I don’t know about you, but I am not getting any older.
Despite all evidence to the contrary—that not one but two of my kids who were just in car seats a few minutes ago are in college, that my skin suddenly has about as much rebound as a 20-year-old bathing suit, and that the only thing about me getting stronger is my eyeglass prescription—I am not aging. Is that clear?
However, because others out there are aging, or so I’m told, I am passing on this very good advice to both older adults with grown children and grown children of older adults:
It is not too soon to think about downsizing. In fact, it’s hip.
“Parents always say they don’t want to be a burden to their kids,” said Kay Morrison, owner of The Occasional Wife, a New Orleans-based company that helps people clear out and organize their homes, “but you’re burdening your kids by not going through your stuff.”
“I’ll say!” I tell her. “I will never recover the brain cells, heart muscle and years yanked off my life that I lost last year when I cleared out my parents’ fully loaded home.”
“One of the best gifts parents can give their children is to take care of all this while they are capable and healthy and can make decisions,” says Morrison.
“Fat chance,” I say. “Parents are more stubborn than kids. Whenever I brought up the idea of purging stuff to mom, she would clench her fists, close her eyes and shake her head.” (And you wonder where I get my denial streak?)
That resistance is changing, said Morrison, whose downsizing clientele keeps getting younger.
In 2006, when she started her company (which is now in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Morristown, N.J., too) most of her downsizing clients were in their late 70s and 80s. “Now more are in their 60s,” she said. “They want to get this done sooner, to simplify their lives, relieve some financial stress, have more freedom, and leave less for their kids to deal with.”
“Isn’t that morbid? I mean, doesn’t all that letting go and living smaller make them feel as if they’re, well, winding down?” I ask, not that I would, since I’m not aging.
“No, no,” said Morrison. “They don’t see this as the next step to death.” (Aach! She said the D word.) “They see it as the next step to freedom. When they’re done, they’re ecstatic.”
Because not everyone who wants to lighten their planetary load can have Morrison on the job, here is her best downsizing advice:
• Create a vision. Picture what a great downsize looks like. Morrison describes it this way: “Everything is easier, simpler, more enjoyable, less hectic and less stressful. And, you have the things around that you love and enjoy most.”
• Bring in an objective party. Invite someone who brings an unbiased clear head in to help. Besides an abundance of energy, Morrison said she brings the ability to see the big picture and the end result. “I don’t get overwhelmed.” Find that someone.
• Colored stickers are your best friend. Get packs of them and make a key: Purple is keep. Yellow means give away. Green goes to a family member. Red is for garage sale. Go room by room and put stickers on everything. “When you’re done, you will have completed the hardest part of the job, making the decisions,” said Morrison.
• Give deadlines. It’s easy for family members not living in the home to put off claiming what they want. Meanwhile, the person on the front lines doesn’t want to get rid of stuff because he fears someone later saying, “I can’t believe you got rid of that!” Issue a deadline. Tell family members the date you plan to have the house cleared out, and to let you know by then what they would like or otherwise hold their peace.
• Use technology. Face Time or Skype family members. Walk them through the house as you apply colored stickers with their names on what they want. On little stuff, like tools or jewelry, put items on a table or in a bag that bears a sticker with their name on it.
• You are not your kid’s attic. When kids move out, the family house often remains a repository for all their memorabilia: baseball gloves, ice skates, school pictures. “It’s not your job to save everything from your children’s lives,” said Morrison. “Box up what belongs to each kid and send it to them.” If it’s furniture you no longer want but your children do, tell them to claim it now or never. Don’t be the family storage locker.
• Do the math. If you are moving to a smaller place, say from 3,000 square feet to 1,500, figure you’ll need to cut your stuff by half, or more. To picture what will and won’t fit, sketch a floor plan of the new place, then makes cut outs of the furniture and arrange it in the sketch. Similarly, Morrison suggests making a diagram of the kitchen cabinets. Use sticky notes to indicate where such items as glassware, dishes and small appliances will go. “When I show clients this is the only shelf they will have for glassware, they get it.” she said. “When they become active in the process, their anxiety disappears.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.