One of the hardest parts of my work in helping families with aging parents downsize out of their family homes and into new “easier” apartments and condos is talking to them about the “stuff” they have accumulated over the years.
There is a difficult dynamic that happens where people are very emotionally attached to their “stuff” and trying to decide what to keep and what to leave behind is extremely stressful.
This stress is compounded by the fact that this “stuff” that they worked hard to earn money to purchase and then kept in pristine condition for literally decades has no monetary value and nobody wants it. The adult children don’t want it – they already have their own “stuff” and most of the time the on-the-edge of adulthood grandchildren don’t want it. They like things that are more immediately transportable than a solid oak dining room table that seats 12 and its matching 8-foot wide china hutch.
So as I work with families through this process I get to tell them this news.
The market is flooded on the supply side due to an aging population and a recession that most people really haven’t climbed out of yet. And on the demand side you have changing tastes, a generation more inclined to purchase temporary items and people who buy resale – either by choice or by circumstance – who don’t want to spend their money on “stuff”. They’re much more likely to buy a new iPad for $600 and just spend like $120 on a couch.
I try to provide this information as sensitively as I can and having recently helped my own mother and father in-law move out of the family home, I am very cognoscente of the effect it can have. Too many times this information that I provide – that your stuff is not an asset, its actually an obstacle – is the final blow to a family already with tattered nerves and it feels like one more injustice that is part of the aging process. So a few weeks ago, in the span of about two and a half days, I made three different people cry.
Its hard, this letting go of things and trying to take the next steps in life’s journey. So I ask you, whether you are helping an aging parent move to a senior community or you are helping a friend empty their childhood home because their parents have passed, it might look like just “stuff” to other people but to the folks we are helping it can be the container of their memories.