There is a Russian proverb that says “when a man dies, a library burns down.”
My pre-real estate career was that of a news reporter. I worked for a nationwide cable news network and traveled our nation on assignment. In 1990 I was asked to cover the reopening of Ellis Island. After the immigration station closed in November 1954, the buildings fell into disrepair and were abandoned. Peeling paint was the décor and rats were the residents until the site was named a National Landmark in 1966 and monies were dedicated to its restoration. (It’s marvelous restoration if you never visited…)
My job was to find someone who had “come over on the boat.” That iconic person who remembers the vision of the Statue of Liberty after weeks on open seas. Old enough to have been there, but young enough to articulate the memories of Ellis Island processing. This was pre-internet and the only way to find that person was to sit in a dusty closet in a Manhattan Immigration field office. I was pointed to boxes full of paper files; some semblance of organization but a far cry from the web-based data systems that spoil us today.
I don’t remember her name. I will call her Olga. But I remember she lived on the 63rd floor of a New York highrise, her home for over 50 years. She was from Poland and was 14 when she came to America. For two hours Olga told her story: A narrow escape from the Nazi Wehrmacht, the tide of fear which followed Germany’s politico-military power. She cried when she saw the Statue of Liberty; she feared the health tests on Ellis Island would send her back.
Her story forever captured on videotape, we said goodbye and I rode 63 floors down to the busy streets of Manhattan. As I was walking away from her building I looked up. I wondered which window was Olga’s? One window in a sea of windows. One building in a sea of buildings. One city in a nation of immigrants. All the people passing by… did they know what a treasure lived midway up this highrise? How many more stories are behind those windows? How many Olga’s waiting to be asked?
What is your story? What a tragedy to allow your story to burn without sharing it! One of the benefits of age is the wisdom of experience and the rich treasure of life stories. What treasures of experience do you have to share? Have you ever taken the time to ask a stranger? How much richer would we be if we stopped to ask and to listen to the person behind the window on the 63rd floor?
I was packing up after another DownsizeColumbus event. The Kathy Chiero Group has presented over a dozen of these seminars, hosting over 2000 Central Ohio downsizers. Charlotte, a woman in her mid-70’s walked up to me and said “I just want to thank you for showing me that I’m not alone and I’m not crazy.” She went on to tell me that the decision to downsize was overwhelming to her. More accurately, when she began facing the multitude of decisions that go into this transition we call ‘downsizing’ – she was overwhelmed.
No Charlotte, you’re not alone and you’re not crazy. Over 9000 Americans a day are turning 55 and many of them are, or will, face the same decisions you are. However, there are cultural , sociological, medical, and financial reasons this transition is more complex than in preceding generations. Whether you enter this “Act 3” with an ensemble cast or standing on stage alone – entering these years on your terms involves careful planning and execution. When I began presenting the DownsizeColumbus seminar in 2013 I naively believed it was all about selling the house. Over the years I have listened to my attendees and gone through a downsize myself. I have learned that while selling a residence is a piece of the downsize puzzle it is a relatively small piece and one of the last pieces to complete the transition picture. In the middle is a myriad of decisions which makes one feel like you’re in a real life corn maze: dead ends and blind turns, back tracking and second–guessing. All the while facing an unstoppable move of time in which you hope your decisions lead you out of the maze wisely, successfully, and happily.
What has changed?
The downsize decision is often not yours: Many of you are considering selling your home and moving to a smaller space because you are being told you need to. Your children, your doctors, your spouse are insisting that you make a move that you may not feel you need to, may not want, and are not ready to make.
Our kids do not live near us: Increased mobility, jobs, spouses from different states (or countries) means that our children are no longer down the street. While they love us and want the best for us they are not physically there or able to do for us. Much of the (sometimes literal) heavy lifting of the downsize decision and move is left in the head and hands of the downsizer and spouse. If the spouse is deceased or divorce has left you single these decisions can be intimidating, frightening and overwhelming. The response can be that you are immobilized by the fear of making a mistake. This, in itself, can be the biggest mistake you make.
Our kids do not want our stuff: When I began DownsizeColumbus I quickly learned that “getting rid of stuff” was Job #1 – and the most difficult faced by seniors. We moved through life saving things with the assumption that the children and grandchildren would want the family furniture; grandma’s china, and Aunt Tilly’s 1920-era armoire. If you haven’t discovered already: they don’t. If it wasn’t purchased at Front Room, Ikea, or The Pottery Barn it doesn’t fit in their home or lifestyle. This means much of it has to go. Where? There are resources to sell, give away for tax deduction, or throw away these items but the first step is yours: a commitment to tackle one room at a time and empty your life, home, and psyche of “stuff”.
When should you start thinking about downsizing? Earlier than you think. In my experience it takes two to three years to get to the point of sale of residence and transition when the task is tackled with purpose, a plan, help and deadlines. It doesn’t just happen. As a Realtor I have had to witness adult children suspend grief over the loss of a parent because they were mired for months, even years, in settling a parents affairs, selling a home, and divesting the family of Mom and Dad’s “stuff”. No one wants that for their children.
Where can you start? Come to DownsizeColumbus on Sunday, September 11, 2016 at the Hilton at Easton. It is a free event where you will meet 25+ transition partners and hear experts in the five major areas of Transition: Medical, Emotional, Legal, Financial, and Residential. The event is free, but you must register at www.DownsizeColumbus.com You’ll leave armed with information and the assurance that no, you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.