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BEACON Senior News

Sifting through the past

Feb 20, 2024 11:54AM ● By Rhonda Wray

We didn’t exactly know what we were doing—but we did it anyway, my siblings and I, when we helped our parents move to an independent living facility nearly a year ago.

It started on a whim at my dad’s urging, to “check this place out.” Nothing had gone wrong physically or otherwise with them, other than the slow, steady creep of time. Their home was beloved and familiar, with a plant-filled enclosed porch and an honest-to-goodness bench swing. But homes require maintenance. 

I accompanied them out of curiosity. When we stepped into the apartment that would become their new home, I loved it instantly. The light poured in, and it was surprisingly spacious. I could visualize them there.

But I thought maybe they were just looking, and they’d mull it over. 

Well—they didn’t think very long, and although the to-do list was intimidating, they moved.

You know our housing market. We didn’t need to worry their house would sell. It did within weeks. 

But the speed-downsizing…ouch! That was rough. A professional organizer would have undoubtedly helped. For a more planned and thoughtful approach, see our March cover story

One of our first tasks was sorting through their books. Mom kept a few special volumes. We divided the rest between used bookstores, PPLD’s Friends of the Library store and me. 

The process revved up when my brother and sister flew in to help. One closet held Mom’s art supplies, which went to Who Gives a Scrap. Canned goods went to a food bank.

Mom wrote down where certain items ended up, which was helpful. But we could have made a more comprehensive list if the process hadn’t been so rushed. 

The whereabouts of some things are still a mystery. “Do you know where my mom’s baby dish would be? It’s 114 years old,” Mom recently texted. It’s adorned with sweetly smiling cherubs. Luckily, my sister had it. 

She and I were suckers for anything with a story. She got the table that Grandpa made, which served as the family’s only kitchen counter. Mom scrawled her name on the bottom when she was 5 or 6 and just learning to write. I got their round dining table and the antique hutch Mom rescued from a barn and refinished herself. 

“Take a picture of it” was our mantra, with sentimental objects like fabrics from clothing Mom sewed for us as children. Photos on your phone are less bulky than actual objects. 

One stressful moving day, Dad got bit by a neighborhood dog, my sister accidentally washed his billfold (laundered money?) and I drove off with a box on top of my car. We made our share of missteps for sure—but the blessing was the five of us coming together to make it happen. 

When everything was cleaned out but the garage, Dad sorted through tools and wearily said, to no one in particular, “You spend your whole life accumulating things, and for what?” It’s not an easy process, and decision fatigue is real.

Living your new downsized life for a few months shows what you really need. If my parents had a storage unit or other space available to them for a few months, they might have had even more clarity on what they’d use and what to part with. But they soldiered through it and continued to pare down within their new environment. 

They’re thriving in a welcoming space with carefully chosen (and measured) pieces of furniture, favorite antiques, Scandinavian souvenirs, art, plants, pops of blue and a coffeepot at the ready. 

It’s home because they are there.