Downsizing A Parent

My mother was diagnosed with ALS.

This in and of itself was beyond my comprehension. She has always been “let’s walk, we need the exercise and the air” kind of girl, and to think of her becoming bed bound and immobile was shattering. The silver lining is that my mom has been so active and the model of health, so ALS has moved very slowly through her body. Her respiratory system has remained in amazing condition. But over the course of 4 years it has slowly, day-by-day robbed her of little bits of activity. Through all of this, she is positive and loving, and the best mom anyone could ask for.

I asked myself what could I do? Helpless is not a feeling I deal well with. Then I asked HER. She wanted to downsize her home while she could still talk and sit up. Her motivation was to not leave her partner- who was being an exceptional, full time caregiver- a huge mess to clean up when it was time to punch her clock (her words, not mine). This I could do. This was in my wheelhouse.

I had no idea what an emotional blessing I had signed up for.

I rolled up my sleeves and drank a lot of water. It took many sessions and deep, lovely conversations emerged. I took bags and bags to donation. The huge garage sale was exhausting. The slow but steady results looked amazing. The constant contact between family members that resulted from this was priceless.

One of the huge positives of downsizing a parent while they are still alive is being able to know what has been promised to whom. There were things that I would have donated that had special meaning to people and stories I had never heard. Sitting with my mom and listening to her life story, narrated by her was a gift. Telling me why my daughter was getting a particular piece of jewelry helped her let go of it and ‘gift it’ while she could see how much joy it gave. The pleasure this gave mom was immense and unexpected. Our family felt closer. We all felt like we were experiencing my mother’s life a bit more, rather than sitting and waiting for her to be taken.

The physical unloading of belongings resulted in a mental unloading of stress for her partner. You can only imaging how stressful the thought of sifting through a loved ones belongings after they are gone can wear on you. Especially if you are busy care giving and trying to get through each day healthy, bathed and fed. The physical space helped both of them breathe easier and move through the house more freely. When you are adding wheelchairs, stair climbers, ramps, and bathing seats to your home- every inch matters. Literally. EVERY. INCH. He worried less about mom falling. He also felt loved and considered during this adventure. How amazing to have someone love you so much that they think about your grief process and want it to be as easy as possible for you.

I do not want anyone tho think that this was easy. I cried. I screamed into pillows. I came home so distraught twice that I fetal-positioned for several hours before I could eat or breathe. My love and respect for my mother grew immensely and I would sometimes feel like it would be harder to lose her now. God got cursed at a few times. But at the end of this, I felt loved. Tired and loved.

Just so you know, my mother was a hoarder of fabric, buttons, sewing machines, and anything sewing related. I gifted and sold more than 200 yards of fabric. She was also a square dancer and we found homes for a giant rack of dresses (all made by her), foofy slips, and silk under garments. We all have our vices.

My Journey

When my kids took off to start their own lives, things took on a very strange momentum. My marriage was in it’s 25th and final year (unbeknownst to us) and we were planning a grand adventure to Central America for a month. We had been saving for a couple of years and we thought there was really not a better time to go.

But the house.

The house was too big and too full and just TOO much. Paying to maintain it for a month while absent seemed silly. We wanted to move. We wanted something smaller and manageable, with completely different creature comforts. The school district we were in no longer mattered so the sky was the limit. My husband and I had never purchased a home so there really was no reason not to cut ties with this giant house other than the massive amount of personal belongings. Thus began the journey from a full 4 bedroom home to a 10×10 storage unit and absolutely no home to come home to! Yes, we voluntarily became homeless and got rid of 80% of our- dare I say it… JUNK.

I decided to go through one room at a time starting with the kitchen, because it was completely apparent that I no longer needed nor wanted to cook for 7 people. I have no idea why I had 7 cake pans, 4 pie plates, and 6 sheet cake pans. I had never considered opening a bakery, nor did I go to the trouble of baking for bake sales (I mean, Fred Meyer cookies are so good. Why bother?) much to my children’s chagrin. I did use the cookie sheets every year for my Christmas cookie baking week but other than that, it was perplexing. I had two crock pots (two!!) with a healthy layer of dust on them, air poppers, salad shooters, 2 blenders, margarita/rocks/wine/martini/shot/champagne/pounder glasses aplenty, a waffle maker, corn skewers, taco holders, gravy boats, butter dishes, kool-aid pitchers, mismatched plastic containers (SO many), 3 full sets of silverware and enough plates to host a block party. Why? I sat on my kitchen floor filling bag after bag of unused appliances and kitchen crap and wondered how did it get this far?

As I went through each room it did not get any better. I donated bags and bags of clothing. My family are avid thrifters, so I consoled myself with the knowledge that I never paid full price for anything other than intimates and shoes, but I watched thousands of dollars worth of purchases go out of the house in black plastic bags. There were listings made and furniture sold. All five of the children were contacted and offered things, but we were rarely taken up on it, because no one actually wants your junk. I gave each of my children 2 weeks to come get their things left at the house and they really could not understand ‘why I could not just be like a normal parent and keep their crap forever’?

But I soldiered on.

It actually took two sweeps in each room to get down to a manageable amount of belongings. I feel it would have been easier if I would have had one hour to get 5 bins of what I could not live without in my new home. It is easier to decide what you can’t live without than it is to decide what to throw away. It’s a mindset. A paradigm shift, of sorts.

I began to notice with each carload I dumped off at the St. Vincent DePaul I began to breath easier (they pay power bills for people down on their luck and make toiletry bags for homeless people). I felt free and untethered. I began to get a rhythm in my thinking, “Do I love it? Do I use it? Do I need it?” I began to feel euphoric with each goodbye. I was letting go! I was saying no to my worldly goods! I felt so bohemian, so hippy, so one with the earth. My love of ‘Less is Better’ was born.

I managed to whittle a four bedroom house down to a small storage unit. I kept my washer and dryer, mattresses, TV, 2 lawn chairs, the computer and desk, a dresser, and approximately 10 bins of clothing and household goods. My husband and I put in our 30 days notice and wondered if we were actually planning on coming back from Central America. Like I said, the sky was the limit.