DOWNSIZING IS A BITCH
Note from editor: HE'S BACK! I can assure you that eshrink is correct when he says his children are part of the solution to he and mom's downsizing. Enjoy the read...I'm sure we can all relate.
It has come to my attention that some of you readers have questioned my absence lo these past few months. Although it is true that old bloggers suffer from the same rules of nature in that their life is brief, this one survives in spite of having flouted all the rules which are designed to promote longevity. Indeed, I am back following my latest misadventure.
It all began innocently enough when following a visit to my son and daughter-in-law’s new home in a neighboring community, Barb suggested that it would be nice to be closer to them and to downsize. It is true that we had discussed our lack of need for our “dream” house since we basically lived in only 3 of its rooms.
There was however, the problem of Floyd, who would limit our choices were we to check into one of those assisted living warehouses, for he had become persona non grata in the neighborhood due to his penchant for attacking any dogs who exhibited the audacity to walk on his street. You may recall from my previous accounts that Floyd had long ago defeated the underground fence, thus allowing him to exercise his homicidal impulses and explore the neighborhood and beyond.
Nevertheless; we decided to look around, and our son Peter arranged for us to visit a couple of facilities, one of which consisted of a couple of rooms about the size of a small chicken coop, and another which had no vacancies with approximately 200 people on a waiting list. You may be asking why they bothered to show us their place. My question, too! Realtors assured us that the shortage of housing in the U.S. was further accentuated by the fact that baby boomers were now looking to downsize. In short, we found nothing that even remotely fit us (and all of our stuff).
DESTINY or Google’s Artificial Intelligence at Work?
As a result of our fruitless search, we returned home having given up on the idea of moving while attempting to convince ourselves that it was probably best to sit tight. However, on the following day, I found myself trolling through some computer stuff when I noticed an ad for a condominium located in the area where we had been looking. It had recently come on the market. As a matter of fact, it had suddenly appeared while I was looking at the screen. Now, I am not a guy who is big on destiny and all that kind of stuff, but that picture on the screen seemed to be calling to me. (Note: Editor and daughter Maggie says that’s digital targeting–the power of AI). Consequently, I dialed the number and made an appointment to see the place the following day.
There’s Always A Price to Pay
It was located in a quiet secluded neighborhood within a few minutes of major shopping areas. The sign at the entrance announced that the houses populating the development were villas so I knew it must be a classy place. There were several people walking their dogs and they all waved as we passed. I wondered if they were really that friendly or if such behaviors were mandated by the condo association. I would later learn that there were rules about virtually everything else. Indeed, those rules were documented in 43 pages of small print along with 21 pages of amendments.
My family have accused me of being an impulse buyer which may be partially responsible for the accumulation of the huge amounts of unused stuff in our possession, although my marriage to a collector of beautiful and momentous objects certainly played a part. With that in mind I spent at least five minutes carefully inspecting the place, before saying: “I’ll take it”. I quickly qualified my comment after realizing that Barb might also have an opinion, but she agreed, our offer was accepted and we were on our way to our latest adventure oblivious to what we had begun.
We had discussed our next move and I had developed a simple game plan for our downsizing. We would move the stuff we needed into our new digs, turn the kids and grandkids loose to grab what they wanted, and have an auction for what was left. Yes, the plan was simple, but its implementation not so much.
Floyd remained an unresolved problem. On one of our visits to the new “villa” he jumped out of the car and after an extensive search was retrieved by Peter near a busy highway some distance away. Those condo association rules I previously mentioned had a lot to say about dogs and it became obvious that Floyd would find it difficult to comply, and make it even more difficult for Barb and I to control his exuberance, which is often misinterpreted as aggression. We saw many residents in the condo neighborhood walking their fuzzy little dogs, and it was doubtful that Floyd, the hyperactive disobedient mongrel with a rap sheet, would ever fit in.
Floyd and Barb had developed a very tight bond and she was reluctant to lose him. I must confess that I had also been taken in by the feigning of affection by those big brown eyes. After much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, Barb relented when our yard man Steve, who is one of Floyd’s favorite people, offered to take him. She was partially convinced after Steve explained that he lived in the country where Floyd would have free rein.
The closing of the deal on the new place was uneventful. Fortunately. I took the advice of our realtor and insisted on an inspection of the place which resulted in the replacement of a defective HVAC. That thing about the best laid plans of mice and men turned out to be appropriate for the operation was largely down-hill from there.
Our last move had been more than 35 years ago and we found that one can accumulate a lot of stuff in that period of time much of which has sentimental value. Some things were gifts, others items which had been bought as souvenirs or represented special times or places. There were what seemed like an endless parade of boxes of photos in albums, slides, framed or loose, some going back 5 generations or more. We decided to keep them all by promising ourselves that we would go through them all with the kids, identify all we could and digitalize them for safe keeping although in our heart of hearts we knew this would never happen. They now reside in 4 large boxes in our new garage.
Furniture however; presented a different problem for it goes without saying that 10 rooms of furniture do not fit very well in a 4 room house. Likewise, much china, glassware, figurines and all manner of doo dads had special significance to Barb, and there was no room for much of it. I wasted much time and energy fruitlessly arguing that point, (you would think that after 68 years I would know better).
As for me, I found myself emotionally attached to my tools. Through the years I had accumulated a lot of woodworking tools and all sorts of wrenches, pliers, screw drivers, and assorted gadgets along with the tools and materials to satisfy my favorite hobby of framing pictures which was one of the few hands-on activities in which I felt reasonably confident. I did move a few hand tools along with my 70 year-old collection of screws, nuts, bolts, washers and miscellaneous hardware which were categorized and labeled, my only feeble success at becoming organized.
Packing with a Twist: Paid by the BOX
In prior moves, Barb and I had packed up the stuff (correction: with major contributions by our four children…this detail was added by smith kid #4), but this time I decided to pass that chore on to the pros. I should have been prepared when the estimator told me that the guys who packed were paid by the number of boxes they filled. She had estimated that it would probably take 2 trucks to move our stuff, but we ended our move with 4 truckloads of stuff in the condo–most of which were in boxes. The boxes were stacked 3 and 4 high all through the place to the extent that there was no place to sit. There were so many boxes in the kitchen that it was almost impossible to unpack them. As we began unpacking the reason for so many boxes became obvious: paid by the box not paid to FILL THE BOX. Each box had wads of paper filling half the box and then just a few (sometimes ONE) For example, in one box I found a half-used candle about 4 inches long wrapped in a package about the size of a football. Those boxes disgorged enough paper to require 4 trips to the recycling center in addition to the truckload of cardboard boxes. Had we not moved, we would have saved not only a tree but a whole forest.
Naturally, it was frustrating enough to look for specific items hidden away in all those boxes and to get enough stuff unpacked to give us room to function at even a primitive level, but in the midst of it all Barb managed to complicate our problems further by having a very untimely heart attack. The roto-rooter guys (interventional cardiologists) unplugged and stented 4 coronary arteries one of which was totally occluded and the others more than 90% plugged up. The doctor said he was amazed that she had been able to even stay on her feet, but his prediction that I would not be able to keep up with her post-op proved to be fallacious for I have not been able to get a lick of work from her since the surgery.
Fortunately, the kids all helped out with some of the unpacking otherwise, rather than writing this I would still be trying to find my computer, wrapped in an armload of paper. In addition to the recycling center, there were multiple trips to Goodwill after we squeezed everything into our new house that it would hold. It has been over 3 months since the big move. Although we still have too much stuff for this place, It is cozy and we can now walk from one room to another without moving something.
Why is it so hard to let go of “stuff”
As for downsizing, that mission has been accomplished. The pain of “letting go” of treasured items was minimized by giving stuff to kids thereby burdening them with stuff which they will need to get rid of some day. We studiously avoided learning about how things went at the auction; although we know that some of that “valuable” stuff went for pennies. With an overstuffed 4 rooms and no basement or attic, whatever urges we may feel to accumulate more stuff are quickly extinguished.
Recently, I complained to one of my new neighbors about the pain of downsizing, and his response was “I know, we have all gone through it” referring to other neighbors in this 55 and over development. This started my thinking about why do we spend most of our lives accumulating stuff until it suddenly becomes a liability, then work hard to get rid of it. I asked Barb, a well known collector, why she collected stuff. Her reply was simply: “Because I like to look at it.” That shouldn’t have surprised me as Barb is a truly an “aesthetic” person at her core. She elaborated that all that “stuff” also reminds her of pleasant times in the past.
I presume there are other reasons that motivate us to accumulate and sometimes even hoard. There is that ego thing which says look at what I possess which is another way of saying look at me. Objects may stimulate intense feelings of nostalgia. I had a very special relationship with one of my grandfathers who was a carpenter. I still have some of his tools. When I look at them I visualize those gnarled hands working a piece of wood and I know that as long as I possess those tools I will never forget him. There is also the “I might need it someday” phenomenon which rarely happens. Although, I confess that I feel a special kind of exhilaration whenever I find the use for a screw or bolt in my collection.
Some millennials have advanced the idea of minimalism which would certainly eliminate the downsizing problem. Their philosophy is the less stuff the better. They would advise me to take a picture of Grandad’s tools, send it to the cloud and get rid of the tools. Advice that sounds like sacrilege of the first degree. I could no more experience Grandad’s tools in a picture than I could the Grand Canyon in a photo. Fortunately, the solution comes with having children whom you hope will not be minimalists, and will honor that stuff and the stories you tell about it. The minimalists insist that being bogged down with stuff hinders them from the enjoyment of more satisfying activities.
There are signs that this philosophy has taken hold by many. It seems as if reverence for old things has taken a hit as evidenced by the demise of the antique business. It makes me wonder if that same idea has fostered a disdain for longstanding traditions and ideals. Does it also prevent us from learning valuable lessons from the past? Minimalist ideas are also likely to have provided the impetus for the genesis of a “throw-away society” which is inevitable when people don’t want to keep anything, which contributes to the widespread pollution which surrounds us. It is true that the minimalist lifestyle does protect against the ravages of downsizing, and that their penchant for use of disposable products fits well into an economy in which consumerism is applauded. After all, the disposal of stuff means more stuff can be manufactured. We do glory in a burgeoning Gross Domestic Product, and wealth which is largely a measure of how much stuff a person has is generally admired and often envied, yet we profess great concern for the health of our planet.
As for me, I do not have enough walls for all the art I would like to hang, but I still have the tools and as I write this, I look at a knife hanging on the wall above my desk which has a scrimshawed drawing of a sailing ship on the handle. It was done by a close friend who is long gone from us. I get a warm feeling when I look up at it.