Heads Up, Baby Boomers
I spent a decade providing “hands on” help to older adults (primarily in their 80s) making later life moves through the senior move management business that I created and founded in 1998. This work involved helping hundreds through the often grueling process of downsizing and required the sorting and handling of more “stuff” than I could have ever imagined. What helped me to persevere with this work for so long was seeing the many benefits and new lease on life that these older adults reaped from this life change and transition.
Through it all, one question kept going through my mind. If those in this current, traditionally more conservative and frugal older generation often struggle with downsizing, how will my generation – the Baby Boomers – even begin to manage letting go of their collected and accumulated stuff???
The oldest of the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are only in their early 60s so isn’t it too early to even be thinking or talking about downsizing? After going through what I went through with today’s seniors, I think NOT. Consumerism has been the name of the game for our generation since we were born. Not only did we grow up during a period of unbridled economic growth in the United States, marketing was also driven by our large numbers.
We have been encouraged to WANT, WANT, WANT and BUY, BUY, BUY and this continues even today (just look around at all the aging related products on the market). This life-long consumer focus combined with longer life expectancies does not bode well for the Baby Boomers. So what should my generation be doing so they are not totally bogged down with stuff when they reach their 80s? Here are some suggestions to consider.
Practice Living Smaller Sooner
Going through a downsizing move does NOT get easier with age – but practice along the way and personal experience with living in smaller space can make this easier. When my parents downsized from their home of 34 years in 1996, their 10+ years of “snowbird” experience was a huge advantage. After retirement, Mom and Dad wintered in the south and lived in a one-bedroom apartment for 2-3 months every year. When they decided to downsize from their home and move, they knew they could handle living in smaller space because they did this during their winters away.
A “living smaller” experience also set me off on my own midlife downsizing shift. During a two week trip to central Mexico to study Spanish and live with a Mexican family back in 1996, I was reminded just how little I really required in material comforts to live well. My room in this family’s home consisted of all I needed – a bed, a small desk for writing, a comfortable chair for reading, and a bathroom and shower close by. It was the experience of learning something new and being surrounded by interesting and stimulating people that made this a time I doubt I’ll ever forget. And it pushed me to start living smaller which I did when I started my business and made my own downsizing move in 1998.
Although retirement will likely not happen in the traditional way for many of us Baby Boomers, most will go through a transition as kids grow up and leave home and as there is a shift away from work as the other primary focus. With these changes often come thoughts of traveling or even moving to a new home or location. When this happens, remember this idea of living smaller sooner and put it into practice.
You can experience living smaller via travel experiences, winters or summers away, or by downsizing your home once the nest is empty. Adopting “Simpler is smarter!” as your motto will not only help make later life transitions far easier – it will also benefit and support you now and in all the years to come.
Learn from Your Parents’ Experiences with Letting Go
I’m encouraged every time I hear an adult child of aging parents say that they are starting NOW to get rid of things after going through the struggle of their parents’ downsizing experience. Unfortunately, for each of these examples I’ve seen too much of the other end of this spectrum – adult kids grabbing up their parents’ stuff and adding it to their own pile.
Still, I’m an optimist and I hope that an increasing number of adult children will learn from their parents’ good and bad examples with downsizing and will start this process sooner rather than later. I’ve never been overly materialistic but because of my work helping seniors downsize, I regularly check my belongings and release or pass on what I don’t need or am no longer using. I just don’t ever want to have the EXCESS that I saw in so many of my clients’ homes.
I hope some of the rest of my generation are learning this lesson as well as they sort through their parents’ things and clear their homes following a move or a death. Trust me, this lesson does not get easier with time or age – so start the learning curve on this one as early as possible.
Don’t Get Sucked into the Storage Craze
A 2007 article on clutter in the AARP magazine noted that self-storage units numbered 45,000 nationwide and represented close to two billion square feet of rentable space. I’m guessing these numbers are much larger today. Storage units all over the U.S. are filled with excess material possessions that the current super-sized homes and garages cannot hold. Is this a crazy concept or what?
Don’t do what many are doing and make this same mistake with your parents’ or your own belongings. Follow the same advice that I repeatedly gave my clients. Storage is a cop-out for making a decision during the sorting process. And downsizing is NOT easier done in some hot, poorly lit self-storage unit (if you think climate controlled units are comfortable, try working in one for several hours). Storage is only okay if done for the very short term and for some extremely good reason.
If what you plan to store is really that important, then make room for it in your current home by substituting these items for something you can live without. If you’re going to accumulate and store anything, it should be new experiences and good memories – unlike stuff, these truly do increase in value over time and can be savored later.
In closing, I hope you’ll remember how light and flexible you were back in college and your 20s when you weren’t so encumbered by material possessions. That’s a good position to be in again now that you’re older. Adopting a simplified lifestyle will give you the freedom to do more of what you enjoy and truly value so you can focus on vital and successful aging and live each day to the fullest.
Yes, lightening the load and releasing the excess from your life can truly have amazing results. By starting sooner rather than later, you can start reaping the benefits of LESS IS MORE now. Believe me, all your efforts in this direction will be time well spent.
Sue Ronnenkamp is a nationally recognized expert in the area of later life living transitions. After 10 years of refining the “how to” of right-sizing/downsizing, Sue has shifted her focus to WHY continuing to move forward in all areas of our lives is key to vital and successful aging. Her new business is called Age-Full Living with its primary focus on embracing changing with our aging, living later life to the fullest, and reaping the gifts and blessings of growing older. For more information, visit Sue’s website at www.AgeFullLiving.com.