Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet
My MIL is supposedly trying to downsize in anticipation of moving to a retirement community, but having a hard time actually letting go of any of her stuff. She thinks she is telling us she wants us to have some of her things now, and we have offered to help her sort things for Goodwill, church, family, etc. but she can't really identify those things that she is willing to part with and I think may never do so up until the moment she may actually move out of her home, if ever. She and my FIL targeted a place several years ago and have not made any real progress since then . He doesn't want to move, maybe ever, but most of the stuff is "hers". I have gone through all of the decluttering psychology and anti-hoarding strategies I know. They are very active people almost 80, with full lives and many friends, but for the 25+ yrs I've known them have lived with a lot of clutter, (rooms and floors and countertops full, inherited stuff from their families packed in spare bedrooms, MIL's huge collection of clipping of articles and things to file), but very clean . Also, despite all the "things" she is hugely family-oriented and is truly the matriarch and the glue for the family communications.
Now the estimated time of their new home coming available is about 18 mos., and much is talked about how they want not to be a burden, want to be together and independent, she wants to have less work, does not have the energy to keep house and cook. Yet it's pretty obvious that underneath it all, she/they do not value the "calm and clear" look or function and I can tell from conversations with her that the preserving and appreciation of things--the chipped plate from wherever, etc--is a fundamental thing she thinks is valuable in a person and, unlike me, she does not suffer from the willies when sitting or weaving around piles and stacks.
My problem as a problem-solver wannabe AND being sad thinking about what a struggle it will be to do this all at once, maybe in a hurry, is that my MIL talks very often about how she is expecting to move to a small apt but never behaves as though all the stuff in her house will have to get somewhere else before then or at least before they can sell their home. So when I visit, I feel like this strong supposedly helpful DIL that should be able to chat, reminisce, sort, and cart off stuff with my MIL, but she evades all of that. You can already imagine all the scenarios we've been through, all the different angles--let go to good use, let go to make it more likely you can stay in your current home and manage, find a buyer, have more time for other activities--and dozens more, plus, tell me what YOU think I can do to help, but no. I've felt I was in the best position to help because of her 2 sons and 3 DIL's, I'm the most domestic and most appreciative of dishes, linens, decor--but am a busy professional and have to keep decluttering myself. So though I can't cart a houseful of stuff back to my house, I just thought I would be able to help her sort things in an appreciative way regarding the family history, maybe help take photos or other remembrances, do other things to make it less harsh.Also I go crazy hearing her talk about how their new 1000 sq ft apt would be cleaned weekly for them, and how she has it planned for if they get more frail and need care there, while I envision the nightmare of her moving tons of stuff into a small apt., which will drive all the safety and cleaning service issues out the window.
My DH has already accepted that we will just have to do whatever--take leave to clear out an entire home in one week if they decide to move, or watch them be unable to sell their home for months, and just love them for who they are.
I think what may finally clinch it for me is that we visited at Thanksgiving, and while she talked alot about plans for the smaller assisted living apt, she never once made statements like, I have too much stuff, or, I want to clean up, or, I'm going to pick my 2 favorite sets of dishes out of the 8 that I have, any of the things that struggling clutterers work through.
We went through some stuff together more as looking at things we might use for the dinner, and she gave me a few items but as it turns out, it's not that comfortable for me because she does not make clear that there is ANYTHING she thinks she does not need/want anymore. " She's said before, 'if there's anything you want just take it" --but honestly, that's the worst scenario for me (so maybe I am part of the problem) because that statement is not combined with any kind of, I won't be taking this, I can't use this AND is combined with aclear attachment to the least teacup in the house So for whatever reasons of my own, I will not wander through the house and say, hey, I'd like your whatever, when they've not made any move to identify what their favorite items or things to keep are. So maybe she can't let go unless she knows someone in the family wants something, and I won't ask for something if I'm thinking it is something they would surely want, so maybe our hangups are hungup together!
I've come to the conclusion that I'M the only one who's suffering! I don't want my relationship with them to revolve around this issue so I think I will have to let it go. I have learned, as well, that I can't predict the future, and don't know what the circumstances will actually be that we and they may face in the coming years, including, since their new apt isn't ready yet, she may not "let go" until moving time is right upon them, and then could surprise me.
So the hard part is the bit of undercurrent that she wants to be working on this downsizing to get ready, while anyone can see that they are not. If there had not been some initial statements that they knew they needed to downsize, I probably would not have gotten so invested in helping , so that I now have to revise my initial understanding of where I fit in.
I know a lot of you have been in similar positions--is it irresponsible to "let go", or the obvious choice? I've thought of lots of other "strategies" I could propose, but they all sound like MY ideas and not coming from their request.And I suppose I feel like her ideas would require me to aggressively pursue taking her things myself, rather than her deciding she wants to part with them (as far as I know, she never takes boxes of things to Goodwill--so far the only things that leave the house are recycled as gifts). For example, after one of their parents died, the family assembled and put stickers on desired items and that's how they sorted things. So she said once, you all could do that before we move--everyone could place his sticker, and then swap for things if more than one person wanted it. But, it sounded kind of tentative without her saying, WE've put labels on the stuff we're sure we want to keep, or really telling the family, come on, let's have a gathering and do this, and again, remember there are thousands of items we all could not use, with none identified as being targeted for charity.
The psychology here, I think, revolves around how much she values the least of her things so the only way she can accept our participation is as fellow thing-valuers/thing wanters. She does not want help as thing-sorters/discarders. So that isolated role is not comfortable for me on any large scale, especially not taking it upon myself to invite the family from several states to "go there and go through her stuff" when she is of sound mind and sending signals that are opposite. If she asks me to look at selected items with her, then of course I will.
I am still ready to help if asked for anything specific, but I want to retire my role as nagger/hinter. My own mother died this summer and my father 2 years ago, so I would rather celebrate my in-laws for the great people they are.
Maybe you have some other ideas.