Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Twenty times two, thirty times two, and forty times two! Significant numbers only if related to our birthdays. Today’s population values a person’s numerical age when driving, voting, running for public office, job hunting or applying for Medicare. Yet youth is coveted. It is featured in TV ads promoting skin care, cosmetics, indoor/outdoor activities, food choices and even fashion apparel. Older people past their prime are generally deemed less important than they once were. Their opinions are consistently considered antiquated, “square” or boring. After all, what do they know! A lot, in case you had not guessed. But not as much as we hope we will know before we leave this earth.
Shall I tell you about turning 8-0? Hang on, it is not all bad! A few weeks ago I had THAT momentous birthday. When my North Carolina daughter-in-law queried last November how we were planning to celebrate, I was a blank. I knew that I wanted as many as possible of our far-flung family to congregate. I knew that I wanted them to have a chance to be together, to enjoy each other and to meet many of our favorite friends. I wanted to do something “different” than the usual gathering of the clan. And I sure as heck didn’t want to wait for a funeral to be the occasion that attracts precious loved ones.
What would tweak the attention of family and friends of ALL ages? The answer revealed itself early one morning. “I know,” I told John shortly after opening my eyes. “Let’s have a Fifties Sock Hop, with a DJ, poodle skirts, balloons, hula hoops, hamburgers, fries, milkshakes, disco balls hanging from the ceiling…plus “adult beverages!” Let’s create an opportunity for our chicks living in four different cities to be with each other…a chance for us to meld the generations by a common theme of FUN.” “What?” asked John, who wondered if I had lost a marble or two.
Being married to me for sixty plus years, my sweet husband knew my mind was set. He had offered his idea that we go to NYC to see a Broadway show or two. It fell flat. A February birthday is not the best month to head north. (Why didn’t my parents realize that before having me?) Gradually, he agreed, and soon I heard him telling folks that “Joy wants a Sock Hop when she turns 80!” Even as he shook his head in amused disbelief, his eyes twinkled. We were on our way. We had the perfect venue at his golf club, and even the staff was delighted to help plan the party. Admittedly no one had ever suggested such an outlandish theme! Bobby sox instead of golf apparel!
Everything came together. I wrote a fun jingle for the invitation: our party planners did a stunning job. The club was awash with balloons, checkered dance floor, a DJ whose music reflected the Fifties, Sixties, etc. The spirit was infectious…guests danced the Twist, jitterbug and Charleston. John was a hoot-of-a-host in his John Travolta wig, dark glasses, LL bean jeans and faux leather jacket. My purple poodle skirt twirled away, and the event turned out to be one of the happiest, most memorable evenings of my entire life.
All four of our adult children came; three spouses, five of our nine grandchildren, my 86 year-old sister (and only sibling) flew in from Milwaukee as did her two stateside sons….one from San Francisco and the other from Chicago. To complete the list, over fifty local friends also attended. My “cup runneth over.”
Turning 80 is a huge blessing. However, to be sure, it is a milestone also marked by profound losses…ones that are not frequently experienced by people turning forty, fifty or sixty. Since Christmas John and I have lost four very dear friends. Suddenly, close female friends of mine are widows. I look at their faces, try to imagine their pain, and thank the good Lord for each good day that I share with my husband.
If we pause to ponder, living in a retirement community is an omnipresent reminder that the clock is ticking. Doubtless, this is the primary reason why John and I mostly choose to bring our dinners back to our comfy cottage, thus avoiding the sight of so many residents entering the dining room on walkers. When we do eat in The Big House, however, we are delighted to embrace the vibrancy of those who have experienced fascinating adventures, life styles and accomplishments. We are aware we have so much yet to learn. We know that we are sharing a time of life that does enrich and nourish us. We know we did the right thing to move here. We are happy to have the downsizing behind us. But we joyfully celebrate each day we have together. We no longer take good health and well-being for granted. Deep in my bones, I know that Forty Times Two is a wonderfully high-class problem!
A delicious January day to be snowed in…an opportunity to hop off the tread mill and create one’s own schedule. Roads are too bad to travel, temperatures are too cold for a long walk, appointments are cancelled. Not all bad! I view this as a marvelous gift. Of course, winter is “young,” not even a month old, and the novelty of it is fresh. Absolutely love the opportunity to rev up iTunes on my computer and take time to contemplate a few pertinent observations about TV commercials before, during and after the holidays.
Let’s talk about the myriad promotions advertisers peppered us with from Thanksgiving til December 25. Before Christmas, we were urged to SHOP, SHOP, SHOP and SPEND, SPEND, SPEND. We were inundated with items including sheets, bath towels, pillows, robotic vacuum cleaners, quirky gadgets, sparkling jewelry (“chocolate” diamonds tickled me the most), toys to please any age group, and luxury cars for dear old dad. Handsome couples, in romantic settings, sipped wine by roaring fireplaces, and tables laden with gourmet foods filled the screens, urging viewers to choose perfect compliments to their holiday celebrations. Visions of happy pajama-clad families, gathered around glittering trees, opening Christmas presents, created an image of perfect family life. True for many viewers, but not for those young children living in cramped quarters… plunked in front of the TV…youngsters whose parents might be separated, divorced or unable to provide anything but the most meager gifts. How sad for these little ones and those who do their best to care for them.
Suddenly Christmas was past, and on New Year’s Day, TV commercials shifted to Mega diet plans. We were bombarded with them. There was Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and others that I cannot remember. The ads rolled constantly during every break, one after another, hour after hour. Earlier, before New Year’s Day, our older son told me about another diet that many of his Connecticut friends have tried. (Mind you, these are young people in their forties and early fifties.) Diet is called The Whole 30, which he and his beautiful wife are currently embracing. I ordered the book, read bits and pieces of it, decided I was on board. What an adventure! Albeit brief! Nearly killed me! After two or three days, my energy waned, I could not fall asleep so read until one or 2:30 a.m. Drinking herbal tea to fill me up or eat a handful of approved unsalted nuts did not assuage the knawing empty feeling. To list the forbidden foods and liquids on this diet (not even a Diet Coke) would choke a horse. In essence, only eggs, meat, and veggies plus a few fruits are permitted. Of course, not a drop of wine, not even a smidge added for flavoring!
With my 8-0 birthday looming next month, and a reunion of family and friends planned, I felt motivated to give this 30 day wonder a try. I lasted a heroic five days! As each day passed, my husband began to worry: he was not used to a dragged-out wife, with a rapidly decreasing energy level. Yes, I ate plenty of veggies, chicken plus for one four ounces of delicious beef tenderloin. But even a noodle or low cal piece of bread was verboten, and no oatmeal or yogurt. One morning John purposely made a big pot of steel cut oatmeal which tasted better to me than any hot fudge sundae ever! Perchance I was half starved! So, after talking to a few friends of my elderly vintage, I decided to revert to reliable old Weight Watchers, currently rated the #1 most successful and sustainable diet available. And truth be told, last night, I drank a glass of wine, ate three little rib lamb chops, one-half baked sweet potato and spinach. Cut up fruit for dessert. I actually fell asleep before 10 p.m. and woke up ready to conquer the world this morning.
A learning lesson to share. Fad diets are wonderful for the young, virile and eager. But as a nurse friend said to me, the best diet is “portion control.” And years ago, I recall my now deceased surgeon brother-in-law saying that the world’s most effective diet is “pushing yourself away from the table.” His lovely, svelt wife always left half her dinner on her plate. She is several years younger than I. Unlike me, however, she was not a child of the “Waste not Want not Generation.” Being a little girl during World War II, I vividly recall rationing. I remember sitting for what felt like hours at the dinner table until I finished every morsel of food. And if I did not, the next morning last night’s leftover cold dinner greeted me for breakfast. Yuck. My father, one of nine children, was a gem of a person. But as the son of Icelandic immigrants living on an island in northern Wisconsin, he knew hunger. Grandpa was a potato farmer. My grandmother and he raised all their food. Having enough to eat during the dregs of winter was a concern, and often a reality. Obviously, this experience left an indelible mark on my father. No wonder he worked hard, earned his own way through college and law school so that his family would never be hungry.
As a result, one could surmise that leaving uneaten food on my plate has always been something that I almost never do. The good news is that mostly we eat a balanced diet. However, as a result of our radical downsizing move to our Retirement cottage this past summer, I became rather sloppy about portion control, especially if it came in the form of a potato chip, cookie, chocolate bar or dish of ice-cream. No longer. The price is paid, and it will not be ignored. Lesson learned.
Thus, the moral of this story is not only about feeling starved or omitting every reasonable food from meal planning. Rather it is about the effects of television commercials on its viewers. Kudos and many thanks to those professionals who have bombarded us with reminders that the holidays are over for another year. May their bank accounts be bulging because of their diligent advertisers. And… if we were fortunate enough, we helped our soaring economy by shopping. If we were indulgent in our eating habits, then we might tighten our belts, eat less and pay attention to reclaiming good eating habits. I love it that we are susceptible to repetitive commercials that gobble up our TV screens each day. I love it that producers realize we need a kick-start back to reality. Thank you for helping me think more about embracing the upcoming new decade with a trimmer waistline, a more youthful attitude and an awareness of just how precious life itself is for each of us. After all, God only gives us one life to live, and it is totally up to us how we choose to lead it. Amen. Happy Healthy New Year!
Dusk is descending, turkey dinner is finished, and the soft hum of TV echoes the cheers of football games. Thoughts wander, and the reality of the New Age of Thanksgiving Day penetrates my consciousness. Time to share. Time to ponder. Time to wonder. Time to worry. Time to wish for a return to the Old Ways of Thanksgiving Day.
Earlier this afternoon we traveled to the heart of our city, to an historic hotel, with our handsome second born grandson from Maryland and a dear widow friend. We were a table of four, eager to enjoy each other as well as a lovely traditional feast. Expectations were high, yet the minute we all entered the dining room, something felt amiss. What? Oh, yes! The ambience was different from a year or two ago. Very few men wore coats and ties. Jeans and casual dress prevailed. And, instead of tastefully set tables with white cloths, glasses and silverware adorned bare surfaces, while a do-it yourself buffet awaited. Waiters were pleasant, but hurried. Dirty plates were not cleared without a request. At 2 p.m. many serving dishes featured the dregs of a once full tray of food. What happened?
Something was definitely lacking. We all wondered what and above all, why. As I glimpsed a round table of a dozen family members, it was impossible to ignore the plethora of cell phones in use by children AND adults. What happened to sharing stories? What happened to counting blessings? What happened to good manners? What happened to tradition? Are we so caught up in our own little worlds that we are forgetting to push back from the hubbub of life, take deep breaths, cherish the historic meaning of Thanksgiving Day? Are we so spoiled by instant gratification that we have to be entertained every minute, even if it comes from a little cell phone rather than meaningful conversation? Why are some parents not saying, “Put those things away. It is family time. It is Thanksgiving Day!” Have we become so self- absorbed that we can’t take time to say “thank you?”
If that family table were the only one of its kind in the room, it would be enough. But sadly, it was not. There were others. In one area of the restaurant we saw a solitary couple, not talking to each other as they ate their Thanksgiving meal, each one with a hand busy texting or gaming or whatever. Maybe these people were together as they awaited a divorce. Maybe they were masking their sadness of being alone by hiding behind their phones… No one knows, and in a while no one will care.
But I do. It makes me sad. It makes me wonder how traditions can morph so very fast. It makes me yearn for the days when my friends and I spent a full two or three days in the kitchen preparing a turkey dinner for our husbands and children, and as many relatives as we could gather. It makes me miss dressing up our little ones so that they could sit straight and tall at our dining room table, set with a seasonal floral arrangement, good silver and china, and bathed in candlelight. Hard work, yes, but we loved that tradition. It was truly the one day of the year we could set aside our regular lives, count our blessings together, and thank God for all that He has given us.
Maybe cell phones are a sign of apathy. Maybe the absence of white table cloths means this old hotel no longer can afford the staff to maintain its former ambience. Maybe diners no longer want to be bothered to wear their Sunday Best on Thanksgiving Day. Maybe Casual Friday at work has become a seven-day way of life. Maybe we are so busy surviving, working frantically to make a living, and staying connected to gadgets that we have gotten lazy. We have drifted, we have compromised, and we have forgotten how lucky we are to live in the greatest country on earth.
Any of these things are possible or probable. However, disappointing as the sight of cell phones was, deep in my soul I will always choose to believe that hidden behind the new “stuffing” of life, there are hearts that care, give and want to teach children to be the best that they can be. I fervently believe there are many families today who gathered around their beautifully set tables without cell phones, and who articulated their joy of being together. I believe in the goodness of people who love each other. I believe in Thanksgiving Tradition, and I believe that many, many families will perpetuate that feeling long after my contemporaries and I are gone. No matter where we gather or with whom we share our Thanksgiving meal, living, loving, and learning are goals we can never outgrow. And I pray we never succumb to the superficial Stuffing of Nothingness.
Today marks a full four months and six days since my hubby of sixty years and I moved to our Happy-Ever-After retirement community cottage. We are settling in very nicely. Tomorrow the last pictures will be hung in my “office,” and by the end of this week our closets will be ready for winter, with summer stashed snugly in the attic.
“Learn something new every day.” It is amazing how it happens. The other day as we ventured to the exercise room, we happened upon a lovely lady coming down the hall, pushing her walker. She was dressed carefully: hair fixed nicely, a touch of makeup on her face, and earrings completing her “put together look.” She moved at a spry clip, and as we met in the hall, I said, “Good Morning! You certainly look pretty today.” She stopped, smiled, and replied with a twinkle in her eye, “Thank you. Guess I am not too bad for 102 years old!” WHAT???
The remainder of that day I could not stop thinking about her. Learned her name is Helen, and although she attributes her well-being to “good genes,” you and I know that is only part of the story. How eager I am to interview her, if she will agree. How interesting her story must be, and how lucky we are to be exposed to such a remarkable role model. Living in this lovely retirement facility opens doors to realizing that this is not a place where people only come to live out the remainder of their days. No, older age is not about aches and pains, or of letting go of our former lives. Rather it can be a time of renewal, of watching, listening, and embracing life with excitement and enthusiasm. It is a happy choice and privilege.
Spacious grounds around Cedarfield are conducive to wonderful walks. There are carefully maintained paths through the woods, with strategically placed benches for those who choose to stop for a brief rest. There are bridges with handrails on them to steady the more tenuous traveler…What fun to meet fellow walkers and their pups. Lady Pippa Piper, known as Pippa, is our five-year-old Border Terrier who loves meeting new friends. All animals are on leashes, and all owners are dedicated pet lovers. Breeds are gentle…no Pitbulls, Rotweillers or other scary types.
One lady we met last week introduced us to her lovely rescue dog, Gloria. Pippa and she became instant friends, and we vowed to meet again. So, what I am saying is that pets at this stage of life are a plus. They force us outside in all kinds of weather; they are a conduit to meeting neighbors; and they keep us moving forward, so that we don’t freeze up, get stiff and stoggy. Having a pet is caring for another living creature. I am convinced that just as dogs or kitties are important in the development of little children they are equally beneficial to older folks. They help us remember how important it is to love others, be they four legged or two legged.
Returning home this afternoon from a leisurely trek with Pippa, I felt energized, invigorated and grateful for the glorious crispy, sunny fall weather. Bottle it up to uncork during the dark dreary days of January or February. As we finished the walk through the woods, Pip and I met a lady with a fluffy, well-groomed pooch, whose tail wagged her welcome. We stopped, introduced ourselves; I learned that the pup’s owner is a lady also named Joy! We laughed, and she told me there are three of us here at Cedarfield, although the third is a big old dog named Joy!
So, life is good. Stress level is minimal. The adjustment process is 99.0% fini. We are happy. We are more than glad we made this move in a timely fashion, before we started to fall apart. We are glad that we can let go of what once was and embrace a new chapter of life with enthusiasm. And I know deep in my heart that we can give back with gratitude for our many blessings by Spreading the “FunShine” of Living. A small thing to do in the grand scheme of this universe…
Last month, April the Giraffe gave birth to a baby boy named Tajiri, meaning HOPE in Swahilli. The gestation period lasted sixteen months. April was pregnant since 2015. That sounds like an eternity. I think of April because waiting for a house to be sold can also feel interminable. Much uncertainty, much to maintain, and, honestly, much anxiety.
A chicken egg hatches in 21 days, a duck egg in 28 days and a swan egg in 30-37 days. Our house has been for sale since February 20. Now it is May. Do the math. Enough time to have several baby chicks hatch. Each time we receive a call to show our house, we go into Perfection Mode. Every nook and cranny is carefully tidied up, dusted, fresh flowers are picked and arranged, and each room is vacuumed thoroughly. Checking foot traffic on rugs after a showing reveals how much time potential clients spent in each room. Our realtor laughed when I told him, but he agreed it is a good yardstick.
So far, feedback has been positive, but nary a bid. The fact that our house was custom built in 2004 puts it in an “older,” even “dated,” category. No one seems to care that landscaping is beautifully mature, no one seems to care that house itself has been maintained meticulously, nor that the pool is picture perfect. They just seem to care that it is not “Brand New.” All around us, developers are building cookie cutter pricey houses, set on small lots. I call them “Sneeze” lots, because homes are close enough that one hearty sneeze can resonate between homes. My sweet John is a LOUD sneezer, so it is good our house is on a spacious lot.
When we built in 2004, adjacent to an award-winning golf course, the belief was that this area would maintain, if not increase, its value exponentially. Instead, now that other developers have purchased available land, our value has depreciated. We have lots of competition. Who would have predicted? But buying and selling property is a gamble. Sometimes people benefit, sometimes they lose. Our investment will not reap a financial bounty, but we have adored living here every day of every year. No one can put a price tag on contentment.
You ask WHY are we selling? We are older retirees, and it is time to let go, move on and live in a place that can care for us the rest of our lives. Having watched my beloved mother refuse to leave her home of 60+ plus years, we experienced the agony of her end of life care, in addition to her being 500 miles away from my sister and me. We both vowed we would not put our children through that worrisome, demanding challenge. When my sister’s husband died several years ago, she moved to a wonderful retirement facility in Milwaukee, and now we are doing the same in our city. We have paid every dollar of the entrance fee, and we are now required to pay the monthly maintenance fee. However, since our “cottage” is still being renovated, we will be given a credit for the monthly maintenance fee, until our place is ready. Being financially responsible for two homes is a stretch, especially for most all retirees. The silver lining, however, is that once we do move, we are guaranteed life time care… a blessing of the highest order. It is also the “best gift older people can give to their children.” We are so glad we won’t worry about being a burden to our far-flung family.
We thought our house would sell in a wink, but suddenly market trends have proved otherwise. An article in last Sunday’s newspaper reported that there are bidding wars in counties closer to our city, and many first-time buyers are standing in line to buy “starter” homes. Our realtor says that years ago people yearned for country living, thus creating Urban Sprawl. Now, the trend is to move closer to work, to the amenities afforded by city life: walking distance of the shopping center, various restaurants or the movies. We are indeed creatures of change and unpredictability.
Luckily, nothing lasts forever, and one day before too long this adventure will end. In the meantime, we have learned a valuable lesson:
SITTING ON AN EGG takes patience. We may think we are willing to wait, but we are human and we want everything to happen in our own time frame. Life intervenes. We are reminded once again we are not in control of many events in our lives. Rather, we must be calm, cool and serene. When I start to twitch at the thought of dropping everything to scrub a bathroom or push a vacuum, I think of a mother hen and of April the Giraffe. One can never be too old to find inspiring role models! One must be flexible, undergird endurance and remember the old adage, “this too, shall pass”….either the happy or the difficult times.
BUT HARK!! Can you believe yesterday morning the phone rang with delightful news? Our realtor told us that an offer was made. By the end of the day, we had a contract to sell to a perfectly wonderful couple who fell head over heels in love with our “dated” house. Ironically, the husband is the hand surgeon who meticulously repaired my shattered broken wrist and arm last June. He is one of the kindest, nicest doctors I have ever known….and now, he and his wife, my husband and I share the mutual delight of loving the same house.
Our gestation period of two months and three weeks felt tedious. But hey, it has almost ended. Once the required inspections are complete, I can drop my OCD tendencies, start sorting and planning what goes with us to “feather our new nest.” There is a moral to this story: Sitting on an Egg for however long it takes to produce positive, joyful results is worth the effort!
Older age, if we are lucky to experience it, presents changes. Some are welcome, some are iffy.
Some are necessary, like it or not. Last week, before all traces of Christmas were tucked back into our attic, the phone rang. “Hi, it is Beth from Cedarfield,” the marketing director of the chosen retirement facility. Our name has been on the waiting list for twenty months. “There is a cottage available for you and Mr. Nevin. Can you come see it tomorrow?” Gulp! Torrent of mixed emotions.
We went, we saw, we accepted…it is the right thing to do, the right time to say “yes” and the right time to leave our Happy Ever After til the Nursing Home house. We know it. In March John turns 82 and on February 1, I am 79 years old, although I will swear that my birth certificate is wrong! Thank heavens we are vertical; we do not have urgent health issues since John’s back surgery this past fall. In spite of working many hours last summer with marvelous professional downsizer gals who cleaned out our attic, basement “black hole,” extraneous stuff from the kitchen, laundry room, books from the library, etc. etc. they did not touch the “treasures.” This is the hard part, and will take much willpower, determination and straight thinking to sort, to save or to sell.
Local friends with married local offspring say, “Give your things to your children.” Our four chickies, plus married grandchildren are scattered from Seattle, Boston, Connecticut, North Carolina, Delaware…and unless they come here to get what they want, our goodies will be consigned or donated. Moving furniture across the country is costly. Besides, many Millennials are not partial to antiques. They don’t want to polish silver, they don’t want to dust tables loaded with knickknacks. They crave simplicity in their hectic lives. They want uncluttered, wide open, new spaces. A different era than 1957 when we were married.
A few days ago our realtor and his girl Friday arrived to measure the house. A lovely team who worked with us when we sold our other house and built this one. We trust them completely. January is not the optimum time to sell a house, but at least in Virginia the “early season” begins mid-February. Our final payment for the retirement cottage is due in full after all repairs and remodeling are complete… sometime in April. No house sells quickly if it is empty. Data supports that fact. And since this is our 14th move, there are few scenarios we have not experienced. We have not, however, ever moved to a house half the size of the current one.
In addition, we have never worked with a “stager,” that faceless, impersonal person hired by the realtor to rearrange a house, turning it into a blah box with minimal furniture and few personal items. Never suggested to us. “Staging” became popular during the last ten to fifteen years. The concept is to make the “bones” of a house visible without undue distraction. Staging allows potential buyers to see a house as absent of an owner’s personality as possible. Friends have said it feels quite invasive to have a stranger invade and denude a favorite room.
Perchance, the process is the first step in “letting go” of one’s home. Perhaps it is healthy. Perhaps it will force us to realize this edifice is merely a building, rather than a place called “home,” where we have spent many happy years. Perhaps, staging makes it emotionally easier to move forward.
In Joy of Retirement – Live, Love and Learn, I write about Living the Cup Half Full Life. “Taped to the cupboard over my computer is a dog-eared piece of paper…it says:
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts, than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people say, think or do.
It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, family relationship or home.
The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every morning regarding the attitude we will embrace that day.
We can’t change the past.
We can’t change the fact people will act in a certain way.
We can’t change the inevitable.
The only thing we can do is play the one card we have.
And that is attitude.
I am convinced that life is 10% what happens and 90% how I handle it.”
Thus, when and if the time comes in life for the Ultimate Move, let us assume the very best Attitude we can practice. It is the very best gift we can give ourselves and those we love, and the very happiest ingredient in life for accepting change with grace. May the reward be a path to forever contentment.
Stay tuned: I promise to let you know if I can “practice what I preach!”
For eight years in a row, we have featured outstanding women on our website. The trend continued this year as we were able to tell our readers about 45 amazing women who are making a difference in other people’s lives. They are Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millennials. They come from various areas of the country and represent many different ethnic groups. Some work in business, others in the arts. They have positions in corporations or work for non-profits. Among the group are many entrepreneurs, women who have gone out on their own to follow a dream.
We are honored to have told their stories on Woman Around Town. Click on the slideshow to view photos of each woman. Click on a name in the tags that follow to be able to read an individual story.
In a few short days, we begin a new year, a new chance to spotlight even more women who inspire us all. Do you know someone who should be on our radar? Let us know!
As we walk outdoors to inhale the crisp fresh air, we see autumn all around us. Fluttering leaves, gently dropping off the trees, colors fading, shorter days and cooler nights. Change is all around us. It is the one constant in this journey called life. Those of us who have retired, have watched our children grow up and become adults, raising their own families. We have bid goodbye to our corporate careers. Ready or not, we are challenged to look closely at where we live, what our future needs will be, and how to make changes for ourselves that will least impact our adult children.
We may think that we are perfectly capable of managing big houses, yards, pools, and stairs. But that is foolish. Instead, we need to realize that we have too much property and probably too many possessions. We need to downsize. We need to let go of “stuff,” to prepare for the move, and to go through this process leisurely and as painlessly as possible. Waiting until the last minute when the moving van is already in the driveway makes no sense.
While my husband and I consider ourselves healthy, except for a few joint or back issues, we decided to be pro-active. Our name has been on a list for over a year at a lovely retirement facility where we hope to move into a cottage, rather than an apartment. The wait is long for a cottage, as they are fewer and in greater demand. Having observed the frenzy and angst of friends who had to hurry up and downsize after receiving the call to move, we decided to begin now.
Luckily, we hired a team of wonderful young women whose leader founded a business geared to help with the downsizing process. Kristen Zigler, owner of MINIMA in Richmond, Virginia, is a trained architect and downsizing specialist. She has a natural gift for organization, evaluating space, and, most importantly, working with her clients. She is sensitive to the emotion associated with letting go of precious things. She gently leads her clients to make decisions, to evaluate what is critical to their lives. Her competent team can look at a room, an attic, or a basement, and discern how to dispose of heaps of “stuff.” Even after keeping our house for 59 years and moving 12 times during my husband’s corporate career, I have been stunned and awed by watching them work. The day that Kristen gave me a pile of papers to sort from a basement desk produced a surprise – my 1953-1954 College Entrance Exam Practice Test booklet. Now, who would have thought that after all these moves all over the country and even to Canada, this treasure would surface?
Help in downsizing, such as the service that Kristen provides, is not cheap, but for most people is worth every penny. In our case, she and her staff have hauled away bags and bags and bags of usable stuff for donating to Good Will and other worthy charitable organizations. So far, we have not opted to sell anything, but that time will come when we tackle furniture. They have put all our CDs and DVDs into binders, thus eliminating the need for the original cases and boxes. Instead of six cupboards of music and DVDs, only one or two cupboards are in use. Eventually, we will digitize all family photos, and make copies for all four of our married children. Twenty six bags of books have found new homes, and we have kept only those nearest and dearest to our hearts.
Whenever family members visit (we have four married children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandson), I tell them to walk around the house and decide what appeals to them. I keep a notebook, a page per person. Together we write down what each one loves and would genuinely enjoy having. So far this is working well. And so far there is not pressure from us to take anything that I might consider a family heirloom. I recognize that the era of sterling silver and beautiful linens has passed, and treasures for one generation may be junk for another.
Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal presenting the horrors of baby boomer parents “stealthily dumping” possessions onto their adult children. Opportunity to evoke resentment? Of course! How presumptuous that is, and how thoughtless. Better to donate to the Salvation Army or Good Will where someone will unearth an unexpected treasure that will be truly appreciated. For important pieces, find a reputable antique dealer or collector who will try to sell your unneeded items. Remember, there is always eBay, Craigslist, and garage sales.
But, letting go is hard. Change is hard. All the dynamics of later life and moving into another home are fraught with deep emotion. Adult children should offer empathy for their parents. Perhaps my husband and I are lucky since our children experienced change early in life. We presented each move as an adventure.
My advice is to take advantage of all the help you can find. Gently remind yourself and your families to listen without judging. Don’t fault your adult child or your parent because he or she doesn’t see things through your lens. Instead, reach out with a hug and an understanding smile. After all, if we are lucky and healthy enough, we will all learn how to adjust.