ALZHEIMER’S AND THE ART OF DOWNSIZING

DOWNSIZING: TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Holding back full closet

Whether you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or not, downsizing is easier to do sooner than later.

February 1, 2013 – As we continue with life’s journey along its often bumpy highway there comes a time to think about, if not begin, downsizing; a polite way of saying “get rid of some of that stuff.”  Whether the husband or wife has Alzheimer’s, or any other kind of debilitating or terminal illness, isn’t necessarily part of this decision. Possessions – stuff – have a tendency to reproduce and accumulate; well perhaps not reproduce, it just feels that way.  However, stuff does seem to constantly collect jamming drawers, crowding closets and overwhelming the garage while the inhabitants continue searching for additional storage.

(Special Note: This blog has been nominated for  The Best Seniorhomes.com Senior Living Award, Personal Blog. Please give it a vote by clicking on the certificate to the left. Thanks!)

My sister Janet has been telling me to downsize for the past 25 years, yet her hobby on the weekend has been visiting yard and garage sales – and buying.  I chuckle at the irony, but she does practice what she preaches and downsizes frequently donating her past finds and treasurers to local charities, or she buys another house.  Nevertheless, her homes remain uncluttered and charming.

Downsizing for me not only includes getting rid of some of my stuff, but making decisions about what to do with Ken’s stuff. The difficult part isn’t so much with things in general as it with hobbies, personal possessions and clothing belonging to those whose future has become less than certain.

SIMPLIFY:  EASIER NOW THAN LATER

My first experience of deciding what to do with other people’s stuff came when my father elected to move from his and my mother’s country place to be closer to me and Ken. My mom, Irene, had been suffering mild cognitive loss for nearly two years.  A woman with many talents there was evidence everywhere of her creativity, flair and joy in doing.  There was also evidence she had a dementia – probably Alzheimer’s.

MAKING A DENT IN A LIFETIME OF ACQUISITION                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

I arrived at their home to begin packing.  Little by little I sorted through 60 years of living filling box after box to be moved nearly one hundred miles south into a much smaller house.  Dad had built special storage areas for matt boards, paintings, works in progress and papers of various values and textures for her art projects.

Sorting through years of sketches, pastels, landscapes, a few nudes and early attempts the thought struck me that I needed to make decisions for her myriad of “stuff” which, I believed, she would never miss, and I needed to do it right then and there.  “But what if she does miss something,” I asked myself. “She will be so angry with me if I toss without asking, but if I ask, she will insist on saving all of it – even with her slightly demented mind.”

A quick reality check told me that her remembering an old sketch was highly unlikely for I knew her condition was getting worse, and it would be so much easier to eliminate stuff while sorting than having to do it all again when she passed.  I knew, without a doubt, I had to think realistically. She and Dad were 88 and I really couldn’t see her ever again sitting on a rock at the beach painting the ocean’s waves. Furthermore, the realtor had advised me to leave what we didn’t want and he would bring in a dumpster after we were gone.  The time to begin to downsize my parents’ home was five years before they passed.

A TEARFUL JOB

Their home had a double fireplace: one in the living room and one directly below in the downstairs storage-guest area.  I lit a fire and one bit at a time I fed it years of her work which was not good enough to ever be framed or hung.  Yet, I was overcome with memories reaching back into my childhood. The fire crackled and I cried telling myself how much easier it was doing whatever I could while they were still with me rather than having to get rid of everything after both of them were gone.

USING THE SAME PATTERN WITH KEN

There is an advantage to clearing out early.  Three years ago when I found it necessary to have someone help me with Ken at home I went through his closet and pulled out lots of shirts he would no longer be wearing.  His Alzheimer’s had taken its toll and his caregiver felt it easier to keep Ken in sweat clothes.  Presentable for company, but he could also wear them to bed with a change after clean-up time in the morning. He no longer needed jeans or sport shirts, but I did set aside one pair of jeans and two favorite sport shirts, a few dress clothes, my favorite of his suits, a tie or two and shoes, just in case.

“NOW” HAS AN ADVANTAGE

The advantage to an unrushed clearing-out is that there is time for comfortable distribution.  In other words there is no rush to get stuff out of the house.  Family, friends and special people are invited to share and choose according to their own needs and likes.  Or kindly decline if that is their choosing.  Whatever remains is donated to charity.

Three years later there hasn’t been one “just in case” reason for keeping the little remaining in my husband’s closet.  Ken won’t be wearing any of those favorite things so it was downsize again using the same formula.  “Come when you have the chance,” I tell those interested.  “There is no hurry.”

Some of his memorabilia such as Scout items I have given to our grandsons and great grandsons telling them of the special stories surrounding the item.  Cufflinks, watches, rings and other treasurers close to our hearts will go to whomever I choose when I choose.

IT’S STILL HARD NO MATTER WHEN

Clearing, downsizing, getting-rid-of under these circumstances is a difficult task no matter who does it or when it gets done. For me it’s just easier to do it while Ken is still part of my life even though I am tearful.  I look at the last remaining sport shirt and remember him wearing it and how handsome he looked, but then he looks pretty cute in some of his sweat shirts and pants, especially the plaid flannels he received for Christmas.  Ken always did like to have a few kick-back outfits in his closet, and where he is now is definately “Kick-back” time.

Special Note: This blog has been nominated for  The Best SeniorHomes.com Senior Living  Award, Personal Blog. Please give it a vote by clicking on the certificate to the left. Thanks!

Originally posted 2013-02-02 19:41:24.

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