I aspire to be an old lady one day.
Recently I had to put myself in the mindset of someone approximately twice my age. Our elderly Aunt needed to be quickly moved from the house she occupied for nearly 5 decades. As her only family, my husband, his brothers and their spouses and I were all charged with the task of cleaning out and selling her home on her behalf, as well as relocating her into a new place Auntie lives in a city several hours’ drive away and we have all taken turns spending weekends there taking care of business.
Here are my best tips for making the process as easy as possible.
1.Take and study lots of photographs of the person’s home. Certain paintings are on the walls because they are favourites and they should be on the walls in the new home. Note colours, textures and the placement of furniture, throws and afghans and other items. Recreating these scenes will help make the person feel at home.
2. Dismiss your own taste. On a mammoth shopping trip for everything from dish soap to a living room rug, my sister-in-law and I actually sought out items that we would never choose for ourselves. While our tastes run toward spare and contemporary, Auntie loves floral patterns and bright colours. Call it the George Costanza decorating method, going with the opposite to what we would normally buy.
3. Do what’s right. When it came to buying furniture, Auntie’s input was considered, of course, but left to her own devices she would have chosen to sleep on a well-worn pull-out couch from a second hand store and to reuse one threadbare towel over and over again. We believed she deserved a little luxury and comfort and she could well afford it. She was thrilled with the nicer stuff.
4. Get a floor plan of the new place. We mapped out each room and where her own furnishings from her house would fit and be useful. We were bringing several of her beloved items including an 1800’s tea trolley and several other antiques including two desks, a china cabinet, a few small tables and chairs. Once her items were drawn onto the floor plan, the gaps became obvious and a shopping list could be drawn up.
5. If you’re lucky enough to be on this adventure with other family members, share memories of your elderly relative. It’s amazing what one person remembers despite the others having no awareness. Any clue into Auntie’s personality, likes and dislikes proved very valuable in setting up her apartment. Again, it’s not about you creating what you think is good for her. It’s what she likes and finds comfort in.
6. Remember that you’re a team! When one brother tossed the irreplaceable tea trolley into the dispose-or-donate pile during the home-emptying process, another brother jumped in to retrieve it. One felt that everything in the home was junk while another wanted to keep every scrap of paper. The best approach lies somewhere in the middle and the more you know about the person you’re helping, the happier she will be with your decisions. Compromise will get you through.
This exercise has reminded me of the importance of listening when an elderly relative talks about themselves and their life. It has also made me think hard about the stuff that I choose to keep. Do I want to burden someone else with the task of getting rid of things that aren’t even really important to me? It’s better for everyone that I just stay as clutter-free as possible. After all, I want to become an old lady one day.