before he pulled into the garage. It was that tight.

    When I found a realtor to handle preparing the house for sale I warned her about the boxes in the garage. We knew we would have to come and plow through them all before the house could go on the market.

    Turned out they were ALL empty! They had saved every box an appliance or nick-nack came in "in case we needed to pack them back up to move". OY!

    He didn't have that kind of room before this recent move to stockpile stuff but we threw out tons of bags. Plastic mostly and paper.

    Personally I enjoy de-cluttering on a regular basis. Still I'm sure my kids will laugh at some things we've kept.

    btw...I'm loving Sonia's book too!
    b

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is lady who lives in the same community who is the "go-to" person after this type of move. She takes everything left behind, organizes it, and sells it in an upscale type of garage sale. Anything that doesn't sell she donates to charity.

      When the process is complete she sends a full review of what sold and for how much. She keeps 1/3 for her efforts (well worth it) and sends a check for the difference.

      Even though dad had thinned out considerably after mom died, he still had things like 3 walkers and a dozen pots and pans he hadn't used...ever!

      Last night after taking a break from the whole, long, day I took the one beer he had in his refrigerator...it was dated December 2005. I can only guess what a 7 year old bottle of beer must taste like.

      Delete
  10. I've been going through this with my mother.... 40+ years of bills and bank statements have been keeping my shredder busy, not to mention decades worth of magazines, and hundreds of books. Lots of odds and ends too. She's been very helpful in going through things with me once I convinced her that she just didn't need them anymore.

    The books found homes and the magazine got recycled, and the things she doesn't need are finding homes via the thrift shops to help out others who are struggling.

    My mom is enjoying the freedom of not having so much clutter. It really is a ball and chain.

    A note to your readers: get your folks a Kindle or and iPad if they like to read (no more magazines piling up). Ebills are a good way to go too. No more filing, or forgetting where you put something.

    Out of sight, out of mind is 100% correct. If you put something away, you probably don't need it. Donate it, sell it, or toss it. Do your kids a favor and find homes for your stuff, and simplify your life at the same time. You'll be happier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The old guideline of disposing of something if you haven't used or needed it in a year still makes sense. There is a problem, though, when you are married to an artist: everything can be re-purposed or used somehow in a creative way. That may never happen, but artistic hope always springs eternal.

      Delete
  11. There is an interesting article in the New York Times today about seniors and holding onto possessions. It makes some interesting points.

    Take a look: http://bit.ly/SVk68b

    ReplyDelete
  12. Our basement is chock full of stuff -- but a lot of it belongs to the kids. When they finally settle down and buy houses with basements of their own . . . then we will be free!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I keep assuming my daughters' belongings will finally disappear from our storage area but it hasn't happened yet. And now we've added some of my dad's stuff. Good luck Tom.

      Delete
  13. Funny, I know exactly what my daughter will find when she sorts through my stuff if I don't deal with it myself - stationery. Boxes and boxes of fun, quirky, elegant, plain, and fancy stationery. Much of it is personalized so I can't give it away, but last year at Christmas I donated about 100 boxes of Christmas cards and assorted stationery to a church bazaar. I have at least that many more. She will also find about 40 daily journals and several trip journals among my treasures, along with an assortment of fountain pens and old postage stamps. I don't use fountain pens anymore and the old stamps are useless but I still hold on to them - my reminder that we didn't always send our correspondence out via cyber space.

    When she sorts through Malcolm's things she will find at least one hundred tee-shirts and sweaters, dozens of pairs of shorts in the same color but different sizes and sneakers - old, worn, but still in the closet.

    Since we just went through the process of "de-cluttering" for our daughter's move we can minimally relate to what you're going through - she got the tee-shirt gene from Malcolm.

    A couple of years ago my sister and I went through our Mother's kitchen and reorganized her stuff. Her thing was plastic lids. No containers, just lids.

    Good reminder to "simplify."



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't realize this post would open up such an interesting insight into all of our hidden treasures. Attention Malcolm: we have a rule to keep the closet usable: buy something, eliminate something. Does it work? Sometimes.

      Betty continues to maintain expansive files of all sorts of things that seem to defy elimination. I have old financial stuff from the 90's. I hope our kids have plenty of large plastic trash bags.

      Delete
  14. I'll just put it out there . . . I own seven complete sets of china. One set is very fragile, it's displayed in my china hutch where I can see it daily. The other six get rotated in and out. I also own something like 10 differents sets of placemats, which I likewise rotate in and out.

    I really do think that's the extent of my hoarding habit, though. I recall quite vividly what it was like to clear out the home of a deceased relative. It was the energy of the relative that gave the house life. With that energy gone, the items in the home became just stuff. Just stuff. I keep that in mind as I move about my home, and am constantly clearing out anything that isn't in regular or seasonal usage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just checked. Betty says we have 7 sets of china, too. They are stored and almost never used. I asked if we could sell or donate a few sets and received an discouraging reply!

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted