The upside of downsizing

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With the right preparation, moving out of the old family home doesn't have to be a bad experience

It took four years for Pat and Louise Ryan to make up their minds to leave the Grandin-area home where they’d spent most of their married lives together.

“Pat wasn’t ready. It took that long,” said Louise, as she explained that her own mind was finally made up last winter when she watched her octogenarian husband out shovelling the snow.

“His routine all those years was to get up early and shovel the snow. So there he’d be at 6 a.m. out in the dark, shovelling and I’d be watching from the window,” she said. “I had to watch. I worried about something happening to him.”

Family memories

The couple’s daughter, realtor Sharon Ryan, explained that she and her siblings had suggested the move years ago, but always faced resistance from their parents.

“I realize now that it takes time and no one could force them to move. They had to come to the realization in their own way,” Sharon said.

The realtor recently hosted a downsizing seminar. Watching her parents go through the exercise sparked the idea for the course. She saw that most families go through a similar series of steps as they move from a much-loved space to a new, smaller one.

“I saw that my parents, like so many seniors who decide to downsize, were worried about losing the family heritage. They felt a moral responsibility to keep the house because we all had a bond to it. But for us and for most families there’s a flip side too. We worried about Dad doing the shovelling,” she said.

Over the years Louise watched her friends come to this dramatic change in their lives too and saw that downsizing wasn’t always their choice. Close friends had to leave their lifelong home because of health reasons, and Louise watched as decisions were made on their behalf.

“I think my number one fear was that I would lose the power to make decisions while I was still capable,” she said.

On Sept. 1 the Ryans moved from Goodridge Drive to a condominium at Ironwood Point. The couple had 39 years worth of memories tied up in their old house.

“Our children were teenie boppers when we moved there,” said Louise.

She recalls those early days in St. Albert fondly and the memories are all part of their old home.

“Pat was in the RCMP and we got transferred to Edmonton. I remember hearing there was this place called St. Albert and we drove out here. I remember we brought their skates with us and the kids went skating on the river,” Louise said.

Stuff and nonsense

The accumulation of stuff was the thing that boggled Louise’s mind. Every time she thought of moving, she would fuss about what to do with all the keepsakes saved over 57 years of marriage and four decades of living in the same house.

“We have four children and seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren and they had memories there too. We had the challenge of disposing of so many of our own things plus theirs too,” Louise said.

“What do you do with 40 years of Christmas ornaments and all the little things your kids gave to you?”

Family members stepped in to help, but sometimes they got a bit too eager, Louise said.

“My granddaughters came to clean out the bathroom. The got rid of bottles of old shampoo and that night I went to wash my face, and they’d forgotten to leave me a bar of soap.”

Clothes were another problem. Sharon and her mother spent an entire afternoon sorting through clothing.

“Every item reminded me of a special occasion in my life,” Louise said.

If they could, both Sharon and Louise would change the way things went on moving day, because it became an emotional fiasco for everyone. On that day, when finally forced to do so, family members had to decide what to keep and what to throw out, so items wouldn’t be moved and then thrown out later anyway.

“We were making decisions on the front lawn about who should take what, what to throw away and what to move,” Sharon said. “But we had a moving truck there for just eight hours and three drivers being paid by the hour. We’d have been better to bite the bullet and decide all that earlier.”

Newer and better

Two months later, Pat and Louise have surprisingly few regrets about the move. Of course there are things they miss, but economically and psychologically they agree their new house is just that — new and clean and bright and wonderful. Louise marvels at the newness of her kitchen and at her ability to stand out on her balcony and see the hot air balloons over the river.

“In the 1970s everyone planted trees. They are so big now and we couldn’t see the sky anymore,” she said of her old neighbourhood. “I can see the sky here.”

The thing Pat misses most is kibitzing with his old neighbours.

“There’s heartache. We miss our neighbours, but we had everyone here for Thanksgiving and there was lots of room. More room than in the old house,” he said.

“Maybe we’ll get some skates and go skating on the Sturgeon this winter instead of shovelling snow,” Louise said.

Downsizing tips

• Get your banker’s assistance to help make financial decisions.
• Look at several houses to decide whether you want to live in a condo, a townhouse, a life-lease home, an apartment or an assisted living facility.
• Realize the positives of moving: newer homes require less maintenance and upkeep, condominium living means the ability to travel worry-free and to live at home shovel and lawn-mower free.
• Check to see if the new house accommodates mobility issues. Do you need wheelchair access?
• Check to see if the new residence has a higher tax level than the previous home.
• Check the cost of condo fees.
• Check the condominium association’s replacement reserve fund.
• Try to find a new home that allows you to retain aspects of the family traditions that are important to you. For example, if family gatherings are important, look for a home with space to accommodate several people for meals. If you no longer wish to host family gatherings, look for a small kitchen.
• Decide what you want to keep. Give items away to family, to charity or throw things away.
• Don’t leave disposal of items to moving day, when moving trucks and staff are there on a per hour basis.
• Host a barbecue and ask family members to take their belongings home with them. Give them a deadline and a warning that things will be disposed of if they are not picked up.

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About Author

Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.