I think my husband and I were just a teeny bit optimistic when it came to my mom’s move to her new retirement home. Yes, she was moving from a spacious house to a one-bedroom apartment, but we thought we had the perfect system to handle it. “Just pick the things that you want to take with you, and we’ll handle the rest,” we told Mom. “It shouldn’t us take very long to clear out the house.” Seriously, I don’t know what in the world we were thinking.
The problem wasn’t so much the sheer quantity of stuff that was left in her house even after Mom took everything she wanted to her new apartment, and even after all the members of the family had taken all the stuff they wanted. The problem was trying to decide just exactly what to do with everything else, because her old house has to be cleared out before anyone can move in. (The last time I checked, there’s not much demand for a house that is full of someone else’s stuff.)
We donated as much as we possibly could, and contacted antique dealers to see if there is any interest in buying some of the older items. We filled several recycle bins with anything that could be recycled, and finally ordered a dumpster for the rest. All of this took much more time and hard work than we had anticipated, but even that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was watching my mother visit her old house and seeing how sad it made her to watch a lifetime’s worth of accumulation being donated, recycled, and sometimes even trashed.
I understand her pain, and I do wish there was a way that we could keep everything she wants us to keep. But we can’t. We don’t live in a huge house, and our house is already pretty darned full of our own stuff. Ditto for all the other members of the immediate family. After stewing about it for a while (my way of dealing with conflict), I finally decided that we all needed to face a simple truth: it’s time to move on.
So I told Mom that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad about letting go of some of her possessions. But I also reminded her of how happy she is in her new home. She loves her new apartment, and she raves about her new retirement community. She says everyone she has met is so nice, and she enjoys all the social activities that are offered daily. They even have a room devoted to jigsaw puzzles, her favorite hobby.
Sure, Mom could have kept everything if she had chosen to stay alone in her house, surrounded by all her stuff. But she chose to move to a retirement community where she would have an apartment small enough for her to easily manage and far more of a social life than she has enjoyed in years. And the price she has to pay for that choice is giving up some of her possessions, even knowing that some of them won’t be “staying in the family.”
I believe the lesson for my Mom is really a lesson for us all. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, and we can’t do that when we cling to the past. Letting go of the things that hold us back, whether they are material objects, old grudges we continue to nurse, or even belief systems that have become outdated, can be painful for sure. But it’s the only way we’ll ever move forward and discover the promise of our future.
It helps to remember that the life we’re living today is the one that will be creating the memories of tomorrow. Like, say, sharing a meal in your new apartment with your favorite (if only) great-grandson….