To Keep or Not to Keep? The Trials of Downsizing a Household

OK, fellow boomers – let’s say you’ve been living in your house (or carrying stuff with you from house to house) for thirty, forty, or fifty years. You probably have things stored in the attic or basement that you haven’t seen for years. Could be like Christmas opening  the boxes you find there – all kinds of surprises!

If you’re particularly sentimental, or you’re a little indulgent, you may also be “storing” some items for one or more of your kids. Things like a piece or two of furniture, souvenirs, artwork, musical instruments, sports equipment, or (let’s just say it) forgotten junk. And because the baby-boomers are also the sandwich generation, many of us have ended up with an accumulation of assorted important stuff from our parents’ or grandparents’ homes.

IMAGE_027_0 When our grandmother passed away, our grandfather had died just a few months earlier. Mom was just not up to cleaning out their retirement apartment, but we had only a short time before another month’s rent would be due. So, my sister and I shared our first experience with sifting through a lifetime of memories. We found some wonderful treasures, each took some household items and mementos, set some aside a number of things for our Mom, and then donated the clothing and remaining items to Goodwill.

When my father-in-law moved out of his house to a smaller condo – and again later from the condo to an assisted living facility – he wanted to find homes for all of his precious belongings. And so each of his sons (who already all had fully furnished homes) ended up with some lovely little watercolor paintings, nice furnishings, and then some other things they really didn’t need but couldn’t bear to see thrown away. When my Dad passed away, I inherited a similar bounty from his house.

P1130139It’s been nine months since my Mom passed away. My sister and I have been gradually going through her things, donating some things, setting others aside for our children or grandchildren, and then deciding what things each of us would like to keep. Now, my sister has decided to leave the larger house she’s been in, for a much cozier and more practical place. So beside deciding about the last of Mom’s stuff, we’re working through my sister’s things as well…

… and all of this has made me keenly, painfully aware that I’m next.

BikeI will have to go through 45 years of memorabilia, my dad’s certificates and papers, souvenirs of about twenty vacations, tons of CDs, videotapes, and DVDs, clothes in two or three sizes (for me and my beloved), and knicknacks from our parents’ homes. Then there are the camping, sports, and exercise equipment, tools in our wood shop, and many, many books,  And my kids’ toy box full of games.

This isn’t a task I’m looking forward to. It’s time to hand off some things to my children. Some things will be easy to toss or donate. Others represent wonderful memories of people and places I have loved.

One consolation is that this is the last household I will have to deconstruct, another is that I don’t have to do it in a week or two. Still, this part of our evolution into full retirement is going to be emotionally draining and a reminder of all the things that are behind us. Thankfully, we have a wealth of happy memories to take with us, and the promise of many more to come.

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13 Responses to To Keep or Not to Keep? The Trials of Downsizing a Household

  1. Pingback: Future Challenge – What Are Your Most Precious Books? | The Retiring Sort

  2. Peter S says:

    My parents and my wife’s parents are opposites. While my parents keep very little that is not being used right now, her parents keep everything. So, while I lament the lack of family photos, she tries to get her Mom to cut back on the 40 year supply of cooking and gardening magazines!


    • And that, as my Dad used to say, is what makes the world go ’round – our differences! I am trying to condense the photos and memorabilia of my parents’ families, our family, and our kids’ families digitally, so it takes up less space and everybody can have copies to use, or not, as they see fit. I’m dumping everything onto a portable hard drive for sifting and reproducing later… I suspect the cooking and gardening stuff is all available online now… more difficult are heirlooms that seem like treasures to some and junk to others! Good luck with helping your in-laws come to terms with their stuff!


  3. I’m glad my kids will have little to keep or toss. The thought of them arguinng over one item or another seems sad. I’d rather have very little. It feels like less of a burden and responsibility.
    Toodles …


  4. Amy says:

    A friend of mine had to clean up her folk’s stuff that had been collected for like 60 years, e.g. magazine went back to 1940s, 40 blankets… I’m trying to down-size my stuff three times a year.


    • Isn’t it amazing wht people save? Good for you for making this a regular thing. I get to a point where I’m frustrated with the accumulation of stuff in my house, and purge periodically – but not often enough! 😉


  5. purpleviolas says:

    I find myself in the same situation with parents who passed away three months ago and boxes full of memories waiting to be sorted. As you said it doesn’t need to be done immediately but it is waiting in the corner of my mind . Good to know someone else feels the same.


    • Thanks for chiming in – I suspect there are legions of us in this position. Going through the memories is cathartic and wonderful in some ways. Deciding what to do with all the stuff is another thing entirely! 😉


  6. Pingback: Future Challenge – What Possessions Are Nearest to Your Heart? | The Retiring Sort

  7. dadirri7 says:

    such a perfect description of what we are all experiencing, and our generation particularly since when my grandparents died there was so little to pass on …. just find homes for the furniture … whereas now we have all our parent’s things, our children’s things, all the family history stuff, and far too many possessions … we are trying to thin things out too, so we don’t leave an insurmountable job for the next generation 🙂


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