By: Pearl Bainbridge

Informal essay


At our house recently, “downsizing” has become a dirty word. I am not referring to the corporate kind of downsizing, but the kind when you decide to eliminate a number of belongings from your place of residence. It may be, that you are selling your home because it has become too much to handle. Or else, you need to make space because you and your lover have decided at last to move in together. Let’s face it, everyone hates to move, but for seniors making a final transition, it can be overwhelming. The fact is they still want to be in control. The material things they treasure took years to accumulate. Your father, mother, aunt or uncle may be at a stage in life when revising their ‘last will and testament’ once again does not actually help with the stuff they want to part with now. They may feel uncomfortable about donating to charity because half the family shops in second-hand stores anyway.

Their search for the right person to help sort things out is not easy because the candidate should be genuinely interested, sensitive and open-minded when determining what is “junk” and what isn’t. He or she shall possess superior problem solving skills (when faced with objects that appear far too large to fit through a door), must not suffer from vertigo when standing on a footstool and, have the ability to climb stairs without handrails whilst not stepping on small pets. I digress.

Beware, because it can begin quite innocently. Usually, the “more responsible” family member is contacted by a senior family member, who informs you, he or she is in the process of “cleaning up” or “cleaning out” an area of their home and they`ve “found some things” you may be interested in. They will ask if you have time to come over; they may offer you a drink, lunch or dinner, to entice you. You may accept and hear yourself saying, “Yes, I will bring a dozen, sturdy boxes” and “Yes, I’ll bring the truck”.

You have arrived at the home in transition and, upon entering you notice more boxes with stuff already in them. Now, a red flag should go up in your mind, but it does not. Your favorite type of sustenance has lulled you into a satisfied stupor, so you agree it is time to sort through the hundred or so hard-cover books and the numerous fragile photo albums stuffed with sepia and black and white photos. You notice, the photos have fallen out of the little triangles and, when you start checking their backsides, you find they are void of any reference to who, what, where and when. Leafing through the albums, you try to figure out which side of the family you are looking at; all are dressed in layers of white, with expressions on their faces that suggest they may faint, if the photographer does not take the photo soon. The containers with slides your family member forgot to mention are already in boxes in the vestibule, all 3600 of them, rescued from the “closet of doom”! You make a mental note; you will need to search for a slide projector. Suddenly, you realize you have to take everything home, given the restricted time of your visit, You decide the easiest way is to pack it all up in the boxes you brought and sort it out at home. You lug them into the truck, careful not to pull a muscle or trip over the family pet or slip on the ice covered front steps. It all seems manageable, until you are almost home and realize you also took the cat, along with your grandmother’s stamp collection and aunt Clara`s wicker chair and the eight-foot wall-hanging from Peru. You wonder how this all happened as you drive around the block six times, trying to formulate a plausible explanation for bringing a cat into the house. You begin to make a speech – aloud, imagining your significant-other as the audience.

“Be glad she is not a hoarder,” you say, as you hand the traumatized cat to your partner, who begins to sneeze and cannot seem to stop.

“No good deed goes unpunished.” Before you know it, you are tabulating expenses the cat will generate (because he suffers from ‘feline aids syndrome’) and your partner is building makeshift bookshelves, out of some old cupboard doors. Complications arise, when you receive a reply from the out of town family member, you emailed earlier, informing her of finding private correspondence tucked away between the pages of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence. You think – I put those novels aside on purpose, because I did not want them. How did they slip back in the box? The far-away family member asks if you found ‘the love letters’ adding, the novels you took, were promised to her. Because of guilt, you do not have the heart to ask her to pay the $200 it will cost you to ship them.

Yes, we cringe every time we hear the word “downsize”. The last time, we were knee-deep in boxes of porcelain teacups, silver teaspoons and tape cassettes we decided that we wanted to be paid for our efforts — we’d set up our own ‘Downsizing’ Agency. We could name it, “Pack and Unpack Ltd.”‘. The plan of action would be to “throw a party” at the family member’s home. He or she would invite as many friends and family members as possible. The company would provide plenty of alcoholic beverages along with pen and paper, and participants would make a list of things they want as they stroll throughout the house. The company leader will announce the game plan. Who can fill the containers the quickest? The first one to load up their car wins a gift certificate for a free two-for-one-massage. The company employees who drank coffee all evening take the car keys and drive each participant home.

“Seriously?” you say. No, actually, the purpose of this conversation is to suggest you do not have to suffer the emotional and exhausting job of downsizing if you do not want to. Some people actually enjoy the entire process and they are good at it–that is the point. Bringing in a professional to help someone with the task of downsizing is a real option. A senior’s transition company can indeed take care of all your needs: packing, moving, staging, even getting the home ready for sale if necessary. All you have to tell them is, “Downsize this!” Be sure to inquire at your local government seniors’ bureau, for approved companies.

Word Count; 990