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September 27, 2011 > All Things Senior: The Upside of Downsizing

All Things Senior: The Upside of Downsizing

By Angela Szeto

It is often said that, "Home is where the heart is." The question is how can we help our aging parents downsize their things without them feeling like they are throwing away their memories? Now, that is one loaded question.

For many seniors, downsizing is a daunting and emotional journey. The dining room table where their family had those pesky food fights. What about Thanksgiving and Christmas? The vase that once held their first Mother's Day flowers... so many memories, so little space in a city apartment.

Case in point is my grandmother (Popo) who kept photos of my mom (at age 2) on her mantle. I remember wanting to update her mantle masterpieces. Seriously Popo, mom is already in her 60s and a grandmother too. Isn't it time to upgrade? One thing I've learned is never argue with 'Grandmother Nature!!' Her possessions are her precious memories and the family learned to respect that view. When it was time for us to downsize her apartment (with her blessings of course), we had to do so respectfully and in phases.

First, we had to communicate about what needed to be done, set a common goal and a deadline to accomplish it. We started in the study, which was the smallest room and one that does not hold as many memories for Popo. We agreed to sort one room a week into boxes - keep, donate, throw out. From the study we transitioned to the family room, living room, Popo's bedroom and the kitchen. Throughout it all, she was right there in the middle of the room, supervising all of us worker bees. "No, no dear, you're putting that in the wrong box." "That's a beautiful [very old] jacket... I bet it would fit you!" "Are you sure you can't use it?"

We separated the things Popo wanted to keep (photos, kids' drawings, grandpa's rocking chair), donate (old clothing, shoes, dishes) from the things she was willing to throw out (stacks of magazines, fliers, old hallway rugs, expired cooking spices, etc). Looking back, it was funny how the last room happened to be the kitchen. Yes, my grandmother was an original foodie.

Our family spent many nights cooking and eating together. It was a place where family members shared about their day. It was and still is a family event, with a few minor changes. Now, instead of her cookbook collection, Popo has her own book of favorite recipes to be passed down to my mom. She has a spice rack instead of her collection of spice packets on the counter-top.

The coupons are now pinned to the cork board. Her mantle has three digital photo frames that recycle hundreds of photos. Grandpa's rocking chair is still in the living room. The study turned into the caregiver's room, so Popo can stay safely at home. "Hmm, the apartment seems bigger..." Job well done, worker bees!


Angela Szeto is a client care manager with Home Care Assistance in San Francisco.

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