Downsizing Dad

This week we’re moving my dad into assisted living. He’s been in an “independent living” apartment at the same complex for the past 7 years, but that just isn’t working anymore. I had been fretting this decision for months. What would he think? Would he go willingly? Or would he see this as the beginning of the end, and resist change?

We had a nurse from the facility come and do an “activities of daily living” assessment, and she agreed that my dad’s lack of short-term memory was severe enough to warrant this move. So, with much prayer, Pete gently broached the topic a few weeks ago, over our weekly Sunday lunch out. Why Pete, and not me? Well, Pete is much more tactful.

Instead of saying “you’re getting too forgetful, we need to move you to assisted living” (the blunt, factual approach I would have blurted out), Pete explained that my dad’s senior complex had recently remodeled some rooms (true) to provide a bit more help with daily life. He would now receive three meals a day at a dining room right next door, instead of two plus whatever he could defrost and microwave on his own. And rather than sit in his apartment by himself, friendly people would come to his door and invite him to come down the hall for whatever social activity was going on. Wouldn’t that be fun?

We kind of omitted the part about having only two rooms and one bathroom instead of five rooms, two bathrooms, and a garage. How much can one person use, anyway? He never uses the kitchen or dining room any more, and he only goes into the living room when someone comes to visit. A bunch of us have been using the garage as a free storage unit. (The only items stored there that belong to my dad are his woodworking tools.)

To my surprise, my dad was enthusiastic! “That sounds nice. I won’t have to walk all the way to the dining room anymore.”

When we took him home later that afternoon, we walked down the hall to the new wing and took a quick tour. It’s beautiful. A large “living room” has a big-screen TV, bookshelves full of books (my dad loved to read), and comfy couches full of happy residents. A few of the ladies made note of a new, single man and flirted a bit. My dad gave a sheepish wave in return. Sometimes he’s so cute!

Now that the move is imminent, I suddenly have to find homes for a huge pile of furnishings. Thank goodness my parents weren’t hoarders! Yet, from pots and pans and dishes to handmade wooden furniture, it won’t all fit in his new space. How do you pare down 91 years of life into two rooms and a bathroom? Yes, we can be intentional, and the items are going to new homes, but I realized my dad’s situation isn’t that different from that of our friends who lost their home in the recent Black Forest fire. Life does not consist of our belongings.

Not wanting to pay for storage, we’ve notified our friends to come collect their boxes. Some had even forgotten they had things stored in my dad’s garage! Now they don’t want them back. Pete and I spent our July “date day” cleaning out our attic, where again we found boxes we’ve been storing for friends. And again, the friends didn’t want their stuff back. We get to dispose of it all. Our kids have collected most of their remaining items too—nine boxes of children’s books, several garbage bags of stuffed animals, and a pile of Cabbage Patch doll clothes were divided up and taken home for our granddaughters, and we were given permission to eliminate most of what’s left.

How do we get rid of my dad’s stuff, our friends stuff, our kids’ stuff, and even some of our stuff?

For now, we’re converting our family room into temporary storage—a place to take inventory and make decisions. Some special items have been claimed by family and friends, but then there’s everything else. Do we sell the things no one wants? We could certainly use the money—or we could donate it to a worthy cause. Do we give everything away? We know of a family of Iranian refugees newly arrived in town who could certainly use some furniture and kitchen equipment. No matter what we do, it will take at least as much effort to get rid of things as it took to acquire them.

Pete and I have been trying to downsize for several years now. We’ve eliminated a ton of items we no longer need or use. It’s a bit frustrating to be suddenly inundated with a new pile to dispose of. On the other hand, it reminds us that belongings are a hassle. It motivates us to be diligent at reducing our possessions. The byword of the season is “simplify.”

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One thought on “Downsizing Dad

  1. Hi Leslie,
    My own children may face a delemna simalar to yours soon–witrh me being the victim of their loving care.

    To help them out in such matters, the physical aspects of it anyhow, I’ve been continually downsizing stuff. For someone who is not a materialist, I’ve accumulated globs of stuff. And no one on earth knows the value or meaning of any of it except me. Why in the world does toothless dad keep a brass nutcracker on the table at all times? Or why does he treasure this pink plastic elephant on a gold-metal pedestal? And why keep five large bookcases when he’s loosing his sight and can hardly read his own books?

    Since Ginny died in April, I’ve eliminated much, but the hoarding instinct is strong.

    I have not checfked out my e-friends’ blogs in ages. Just no spirit for it. But I hope to devote a bit more time to followint your adventures in the future.

    John Cowart

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