This post first appeared eight years ago. My mom had died two years earlier, and dad was in the process of moving from an independent living cottage to assisted living. The focus of this post was on getting control of our stuff, our clutter before others have to. It was about habit and change. So, these words still ring true today.
For the past two weeks, my wife and I have been going through the steps to move my dad from his home 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 most relaxed few weeks, but as of Tuesday, he is safely in his new home.
At 88 years of age, change in routine is difficult. 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's appointment to his pharmacy last week, he became bewildered as to the location of the drug store he had driven to for years. Because we left from a place different than his long time 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 sorted through his belongings to figure out what would fit into 500 sq. feet I received 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 to pull them off the newspaper and put them in a drawer. I couldn't say much: 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 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.
Guess what: 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 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, and two organizations had a welcome surprise.
Another drawer held at least 10 years' worth of expense journals. Dad 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 center's dining choices, the stacks of day-to-day plates, cups, and silverware 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.
After having him decide which pieces of furniture, wall hangings, paintings, and knick-knacks 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 reading Sonia Marsh's new (when I originally wrote this post) 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 quality of one's life or happiness. After all, it is just stuff.
As a 2020 update: the move was finished without mishap. Dad did well in his new surroundings for three more years until his death. Though small by his previous standards, the apartment felt comforting to him, with just enough "stuff' to make him feel secure and happy.
When it is time for Betty and me to move from our home to a small independent house, I will reread this post to remind me that we will really need very little to feel at home. Memories are the glue that helps hold life together, and they don't require much space to do their magic.