Dear Erin and Susan,
My mother has lived in her home for more than 40 years. She is finally onboard with downsizing. After years of memory-making and accumulating, she is also finally ready to purge. The task is daunting to my siblings and me. Can you guide us?
- Amy S.
We laughed when we read your questions because it could not have been more timely. Since Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Seniors Agency have combined to become Jewish Collaborative Services (JCS), we have recently moved both agencies, merging personnel and equipment into new headquarters. To do so efficiently, we embarked on the task of downsizing in multiple locations. And while a corporate move differs from a residential move, many concepts are similar:
• It is never too early to start the process. Identifying what is precious to your mother is critical. What are the non-negotiables? In other words, are there furnishings, memorabilia, art/photographs she must hang on to? What would a curated version of her life and personal effects look like? What brings her happiness?
Taking the time to determine what will be kept, sold, donated or thrown out is essential. But, remember, many of us are accumulators. Do not be hard on your mother for procrastinating.
• Define/consider options. Where will your mother live next? Would a smaller house, a condo or an apartment suit her? How about assisted living? Is she isolated socially? Would she like to be part of a residential community?
• Make a plan. Once you determine where your mother will live, grab a calendar and create a reasonable schedule to decide what will be kept. Keep in mind the size/storage limitations of her new home.
• Bring in a professional. Downsizing experts provide expertise and support for you and/or loved ones through this process. Search online for local experts. Often, they coordinate the entire move: determine what will fit into the new home, assist with curating “stuff,” and arrange the actual move.
• Document-shredding. The IRS dictates how long financial records must be kept. Before you discard, know the rules. If you do not, ask a trusted adviser.
• Take advantage of offers to help from family and friends. Having a trusted inner-circle provide support during the process can be wonderfully helpful.
Above all else, try not to let the downsizing process become too daunting. If you have time to navigate the process, take advantage of it. Too often, life gets “in the way,” and the process happens at the last minute, in a frantic, stressful rush.
Embrace downsizing as a cathartic exercise. Your brain will be stimulated. Emotions will be stirred. Though challenging, the yield is often positive. Best of luck!
ERIN MINIOR is interim CEO and SUSAN BAZAR is chief of strategy and administration at Jewish Collaborative Services, in Providence. This column appears monthly.