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Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

Posted by frankie_in_zone_7 (My Page) on
Thu, Nov 30, 06 at 16:39

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.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

I'm wondering about the need for speed--does she HAVE to un-own the old home the same week she buys the new? Or can she move in one week, and take a month to get rid of the stuff in the old house? If so, then she could only be specific about what she knows she wants to TAKE--rather than defining everything in terms of rejection, define it in terms of "most loved."

Then, the rest of you could "claim" what was left, or spirit it out when she wasn't looking (literally, since she'd be in the new house)

And for her wanting you all to value her stuff, can you all plot to PRETEND? And then just shuffle it off somewhere? lie, and tell her it's safe in a storage bin somewhere?

I think your fundamental idea--that you retire as 'nagger'--is probably sound. Your MIL is probably not COMPLETELY of sound mind--she's lost some wtrength of will and some reasoning tenacity with her age, even if she isn't really seeming senile at all yet. Bt fundamentally, she's stil in sound enough shape that she can shape her own life. So let her. it's not your life; it's hers; it's not your problem to solve; it's hers.

And stand ready for a crunch week. Define yourself as "able-bodied crisis helper" instead.

I suppose the other surreptitious thing you could do that might really help her, and make you feel as if you're not doing NOTHING, is to look around her house, and see what it is that she really shoudl get rid of (if it's other people's old stuff and it's stuffed in a bedroom, it really isn't important to her).

Then, tell her, "Oh, I've always loved that old trunk. Could I take it?" Or call sister Sue and get her in on the plot, and tell her "Susie was saying she'd like to have this....." and then give it to the Goodwill in Susie's name.

If all else fails, during crunch week move it all to a storage bin, and let it sit there. It'll cost your in-law's money--would they be able to swing whatever it was monthly? And if that would be a lot of money for them to pay for a long time, then maybe you can get her permission to just deal with it and find it all new, loving homes. Maybe she'd be more willing to let you do that after it's been in the storage bin for 3 months or so.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

When you've lived to be 80, you accumulate a lot of things. Many memories, even the chipped stuff is special. I was thinking along Tally Sue lines. People can't declutter until they are ready. There will be a lot of heart ache with downsizing and shes putting it off. She's not ready. Just enjoy family time now and when the time comes, the time comes and you deal then, if its months away or just a week. She is probably already mentally deciding what is the most important things she wants to keep and isn't letting go of the other things until the "time" comes. The only other thing I might suggest is to ask if she would like you to get her some boxes so that she might begin to pack a few of her special keepsakes that she'll be taking to the new place. I been thinking of downsizing lately too, as we may be moving so I've gotten rid of some things I really don't love and I'm mentally thinking what will come with me, but I'm not going to dump everything until I know for sure if I'm staying or not.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

Talley Sue is on point with the question - do they need to sell the house before moving into the new residence? If not, your life has just gotten easier.
My siblings and I (actually, my siblings - I was 8 months pregnant so I didn't do anything) moved my parents to their retirement community and THEN cleaned out the house. But before they moved, we had to go through several steps. Our father was a LOT like your MIL. He just didn't want to get rid of anything (even old Consumer Reports) and he had a hard time starting the scaling back process. So, we all worked with our mother to make the move as smooth as possible for him. We also realized that we would have to move them out before any "downsizing" could actually begin (AKA throwing out the stuff)

1. Get a scaled floor plan of the new place.
2. Measure all the furniture.
3. Determine what they can fit into the new place. We made up little templates for each table, bed, chair, sofa, desk, bookcase, etc. Then we played placement games.

4. After the parents realized they could not move all their current furniture into the new apartment, they started asking us in all seriousness what we wanted. I got the family dining room set (a wonderful 1960's modern rosewood), my sister got the Asian rosewood side tables, sofa console table and some stools as well as the piano. I forget what my brother got. That got rid of the big items.

5. There was still too much of the little stuff. I got most of the table linen. They did keep most of their wall artwork (yes, we measured the wall space to see if it all fit).

6. We moved them into their new residence.

7. Then we hired a junk removal company who were supposed auction off the rest of the goods or toss the unsold items. We suspected they just tossed everything. It made my SIL a bit sad but quite honestly, this worked for everyone.

8. Lastly, the house was cleaned up and fixed up. Then it was put on the market.

We are all a bit like our parents. So, we did NOT throw away any pictures, photo albums, anything resembling a paper or article my father may had started writing, and a lot of sentimental items. But the key thing here was what they took had to fit into the new place SOMEWHERE. So in order to take all that, that meant they couldn't take other things. At some point, choices did have to be made.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

I think your husband has the right idea. Just accept this and let it go. Let it go.

There is a very real grief process at work here and I don't think it's up to any us of to say how it should be handled. Let them pick out what they want to move and deal with the stuff left in the house after they are out.

My mother will never say she has too much stuff, and no, she doesn't give a rat's you know what about a clear living space. She just needs more time to get organized. LOL.

No one wants to talk about when they are more frail or the end days. Compounding those issues with all of the stuff issues...I would ask her what she wants you to do and then do it.

Gloria


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

I have a housekeeping company. I have seen this type of situation to many times to count.

Your intentions are good. Having said that, Elders may not be thinking clearly, however, they have a life. It's not for you to decide, at this point in time, how they should live it.

Despite what other might think, Elders are tough. Much tougher than siblings that they brought into this world. Think of all they went through before you even came along!

I say, let them live their lives how they want, as long as it is possible for them to do so. They may be slipping a bit mentally, however, they sound like they still have a grip on what is going on.

At some point, something will happen, it may be tomorrow or it may be 5-10 years from now, but something will happen that will get their attention, and moving on to a new phase of life will be necessary, probably with your help.

Elders find getting rid or their possessions a painful experience. I have had numerous clients hire me to help them cull through their stuff. My rule is, they must be ready to say "yes" to stuff they must have and "no" to stuff that either get's trashed or donated. Most clients don't get very far in the process and they must quit. It simply is to difficult for them.

Good luck! Take comfort in knowing that you are doing what you can.

SG


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

There is a real grief process involved in moving away from home to a retirement community--especially since they are 80. A lot of the people who move to a true retirement community are a lot younger. So they are also concerned about whether they can make friends, etc. Are they really moving to something like assisted living--where there is more help for them on a daily basis? Their hesitancy to get rid of stuff may really hint that they are worried about the future. Maybe you can help with that.
I agree with others who said that helping them look forward to a new step in their lives is a good first step and getting rid of the clutter is a secondary consideration. My Mom's struggle with the move has been awful and 2 years later she still resents being in the "next step" or according to her "the last step".


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

Thanks for the great replies. Actually, they made a great plan to get into a kind of "life care" situation with an apartment + meals but also nursing care and nursing home on site--they were thinking very carefully and responsibly about what could happen -- but the developer/development is changing direction so that it may no longer be suitable. This HAS changed the dynamic, because they currently are not sure they will commit to this development, and so "moving" is pretty vague target right now. So any mental progress they might have made is in limbo.

I DO just accept anything they might bring to our home or offer for me to take, whether I plan to keep it or not, but it is not right in this particular situation to use any real subterfuge and try to spirit things out of the house; it's a combination of that's just not our relationship and also there's so much stuff that it would not make a dent, but would still risk misunderstanding.

Hey, I am mindful of how when I struggle with their issues, I then return home and observe some of my own cluttering and stashing and think, hmm, maybe better keep my own problems under control!

So, I think that I had been in my fix-it mode, which is usually my husband's mode, when really I need to stay more in my empathetic mode, as several of you have pointed out the real grief, acceptance and adaptation it takes when we get older and face these "milestones".


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

My mum went through a really big crisis clean-out at the point when she finally sold the family home -- and moved into a beautiful condo/townhouse with my sister and BIL. We did clean out some things after my dad years two years previously BUT there was still lots of things left there ...

Be prepared yourself for tears and anger -- and lots of hurt feelings all around. PREPARE your family and friends for this phase ..... Just be able to stand with the REST of the moving crew (family, friends ...) and keep repeating positive things about the next phase of their lives. AND -- remember that it will take time to settle them into their new place -- and YES!! they might keep saying "Oh, I wish I'd kept ......" -- the KEY to cope with this phase is to present a united front with family and friends about the benefits of their new fresh place ......

In your OWN journal -- make a list of OBVIOUS stuff that will need to be distributed --- for example (JUST an example) -- your list might say "Blue Sofa -- to Goodwill" --- so you'll be standing by with rental truck on the day of the move .....

Keep a list of items that will need to be kept -- and moved along ......and anything that just be a nice fresh touch for their decor (like a pretty lamp for a dark corner) AND do keep measurements of their new place (windows and hallways too) .... Think of things like "matching gold picture frames to create a family photo gallery in the hallway" (JUST an example!!)

And remember to order things like New Address Labels for their mail --- very handy!

BTW -- Mum loves the new place!


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

I have friends whose mother was a widow and needed to get into Assisted Living fast,mostly due to Alzheimers dementia . (She got into the car one day, went for a drive and ended up lost, at a shopping mall about 50 miles from home.) They got her into a place and had to go through her home quickly, deciding what to take,what to discard,what to sell. She was placed in a one-room studio. They managed to squeeze a lot of her household furniture into it, including her dining room set (!!!???) Not wishing to toss her belongings, they stored them in the attic of their own home. From what they tell me, their attic is so crammed full, they have no more room for their own belongings up there. Don't let that happen with your relatives.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

Thanks, teacats and jannie. Maybe over time, things will work out for the best and if not going perfectly, the "middle generation" will pull together to get things done.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

Just because people are old doesn't mean they've lost their mental faculties. My parents were older than your in-laws when they moved into a life care facility. Even though their bodies were faltering, their minds were (and are, two years later) sharp as ever. They live far from family and handled the move themselves. They hired people to do the heavy work, and managed it all, including selling their house, in two months.

Your in-laws sound like they are capable of making their own decisions. They are active and managing well, and have made plans to take care of their future. Why should they disrupt their comfortable household now for something that isn't going to happen for at least 18 months? Or decide now what stuff they'll take then? Your MIL is willing to give things to family members if they want them. Why do more before the choices become clearer?

I get the feeling that you were hoping for an opportunity to deal with the clutter that's been bugging you for years. I'm sympathetic because I hate clutter too. But it is their home, and they should have it the way they consider comfortable. And their retirement home is likely to be at least as cluttered as their house is now, because that seems to be the way they like it.

So take a deep breath and remind yourself that not only is it not your problem, it's not a problem at all. It's a process, one that they will have to go through for themselves. You can lend them a hand, but the decisions are theirs.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

My Dad passed away 3 years ago and my Mom 5 months ago at 87. My sister and I spent the past 4 months going through years and years of papers, furniture, pictures, and every screw, nut and bolt. Both of my parents were able to stay in their home until the day they died. No they weren't able to keep up with most of it during the last couple of years of their lives. We had to do doctor visits, pay some bills, yard work and even near the end cook and clean. If they had wanted to move into an assisted living place we would have helped with that also but that wasn't the case. They wanted to be home. When you get old your life is your past. It defines who you are. Your future is hourly. The past couple of years of both of their lives was exhausting for us (their caregivers). I'm 49 and have 3 teenagers and own a shop. Days were none stop from the moment I woke until the moment I fell into bed. I wouldn't change it for the world. I had one sister who thought they needed taking care of. Would it have been easier? Yes for us. Would it have been better? Not if its something they weren't ready for, which they weren't. The past 4 months, cleaning out their home of 87 years of life has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do and the most rewarding. I'm still not completely finished. The house is empty and waiting to be sold. I go in about once a week to make sure all is ok and I leave knowing that I was able to help two wonderful people be happy and content right up to the end. I hope If I'm lucky enough to live to be 87 that I'll be right were I want to be when I die. It might be assisted living or a smaller home or right where I am right now. I hope my children will not make me choose which things are important to me by their standards. That faded rose pressed and tucked away, those scraps of papers with old addresses for someone that may not even still be alive, yup they could have gone years ago. It would have made the past 4 months a lot easier for us...But easy isn't always better.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

The past couple of years of both of their lives was exhausting for us (their caregivers). I'm 49 and have 3 teenagers and own a shop. Days were none stop from the moment I woke until the moment I fell into bed. I wouldn't change it for the world. I had one sister who thought they needed taking care of. Would it have been easier? Yes for us. Would it have been better? Not if its something they weren't ready for, which they weren't. The past 4 months, cleaning out their home of 87 years of life has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do and the most rewarding. I'm still not completely finished. The house is empty and waiting to be sold. I go in about once a week to make sure all is ok and I leave knowing that I was able to help two wonderful people be happy and content right up to the end. I hope If I'm lucky enough to live to be 87 that I'll be right were I want to be when I die. It might be assisted living or a smaller home or right where I am right now. I hope my children will not make me choose which things are important to me by their standards.

I understand what you're saying and I'm glad you were able to help your parents live out their lives. I think, however, that the balance is different if there's only one of you doing the caretaking (along with job/career and family obligations) and/or if the "destination" is not death but long-term care.

Right now my 70-something mother is caring for my wheelchair-bound brother. He has a degenerative disease that, for better or worse, does not really affect his lifespan. I am responsible for his care after my mother passes on. It is not possible for me to provide my brother with the full-time care he needs and keep any kind of decent-paying job -- nevermind the career I have now. He really will need to move to a nursing home -- a shame, because he will be a generation younger than almost anyone else there and because, at some hours of the day, he does pretty well for himself.

Nursing home spots -- especially at good facilities (or, very especially, at one that can better serve people his age) -- don't open up automagically when you need them. So my mother and I have agreed that, if we find a good spot for my brother before it actually is needed on a daily basis, it would make sense to move him there and let him acclimate to this new stage in his life.

My brother likely will not be ready for that whenever it happens. At this point, my brother rarely understands the limitations imposed by this disease. We're doing what we can to prepare him. But the time ultimately will not be of his choosing. When my mother passes on, my brother may have to deal not only with that loss, but with a complete change in his living accommodations. Moving him to a care facility - especially before it's absolutely necessary -- is not easy, either. But, for him, we think it will be the better way to go.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

I agree completely. There are always other scenerios. My sister in only 7 years older than I and lives in an assisted living apartment. She has some psycological problems that make it impossible for her to work or really manange her own life to some degree. She has 4 daughters who all have their own lives and it works well for all of them, my sister included. That is the point however to find what works well for all parties. To plan in advance to the best of our abilities for what will come. To do it with care and love and to know you're doing the best you can. It's not any easier whether it's only 5-10 years of care or a lifetime but to be able to find a way to do it so that you as well as the person you are caring for can live with the choices made. It sounds like you are doing well by your brother and should feel proud that you can do it and are willing to do it.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

Wow. What great life stories are being shared. What feels right to me is to be more and more empathetic to my in-laws' situation and to shut up unless asked to do something. I have fretted because my MIL would make some comments about accepting some kind of help,and how they need to get ready, but I don't think she really means it yet. That's why I would get kind of revved up to do something or show her some techniques and then feel not only frustrated, but also like I might come across as a bossy boor. So I think, just love and enjoy now and help later.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

I think you're entirely right, frankie; and have gone thru all the steps you possible can. How wonderful for your in-laws that you're standing by, ready and willing to help -- and eqaully willing tolet them take these steps at their pace. Good for you, and they're lucky to have you!


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

my MIL would make some comments about accepting some kind of help,and how they need to get ready, but I don't think she really means it yet.

Making those comments is part of how she is GETTING ready, mentally, to accept help. It's part of that "process.

By talking about it, she's "trying it on." Training herself, sort of.

Good luck!


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

Storage Unit! When push comes to shove and it's actually time to move, tell them everything will be in a storage unit. Let them at that point, decide what to take. Maybe you will decide for them what they should take. It will be comforting to them while they are in new surroundings to think they could go get that "----------" whenever they wanted to.

After a while, get rid of the extra stuff. They will know by that point they don't need it.
Don't worry about everything so much. It's just stuff, and no one takes it with them.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

One thing about storage units-they look small but hold plenty. They cost money, so make sure you get a size that's adequate but not too big. Packed in boxes, household belongings don't take up that much room.


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RE: Elders not really willing/able to downsize yet

When my mother moved out of the family house where she had lived for almost 40 years, she was 71 and in good health, but she still wasn't prepared. She ended up taking just about everything with her and storing most of it in the large garage in her new place. The living areas of her house were clean and neat and her papers were all organized, but the garage was like a big rather messy attic (she was an amateur artist and had planned from the start to use the garage as a studio, which she was able to do despite the clutter). She made stabs at throwing stuff out from time to time after she moved, but when she became ill my younger sister and I ended up culling through it all. She was in nursing care at the time and was not mentally competent, so she wasn't involved in the process.

It took several months to get it all done and get the house ready to sell, but there really was no pressing time constraint. I can't say it wasn't interesting in a way, but we certainly threw out/gave away a ton of stuff. It had some emotional connections, but in the end it was just stuff.

Maybe it's just one of those rites of passage that children have to go through.

As someone without children, I wonder what will happen to MY stuff? I guess it really doesn't matter ...


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