I am the baby of Boomers, who were born from 1946-1964. That means my parents are acclimating to a new phase of life: retirement. While this can be exciting, it can also be daunting. Downsizing and a sudden change in pace await them. My mom, for example, is the definition of hustle. She started out as a single parent trying to navigate owning her own sewing shop while raising two children. Then, she sought a more family-friendly career by obtaining her real estate credentials. Flash forward thirty-five years…
My mama was named 2020 Commercial Realtor of the Year for Charleston, SC. Go, Mom! My mother amazes me. She loves deeply, is incredibly loyal, and knows how to stand her ground. But, she can’t part with well, much of anything. That’s where I come in.
I love to purge! Need white space? Bring it on. Organization and clarity are my thang; yet, I hesitated when my husband suggested I try to help my parents downsize. They had just moved back into my childhood home (half the size of their prior residence.) It was an overwhelming transition, and I was a little concerned about potential friction. My mom and I may be very different in significant ways, but at the end of the day, we are both stubborn, passionate Italian women. Watch out.
Still, I knew my parents needed help, so I trekked down South to see what I could see. Here is what I discovered –– along with a few tips that may help other Smarties embarking down the same road.
Make a game plan (that works for them).
The first morning, Mom and I poured a cup of coffee and sat on the deck with her real estate-ready legal pads. We made a list for every room in the house. What needed to be done? Then, we ranked them in order of priority. We only had a long weekend together, so I wanted to maximize time before I left her to the rest.
Delegate to Dad.
My stepfather epitomizes love, laughter, and good home cooking; however, tackling a serious obstacle head-on has never really been his style. Rather than let my mom get off the hook with an “I’ll just do it myself” attitude, I challenged her to pull from those legal pads. She listed out the tasks he could easily and would willingly do. If he didn’t get them done, she could take them over herself. I’m proud to report, he’s working his way through the honey-do list quite nicely.
Leave time to laugh. And to learn.
At first I was upset when Mom scheduled us to have Sunday lunch at my aunt’s. This would definitely break up our flow. I’m so glad she did, though. We needed the break, and it reminded me how much I missed gathering with loved ones to slow down on the Sabbath. I’ve even started trying to bring this tradition into my own home. Mom and I also enjoyed pausing every now and then to talk about items we found while sorting. For instance, while going through books to donate or shelve in my old bedroom, we stumbled upon my uncle’s first book of published poetry and a college text of Shakespeare that my mom loved. I had no clue. No wonder I’m such a word nerd.
Empower seniors to become tech savvy.
It’s not so much that my parents weren’t ready to part with large furniture items and knickknacks they no longer need. They just didn’t know an efficient way to move them out of their space – consigning! When Mom needed physical rest, we used that time to capture the right images, research competitive pricing and descriptions on online marketplaces, and then post to the sites she liked best. I also gave her a stern warning and some mothering myself: “Never meet up with anyone, alone, to sell your items.” She was willing to agree to lower the price once and then call for a donation pick up by month’s end, too. The vision of a soon-to-be-clear garage delighted my dad, brightening the mood for everyone.
Ditch and digitize.
Another impressive feat of my mother’s? Accumulating pictures and picture frames. Whoa. I put her on probation for buying new frames (and candles) for at least one year. We had a good laugh at that as we strolled through Home Goods finding new towels and throw pillows for my parents’ new/old home. There is nothing wrong with nostalgia. I’m a pretty sentimental person myself, but it feels good to have less clutter around the house –– especially when said house is much smaller in capacity. That said, some practical ways to manage a life’s worth of art and photographs are as follows:
– Stow at most one alternate piece for each hung piece of framed art to change out seasonally.
– Remove photos from frames and scan in batches. Teach your parents how to upload scanned files to a digital, rotating frame. My parents love theirs, and keep one in the kitchen and one in the den. My brother and I send new pics to the frames several times a year. A great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift!
– Memorabilia like baseball collections and special hats can take a lot of space but still be important to parents. Take a good picture of each item or set of items, and turn those into an album. These can become fun for them to thumb through with grandchildren and friends, too.
Mind your manners. Say thank you, take, and toss.
Children should honor and obey their parents. This includes not telling them if you decide to leave with (and pitch) anything sent home as you depart the premises. Sorry, Mom. Dad made me do it. Seriously, a third fruit bowl though? Not needed. Won’t be missed. Donate or trash when you arrive safely to your destination. Now, that said, there will be duplicates or seldom-used special belongings (think ice cream churns, etc.) that your parents don’t need on hand but that they (and you) can’t bear to part with. It is okay to take these with you and hold onto them for when your parents want to use them once or twice a year.
The most critical strategy, though, for me when helping my parents pare down, pack up, and purge was to do what they taught me so well: “Lead with love.”