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. 

How to Get Help

Different Minds Work Differently

Caregivers: Change and New Beginnings

Readers and Followers:

I’ve come to a point that I am ready for a reprieve from my involvement with caregiving–at least for a while.  I realize that this issue will one day reappear in my life in one form or another, so I will keep the door open to revisiting What to Do about Mama?  in the future.

I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers just sort of disappear from blogging, and I don’t want to do that to you folks who actually read or follow my blog.             

The article:  New Beginnings Are Possible for Caregivers
(Home » Caregiver Support » Emotional Wellbeing » Articles » New Beginnings Are Possible for Caregivers ) by Carol Bradley Bursak struck me as relevant to my book writing and blogging endeavor.  When I read it, I asked myself the question, “How has caregiving changed me?”  So I’ve decided to address this topic in my “potentially” last blog post (at least for the foreseeable future).


Does caregiving change you—either while you are a caregiver or once your caregiving has ended?  I think caregivers would respond to that question in a variety of ways noting:

similarities and differences

positives and negatives


resignations about what is and possibilities of what can be


Why Not?





 SKIP TO:  “How I Have Changed since Caregiving”

SYNOPSIS:  In “New Beginnings are Possible for Caregivers,”  Carol Bursak states that:

  • The sameness of each day in your life as a caregiver can, at times, seem overwhelming and permanent.
  • New beginnings for caregivers are far easier to suggest than to accomplish, especially since fresh beginnings generally come after significant endings.
  • One route to finding what may be possible is journaling. Journaling can be a tool to examine where you were before caregiving, where you are now, and what you’d like your life to be if you could magically make it so.


Bursak goes on to say, “There’s something therapeutic about writing out how we feel and then reading the words that have come from our heart as well as our head.”


Now really…isn’t that what blogging is all about?

She then provides the following “loose guidelines” to structure your journaling:

Book one: vent your feelings and reinvent yourself

  • Section one of book one is for venting.
  • Section two is a place to note your caregiving routines
    and what you’d want to do differently if you could.  Blog4
  • Section three is for digging into your past. Blog7
  • Section four is about the future.
  • Section five is for dreaming.Blog5
  • Section six is for getting real.

Book two:  Brainstorm how to take back your life.


Book three: Express your gratitude

  • Remember that you’ve grown as a person who understands the needs of others.
  • Include self-forgiveness for being imperfect.

Express Your Gratitude

In all the books:

Face reality

Note your feelingsBlog10

Be honest with yourselfMulti-Ethnic Group of Diverse People Holding Letters To Form A Honesty

Bursak summarizes her article with the following:  “The reality of ongoing caregiving is that most caregivers won’t have spectacular new beginnings as long as they are in the caregiving mode. However, self-examination and self-forgiveness can lead us toward a renewed outlook on life. This, in turn, may lead us to examine the ways that we can have a richer existence, within the confines of our caregiving obligations. And yes, that does count as a new beginning.”


I share the article “New Beginnings are Possible for Caregivers,” because  for me…

Journaling helped:

to maintain my emotional health during caregiving

Blog9to write What to Do about Mama?


While I was active in a caregiver’s support group, one of the group leaders suggested to me that I keep a journal, a method found to have a positive impact on physical well-being as well as emotional health.

  • Writing about stressful events helps you to both face and deal with the situations that negatively impact your health. It knocks down the walls you have built so that you can gain understanding of yourself and your life circumstances.
  • Writing about the difficult problems and feelings helps you gain understanding of other points of view. It is an effective tool to help you resolve differences with others.
  • Writing about painful emotions helps decrease the power they have over you so you feel more at ease, able to move beyond the past and stay in the present.


“Scrolling” non-stop stewing

Although I did not follow the detailed journaling format described by Carol Bursak, it was  my dumb luck that most of the elements she indicated were applied—mainly by facing reality, noting feelings, and being honest. It was in this way that I was finally able to put an end to the incessant agonizing and SCROLLING I had been experiencing.

After my mother-in-law passed away I thought, “I have all this stuff; what can I do with it?”  So, I wrote a book. The journal account simplified the process. My objective was to use caregiver knowledge and experience to help other caregivers overcome, or at least minimize, common challenges.


  1. I experienced sudden and rapid physical challenges when my mother-in-law’s caregiving needs increased dramatically and family conflict accelerated.  I had bilateral knee replacements four years ago, but continue to work out daily in an attempt to stave off physical decline.
  2. I have healed through the cathartic process of writing a book, blogging, and speaking publically about caregiving.
  3. I have learned to accept that the dynamics of my husband’s relationship with his family have changed, and therefore mine have, too.  I understand that the past relationship was defined through his parents and they are now both gone.  I accept that it is my husband’s right to choose to “NOT” have a relationship, even if I find that choice to be incredibly sad.  I hold no grudges or resentment toward my husband’s family, and refuse to get mired down in feelings of being used or unappreciated.  Life does not come with a manual.  Everyone makes mistakes.
  4. I am preparing to leave my children in a much better place in regard to caregiving.  That does not mean that I am absolving them of responsibility.  I will not become stubborn or resistant to the “changing of the guard” that will come someday.  It’s just that I am preplanning and organizing so that they will not have to make difficult decisions alone or clean up my messes.  Although my husband refuses at this time to sell our home and move into a condominium nearer to our children, I am open to doing so, or even to living in a “mother-in-law house” on their property or having an “electronic tracking system” in our home.  (See the Patriot News article “Staying in Touch” The Patriot-News | Page A13 Thursday, 7 May 2015 by Brandon Baily, the Associated Press, San Francisco @
  5. My will is in order.  My house has been decluttered.  Pictures are mounted in books.  I have completed an inventory of my belongings and have insisted that my children indicate their preferences.  I am either indicating who gets what or designating who is responsible for distributing various categories.
  6. I have expressed my desire to “Age in Place” and am in the process of discussing the various options to accomplish this plan.  I have planned ahead to pay for in-home support.  I have made it clear that my children need to share the responsibility for any care that we need.  I have also made it clear that I believe in quality versus quantity of life, and what steps are to be taken concerning life and death decisions.
  7. I have written a book, What to Do about Mama? which is a manual, of sorts, for them to follow.
  8. I realize I cannot control life.  I’m just doing the best I can.
  9. I have been able to inform and assist others with caregiving problems and situations.  I am fulfilled by using my knowledge and experience to help.  Caregiving either impacts or will impact almost everyone.
  10. I understand that What to Do about Mama? is not a “sexy” topic, but believe that being prepared is better than reacting in a crisis mode.  Just ask any caregiver.

Barbara Matthews


Becky Monroe discusses the issue of what to do with belongings in her March 24, 2014, blog entry:  Finding Out Who Your Friends Are.  Dispensing with belongings collected over a lifetime is generally not an easy task. As I stated in my book, “What to Do about Mama?”

  • If your parents have been hunkered down in a home for decades, there’s a good chance they have collected a substantial number of “things”—some valuable, some sentimental, and some probably worthless from a financial point of view.
  • If your parents thought ahead and downsized their households or designated who was to get what—lucky you!
  • Another likelihood is that the task was just too overwhelming to tackle, particularly if it was not done before your parent’s or parents’ health began to fail.
  • You can count on the fact that allocating and disposing of belongings will probably be just as overwhelming for you as it was your parents.

So as hard as it is for your parents to go through an auction, Becky, you can be thankful that your father is taking a proactive approach and not leaving the job solely to you to handle when settling the estate.

Our family has had experiences on both ends of the spectrum.

My mother passed away suddenly, and ironically, less than 24 hours before her first great grandchild was born. My brother was at the hospital for the baby’s birth, but a short while later he was on a plane to Florida (talk about an emotional swing!).  As executor, he had to deal with the immediate concerns of her death and to arrange for the cremation of our mother’s remains. It was not until several weeks later that my brother and I went to Florida to shut down Mom’s double-wide. In the period of a week, we were able to dispose of her belongings, hold an informal get together with her friends, fly to Ohio (our childhood home) and have a service with family and a different group of friends. We were able to accomplish all of this because our mother had everything planned and organized ahead of time. As executor, my brother “just followed the dotted lines.”

My in-laws, who also retired to Florida, had an extensive amount of collectibles from living all over the world during their nearly 50-year marriage.  My father-in-law also died suddenly, and my mother-in-law just couldn’t face the getting-rid-of-things task by herself. She lived by the mantra, “There’s always mañana,” and left her children the daunting task of downsizing and distributing her belongings. After being widowed for ten years, health conditions made it unsafe for her to live in Florida alone. When my husband made the trip down to help her prepare to move to our hometown (and eventually into our home), he became so frustrated with the task at hand that he had everything shipped North and put in storage.

After my mother-in-law passed away, and my caregiving responsibilities ended, I pledged that I would not leave my children the burden of my messes. My husband and I have disposed of everything we don’t need or use. What is left is organized and labeled. Pictures have been mounted into books. An inventory of our belongings has been sent to the children so that they can indicate what they would like to have. The kids have decided that I’m preparing to die—which could not be further from the truth. I’m “only 65” and have 9 wonderful grandchildren that I want to see grow to adulthood. After I sent the inventory to them a second time, and they ignored it again, I just told them they’d have to fight over who gets what. Someday they will understand.

Barbara Matthews


An Only Childs Journey into Parent Care

Every time I think we are starting to get everything in order, something happens.    Over Thanksgiving (yes, almost 4 months ago); I stayed at Mom and Dad’s house.   I sorted.   I packed things for auction.   I took things to charity.   I carried stuff down the treacherous stair that were clearly built before there were standards and building codes.

We were in the house one day, and my dad said, “you better call your friend the auctioneer, otherwise you won’t ever get done with this.”     I asked him a couple of times, are you sure?     mom didn’t want an auction.     He said, there just isn’t a choice.    You need help.    So I spent two weeks around Thanksgiving in that house, sorting and boxing, moving things down the stairs to where we could deal with them.    I met…

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