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Scaling down

Plan for the inevitable

By Jennifer Stern

, |

Scaling down

Plan for the inevitable

By Jennifer Stern

, |

4 min read

Moving to a retirement estate can be – and should be – a positive, liberating experience. It’s a line in the sand that states that you are no longer planning your life around your children, and that you have time for yourself. It’s a time to decide exactly how you want to live without the albatross of a huge suburban home, lawn, garden and two-car garage full of tools hanging around your neck. It’s time to lighten up. There’s even a word for it: dostadning.

Lighten up

It’s Swedish – a hybrid of the words for death and cleaning – and it’s discussed in detail in a new book by Margareta Magnusson called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. It might sound a bit morbid, but it’s not – it’s kind of the more controlled version of deciding what you would rescue if the house were on fire. It’s a positive action that requires you to actively choose to keep the things you own in the same way you would choose to buy them if you didn’t have them. And, of course, it makes allowance for sentiment and downright otherwiseness. It’s not a rigid list of what you keep and don’t keep – it’s how you make those decisions. And the beauty of this process is that you do it when you are in good health and expect to live a decade or two into the future – but plan to do so without a whole load of baggage.

In the 20th century, wealth was about affluence and acquisitiveness, but in the 21st century it’s about freedom and simplicity. Look at the late Steve Jobs – he wore the same clothes every day, not because he couldn’t afford to have a wardrobe of designer clothes, but because he realised that deciding what to wear was not how he wanted to spend the limited time he had. And we all have limited time. So, decide now how you want to spend it, and how much stuff you want to have around you – stuff you may have to clean, to protect from theft, and to navigate around.

And if the concept of freedom from stuff is not enough to inspire you, consider the alternative. Downsizing and decluttering can be very traumatic if you are forced to do it in a rush – say because you need to move into assisted living.

Here’s the thing about things

In the brilliant novel A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles describes perfectly our relationship with possessions: ‘… we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity – all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance.’

But, really, they are just things.

Crunch time

Downsizing involves letting go – letting go of the familiar, and letting go of, well, stuff. And sometimes stuff gives us a sense of security. And moving out of your own home also means letting go of a certain measure of independence and control. It can be a very frightening experience. So that’s why it needs to be planned and handled carefully.

And it’s very hard to do alone. The best way to start letting go of stuff is to give it to friends and family. So, work through things, putting them into three categories: definitely keep, definitely go, and maybe. Of the definitely go, some stuff will be very precious, and you will want to give it to someone you love, but a lot of it can be donated to charity, and some will be ready for the recycling bin. But there are also some things that you don’t necessarily want to hold on to but that have intrinsic value – that antique vase you inherited from Great Aunt Mavis, for example. Keep things like that separate, and get a reputable antique dealer in to evaluate them. And, on the subject of ‘antiques’, don’t forget that Art Deco and even more recent retro items have increased in value.

But then there are the things you will want to keep. And making that decision can be hard – especially if you are moving from a five-bedroom house into a one-room studio. The secret, really, is to take as little as possible. So, rather than ask yourself how much you can fit into your new space, ask yourself how much you really need. Cramped rooms are depressing, and can even be dangerous. Bumping into furniture is no big deal when you’re 19, but it’s a very different story when you’re 90. But you also want to have familiar things around you – things that bring back good memories – and that balancing act is an art.

Donovan Seeliger from Republic Interiors, who regularly helps people with dementia move into Livewell Village in Bryanston, emphasises that different people have different needs, and different things will make them feel happy and secure. One client he helped move had about 50 beautiful scatter cushions she had embroidered herself, but there was no way she could fit 50 cushions into her studio apartment. They made her favourites into a wall hanging, which they framed, and then donated the rest to the village for use in the communal areas. That, he says, is also an option – a lovely big dining room table, or a comfy but over-large couch, can be used in the communal areas, and helps people to take ownership of the communal space.

The most important thing, he, says, is to not rush. So maybe that’s why dostadning is catching on so rapidly. If done mindfully, it can be a positive and affirming experience – lightening, not loss.

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