When smaller is better: downsizing possessions

It’s ironic that the two things that attracted late husband Charlie and me to our house on a ridge in East Salem 25 years ago are the two things that I need to change now.

Having grown up in what is now called a “farmhouse,” I have always liked dwellings with upper floors for sleeping. And we both valued privacy so a place with two combined city lots offered us desirable space around the house enhanced by hedges. We also loved the dozen or so trees that cast their leaves generously on the yard from late October to early December each fall. And the full basement offered a laundry room and even spare sleeping quarters.

It worked fine for many years as we both cut the grass and raked the leaves even though the Salem house was smaller than the one we lived in for 30 years in the Hollins area. With a level lot it was also easier to maintain, for our former home was on a steep and wooded hillside.

But times change. I live alone now, and my two bachelor sons, though fairly close by, have demanding jobs and their own places to maintain. The grass cutting went from pushed power mowers to a rider my son operated as he had time – and not up to my standard. Next it was a paid lawn cutter, and the big yard got expensive.
Inside, the pretty Cape Cod style house sent me up and down the two flights of stairs about 20 times daily although good railings installed helped a great deal.

I guess the rainy summer finally made me decide it was time to look for something smaller and on one floor. Hedges surround my yard and needed trimming three times in a normal summer; in 2013 I couldn’t keep up even with nagging my sons.

So I entered into a familiar adventure for senior adults. It’s known as downsizing and applies to homes as much as work places. With my finding and buying a house just around the corner from my present abode – preserving the quiet and convenient neighborhood and its lovely view – I am now deep into scaling down.

If you haven’t done it, you’d be surprised at how much accumulates in a seven-room house over 25 or more years. Lots of us seniors have gone from a family of five or more with the necessary pots, pans, dishes and bed linens, to one. It’s been a long time since I had all those folks under my roof, but even when we moved from Hollins to Salem I didn’t clean out all I needed to. So now the thrift stores and Habitat families are benefitting.

If you frequent thrift stores – the second-hand establishments found all over the valley – you know they are doing a land-office business these days. Since the Great

Recession with its adjustments for so many people hit us more than five years ago, lots of folks pay a pittance for things others have discarded. High-quality clothes, furniture, books, records and all kinds of smaller needs for the home can be found in your neighborhood. The one I most often visit, both to buy and to donate to, is that maintained by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) group across from the Salem VA and Virginia Veterans Care Center for former service personnel on Shenandoah Avenue at the Salem city limits.

Before I got into reducing my own household possessions, I looked for such things as tops to kitchenware or good-quality picture frames at the DAV store and usually found them. Now I’m in a reverse position and marvel that the store is filled with just the kind of things I’m having to discard.

Take pictures. In a fair-size house, there are landscapes and family photos scattered all over. Some can be discarded. Others can be taken from their frames and stored in keepsake boxes for posterity, but they cannot all go on the walls again. From the thrift stores, they may well get a new life.

Also numerous at the stores are records and books, victims of the technology of the past 30 years. Like many seniors, I still love my classical RPM records and tapes, but many must go.What’s in two cabinets must fit into one.

As for books, I have them all over my present house, filling several sets of shelves. Long ago my parents were avid readers, and I still have a few favorite novels and biographies from my childhood as well as an antique set of “My Book House for Children,” a wonderful age-graded set which greatly influenced my future career.

There are a few favorite children’s books I read to my own children but which they haven’t room for now. I may just have to pack them in a box as I haven’t the heart to part with them any more than I did years ago.

The really old family pieces of furniture will go to my new home, and when I’m gone my children will have to decide their fate, for none has any extra room.
A common dilemma. A new adventure.

– By Frances Stebbins

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