I hear this over and over in conversations with people of all ages. Our children may want some items and keepsakes but many don't have the time or energy to deal with ALL the possessions we have accumulated over the years or the space to keep it.
Most of us would love to remain independent and in our own homes for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible. None of us know what tomorrow will bring so planning early is the key to aging well. We hopefully plan for retirement long before we need it. We should also plan for the seasons of aging long before we need to. If we do this in stages, we can keep it manageable.
Here are just a few of the situations I've encountered in my work helping those in the aging population downsize and simplify for a life transition. The names have been changed to respect their privacy.
Tom is 83 and caring for his 80 year old wife Mary Ann who recently had a mild stroke that has left her weak and dependent on him. Until the stroke, they were both very active. They walked most days and even did light weight training at the gym. Their son and his family live across the country and stay very busy with their kids and grandkids. Their daughter and her family live a few hours away but it’s hard to get away from their family and the small business they own for more than a couple of days every few months to help their parents. Tom is feeling overwhelmed not only with managing the house and caring for his wife, but he realizes they should have downsized years ago.
Suzanne’s aging parents still live in their own home. She has been encouraging them for years to begin downsizing. They had successful careers and enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle including opportunities to travel the world. But they were also from the depression era so they saved everything. Suzanne has noticed her parents recently becoming more dependent on her and her siblings who are all very busy with their own families. Her mom has even fallen a couple of times lately and the family's concern for her is growing. As they’ve aged and become less mobile, their home has become cluttered, creating falling hazards. The kids are trying to get them to begin thinking about an independent retirement community but they seem to be stuck trying to decide what to do with all their belongings.
As an organizer, I often see our aging population in situations like this and worse. The stress it puts on the family is often enormous when parents put off these important decisions until there is an emergency. Some find they can’t go back to their own home after an emergency and the burden of disposing of belongings and making important decisions fall on the children. I've worked with some in this situation who don't have children or close family to help.
Jack and Cindy’s parents passed away within a few of years of each other. Jack’s folks had downsized and moved to a retirement community. They enjoyed their golden years traveling with friends and family without the responsibility of caring for a home and property. Going through their belongings once they passed was still difficult but very manageable. Cindy’s parents were collectors and saved everything so their house was overflowing at the time of their deaths. Their final years were very stressful on the entire family because of the excess and clutter. They lived hours away so in order for Cindy to deal with the house and contents, she had to quit her job and spend the next year making trips to her parent’s home. This has taken its toll on Cindy’s finances, marriage, and her health.
This is why my message to everyone is “downsize while it's still easy for you.” Accumulating more than we can manage is a major cause of stress according to Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D in her article, "Why Mess can Cause Stress," Too much accumulation can cause great anxiety because it is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting.
For decades we have been living in a consumer culture. If we don’t have the mind-set of “letting go” regularly rather than hanging on, we could find ourselves overwhelmed with possessions. We don’t want to put ourselves and those we love through that.
Aging well requires a plan. Make those important decisions while you are still able.
Professional help could prove invaluable to you and your family. Contact Organizing With Lynn to guide you through the process.