Richard lived in a beautiful Mt. Helix home with his mother for 30+ years. When she passed away at 101, he was lonely and realized though he could take care of the home, he no longer wanted to. He made the decision to go to Paradise Village and enjoy an active, care-free lifestyle. Richard and his mother traveled the world and collected mementoes from many trips. There was no way he could bring all of them to a smaller space. Together with Bryan Devore of the Devore Realty Group, our team identified which items Richard would keep (but clear out for staging the home for sale) and which items he would release. While Bryan marketed the home conventionally, our team took care of all the logistics of the move and determined the best strategy to sell and donate what Richard no longer needed. Richard made his move into the community once the house was in escrow but before closing. He held onto his kayak and participates fully in all the activities and amenities at Paradise Village.
Sandy and Lenny were in their home for 30+ years but due to health issues, getting up and down the stairs and maintaining the home became very challenging. At the encouragement of their out of town daughters, we helped them make the move into Atria La Jolla before closing on their home. Sandy was reluctant to leave her “dream home” but knew she could no longer take care of the home and Lenny. The house had fallen into disrepair so going the conventional route wasn’t the right option. Bryan brought in multiple buyers who would take the home in “as is” condition. They are now enjoying a much easier life and when health issues arise, they have a community of friends and professionals who can be an extra set of eyes.
Shelly and Lee were also in their home for 30+ years, though still healthy, they decided to make the move in anticipation of health concerns that come with advancing age. We staged their home and put it on the market while they remained in the home for showings. After several weeks and no offers, Bryan suggested bringing in an investor who would update the home and put it back on the market. The couple moved into their new home and within one week, they received multiple offers. Shelly and Lee will make more money since the investor offered to split the profit. Pending final inspections, the home is scheduled to close in a couple of weeks.
No two people are the same and our client experiences reflect this. Each client has different financial situations and different stress tolerance. Through our work as senior move managers and then our partnership with Devore Realty Group, the creative and numerous real estate options we offer are able to meet the diverse needs of our clients.
Regardless of your financial situation, making a decision and moving forward regardless of pace is always the best decision because none of us have complete control over our health. We have had many clients say “I’m not ready” and put off a move only to have a catastrophic event take place and need to move when circumstances make it much more difficult.
This begs the question, what is it you’re not “ready” for? Studies show loneliness is a bigger health risk than smoking and having a purpose and being in community adds years to one’s life.
As in any life transition, your attitude predicts your success.
When my grandmother passed away unexpectedly, the lamp she’d promised would one day be mine was given to a favorite niece. According to my grandmother, I’d fallen in love with the lamp at four years old when we’d found it out shopping. I grew up admiring the lamp and never doubting it would one day be mine.
Whenever I commented on something I liked of hers, she’d jokingly say “I’ll put your name on the bottom of it.” I wish she had because when she died, I did not get the lamp. As a mom for the first time only three months before, this was now more significant because I wanted to create memories and pass down belongings.
After my grandmother's sudden death, family traveled for her funeral and to coordinate the logistics of clearing out her home.
During a time we should have been comforting one another and grieving, we were quibbling over her belongings and making “disposal” and logistical arrangements for a lifetime of belongings.
A couple of years later, my aunt passed away and my four cousins fought so much, police had to be called in.
While speaking to groups about the downsizing process, it’s not uncommon to hear from someone in the crowd they’ll just leave it for their kids to deal with. Here is why this is NOT a good solution and what you can do to avoid World War III in your own family.
Now the solutions:
At the very least, write down the items of value/sentiment and make sure your wishes are known and recorded. A great program you can use is www.FairSplit.com
Try a version of Swedish Death Cleaning which is really just proactive purging. To make it more meaningful, make it an event. Invite family members to visit and provide all the packing supplies they will need to take away what they’d like to have . Share stories about sentimental items and times in your life you want them to know about you. Photograph items that are not wanted. Arrange for the sale and donations of things you are no longer using and are not wanted. Don’t take it personally if they don’t want most of your “treasures”. I loved my grandmother but when I was offered her china, I didn’t want her because I wasn’t even using my own. Remember, mindsets and lifestyles have changed and younger generations are influenced by social media and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). They prefer to spend money on experiences rather than things.
For items that are private, mark a special box asking family members to “Discard Upon Death”. Recognize that some may go against your wishes. In that case, I recommend putting a bottle of tequila in there with a funny note about the laughs being on you ;).
For me not getting the lamp felt like a betrayal of what I knew my grandmother would have wanted. I was also disappointed that my grandmother may have shared her wishes with me but hadn’t thought to let others know.
I am happy to say the lamp now rests on my nightstand. I was very lucky my cousin recognized its significance and gave it to me. The story is one I now share when I speak to groups about downsizing.
Our society in general doesn't like to talk about the fact that we are all going to die one day. If we aren't talking about our deaths, we aren't talking about what we want to happen to our belongings when we pass. This denial, is doing a disservice to our loved ones.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’d like a little help downsizing/rightsizing or you are faced with what to do after a loved one’s death, Silver Linings Transitions and other senior move management companies can help.
Earlier this year, I threw away my Girl Scout sash, my prom corsage, and various other things I’d held onto from my childhood. As I prepared to move out of my marital home. I had the opportunity to re-visit my childhood, identify the most important items and give my daughters the opportunity to claim my belongings while I am alive and healthy.
I started Silver Linings Transitions, a senior move management company while I was married. I added divorcing clients to our services as a result of my own divorce when I realized divorcing people face similar emotional challenges and are also likely downsizing. Like the clients we work sorting through a lifetime of belongings brings up a mix of emotions and requires one to "let go" of the life I expected to have.
At a recent talk on downsizing a participant shared her plan to have her kids deal with it. There are so many reasons this is NOT a good solution not the least of which are the burden/guilt you will saddle your loved ones with but also the reality that something of value (sentimental or monetary) might end up someplace you wouldn't want it.
With both personal and professional experience, I wanted to share some key things I learned along the way. These tips interweave, the current trend of “Swedish Death Cleaning” (from Swedish words meaning ‘standing” and “death“) emerging as a result of adult children facing the task of going through their parents belongings (after a death or when the parents are downsizing) and realizing they don’t want to leave the daunting task to their own children.
So here are some tips to get started:
Make sure all of your passwords and usernames are written down and in one place. Remember to let somebody know how to access this information. There are sites that will store your passwords too like LastPass which offers a free version.
Go through your belongings and do a photographic inventory of anything you want to go to loved ones. As someone who had a personal experience after my grandmother’s sudden death, leaving clear direction will save your grieving loved ones from many unnecessary battles. Make sure you make notes about any items of value so they can be sold for their value and won't be accidentally discarded. There are software programs likes Fairsplit.com you can use to create these inventories and assign belongings.
Make sure and visit storage units and attics and include these items in the inventory.
Begin to “re-gift” belongings. If you are going to someone’s home and would normally take a hostess gift, thoughtfully consider bringing a token of your affection from your personal belongings rather than spending money.
When going through your belongings, consider this criteria:
Will anyone be happier because I saved it? Rather than put items in the garbage, send old letters or photos to childhood friends who will undoubtedly appreciate the trip down memory lane. I recently attended my 30th high school reunion and there was a table set up for people to share items. I also photographed old letters and sent them via email.
Would I be okay if someone found or read this? If there is something you aren't ready to get rid of but don't necessarily want someone going through it, create a box marked "Private: Please discard without opening the contents." If you have loved ones who you think will ignore your warning, put a tequila bottle inside with the message "You've been warned ;)".
If you are holding onto something because you think it’s valuable, do some research. I held onto a Guess jean jacket I’d purchased in 1985 for $85. I almost refused to allow my daughter to take it to sleep away camp until I looked it up on Ebay and discovered it was only worth $35.
Make the process an event inviting loved ones to participate. You and they will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about each other and what your life may have been like in your youth.
When I speak to groups of people who are now grandparents, I encourage them to consider the belongings they’ve been storing for adult children and determine whether or not the adult child has any intention of taking it. I went through my childhood bedroom in Florida a year ago and traveled home with many of the things I’d held onto. After carrying them across country, my girls wanted the earrings from the 80s but that was it.
If you have high school students, have them do their own version of Swedish Death Cleaning. It helps them prioritize, frees up space and is a wonderful opportunity to reminisce about their childhood.
Anything we do proactively is going to be less stressful. Taking charge of your life, your belongings and on your terms will have an impact.
Here is a link to more information and the book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson
Jami Shapiro is President of Silver Linings Transitions. As a cancer survivor, she embraces aging and the challenges it presents.