You know that old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Hahaha. Well, nothing is truer than when it comes to downsizing. Think about it. You’ve spent 30, 40 or 50 years accumulating a million memories. You have shrines to your children’s early years. Photos of the trips and adventures you went on.
Everywhere you look, those things, those tchotchkes or chachkas, your special holiday china, hold such dear memories. You might be thinking of downsizing, but that certainly doesn’t mean getting rid of anything!
It’s true. Our kids don’t want our stuff—or their own childhood “treasures”
The headlines over the past couple of years have reported that most millennial kids don’t want their parent’s stuff. They don’t want Grandma’s china. Thanks, but no thanks on the antique furniture. And, they certainly don’t want to relocate their childhood stuffed animals to their own homes. Or save that 4th grade art project that won a blue ribbon.
How can that be? I lovingly assembled binders from grades K through 8 with my girl’s reports, math papers, essays, and artwork. How could they not want those treasures? What about all of the nick-nacks and cookbooks and reminders of years gone by? They don’t want items marked with color-coded dots to remember who will get what? Nope.
“Thanks anyway, Ma. We’ve got our own stuff.” In reality, they have their own lives that are so different from us boomers. Our wonderful adult children are creating new social contracts, traveling to help in underdeveloped countries, or choosing to live in simpler ways. It’s what we raised them to do. And they are great at it. They just don’t need our stuff.
A wonderful conversation with Marie LeBlanc
Marie LeBlanc is a baby boomer who is doing some pretty amazing work. She has a really interesting view into downsizing. Marie founded her own business that helps families deal with downsizing dilemmas. Now celebrating 20 years, Transitions & Liquidations Services, TLS, is a one-stop shop for people who need to move but can’t do it on their own.
Starting out as a process engineer in manufacturing, Marie did not set out to create this business. Her career was filled with promise and advancement, including opportunities in finance and sales. Turns out, she’s a natural at sales and loved her time working with clients on solutions.
When her mother passed away, she found herself in the difficult position of helping her dad figure out his next steps. Living in the big house alone was not comforting for him. And, he needed to deal with a lifetime of treasures and memories. Not an easy task.
Through the experience, Marie saw an opportunity to help people when they need it the most. She could provide solutions not just to the person or couple who needed to move, but to an entire family.
Most clients are adult children
Most of Marie’s clients are the adult children of parents who are aged. The children are often frustrated, angry, or both. They are in the midst of very busy lives and careers. There’s no time in the schedule to deal with aging parents. And, they may be in a panic because mom or dad need to move as soon as possible.
Underneath this untimely situation, they stew about the how they’ve all ended up here. They’ve been telling their parent(s) for years that they couldn’t stay in their home. It wasn’t to be mean. Rather, it was a safety situation and a capability reality.
The children could see how difficult it was for mom or dad to navigate their environment. Yet, didn’t know where the line was. It’s very difficult when the roles get reversed: the children become the ones in charge.
Situations Marie sees in families
In many cases, something specific has brought on the need to move. And, often, the speed of moving needs to go from zero to sixty in just a couple of weeks. Marie’s twenty years working with families has shown some trends is why older people need to downsize unexpectedly.
Sometimes one parent has died and the other can’t live alone. It’s particularly challenging when the healthier spouse who was providing care for the disabled spouse dies first. Other times, an elder relative has fallen and needs to relocate to a nursing facility. And, scary for all of us to think about is diminishing memory. It’s critical that a memory-impaired person can pass a battery of tests before needing a memory care facility.
She suggests that people don’t have to wait for a crisis to take action. If you are staying in your home as many older folks want to age in-place, there are steps you can take. Any decisions you can make on your own go a long way toward keeping family peace.
Offering a solution to the downsizing dilemma
When Marie is called in, there is an emotional situation already unfolding. Her specific job is to orchestrate the move. But the reality is, she is going to become a negotiator and a mediator for the family. And, she’ll provide solutions for everyone.
Essential to making this monumental change a success is to downsize. This requires big and small decisions. Will this or that item be kept? Does anyone need or want it? Can it be donated to a good cause? These decisions are not easy for most people.
Marie tackles each move with kindness and care. She respects the individual’s life journey and the “stuff” they’ve accumulated that represents that life.
She also negotiates with the adult children and often advises them to “do the right thing.” Even if they don’t want Grandpa’s fishing gear or Grandma’s lace tablecloths, take them anyway. They don’t have to be displayed or used. Just store them away for a time and bring them out when Mom or Dad comes for a visit. It’s about maintaining peace in the family and dignity to the elders.
Don’t underestimate the power of attachment
Marie sees the struggle between the generations in many of the moves her company works on. Some adult children, who grew up with the benefits of good fortune and “stuff,” can’t imagine the climb their parents had to make to succeed. On the other side of the coin, aging parents or relatives find today’s world impossible to navigate. They can’t keep up with speed of technology and the rapidly-changing cultural norms.
She helps all family members understand a key fact. “We can’t underestimate the power of attachment to our stuff.”
For some, they grew up poor. But earned success through sheer grit and hard work. Their stuff represents a certain status they achieved. It was a powerful reminder to others that “we made it” and it’s incredibly hard to let go.
In other cases, it is terribly painful to realize no one wants your valuable goods that you sacrificed to finally buy. Your own kids reject it. Donation places reject it. They feel as if their incredible life’s journey is being put on the curb with the trash.
What they thought would be their legacy has turned into a burden.
Changing up the business for COVID
If the stress and strain of a “normal” downsizing and move isn’t enough, we enter a global pandemic. Marie thought she had seen it all. Until COVID hit. You might think things would have slowed down, but they did not. Older folks were now proactively and permanently relocating. From thousands of miles away!
Marie’s business runs out of Massachusetts where the winters are long and cold. She spent much of last year helping couples transition out of their large New England homes. These clients already had a second home somewhere warmer. When they went south for the winter, they decided to stay. And Marie found herself downsizing with clients by Facetime and Zoom.
Helping clients make keep-or-giveaway-decisions remotely became the new format. Downsizing moves are usually fraught with attachment and emotion of history. A COVID transition was completely different. It was a necessity and a health consideration. Her focus became how to successfully operate during a pandemic to ready a property for sale.
This was certainly a new approach for TLS. But Marie and her team were able to pivot. They worked remotely with clients who were leaving their homes without even saying goodbye. She helped so many navigate an emotional situation with humor and great ideas.
The best gift I can give my child
Marie doesn’t just dispense good advice. She lives by it as well. Her own son lives a different kind of life than how he was raised. We boomers carried our parent’s values into adulthood. Our children thrived in that environment. But they now embrace other values and a more nomadic lifestyle.
Marie and her husband moved out of their “big house” and started to downsize a few years ago. She asked her son to move his stuff out of his room. He went through all the “treasures” Marie saved for him. And culled it all down to one box. She was shocked! But then realized those papers from grade school weren’t really his memories. They were hers.
“It shouldn’t be his burden to deal with,” Marie tells me. She has seen up close that the best gift parents can give their children is to get prepared for aging. And to be realistic about your older years. No one gets to live forever. “Make your own darn decisions!” is a belief Marie lives by.
Start eating your elephant
Take some time when you are still physically able to start your own downsizing. It is twice as difficult to move or declutter so when you don’t want to. Or when you have physical limitations. And, it’s three times harder when there is a lot of family baggage to deal with.
You can get a head-start on Marie’s website. She has a series of videos that explain her process for tackling the elephant. You’ll see why “front-loading” the decision-making is so important.
If you or a family member is moving to a senior community, Marie’s checklist will help you navigate many of the details. You can also read about my own experience with “limited downsizing.” It’s an adventure, for sure!
It’s like eating an elephant. Take one bite at a time and keep at it.