Adventures in Downsizing

This post isn’t really about OUR adventures in downsizing – we’ve only had bit roles in these grand adventures.  Instead, I’ve made an attempt to interview Mama PoP about everything that she and Papa PoP (remember, these are Mr PoP’s parents) have been undertaking over the last year (yes, a year!) in downsizing from their big family property up north to their home down here in FL, where they have become permanent residents in our same town.

So please welcome Mama PoP as she tells us about all the work they have done in the last year downsizing to become full-time Floridians!  =)

 

Mrs PoP: So give us a little bit of background here.  What led you to making the permanent move to FL and downsizing?  

Mama PoP: In 2008, we purchased a house in Florida while keeping our primary residence in PA, and both homes were fully furnished and decorated and each house had all of the necessary accouterments such as Internet, TV service, phones, and vehicles. We divided our time between the properties based on work schedules, weather, and hobbies.  

After retirement in January 2015, I have worked on the big goal of “simplifying our lives.” This included streamlining everything that I could such as finances, passwords, communications, legal paperwork, and eliminating unnecessary duplication/complication of “whatever.” An obvious complication was having two homes and it was about that time that I realized that it was becoming increasingly harder to keep up with the big property up north. The “downsizing” idea grew to make sense as we spent more time in Florida.

 

Mrs: Can you tell the readers a little bit about your home and property up north.  What is it like and how big is it?  How does that compare to your home down here in Florida?  

Mama: The house up north is the “homestead” that we designed and built in 1984 and where we raised our family. We didn’t hire a contractor and Papa Pop and the big boys nailed every nail so it was truly ours from start to finish. Note: Although the five boys range in age from 48 to 32, they will always be boys to us. Mr. PoP is known as one of the little boys as he was born next to the last. His job in building the house was to pick up Pepsi bottles throughout the construction site since he was 2 years old at the time.

The barn - the wood that become our countertop lived in here for 30 years!

The barn – the wood that become our countertop lived in here for 30 years!

The house has 5,500 square feet under roof and there is also a bank barn that is 60 x 40 as well as a 10 x 12 two room “playhouse” with an attic, running water, septic access, and electricity that someone could use as their tiny house. Papa PoP builds big when he builds. The house has four bedrooms, three baths, two fireplaces, an open floor plan with vaulted ceilings, and is a solar and earth bermed design with redundant heating systems as well as air conditioning. The garage and workroom are oversized (28 x 28 and 28 x 14) and the house features barn beams, barn siding, and fieldstone.  There are three attics – one you can simply walk into from ground level (very convenient!) and no basement.

The property covers 10 acres of rolling hills and includes the stream that we needed for the horses as well as woods and a swampy area where the boys played. Papa Pop has a huge garden for vegetables and there are many perennial flowerbeds scattered around.

The Florida house is in a HOA community with 65 houses and a pool. Built in 1990, it has 1,600 square feet under air and has a small two-car garage, three bedrooms, two baths, vaulted ceilings and a large lanai that overlooks a small lake.

Mrs:  Got that everybody?  5,500 sqft + barn + playhouse + huge garages/workrooms + acreage…  which brings up the next question.  How many hours/month would you say Papa PoP and the brothers spent on “maintenance” on the property up north on average?  How does that compare to the “maintenance” required for your property down here?  

Mama: It’s important to note here that Papa PoP is a completely DIY guy. He built the house up north and developed the property and he and the boys did everything themselves. (Mrs PoP note – now you guys know where Mr PoP got it!)  Now that he is 79 years old, it’s much harder to accomplish repair projects, the boys have grown up and moved away, and we have had to learn how to hire people to do many things that he would have done himself in the past. Although the house we built is over 30 years old it has not been updated except for carpeting.

Up north, Papa PoP mowed 5 of the 10 acres, which takes a lot of time when the grass grows! He also planted a large garden and plowed the 100-yard steep driveway every time it snowed.  When we are not there, we have to hire someone to mow and plow. In the last few years, we struggled with changing light bulbs (they are always too high), and only got “maintenance” kinds of things done when one of the boys visited.

In FL, all yard work is done by the HOA unless Papa PoP just wants to do something special. We hire someone to clean each house but in FL the house cleaner is also a super handyman who paints, clears leaves from the gutters, changes light bulbs, rewires lighting, installs light fixtures, regrouts bathrooms, moves furniture, and generally does all of the everyday kinds of maintenance that needs to happen around a house.

 

Mrs:  One year ago (almost exactly since it was Father’s Day weekend!) you asked all the brothers come to your house up north so you all could start to divvy up different items from around the family house to everyone fairly.  Can you describe the process you used to do that?  Were there any surprises that came out of that?  

Mama PoP: Our downsizing was complicated by the fact that the FL house was already as full as I wanted it to be, leaving virtually no room for more unless I ditched what was there. I find that I LOVE to see empty closet shelves! The PA property was very full. There were so many family “heirlooms” from several generations on each side, and we simply didn’t know what the boys would want – if anything. We have always loved antiques, especially our family pieces from the 1800s, but most of the boys are well established with homes of their own that are fully furnished.

We invited all of the boys to come to the house on Father’s Day 2016 so we could celebrate together at the house one last time as well as divide up the things that they wanted to take for themselves. To start off the big day, we gave each boy a colored marble to use for the big items. Anyone who wanted a particular item put his marble in a cup held by Papa PoP and I drew the winning marble, so it was a random selection. It soon became clear that the boys were really being thoughtful of each other and watching to see who “really” wanted something. Sometimes there was only one marble in the cup and sometimes there were four!

Papa PoP had a collection of firearms that called for a different strategy. He wanted to make sure that each boy had an equal chance to select his favorite guns. We used the marbles to create a selection order (rather than using birth order) and used that order to go round robin until everything had been selected.

It was impossible to go through all of the items in the house and barn and playhouse, so we concentrated only on the things that mattered to us the most. “Marble” became a verb as in “Do you want to marble for that?” “Marbling” became a bit of a game and I felt good about the fun we had. It was very important to me to see that the boys knew that no physical object was worth getting upset over if someone else got it. There was even some trading that went on afterward!

A big surprise came when the boys all wanted all of the family pictures. I had somehow thought that we would drag out the 25 large albums and uncounted assorted boxes and they would divide them up on the spot just as my sister and I did when my parents died. Nope, not going to work.

 

Mrs: Yes, the pictures!  That was a huge undertaking you took on this year – digitizing decades of family photos and loading them onto a cloud server so all the various branches of the family could access them.  How many pictures did you end up converting?  What did you end up doing to make the process smoother and to help share them with everyone?  Did you have any favorite pictures that you came across during this process?

Mama PoP: So far, there are more than 10,000 scanned photos. More unscanned pics keep surfacing, so it is a work in progress. I have another 18,549 digital pictures already in my computer that need to be uploaded. Any way you look at it, there are a lot of pictures!

We gave each boy a PixStar Photo Frame last year for Christmas, and used a family OneDrive account to store the files. Technology came to the rescue with a new Epson FastFoto 640 Scanner that can scan 30 pics at once up to an 8 x 10 size. Mr. Pop’s younger brother helped tremendously by working with me when he could – I pulled pictures and got them ready and he kept feeding the machine. I organized the pictures by year when possible. Now any one in the family can access the photos online and download them into a device of their choosing. The PixStar frames can wirelessly access the pictures or download them into memory. Someone can have all of the pictures or only the ones he wants. Additionally, people can email pictures to the photo frames or add pictures to the OneDrive.

I have been enjoying the pictures of building the house and of course the family pictures that I haven’t seen for many years. When the photos were in albums they never made it off the shelves, but I’ve set the photo frame on my desk to cycle through the pictures randomly.

 

Mrs:  Once the brothers had staked their claims marbled for some of the items, your next step was deciding what to keep and then selling the rest.  You had your first big estate sale last fall, and then a second one just last month.  What kind of items were you selling at each of them?  What was the hardest item for you to part with at the time?  

The living room, set up for the 2nd estate sale.

The living room, set up for the 2nd estate sale.

Mama PoP: I’m a bit too Scotch to simply donate everything that the boys didn’t want/need, and I was determined not to haul a lot of stuff to Florida that we didn’t have a specific place for in advance and would simply have to get rid of there. We had furnished the Florida house primarily from the outstanding local thrift stores, so we aren’t attached to much of anything that is there. Thus, the selection process of what to move and what to sell/donate became a careful negotiation of “If we take this item, what are we getting rid of so it has a spot?” For example, we wanted to keep the carved walnut bedroom furniture that was a wedding present to Papa PoP’s grandma in the 1880s. That was fairly easy since the Florida furniture in the master bedroom came with the house. Large pictures presented a bigger problem since we have lots more wall space up north and we have furnished the FL house with art we really like.

The estate sale in September 2016 was really easy for me because it was all of the garage items, tools, and everything in the barn and playhouse. Essentially, it was all of Papa PoP’s things but not mine. We hired a company to do the sale and their commission was 30%. That really sounds like a lot, but they earned every bit of it. They set up the sale, advertised it, and priced everything. Because they have a large following, we had hundreds of people there each day.

The living room after the second estate sale (and the last of the packing by Mama and Papa PoP!)

The living room after the second estate sale (and the last of the packing by Mama and Papa PoP!)

The sale in May 2017 was much harder for me since it involved all of the inside items and everything from the attics (read family stuff we saved for many years). Our youngest son had spent countless hours and days over the summer of 2016 dragging everything out of the attics and helping me sort and pack things for the sale and pack things to take to FL. Getting ready for this sale was emotionally difficult because so many things had family history. Also, I could have kept anything I wanted and postponed the decision-making until it arrived in FL. We were living in the house and the sale created absolute chaos since most of the house was open to the public and we had to move whatever we wanted to keep into just a couple of bedrooms. We were active during both sales, helping to identify, organize, and sell things.

Z attempting to help pack as well.

Z attempting to help pack as well.

As you might imagine, some “treasures” (both emotional and financial) emerged from the attics, barn, and misc. boxes. But, that’s another whole story.

After the second sale, we called a charity and they took two big truck/trailer loads of household items. I got everything into a big room and walked away and didn’t look. Then we called a friend who scraps things and he cleaned out the workroom, garage, and barn, taking everything he could sell for scrap or thought he could give away.

The best surprise happened after the sale when we were trying to figure out what to do with my upright piano. The piano was made in 1904 and given to Mr. Pop’s great-grandmother who was six years old at the time, so it has been a part of the family for a long time and has a lot of sentimental attachment for us. It’s been played by each generation and we were thrilled when Mrs. PoP said that she would like to have it!

 

Mrs: Yes, I’m glad the piano ended up working out coming down here – I just need to learn how to play it!  Do you find that you’ve missed any of the items you’ve sold or given away?  What about that item that was hardest for you to part with at the time of the sale?  

Mama PoP:  As I write this, Mr. PoP and one of his brothers are driving a 20-foot U-Haul truck some 1,000+ miles to FL. So, all of our “stuff” will arrive on Father’s Day (Mrs PoP – It did arrive on Sunday!), one year from when all this began. I haven’t really missed any of the items that were sold or given away, but maybe it’s a bit soon. We have so much stuff that we love and I love loving less stuff and more people.

 

Mrs: Considering this has been more than a year in the making, do you have any advice for anyone looking to downsize? 

Mama:

  • Downsize when you are sure you are physically and emotionally able or just walk away from the mess and hire someone.
  • Possessions tend to fill available space. We had a lot of space and it was filled! Guard against the inertia that sets in when you can simply stuff the stuff in another attic or the barn.
  • Hire a good company to help with an estate sale if you have a lot to sell. We made many thousands on the sales and would never have had big crowds if we had done it alone. Not to mention the big prices we got for some items that were identified by the sale guys as valuable – they were junk to us.
  • If possible, pack what you want to keep and get it off site before the estate sale begins. Don’t live there while it’s happening!
  • Ask your family for help and be specific about what you need. Some of the boys have absolutely no idea how hard this was on us and would surely have helped if we had asked. We were very lucky to have Mr. Pop’s younger brother helping us through most of the process, but we still hired extra people besides the estate sale company.
  • Go through paper records well in advance because they need to be downsized, too. When I retired, I gave all of my professional materials away (four big filing cabinets full and huge book cases full of textbooks and dissertations) and brought home only the personal pictures from the wall. We also went from two home offices with 10 full file drawers to two small desks and two small file drawers.
  • Don’t even think about scanning a lot of pictures on a flat bed scanner.

 

 

We are so impressed with all the work that Mama and Papa PoP have accomplished this year in downsizing and we wish them all the happiness in the world as full-time Floridians. 

 

Have you ever had to downsize or help a relative do so when they were retiring?

 

 

10 comments to Adventures in Downsizing

  • The feeling I get from this post, and it is a good lesson, is how hard it is to truly downsize. And I don’t mean the emotional part of letting go of items, but the logistical side of simply getting rid of so much stuff. As humans, we’re really good at building things up, but terrible at scaling down. And I guess that’s true on a personal level too. You might not even mean to accumulate much stuff, but over the years, it happens. It’s easier to bring something new home than it is to find a place to “get rid” of it responsibly later. I could see it easily taking a year to empty our house of all of our things without just bringing it all to a dump. You have tenants, so you know the kinds of stuff people will just throw out! Kudos to Mama and Papa POP for doing it the right way.
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  • Mama PoP

    Thanks, Norm. Looking back, I think we simply used the excuse that we were busy with work and life and would deal with things later. Also, there is such a history in our family of “saving things for the children.” The news is that the children mostly don’t want all of that stuff. Having too much storage space is not a good thing. Simplifying our lives means that if a particular item doesn’t make me smile every time I look at it, it goes out!

  • What a saga! And wise advice, too.

    As a fellow Old Lady, I’ve come to think it’s good to downsize early and often. Even after you’ve given away or sold or tossed out a lot of the junk, more of it accrues. It’s like some sort of fungus!

    Here at the Funny Farm, I shoveled out six drawers of filed paperwork (with the guidance of the accountant). That was good…here & there, you could even see the bottom of a drawer. But now, a few years later, they’re jammed full again. You don’t want the kids to have to go through all that stuff and figure out what needs to be kept and what doesn’t. If you don’t need it to prove a point to the IRS, toss it.

    Clothing is another mushroom farm. I love the idea that for each new item you buy, you should donate an old one. A closet should never be chuckablock full.

    Gosh. 5500 square feet. And here I was almost kilt caring for a mere 3300 s.f. 😀
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    • Mama PoP

      Mushroom farm! So apropos :-) I think the “one in, one out” idea should be extended to all purchases, not just clothes. I just haven’t been able to make that automatic, but I’m working on it.

  • Appropriate as my parents are working on downsizing, but they are just at the beginning of the process. I will share this with them!

    We are moving to a new place soon, and I am hoping to work on decluttering there. It’s bigger than where we live, but I know there are items we don’t really need. I’m hoping being able to spread out in our guest room from time to time will help my identify items to part with. Also planning to have a donation box so I can toss stuff in right away — no room for one in our current place. I agree with Mama PoP that it’s wonderful to have some empty shelves in a closet (or even an entirely empty closet!).
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    • Mama PoP

      I read somewhere that you can’t organize clutter, and I believe that’s true. I love to organize, but can easily get overwhelmed when I start a project and life happens and I can’t get back to the mess for a while.

      Papa Pop’s mother downsized when she moved nearer to us and I didn’t realize then what a gift it was to us that she had gotten rid of so much stuff. I just had no clue at the time, but I understood later after clearing out my grandparents house and my parents house. And now I get that it wasn’t a walk in the park, either, for someone who is older and can’t lift the boxes. Good luck to your parents on their downsizing.

      • Agreed on not being able to organize. For us, a lot of the clutter is sitting in boxes in our basement storage room. Being able to open up and go through those boxes with the knowledge that I haven’t touched that stuff for four years will be helpful.

        Downsizing is such a gift! My husband’s grandma didn’t do so, and it’s been hard to see his parents, aunts, and uncles make difficult decisions. She’s still alive but in assisted care, so that makes the decisions even harder. We also help my in-laws declutter a few boxes sometimes when we visit to slowly start the process.
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  • jestjack

    Thank you for this timely blog. I would say the most important thing is to start early in the de-cluttering process as it takes a lot of time. My Dear Father passed and we had to move things from a summer place to the principle residence almost 18 months ago and a lot of things have still not been sorted out. It is physically and emotionally taxing for my Dear Mother….and will let no one help expedite the process. Hat’s off to the folks for making the “brave decision” to downsize while they are still able-bodied….

  • Mama PoP

    I understand why your mother would want to look at things herself. I tend to need/want to see items just one more time before I let go. Perhaps she fears that if she lets someone help she will be rushed through the process?

    When one of our sons visits us, he always asks how he can help. He doesn’t wait for us to ask for his help, and it is such a relief! He also finds work to do that we would never ask him to do. Maybe your Mother feels the need to look at things but could use some help moving boxes?

    I enjoyed working with our youngest son and sharing memories with him as we closed up that chapter of our lives. I could not have done the work without his muscles, too!