I recently met with Lisa Robinette, owner of Choice Connections Cape Fear, who specializes in helping families through the process of transitioning loved ones into senior living facilities. Her clients have often been in their homes for several decades and over time, accumulated an overwhelming number of possessions. Our conversation left me thinking once again about our complicated relationship with the stuff in our lives.
A Lifetime of Belongings
About four years ago my mom decided she was ready to start downsizing. She had lived in the same house for over 50 years and raised all five of her children there. After my father’s passing, she began to feel as though it was too much space for one person. Never a fan of the grey, dreary Oregon weather, she started looking at the possibility of buying a condo in Florida near several of her siblings. Though the future was unclear, one thing was certain: if she ever were to move, she would need to do some serious downsizing. I cleared my schedule for two weeks and flew to Oregon to help her start making room for new opportunities.
At first, things went really well. My mom decided to hold a yard sale at the end of our two weeks and agreed to donate anything that didn’t sell to a local charity. We unearthed items that had been buried in storage closets and boxes for decades. She was making excellent progress as she moved through the many collections she had built up over the years. The yard sale pile, the size of a small mountain, would have made Marie Kondo proud!
But then something changed. About halfway through our time together, the reality of what we were doing hit both of us. By getting rid of these belongings, we were forced to acknowledge an unsettling truth: my mom was aging.
Downsizing was no longer about clearing the clutter; it was about preparing for the next phase of life.
My mom wasn’t ready— and neither was I. She began to shut down and became defensive: “Why should I get rid of this? I have the room to store it. It’s not like I’m buying a condo tomorrow! Why shouldn’t I keep this?”
Then, she began backpedaling.
By the end of the second week, she had gone through the yard sale pile and reclaimed about 75 percent of the items.
On the day of the garage sale, she continued to second-guess herself, once even snatching an item out of someone’s hands as they were browsing. “That’s not actually for sale,” she said as she added it to the mounting stash behind the card table and cash box we were stationed behind.
After the sale ended, I began loading the leftovers into the car to take to the donation center. My mom stopped me and said, “I think I’ll just keep them for the next yard sale I do.” We cleared a space in the garage.
By the end of our two weeks we were both frustrated and emotionally exhausted. Neither of us anticipated the emotional toll the downsizing process would have on us, especially while we were each still grieving the loss of my dad.
Four Years Later
Fast forward four years and my mom is still in Oregon. The leftovers from the yard sale are still in the garage. The beach front condo in sunny Florida is still a pipe dream.
However, she did call me recently to ask if I could come out this summer. She said she’s ready to try again. I think I am, too. Understanding why we respond to our belongings with such strong emotion helps us to face those feelings head on when they arise.
Round two still won’t be easy, but I know with determination and the right mindset, we can face the challenge side-by-side.
Never too Late
It is never too late to re-imagine your life. And if your stuff is holding you back, keeping you from moving forward, maybe it’s time to face it. If we stop allowing the seemingly infinite amount of stuff we accumulate to define the finite amount of time we are given in this world, what might life look like? It’s a question I am on a mission to answer.
For further reading about emotional responses to possessions, check out this article by Jeanne Taylor: “Six Emotional Challenges You Might Face When Tackling Clutter”
To learn more about how Lisa Robinette of Choice Connections is helping seniors and their families in the Cape Fear region, check out Choice Connections Cape Fear.
And, as always, if you have your own story to share, I’d love to hear it!
Until next time, keep on enjoying this one & wonderful life,