Should it stay, or should it go?
Downsizing during a move means making difficult decisions about what to keep
A mong the many chores facing 81-year-old Bernice Auslander as she prepares to move from the home in Newton where she has lived for more than half a century is one particularly weighted with emotion and sentiment: deciding what goes with her - and what gets left behind.
So the living room couch seemingly out of a set from “Mad Men’’? Stays behind. But a beloved painting by her daughter-in-law is coming with her.
“I’ve come to feel so familiar with it, it’s like losing a friend,’’ Auslander said.
And so it goes, through stemware that toasted scores of New Year’s celebrations, plates reserved for Seder, the dining room table from her late husband’s bachelor pad, and a good deal more.
For retirees who are downsizing from the family homestead, one of the most difficult challenges is sorting through possessions accrued over the years. Some choices can be easy - bring only sturdy furniture, if necessary, and leave behind low, deep pieces that will be difficult to get in and out of. But many will find it difficult being ruthless while sorting through items with more sentimental than practical value.
For help, Auslander turned to a Waltham company called A Thoughtful Move, which helps homeowners get through the logistical and emotional challenges of moving from their longtime homes.
A retired mathematician who taught at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Auslander was starting to feel housebound in the old brick Colonial near Newton Centre she and her husband moved into in 1960. She wanted to feel more engaged and decided to move to a senior complex in Chicago to be near her daughter.
A Thoughtful Move not only prepared the house for sale, but also helped Auslander go through, one by one, the heirlooms, keepsakes, and memorabilia she had accumulated over the years.
“It’s been such a help all along to have them here,’’ Auslander said of A Thoughtful Move. “Not only doing the physical work I couldn’t do at this point, but just egging me on.’’
The company’s founder, Joan Roover, said she coaches her clients to approach the task of moving and packing like a marathon.
“You need to start early, you need to break it up, do it in little pieces,’’ Roover said. Taking this slow and steady approach, she added, gives homeowners a chance to “review memories and reflect upon the life you lived in your home.’’
The job is that much more difficult if the homeowner isn’t ready to move. Meg Connelly of Medfield found that out the hard way. Moving her parents from their Milton home to senior housing a decade ago “was an uphill battle.’’ They were well into their 70s and didn’t want to leave.
“If you do it when you are younger, you can adjust to it,’’ said Connelly.
Since then she has moved her mother twice, recently into a senior facility in Norwood, and said it has gotten easier. Connelly has also become highly disciplined about leaving stuff behind. Her father was a child of the Great Depression and saved everything. Her primary advice is not to collect so much stuff in the first place. And for the rest?
“Become a Buddhist and give away your material goods,’’ Connelly said.
Auslander isn’t so reluctant to part with some possessions. She did not dither over the stereo, agonize over which of her three desks to take - she took the most practical, the cherry with the multiple drawers. Legacy items went to her daughter.
But there was one area that gave her pause: the kitchen. Sorting her roasters, soufflé dishes, cookie sheets - the accoutrements of a seasoned hostess who entertained frequently - was put off till she was ready. “How can I make soup without that particular pot?’’ she would think.
So, some pots and pans will come, but many won’t. “I’m not sentimental about it. There is no sense in taking it,’’ she said.
Books, however, are another matter for homeowners who are avid readers. Roover tells clients to take just one bookcase and load it up; the rest don’t go. Otherwise, do as Auslander, who will be using her iPad for reading books in electronic format.
You can use electronic devices to lighten your load in other areas: Scan family photos onto compact discs to avoid lugging bulky photo albums; take pictures of other sentimental items that don’t make the cut and hang them in your new home.
Still, the choices can be difficult. Roover tells clients that letting go of the old can help to usher in the new.
“Moving is difficult at any age, it can also be a gateway to a new life,’’ Roover said. “And it’s best to travel lightly.’’