Seashells on the shelf

My father is planning on moving.  That’s an understatement.  He’s looking at moving into a retirement community that is closer to us, his family; yet this new to him community is 5 hours away from his current home.  He’s reluctant to move, for good reason.  I can’t fault him for that.

A few others I know are also downsizing, for similar reasons – age, shrinking number of household members, health.  They too are overwhelmed with all the decisions and packing.

Often in situations like these, the packing and leaving a place you’ve called home for over a decade, (or in some cases, decades) can be panic attack inducing.  At the very least, it’s a very emotional, draining, and stressful life event.  Moving is never easy.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, schedules to coordinate, and stuff to sort.

By “stuff” I mean all those items we have a tendency to accumulate that make our house our home; the souvenirs from travels, gifts from loved ones, cherished mementos of those who are gone, odds and ends that are necessary for our current situation but may not be necessary in our new location – like weather related wardrobe options.  All of these items create a home that reflects the life of those who live in it.

My dad has a lot of stuff.  Most wouldn’t call him elderly, he’s still on the young side of “Senior Citizen”, but he’s had a life full of loss; and as he gets older those losses become more frequent.  Like so many of us, with loss, certain odds and ends that were once viewed as meaningless or trivial, now hold a value that can’t be calculated.  Physical items start carrying an emotional value that greatly out values their monetary worth.

IMG_3044For example, I have seashells decorated by my late grandfather, a mini rocking chair made out of a beer can by my other grandfather, various pieces of jewelry that belonged to my mom, grandmother, or great grandmother, cookbooks with notations made by my great grandmother and great aunts.   All of these items carry an intrinsic value that only I can calculate.  To any one else, they’re just trinkets, cool old books, or stylish retro jewelry.

I imagine the thought of moving is even more stressful for a hoarder, whether they admit their hoarding or not.  And I’m often told that many hoarders do so because of a stress or lack of resources during some period of their life – like the elderly who lived through the depression and reuse aluminum foil or paper plates.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’ll reuse these items too, but there is a limit.   You won’t get eggs and toast for breakfast and then a PB&J on the same paper plate for lunch. )

Now, I’m all for the minimalist lifestyle, and am daily trying to purge and limit the stuff that accumulates in our home.  But how does one go about incorporating those meaningful odds and ends with the necessary items and yet maintain an uncluttered living area? That is a true talent.   And how does one cope with that “what-if I need it someday?” internal conversation that drives so many of us to hold onto things that we shouldn’t, and moves us ever so slightly closer to hoarding?

I have heard it suggested that to purge your house, pretend that you are moving or use the box it up and forget it method – you know, if you box it up and don’t need it in a set time period, you don’t really

need to keep it anymore.  I’m not really sure either of these methods would work for us.  I’m not sure why, but I have feeling we’d just end up with a well organized attic or basement that would only stay well organized for a few short weeks.

Every year around this time, I tell myself I need to get up into the attic and start purging – we only get a few days a year when the attic isn’t to hot or too cold to stay up there longer than a few minutes as you’re retrieving or returning the item for which you went up there.  And every year my window of opportunity closes before I make a dent in the task.

And that’s ok.  Because let’s face it, everyone has their own comfortable level of “stuff”.  All I need to work on right now, is maintaining a level that doesn’t go beyond our comfort level while keeping in mind that someday, when we reach the point of required downsizing, we’ll have to pack it all up.   Until then, I’ll just leave a spot on the bookshelf for Poppop’s seashells.