The Advocate for Mom & Dad September 29, 2020 article “Tips To Help Your Elder De-Clutter, Downsize and Move On” addresses the task of downsizing, and has a number of helpful suggestions to help seniors through the process. 

I must confess that I am a hopeless organizer.  I guess the process gives me a sense of control, so I have been organizing for just about as long as I can remember.  I even recall an incident in 1st grade when I was reprimanded for cleaning out my desk during a classroom lesson. 

I have gone through the process of decluttering my home several times over the years:  twice when moving, a third time when my caregiving years ended, and a fourth when we again sold a home, one that we built and loved, to move into a condo near my youngest daughter.  That was three years ago.  We don’t have enough room in our condo to collect any more “things” and I expect this to be the last time we will downsize.    

So, during the summer of 2019, when my brother and sister-in-law (SIL) faced unexpected medical circumstances requiring a quick move to a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community), I raised my hand and said, “I’m your gal.  I may not be a ‘professional’ organizer, but I sure as heck could be!” 

SIL was now faced with having to deal with a multitude of responsibilities, many of which my brother would have handled previously.  Since I had so recently been through the process of downsizing, remodeling, and reorganizing a smaller home, I figured I could tap my skills and be a real asset to the program-at-hand.  And as a matter of fact, I ran into the same challenges and adopted the same solutions as recommended in this article. BUT . . .

Did you ever notice that “How To Do _____ (fill in the chore) in _____ (fill in the number) steps makes it sound as if success is easy-peasy if you just follow the plan?  NOT!  I mean, sure—the tips are helpful—but in general, there are unavoidable undermining circumstances.

In my mind, I visualized the tasks at hand:

  • Downsize belongings currently in a 3,000 square foot home to fit into a 900 square foot apartment (a 70% reduction).
  • Help identify furnishings to keep and choose furnishings to purchase to make the new environs “cozy and comfortable” as well as functional.

I even “fantasized” sending the couple on getaway only to return to an HGTV-style reveal.  I mean—I knew this was impossible, but it was fun to think about! 

As recommended in the article, the first step is to begin whittling down by sorting and discarding.  Cool!  That was my first step, too.  Professional organizers ask their clients to sort items into five piles:  keep, sell, trash, donate, and unsure. Obviously, I couldn’t make these decisions independently; this is how the process played out:

  • I tackled one area at a time
  • I enlisted my brother’s help
  • He insisted that all decisions be finalized by SIL
  • I sorted items into three piles:  keep, distribute (family, donations), trash
  • When SIL came home from work she surveyed the piles returning 75% of the “distribute” pile to “keep”
  • I reorganized everything neatly back into the cupboards and closets
  • I returned home with the plan to come back in order to help them move into their new apartment in the CCRC

After six weeks, what had I accomplished?  Belongings were downsized about 25% and I had made everything neater so that DOWNSIZING ROUND 2 would be easier for my niece to accomplish.

Clearly, I had underestimated how much emotional value SIL assigned to her belongings. Just about the only way she could part with an item was if she could pass the “heirloom” down to her children. But as noted in the article, seniors often find their children don’t want the stuff.  Fortunately, my dear niece was exceptionally sensitive to her mother’s needs and managed to assimilate many “heirlooms” into her home, albeit much of it in storage. 

I would like to get rid of most of my “stuff,” so my kids don’t need to deal with it, but that hasn’t happened, yet. I’m hoping to move to a smaller housing unit before that point so that I can make things easier for them. Although, I am relying on my children to do what is right. They already told us they are not putting up with any “stuff,” and will get us set up in a “home” situation where we will be safe.

What to Do about Mama?  Patricia’s Update p. 295

I went home shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday with the intention of returning to help with the eventual move, which was not to occur until the CCRC had undergone remodeling.  Can you guess what happened then?  COVID-19 applied the brakes.  Stay at home orders resulted in affording much more time for my brother and SIL to get the job done, and the move has now taken place.  It certainly hasn’t been the best time to move into a CCRC, with all the lifestyles restrictions, but hey, you do what you’ve got to do.

My biggest regret is that I spent those six weeks on a mission to accomplish what could not be accomplished, once again squandering an opportunity to just relax and enjoy my brother’s company. 

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