July 9, 2020

A Drawer Full of Rubber Bands

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.
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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.
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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.



25 comments:

  1. Ah, but here's the thing. There's a lot of stuff you don't really use; but nevertheless, having it around helps you feel comfortable.

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    1. Your are right: stuff makes us feel secure and at ease. That's fine until you have to move or your kids have to deal with it!

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  2. Great post. We sold our home and everything we owned after living in the same home for 40 years. (OK, 10 boxes of treasures are being stored in a friend’s garage.) We took off in our self-converted van and have traveled full time for three years all across North America. What adventures we have had!! During this time we came to realize how little “stuff” we need, and, how liberating it is to not have to look after it. Now we are looking at buying a house again to use as a home base and to be closer to family. Our biggest fear is that we start to accumulate that “stuff” again. We have vowed to be fully intentional as we outfit the new home. Let’s see if we can stick to that!

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    1. I know several full time RVers who have felt the need to have a home base after several years on the road. Having roots somewhere is important to us. To control the "stuff" buy a place that is small...bigger than a van but not so large you have to worry about downsizing again!

      I never RVed full time, but enough to know you are so right: it is liberating to learn how few possessions it takes to be quite comfortable and happy. True, we got tired of the same clothes, but realized that the people in the various RV parks didn't care and only saw us for a few days at a time, anyway!

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  3. The whole key to downsizing is to determine exactly how much is just enough 'stuff' to kept us "feeling feel secure and happy," isn't it.

    Those in our parent's generation were savers for good reason. They lived through the Great Depression and WWII shortages and were better at fixing things and making do than the current generation. My mom saved $20 bills in the pockets of all her out of season clothing and in books we discovered after she died. She saved plastic butter containers to use for leftovers. And liberty head dimes just because she thought they were pretty. I have a friend who buys whole estates and the stories he tells of the stuff he's found are fascinating. Once he found a collection of shrunken heads.

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    1. OK, the shrunken heads story sounds like it needs to be a post, Jean.

      I have been sent a new book to read and add to my recommended book list. It is all about clutter that adult children have to deal with when their parents either downsize or pass away. The author has some stories that would make your hair curl.

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  4. On the other hand... I had a sewing machine I haven't used in 20 years. I'd moved it from the house to the garage, part of the way to getting rid of it. Enter COVID-19. Last week I returned it to the house and used it for alterations that had piled up -- so I don't have to go to a dry cleaner who offers alterations. It's primarily fears that I'll need something down the road that keeps my house too full. However... I just counted and I only have 2 rubber bands(!)

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    1. I sold my sewing a month before the pandemic after not using it for 10 years and I truly wished I had it back when I couldn't buy masks. I also sold all my dog grooming tools and table arm, thinking I'd always have enough money to have him done professional. I didn't count on the pandemic closing those places up. All of which goes to show what my parents knew...if you keep something long enough you'll need it again. LOL

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    2. So true to both stories. My wife has used the sewing machine more in the last five months than probably five years. She makes and repairs face masks, and alters clothes.

      Luckily we didn't sell our dog clippers, but it is easy to see why the professionals charge what they do. It took us almost 3 hours to tackle one cocker spaniel and she still had bumps and tufts of hair where they didn't belong.

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  5. We all know it’s just stuff but imagine disposing of your own elastic band collection in full and then discovering that you need one? Mind I have just persuaded my husband to throw out a plastic bottle collection that he’s never been able to find a use for!

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    1. Actually, I had to buy a bag of rubber bands not long after I threw away my drawer full. Apparently, The trick is not keep just enough of everything, but not too much of anything. Good luck getting that balance correct!

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  6. Getting my parents' house cleared out and ready to sell taught me a big lesson which I've tried to apply to our home. Although I'm not a minimalist be any stretch of the imagination, I try not to hold on to things I really don't need or want. I like having an empty guest closet and a few cabinets and drawers with nothing, or very little, in them. Funny though, I still have several items from my parents' house that I really don't want but are very hard to give up.

    (Btw, it looks like I can successfully comment on your blog again!)

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    1. Yes, I have no idea why suddenly Google lets you in the gate, but I am glad!

      I think parents' mementos are often the toughest to let go of. They are a link that what once was. Betty is ancestry person, which means her office has so many papers, photos, and documents from generations of relatives that I am not sure how we can ever move again.

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  7. We are in the process of cleaning out Mom's house. After Dad died she quickly got rid of his things, but was unwilling to get rid of anything that was not his personally. Now my sister and I are having to go through everything. Mom developed dementia and would put things in odd places (like her good pearls in a machine Dad used for his arthritis, or her diamond studs in a cool whip bowl in the sewing room) As soon as we get everything sorted, sold and/or donated I am coming to my house and reducing by half. I will still have too much but nothing like the amount she had.

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    1. There is one gift all parents can give to their adult children: clean out, throw away, donate, and distribute before past the point of being able to do so. The examples you give of things like studs in a cool whip bowl are every grown child's nightmare. It means absolutely nothing can be thrown until it is thoroughly searched.

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    2. That brings the point of knowing if something your parents held on to had any value. A friend was cleaning out his parents home and found that his dad had hundreds of map he'd picked up back in the 30s and 40s when gas stations gave maps away for free. My friend didn't see any value in these and trashed them. As a "closet collector" I realized he'd probably trashed several hundred if not thousands of dollars of items.

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    3. Good point. You hear stories of an oil painting that was bought at a garage sale and turns out to be worth big bucks. So, the lesson, then is, parents, if possible go through stuff with your adult children as your paring down is underway. One of you might find a hidden treasure.

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  8. Reminds me of George Carlin's old routine about "Stuff". For the few that don't remember it below is a YouTube video link to "George Carlin Talks About Stuff".
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac

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    1. A house is just a place to store our stuff. Yes, George's bit was dead on.

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  9. I hope I do what I say I will do and get serious about getting rid of our stuff we don’t need. Going through my parents’ house is definitely motivating right now but it’s also easy to let it go. I think my parents were better than some and did actually throw things away or donate them over the years. But my mom liked to decorate and that generates a lot of stuff. Our tag sale people say it’s good stuff, though, so I hope we can generate a good return. Now to my house!!

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    1. Overall, my parents were pretty good about clutter. The retirement community where they lived had a nice service: someone took care of selling all the furniture and belongings that had value. What was left was donated to Goodwill. Betty and I only had to take out the things we wanted; everything else was dealt with by the service.

      Importantly, their paperwork was taken care of so the estate matters went smoothly. It still took five years (just this year) to finalize the last distribution of financial matters.

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  10. Rob I smiled when I read this article because I also had a drawer full of rubber bands. I went through this process of downsizing with my mother as she went from home to apartment to retirement home and finally retirement home. At the end she was left with a few pieces of furniture, her precious pictures and all the wonderful memories she had accumulated over the years.

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    1. In a situation like my mom's declining health, memories were all she really needed. Macular degeneration took her sight and physical problems left her mostly immobile. BUt, the memories of a 63 year marriage and a family that loved her were what she surrounded herself with.

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  11. When my Mom sold her house and moved into a two-bedroom condo, she got rid of everything except the basics that she needed to live comfortably in her smaller home. She was not a materialistic person, and the few things she did keep were related to special memories of family members. When she passed away, my three brothers and I, and her seven grandchildren, were able to each choose a few special items to remember her, and we gave away the rest. I’m grateful that my Mom was such a practical person. It made a sad and difficult process easier for those of us remaining.

    Jude

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    1. Pre Planning by everyone involved in the process makes things so much easier. Betty is a bit more of a hoarder than I am, so well will have some challenges. But, our daughters have told us how little of what we have stored away, like photos, they want at some point in the future. Knowing what doesn't hold any value is just as helpful as the reverse!

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