Home Organizing and Getting Old

I’ve recently worked a packing job with a senior couple who are in the process of downsizing – they’re moving into a smaller apartment and sell their house that they’ve lived in for 10 years.

The older gentleman is a military historian and author whose works are well known both locally and internationally. His wife, on the other hand, is a retired nurse.

They lived in this 3-story house with 4 rooms and 3 bathrooms in a quiet neighborhood in east Ottawa. My boss and one coworker probably packed over 300 boxes (not kidding you) for 4 days and a huge chunk of what we packed were books, magazines, and research papers that belong to the male client. They were not just ordinary books (and journals) and magazines, but a lot of them were old and most of them hardbound. They were all excellent books that were mainly about the military history of the British Empire and Canada. He also owns 3 kinds of encyclopedias.

All these books were crammed in 3 rooms that were “very very full”, the living room and 1 shelf in a bathroom. Aside from books, we had to pack a lot of expensive crystals and fine china as well as cooking tools and food from a “swelling” pantry.

With all the amount of stuff that we packed It’s hard to believe that the house has been occupied for only 10 years and not 50 years. It’s even harder to watch the expressions of the clients as they feel shame for having all these wonderful things that have served their purpose for years – but will most probably not fit in their obviously smaller apartment.

My point is, I find myself in a parallel situation with my own parents. Sure, these items are still a lot more than what my grandparents have left my mom and what my mom has collected for decades, but I’m faced with a very real possibility of having to decide on what things to keep and to let go of, especially that I’m an only child and my parents are now aging. The problem of hoarding in seniors is very real and quite frankly, you can’t blame them. These are treasured collections of family pictures that, after many decades grow in size, the Reader’s Digest subscription from the 60s through 80s, or old gifts from a great aunt or great uncle.

As I pack our client’s boxes, I was mentally taking stock of all the old stuff that my own family has accumulated through generations and how to handle them on my next vacation to the Philippines. Both my grandparents on my mother’s side were educators (my grandfather was a high school principal) and so we had an encyclopedia and a lot of really heavy books in our home library – and most of those books are still there to this day!

Maybe, I should consider doing the Swedish Death Cleaning method when the time comes because I know that decluttering things that are with my family for generations will be tough.

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