Downsizing: Do Habits Have a Greater Impact than Goals?

 

I read some intriguing posts this week about habits.

James Clear, a productivity expert who uses behavioral science to help people optimize their habits (see his newsletter), in discussion with author Jay Papasan, talked about motivation. He says, “The key hypothesis is that habits offer a way to control our lives and that having this control supports motivation for making positive change.”

He goes on to say that in many cases people assume that what they lack is motivation, when what they really lack is clarity.

“We often focus on the achievement, but in fact, the way that we ever get anywhere is through some kind of repeated action or system… I like to think about it as the system supports the habits that will help you achieve the goal.” That’s worth thinking about: the habits become the system that will help you achieve the goal.

“The question then is, what if you just completely forgot about the goal [and] just focus on the system?…Would you still get results? I think you would.”

So rather than focus on having a clean closet, for example, you set up habits like sorting through each item of clothing on a regular basis. As we say in our book, break down the goal into manageable tasks.

Jeremy Dean, psychologist and author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick, explains how to take charge of your brain to make any change stick.

He has a plan he calls WOOP: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan

“Write down the wish, the habit you want to achieve, then the best outcome of the habit, then the obstacles you are likely to face. Then make a specific plan.”

So look at your wish, to clean our your closet, and the obstacles to achieving it. Too tired to do it after work? Schedule a time with yourself that works for you, a time you can stick with.

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychologist and author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, a guide to understanding the elements of happiness.

She says many different activities have been consistently shown to improve how we feel day to day.

“One habit which has been shown to increase well-being is savoring: reining your mind back in and forcing it to focus on the good things in life.”

Perhaps in focusing on our closet, we can be grateful for the abundance in our lives while, at the same time, realize we can pass along clothes we no longer use to those who could use them.

So create a double habit: we can focus on what’s good in our lives and contribute to the lives of others.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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Why Is Downsizing So Hard to Do?

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The look on my face says it all. Getting rid of things can be SO hard to do!!!

During my most recent attack on the storage locker that is holding some of my things while I continue to work my way through a complicated and protracted international move, I was talking with some friends who are also going through the downsizing process, as they readied their house to put it on the market.

As we were commiserating one night about the misery of it all, the husband of the couple said, “The reason it is so hard is that there is nothing—NOTHING!!—natural about getting rid of things. We are all about acquiring them. And keeping them. And enjoying them. It’s in our DNA.”

“Hunter/gatherers,” his wife murmured in agreement.

And I said, “I really think you have hit the nail on the head.”

I think that indeed my friend is right, that this is at least a part of the reason—or maybe one could say one of MANY reasons—why downsizing is so difficult.

But most of us do know that we have to do it, at least to a certain degree, sooner or later, much as it goes against our nature.

And we also know that sooner is definitely better than later. Much as we hate to admit it!

This post is about how to deal with some of the voices we hear when we are downsizing that tend to impede the process of actually getting down and doing it—that is, getting rid of things.

At least these are some of the voices I hear that I have to argue with in order to keep the process moving ahead and get it done. Do you hear any of these voices too?

The Inner Ecologist.  The Inner Ecologist in me can’t stand to throw things into the trash that should really be either recycled or reused. (Please note: The Inner Ecologist is a good person, who cares about the earth!)

The problem is that when earth-friendly solutions are not readily available or easy to achieve, the stuff just stays there and adds to the clutter.

In other words, I procrastinate.

We’ve written a lot about various ways to recycle even very hard-to-recycle things on this blog, and there is guidance about ways to do this in our book also.

And as we have pointed out in our book, no matter what avenue you’re taking to get rid of things—selling, donating, recycling—the earlier you start, and the more time you have to complete the task, the better it is.

So what my Inner Ecologist needs to hear when she pipes up, protesting “Don’t throw that away!”  is this: “Find an earth-friendly way to get rid of it NOW, or know that one day it is going to end up in the trash where it SHOULD NOT BE. And if it does, you will feel just AWFUL about it. Plus, you might even get fined. “

That tends to get my Inner Ecologist’s attention and cooperation. 🙂  

Closely related to the Inner Ecologist is the Inner Altruist. The Inner Altruist is  someone who hates to waste. The Inner Altruist cannot stand to see “perfectly good things” (and often imperfect, not-so-good things) “go to waste.”

The Inner Altruist always wants to either use those things him or herself until they are absolutely, completely and CLEARLY no good–or give them to someone else “who could use them.”

The Inner Altruist is a good person too, and has many points of convergence with the Inner Ecologist, one of the most notable among them being the tendency to procrastinate.

So the Inner Altruist, like the Inner Ecologist, needs to be urged to take those things, whatever they are—clothing, shoes, towels, bedding, dishes, whatever!—that are not being used, and get them to someone who can use them NOW, before it is too late and someone comes along and THROWS THEM AWAY!!! (Horrors!)

In my next post, I will introduce you to two other creatures that dwell within me, these two even more difficult to deal with–at least for me.

So stay tuned to meet my Inner Collector and my Inner Archivist….sound familiar, anyone?

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of  Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

 

 

 

Is Simplicity What We Really Want?

 

 

Minimalism sometimes gets a bad rap these days, often from the ‘savers’ among us more so than the ‘throwers.’

To many people, minimalism is all about the restrictions, how few things you can own, how few things you can buy. But according to the Minimalists, minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom. That sounds doable.

Maybe it’s the word minimalism that is a bit off-putting. Maybe simplicity is a more embraceable word.

So what exactly is simplicity? According to one dictionary it is the quality or condition of being easy to understand or to do. Another says it is freedom from complexity or intricacy. It’s defined as clarity or clearness, something that’s uncomplicated. That sounds appealing, very appealing. To have a life that is clear and uncomplicated, one in which it is easy to function and to do things is a good goal.

Frank Lloyd Wright said, “To know what to leave out and what to put in; just where and just how, ah, that is to have been educated in knowledge of simplicity.”

Can we be educated in simplicity? How do we know what is essential for us? How do we know what to focus on and what to ignore? Perhaps the simplest answer is to focus on what’s most important to us.

Leo Bautista explains, “Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.”

So what is essential to you? It may be grandma’s china, or your parents’ love letters, or your father’s ties, or favorite books from you kids’ childhood. If it’s important to you, then it stays and you find a place for it. Or perhaps you can share stories about the item and then let it go, to another family member or to someone who may appreciate it as much as you do.

It’s not so much about having more, that may be hardwired in our brains, but of educating ourselves to want less. Joshua Becker says, “Desiring less is even more valuable than owning less.” Learning to want less is being educated in simplicity.

And that’s not easy, given the society we live in. The humorist, Robert Quillan, captured that dilemma when he defined Americanism as “Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.” Of course, who we really want to impress is ourselves and our family. Keeping up a certain lifestyle, maybe one is isn’t really our true selves, is more complicated.

Yvon Chouinard, an environmentalist and founder of Patagonia, the outdoor outfitters, said, “The more you know, the less you need.” He was most likely referring to rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits but what if we learned more: about our interests, our family members, our ancestors. Would we would need less if we knew more? Perhaps we would need to keep fewer things if we knew more. That’s something to think about.

So is simplicity what we want?

Cedric Bledsoe said, “Simplicity is the essence of happiness.” And Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

I, for one, am in favor of a life that is happier and more sophisticated. I am embracing simplicity. Yes, simplicity is what we want.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Downsizing Chronicles: The Storage Locker, Part 3 (Interlude)

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Consigning items for sale at my favorite thrift store in Bethesda, Maryland. (St. John’s Norwood Opportunity Shop)

As assiduous followers of this blog may already know, for a variety of fairly good reasons, I have been keeping a lot of my stuff in a storage locker for three years now.

As the coauthor of a book on downsizing the home, I certainly know all the reasons to try to avoid doing such a thing.

But as a person who is in the middle of a protracted international move, I know some of the advantages as well.

Renting a storage locker has allowed me to free myself of the necessity–and the expense–of holding down a place to live in Country A while I have been making the transition to living in Country B.

Because storage lockers are much smaller than homes, it also inspired me to get rid of a LOT of the things I was keeping before I emptied the house I had been living in for the past eight years, and flew across the ocean to a new life.

One of the biggest drawbacks of what I did, of course, is that it’s pretty hard to continue the process of downsizing when all your stuff is in a storage locker; you live across the ocean from that locker; and you don’t have a home anymore, anywhere near that locker.

Which is why the process of getting all of my stuff out of the locker is probably going to take something like forever to complete.

I returned to the storage locker a year ago with the somewhat–I now realize–overly ambitious plan of emptying it and redistributing the things in it in a few short weeks. That turned out to be a plan that was not only overly ambitious, but in fact, was actually not feasible, for a variety of reasons.

At first this was frustrating, and to be honest, a bit embarrassing too.

But I’ve decided there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The transition I am making is a complicated one. And, although the commonly heard cliché is that “it’s all just stuff” is true of many of the things that got thrown into that locker–and in the three years since I first put them there, I’ve gotten rid of many of them–it’s also really not true of many of the other things I put there.

Many of the things I put in that storage locker were special in one way or another, some of them very special–and bit by bit I am finding ways to honor, preserve, treasure, reunite with, and enjoy some of them again–and give away, sell, or donate the rest. And yes. Some of the things are just plain being recycled or thrown away.

I’ve been at the task again over the past few weeks. In the process I’ve gained new insights into and had new thoughts about the whole matter of “stuff”–why we keep it, why it’s hard to part with some of it, why sometimes keeping certain things matters, and why sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve met some interesting people along the way, made some new friends, and been filled with gratitude for the support and kindness of old friends who have helped me through this process in a myriad of ways.

There will be more to come about all of this, I’m sure, in future posts. But for now, with all due respect to the minimalists of the world, I’d just like to say…

You know what? Sometimes it’s really not “all just stuff…” Sometimes it is the stuff that holds our memories together, and makes our houses homes. Some of it is documentation of the lives we’ve lived…

And some of that stuff is worth keeping. Even when it’s a lot of trouble to do so.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of  Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

 

Keeping Memories and Sharing Wisdom: Writing a Legacy Letter

Amy Paul, president of Heirloom Words, is a former corporate attorney who switched careers to work in the non-profit world. She was Executive Director of two non-profit organizations that assisted older individuals. She has a Geriatric Scholar Certificate from the Consortium of NY Geriatric Education Centers and is a trained as a mediator. Amy has been devoted to community improvement projects all her life.

 

I met Amy when I attended one of her workshops and was eager to learn more about her take on sharing your wisdom and values with your family members.

 

Linda: So Amy, let’s start with the obvious: What is a Legacy Letter? What is an Ethical Will? Are they the same and, if not, what are the differences?

Amy: The term, Ethical Will, is a writing tradition in which the author expresses his/her life wisdom, love and life values with a loved one with the intention that it serve as a future guide, inspiration and support. The term recognizes the historical genesis of this practice, which comes from the Old Testament and was carried forward in the New Testament. The term, Legacy Letter, serves the same function as the Ethical Will, but is conceived outside any particular religious or historical foundation.

A Legacy Letter is a written document in which your life lessons, wisdom, family history and love are conveyed as a guide and source of comfort to your loved ones as a legacy for future generations.

Linda: How did you get interested in this and what was your path to your current enterprise?

Amy: I have worked as an advocate on behalf of older individuals for over 10 years. In addition, I was a caregiver for my elderly parents. As my parents got older, I drew upon my experience with older individuals and activities that they enjoyed, and I engaged my father in writing his memoir. This proved to be an uplifting experience for my dad and my family received the memoir as a ‘treasure’ for themselves and future generations. I started to research into both memoir and alternative options that could offer similar benefits. That’s when I learned about Ethical Wills/Legacy Letters.

Linda: You mentioned the history of Ethical Wills is religious. Is writing a Legacy Letter a relatively new phenomenon or have people been writing them for ages and it’s just new to those of us who weren’t familiar with them?

Amy: Ethical Wills were a strong tradition for hundreds of years in western society, but it was lost as a common practice in the most recent centuries. The practice has recently been revived, in part because current social science research strongly suggests that it offers benefits to both the author and the recipient.

Linda: How do you start a letter? What should your aim be?

Amy: As a starting point, I suggest you decide to whom you wish to write, and if you will write one letter to your entire family or you will write a different letter to each individual. That decision will help you to think about how to write the letter.

Linda: Sometimes in my talks about downsizing and end-of-life issues, I suggest that people make a simple letter listing which possessions are important to them, such as a piece of jewelry, a painting, or grandmother’s china, explain what the item means to them, and why they want it to go to a particular person in their life. It seems easier to me to begin with an object and work towards an emotion then to delve into emotions at the start. When you teach your workshops, what are some tips you give for starting a letter to those who are reluctant to write one? Or have trouble starting one?

Amy: If people have trouble starting to write, I encourage them to review their own values/life priorities before they start writing. Typically, I distribute select ‘memory prompts’ and ‘values prompts’ to help them start writing on a blank page. Some people use the technique of mind mapping, too. A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. The map is hierarchical and shows relationships among pieces of the whole.

People who are downsizing, as you mention, and facing an impact on their memories by getting rid of items, might be especially helped by writing a Legacy Letter as something tangible to hold onto.

In addition, I encourage folks to think about some of their favorite music, books, and movies to see if there are particular common themes or values that resonant within these cultural memories. In this regard, I often have some ‘interview time’ with them to discuss the life lessons that have made them who they are. This kind of reminiscing helps folks to get started.

There is no right or wrong way to do this, it involves whatever gets you thinking about the life lessons and values that have brought meaning to your life.

Linda: How important is a Legacy Letter? What is its purpose? How should we as the writer of one see ourselves and see the task?

Amy: Writing Legacy Letter is an act of love, a means of conveying that love and caring into the recipient’s future and for future generations. It is an inheritance more valuable than money.

Linda: Since women, now as well as historically, are the keepers of stuff and the passers-on of memories, I was wondering if most of the people who attend your workshops and engage your help in writing a Legacy Letter are women? If so, what are your thoughts on getting more men involved in the process.

Amy: That’s a great question. Most of the people interested in this topic appear to be women. That said, I was invited and gave a talk to a group of semi-retired/retired men, a total of about 75 people, last year and their response was very positive.

Overall, I have had about an average of 25 percent men in the talks thus far and those who attend seem extremely interested in making an Ethical Will. Often they attend because their wives encourage them to attend the session together. But, I think that my numbers are largely due to the fact that women are more easily accessed for me. That is, my contacts come from and through community groups – religious groups, senior programs, organizational groups – and those tend to be largely women. So, I don’t have any greater insight into this, i.e. why do women seek out information through community and why do they seek out socialization through community?

But men have written books on Ethical Wills. See especially Barry Baines’ Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper. Baines, along with Jack Riemer, are strongly associated with the modern advent of Ethical Wills.

Linda: What are the benefits to the writer of a Legacy Letter? What are the benefits to the recipient of a Legacy Letter?

Amy: Both the author and recipient of a Legacy Letter attain important benefits by writing a Legacy Letter, which Dr. Andrew Weill has said is a ‘spiritual gift of well being.’ The author can get a broad sense of the meaning of his/her life and the values that were meaningful. In addition, the author can give or get forgiveness as well as get a sense of existence beyond mortality, each offering important closure on what may be festering concerns. Writing a Legacy Letter is a profoundly satisfying experience. It is a life-affirming way to express and embrace your life experience.

For recipients, benefits include a sense of being loved, inspiration for difficult times, an enhanced personal identity, and hope for the future. Legacy Letters also help recipients to keep the spirit of a loved one strong as a source of comfort in the future.

There is a fair amount of research about writing ethical wills and on the importance of reminiscence therapy, of which life review like this is one activity.

Linda: When do you give the letter to the recipient? Or do you leave it with your will for them to read after you have passed on?

Amy: While these documents (and they can be in audio or video tape form as well) are often part of estate papers, they are also given on life milestones like graduations, 21st birthdays, and other occasions.

Linda: Is there a way to see samples of Legacy Letters?

Amy: You can check the Internet for examples. Also, there are many books that include a sampling of Ethical Wills and Legacy Letters, such as the Barry Baines’ book mentioned above. But, please remember that these Letters are most powerful to the intended recipient, within the context of the relationship. Sometimes, outside the relationship of the writer/recipient the Letters might read like a typical or ordinary story; however, within the relationship when the love and caring are personally brought into the reading of the letter it becomes a most powerful document.

Linda: Why write a Legacy Letter? What is the most compelling reason to write a letter to your family or friends?

Amy: In this digital and highly mobile age, we may find ourselves having fewer and fewer human conversations and know less about our family histories and values. Yet, human contact and family connectedness is an important foundation for life. The Legacy Letter is a vehicle to help preserve this human connectedness and, in many instances if provided during the author’s lifetime, can serve to open impactful conversation on a wide array of topics between author and recipient. One need not be wealthy to leave this legacy – it is truly an inheritance more valuable than money.

Thank you, Amy.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

 

Interview with Elizabeth Stewart, Author of “No Thanks Mom!”

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Elizabeth Stewart is a certified member of the Appraisers Association of America with an expertise in appraising art and antiques for estate planning. She knows the best places to sell “stuff” and why certain things are worth keeping. She has a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of San Diego, and a doctorate from Pacifica Institute in Mythological Studies, with an emphasis on material culture: her dissertation was a scholarly study of consumers, collectors, connoisseurs, and hoarders. She writes a weekly column in the Santa Barbara News Press under the pseudonym “The Gold-Digger,” and hosts a weekly radio show on the arts on KZSB radio. “No Thanks Mom: The Top Ten Objects Your Kids Do NOT Want (and What to Do With Them)” is her second book. She recently took the time to discuss the “generation gap” between baby boomers and millennials in regards to “stuff” with Janet Hulstrand, via email. 

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Janet: What inspired you to write this book? Was there a particular professional or personal experience that made you realize that there is a kind of generation gap between boomers and millennials when it comes to how they feel about “stuff” and how they want to decorate their homes?

Elizabeth: Was there ever! My son was newly married, and they had just found a house they loved in North Carolina, across the country from me. (I am in Santa Barbara, California.) Thus I had a storage locker dedicated to things I was collecting that I thought a young couple COULD NOT entertain/live/decorate/feather their nest WITHOUT. So for about nine months I sent them about a box a week. When I got the call to come and help them paint their house, I went there. Seeing none of the things I had sent, I thought, “Ok, they’re in storage, because we’re house painting.” Yes, they were stored, all right: in the local Goodwill shop!

Janet: What do you see as the biggest difference between millennials and their baby-boomer parents, especially when it comes to how they feel about possessions?

Elizabeth: The influence of the technology-centered lifestyle. Take memories such as photos and letters, and cards on paper. A mom can have boxes of these. Or in my case, since I am the eldest child of five siblings, steamer trunks of these. The actual physical objects will not be welcomed in the kids’ houses. But a memory stick of them will.

Janet: I get it (and my son has made sure I understand) that millennials DO NOT want their parents’ stuff (which often is actually stuff that has been handed down from grandparents or even great-grandparents). And that this has caused the value of items like crystal, china, silverware, Persian rugs, etc. to plummet.  My question for you is, as a professional appraiser, what do you think about the permanency of this trend? Do you think these things are NEVER going to be valuable again? Or will the pendulum swing back again, as most trends do? And if so, what is the best advice for people who are upset by the thought of giving away (or selling at a very low price) things that might gain value again in 20 years or so?

Elizabeth: The concept of nostalgia is a fraction, which is essentially sentimentality over TIME. The TIME part is the shrinking coefficient here, Janet. It used to be that a collectible was 100 years old. Now we see the market for objects from the 1970s and 80s booming. So what is desirable has a shrinking effect, because of two factors. There’s so many children of the boomers—and most of them were born in the 1970s and 80s…We are nostalgic for the things of our youth. And we are living longer. And these youngsters have grown up on the visual IMAGES of things, not necessarily the actual things. (Think of  the board games we played with, as opposed to their video games.)

Therefore, yes, the “turnaround” for market prominence of an object will become shorter and shorter as time seems to move faster.

Secondly, there are good reasons that formal china, silver, and glassware might have a resurgence. First, tableware like this is about ritual, and like all rituals they fade and return. Second, because no one wants tableware today, the market 20 years from now will be slim, and the rarity factor will make the values go up.

Janet: What do you think is hardest about letting go of heirlooms that have been in the family for several generations? Do you have any advice or comfort to offer people who realize it’s the right thing to (or maybe the only thing to do!) but still find it painful? Also, are there ways that the millennials can make this process a little less difficult for their parents? 

Elizabeth: I read your piece about your father’s dresser, Janet. Well said.

But there’s no way millennials can make it easier on us –because we are witness to two divergent philosophies of material culture between two generations. I call  it the intrinsic/extrinsic divide. We believe that objects passed down have intrinsic value because they contain the essence of someone or some past time. Our kids see those objects as extrinsic. They see them for their usability factor… they are what they APPEAR, and contain nothing more than the materials which they are made of, and the use for which they are made. And much of our stuff and our grandparents’ stuff is not designed to be used in the modern house of today.

In other words, the image of the object trumps what essence the object contains.

That’s because our kids from birth have been flooded with superficial visual images (think of all the screens around them and all the visual content contained thereupon.) So they are expert curators of the visual, not of the material itself. These two philosophies will never coexist.

Janet: Your book has a ton of really helpful practical tips, and to get them, of course, people have to buy your book!  But what is one of your favorite tips, or perhaps one of the ones people have told you is the most helpful?

Elizabeth: Most helpful has been my suggestion to speak in millennial language: that is, to use visual technology to make a case for the millennials to keep something in the family. For example, go around your home, have someone film you, stand in front of each item, narrate the object’s story, and then send CD’s of this to all family members.

Janet: What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned in the process of writing this book? 

Elizabeth: How upset my daughter in law was that I was going public with this! She wrote a rebuttal to my book, which I published on my website, and she spent hours reacting to my book. Mostly she was upset about the inherent paternalism in our culture, which forces the MOM to do the hard work of defending her objects. And she was concerned that I didn’t focus on that, as well as concerned that her generation had a good reason for wanting to start over fresh—-thus to be allowed to say NO.

Janet: I think it was generous of you, and can be quite helpful to others, that you posted your daughter-in-law’s rebuttal to your book on your website. I also think her rebuttal is quite eloquent, and that she articulated her position both clearly and sensitively. I’d  like to ask how you weathered the rocky period between when you realized all your special gifts for your son and daughter-in-law were being rejected, and now. How difficult was that period, and does this story have a happy ending? 

Elizabeth: My daughter in-law is in her last year at Duke Law School, and is an eloquent debater and writer. Her rebuttal is indeed illuminating as it brings an additional layer to the problem of  downsizing, which is so deep in our culture that we don’t even think about it: but really, who made MOM the curator of stuff?!

And who made daughters-in-law the RECEIVERS of stuff?

There’s a feminist angle here which I didn’t see until she pointed it out. Why, furthermore, should it be the female role to feather the nest or defeather the nest, to entertain, to even think that way?

My writing the book and Meredith’s rebuttal was slightly painful to both myself and her, but we learned that the generations indeed do look at stuff differently, and along with changing trends in decorating and entertaining, there’s a gender bias there as well. So now we are in even deeper!

Janet: What are the main lessons learned from what you went through in this regard in your own family?

Elizabeth: When I downsized my 87-year-old mom’s house last month, I saved for her the valuable and irreplaceable objects. I ditched the toaster, the old computer, the old pots, the tv trays, the potty seat raiser, the old towels.

What did she want when we moved her into the new house? The toaster, the old towels, the potty seat raiser. I had neglected to remember that even the act of shopping is exhausting at her age. So, again, I should have listened to specific issues germane to the age and generation of the woman involved.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of  Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. Elizabeth Stewart is a certified member of the Appraisers Association of America, and the author of “No Thanks Mom! The Top Ten Objects Your Kids Do NOT Want.” 

 

 

How Not to Talk to Your Mother

My mother always said she wanted to die in the house, the one she had lived in for almost 50 years and where she had raised her children. Of course, what she meant was she wanted to spend the rest of her days in the comfortable and familiar place she knew, not in a retirement community.

Would she have been more comfortable in a house on one floor rather than three? Would it have been easier to live in a place with wider halls and doorways to accommodate her wheelchair? And in a house that didn’t have stairs up to the front door? Yes, yes, and yes.

But these weren’t reasons that resonated with my mother. She was happy where she was, taken care of by my father, who was a huge support system for her.

Would she have benefited from a discussion about how she could get round-the-clock care in a more accommodating space? Not really.

If you have a mom (or dad) who knows exactly what they want and how they want to spend however many days or years are left to them, you don’t want to start a conversation about how you know better (even if you think you do).

You want to start with where they are. As Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

So what can you do with what you have? You have a lot of love for your parents and you want to consider what’s best for them. You know they want to stay in the family home. How can you make it easier, healthier, and certainly safer for them to do that?

You can start with the idea of downsizing and decluttering to make the house easier to navigate. If that’s not something they have considered, you’ll want to begin the conversation slowly, and be considerate of their feelings as you go.

It may be at least as hard for your parents to talk about this as it is for you so here are some suggestions to make it a little easier for both of you.

Start now. Whatever your parents’ age, it’s time for them to start talking about the eventual disposition of their belongings. Encourage them; let them know you’re ready to have this conversation whenever they are.

Listen more than you talk. Let your parents do most of the talking. Make the discussion a dialogue, not a lecture.

Ask how you can help. Your parents may have their own ideas about how to get the process started, and how they would like you to help. They may or may not want your opinions; they may or may not want your physical help.

Be prepared with your suggestions. If your parents are at a loss as to how to start, have some concrete suggestions for them. Even if they don’t accept your ideas, hearing about them may help them to formulate their own.

Ask questions. As you talk about specific items, discuss your parents’ feelings about them, and ask about any special memories they may evoke. You may be surprised at the details of family history that will emerge.

Tell stories. Stories bring us together and help keep our family history alive. They help us see our lives more clearly. Sometimes we transform a story just by telling it over and over, learning to see it in a new way each time we share it.

Give them a copy of our book. Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home is a great Mother’s Day gift. And this is the perfect time to purchase it because, for a short time, the book is available at half off the original price.

So how will you celebrate Mother’s Day? Wear a big smile, have an open heart, and don’t forget the flowers.

 

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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