Archive for Moving

Practicing Downsizing

hotel-life-1526432Richard and Penny, our real estate agents, advise us to move out of our house for six whole days. This enforced exile sounds painful, but not as harsh as living in a house while it’s being toured by strangers. During the time we’re away, they’ll organize a blitz, an all-out effort to collect bids from buyers. On our return, if all goes as planned, we will review the bids and choose a winner. The prospect of promptly winding up the sale is promising. The Toronto housing market is ideal for sellers. Prices are high and the house is in perfect order, ready to attract potential owners with its pretty face.

Richard and Penny are an impressive team. Richard is a handsome guy, built like a football player. As it turns out, in his younger years, he was a dancer, not a jock. He taught dance at a university until, as he says, he found there was more money in selling real estate. Penny, his business partner, a fit, petite distance runner, excels in negotiations. Penny is super attentive to every detail. She takes copious notes. Richard, on the other hand, creates an atmosphere of relaxed sociability.

Our first day out of the house is a marathon of endurance. Already exhausted from months of de-cluttering, storing, cleaning and discarding, we pack our bags and hitch the boat to the car. Why the boat? Its 18-foot aluminum hull makes the garage look small. This is our last staging task. Richard waves us off as we pull out of the driveway, boat in tow. Agents’ cars are already arriving to view this hot property.

We head for Kingston, our future home. As it happens, the only available motel room provides us with an immersion course in downsizing: a crash course in living with the one you love in confined space. Since we’ve chosen to move to a house with half the space we’ve enjoyed for 43 years. I try to convince myself that the motel offers the ideal opportunity to adjust to our new lifestyle. I’m absolutely determined to make this a good experience, no matter what happens. As for my partner, he’s beyond being civil and doesn’t share my plan to make the best of our cramped quarters. He’s exhausted. His artificial hip hurts and the abscess on his ankle is throbbing.

There aresmall two beds in our motel room, each covered with bedspreads the colour of dried mustard powder. A two-foot aisle separates the beds. At the foot of the beds, another two-foot passage separates the beds from the lineup of

dresser, bar fridge, square table and two solid armchairs. The TV sits atop the three drawers of the dresser.

For the first day or two, we keep bumping into one another. Just making my way to the bathroom calls for strategy and planning. Harvey always seems to be standing in the narrow space. It’s one-way traffic coming and going.

The bathroom itself is a problem. In my effort to maintain harmony I surrender any space above the bathroom sink. In this tiny, tiled room, there’s no place for Harvey’s shaving kit, except on the top of the toilet tank. I opt for a shelf conveniently placed under the sink. It’s easier for me to bend down that far. Thanks to yoga, I’ve maintained my flexibility. Adapt, adjust, accommodate as the yogis say. Or – am I giving up too much of my space in order to keep the peace?

Life in a Hundred Boxes

flyby-1536895The moving van is outside the Toronto house, ready to load our possessions for the trip to Kingston. I’ve spent months preparing for this end to my 43 years of living here. Harvey, Frank and I moved into the house when Harvey and I were in our 30’s and Frank was in kindergarten. We were the young folk. Most of our neighbours were older. Over the years, more young couples with children moved in and we watched our older neighbours move out. At last our son and his friends grew up and left home. People our age were downsizing and moving. We were among the very few originals left on our friendly cul de sac. Here’s what I’ve written in my memoir, Aging and Staying in Charge of Your Life.

Yesterday a whole team of packers arrived in a huge moving van. For the rest of the day men in bright blue shirts were all over the house, wrapping and packing the contents of the kitchen, the bedroom and every other room.

“Is this going with you?” they ask, pointing to a cupboard full of Christmas wrapping papers. I dread arriving in Kingston, searching for an item and realizing I’ve left it back in Toronto.

Somebody else is calling me from upstairs. “What about the mirror in the powder room?” a male voice calls out.

“Sure, take it, but leave that little table by the toilet.”

I’m totally concentrated. Really here and now. Mindfulness is imposed on me. Be mindful or go mad with competing demands. Harvey wants me to check in with him about letting go the big wing chair in the recreation room. The stager moved it there from our bedroom. I’ve always liked its shape, but it needs upholstering and it never was a well-made piece of furniture: just good looking.

“We’ll have it taken away by those guys who remove junk.” I say. Harvey agrees and I run off to the next decision-making situation.

By the end of the day my feet ache and my whole body feels like one of the super market’s eviscerated chickens. I’ve lost my sinew. Every part of me wants to collapse in a heap. Harvey and I drop into our king-sized bed for a snooze before going out to dinner at a local restaurant.

Our kitchen is stripped of its usual plates, cutlery and glasses. All we have left is what was in the dishwasher at the time of the invasion: that and what I secreted away in the refrigerator. We can have breakfast. There’s yoghurt, fresh blueberries, milk, and a box of cereal. I don’t want to use the oven, the stovetop or the microwave. They’ve all been cleaned for the new owners of our house.

Today is like “a day off.” A breathing space before the next chapter. Tomorrow, packers come again. This time, they’ll load the rest of our “white man’s burden.” There are garden tools, lawn mowers, snow blowers, rakes, shovels, weeders, hoes and brooms. They’re all hanging from hooks along our garage wall.

At least we have a bed to sleep in. As of Friday, this will no longer be so. On the advice of the moving company, we are packing two suitcases for the movers to take. These suitcases will be put last in the van and delivered to us first. In the meantime, we will stay in the motel we’ve come to know during our visits to find a house in Kingston.

Next Friday I’ll tell you about the week we spent hiding out in a motel while our real estate agents sold our house.


wooden-office-desk-and-chairs_426-19323288Downsizing is one of the hardest parts of moving to a smaller home. Harvey and I were at that stage of our lives where we didn’t have to go to work the next day and where we got to do all the things we’d never had time for. First, we needed to find the right home for this next stage of our lives. I think of aging as a “developmental stage.” Just as children, adolescents, middle aged people and adults, we elders have developmental tasks and adjustments to make if we’re to have a good life. Elders need to live life differently. It’s a mistake to continue as if we’re still in our earlier life stage.

Setting out to buy a house in Kingston, I had two criteria. The new house had to be close to our granddaughter and have room for my large family treasures. House after house within a radius of a mile or so from our younger members was considered with these criteria in mind. Most had rooms that were too small for my antiques.

A corner condominium apartment that looked out over the water filled the bill. It had a stunning view of the old stone shops in the town below. My grandmother’s intricately carved desk would look stunning in the front hall. The china cabinet would fit too. Even the massive breakfront could stand proudly in the separate dining room. Alas, Harvey couldn’t imagine himself living happily without a workshop and a yard to tend.

Here’s a passage from the memoir I’m writing.

At last, we found the house we both liked: the sleek, modern bungalow with its open concept living room, dining room and kitchen … and … no place for antiques.

I really wanted that house! It was coming down to a choice: family heirlooms or this modern, minimalist bungalow. Maybe it was time to pass the family treasures down to the next generations. Once the thought lodged in my brain it began to feel more and more right. Yes, I’d ask family members if they were interested.

Later I wrote:

Now that I’m stripped of heirlooms, it’s like a purge, a shedding of excess baggage. Or maybe it’s like losing twenty pounds. I want to simplify my life. I don’t want to use my limited energy to polish silver entrée dishes and bone-handled antique fish knives and forks. Anything that won’t go in the dishwasher gets passed on to younger women in the family. It’s their turn now. I’m just glad they’re interested. In the new very modern house I’ll be saving my energy for long walks with Sammy the Poodle and quiet hours of writing.

The Toronto house is ready to be put on the market. Half our furniture is in storage as I write this. The house looks very spacious. I’m developing a taste for the uncluttered life. Harvey, too, appreciates our new spaciousness. Just last night, he commented that he has far too much “stuff.” I’m coming to the same conclusion. Could I live in an uncluttered Zen zone? My thoughts turn to Kingston. That house has wide-open space: and yet, the whole of its open-concept living/dining/kitchen area is smaller than Harvey’s Toronto study.

Do you have a story to tell about downsizing? Please add your comments below.

Staging: Making Your House Look Like a Palace


 As I write this blog post, I’m sitting on a bench in the shaded garden called   El Jardin in the centre of picturesque San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. After all that moving, I really need a holiday. This is the perfect place to recover from months and months of selling a house, decluttering, downsizing, buying a smaller house and then – moving for a final time to my own apartment.

What follows describes making our house irresistible to prospective buyers. There’s some good advice to be found as I struggle to make our home look even bigger, more spacious and light-filled.

Here’s a piece of advice. If you should find yourself involved in downsizing and moving, be sure to plan a nice vacation at the end of this period of inevitable chaos, turmoil and darned hard work.

Here, from my new memoir is a taste of what happens when you put your house on the market:

Today’s the day we started preparing to sell the house. First thing in the morning, Ann turns up. Ann is a large-boned, sensible, blonde. She has her own company dedicated to de-cluttering and downsizing. Since we’ve never felt the urge to clear away the clutter in our ample closets and large cupboards, Ann’s help is vital to the sale of the house.

I give Ann the tour. She follows, wordless, keeping her shock to herself as we open cupboard after cupboard stuffed full with balls of bedding and towels. We move to the bathroom. It’s worse.

Ann turns to face me. ‘Everything falls into one of three categories.’ She raises three fingers. ‘Things we’ll keep for showing the house,’ (she lowers one finger) ‘things you want to keep but will store during the showing,’ (another finger goes down) ‘and things you wish to donate.’ (third finger goes down).

I’m pondering the meaning of ‘donating’ when I hear the sound of sails whipping in the wind. I turn to find Ann magically reducing a fitted sheet to a small, neat pile. That’s my signal we’ve started organizing the linen closet. Ann pulls out all my rolled-up balls of bedding, drops them to the floor and replaces them with neatly folded sheets.

‘I’ve never known what to do with a fitted sheet,’ I say.

‘My mother taught me long ago,’ says Ann.

‘My mother taught me to send my sheets out to the laundry,’ I look to see if she’s amused. She isn’t. I feel the need to add, ‘I came of age before the advent of fitted sheets. Our sheets needed ironing.

She and I look over piles of bedding. ‘Which of these do you want to keep?’ she asks. I’m looking at sheets I didn’t know I owned. They’ve been at the back of the closet, probably for decades. We end up with neat shelves of folded sheets, duvet covers and pillowslips. And sure enough, there’s space between them. The closet looks huge.

By now Ann, still smiling, has moved on to towels. She pulls them off their messy shelves. ‘We’ll have to decide which set we keep out for staging,’ she says. Suddenly my towels look decidedly shabby. She manages to find two presentable sets of hand towels and four bath towels. By the time she finishes this cupboard, too, looks twice its natural size.

‘We never fill shelves,’ Ann explains. ‘We want it to look as if there’s plenty of space. Anything that makes the cupboards and closets look full goes into storage. Mike the Mover will be here tomorrow. He’ll take away everything we don’t want when we show the house. The idea is to create a look of space. Space filled with light. We’ll be moving out quite a lot of furniture.’ Ann pats the folded linens for a final time.

‘Let’s do the kitchen now,’ she says. Together we enter my kitchen with its white countertops and sunflower yellow trim. ‘Oh, oh, we have a lot of de-cluttering to do here.’

‘Pretty messy, eh?’

‘It’s the same principle. We need to create space. There can be nothing on the counter tops. We need to get rid of the dish rack and drainer. The mixer has to go.’ She begins hiding all the machines: the can opener, the coffee grinder, the toaster and the blender: all go underneath and out of sight. ‘It’s the same with kitchen cupboards. They must not look filled to capacity.’

This is the fourth installment of “Aging and Staying in Control of Your Life.” I hope you’ll return next Friday to catch the next step of selling, buying and moving to another city.



Our huge library of books dates back to 1961, the year Harvey and I brought together our books for better or for worse. Since then, in addition to my grandfather’s library of leather bound classics I’ve inherited massive family antiques. The walnut breakfront stands eight feet high with deep, wide drawers at its base. In my childhood, the top displayed The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott behind its glass doors. Today these shelves show off my grandmother’s china. Her ornamental platters are safe behind the stalwart giant’s glass doors. The breakfront’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. In my early days, it stood outside my bedroom door in our upstairs hall. With the breakfront standing guard like a faithful sentinel, I felt safe throughout the night.

Then there’s my grandmother’s ornate cabinet. Delicate gold rimmed, paper-thin china coffee cups and saucers, a creamer and a sugar bowl are on display behind its delicate glass doors. As everything else I’ve inherited from family, it comes with a story.

Before their 1891 wedding in Amherstburg, a small Canadian town near Detroit, my grandmother, Josephine Brown, was given a wedding present of tiny china coffee cups. Her husband-to-be, John Henning surprised her with the cabinet to hold the cups. Today, sitting in the brocade-covered chair where she held me on her lap, I look at her cabinet and feel close to her. She truly loved me and I loved her.

Weekends meant trips to Kingston in search of the perfect house. Alas, it was a sleek little modern bungalow that finally felt just right to both of us. It was within walking distance of our offspring. Alas, there was no room for Victorian antiques. Gradually, gradually, I began to imagine myself without all those family treasures. My energy is limited. I think of it as money in the bank. If I spend it polishing silver and hand washing Grandmother’s gold-rimmed china, I won’t have that energy for yoga, working out, walking Sammy and writing.

Enter the relatives.

And so, my nephews with their wives and daughters arrived one Friday afternoon to view the pieces they too had grown up with. It was exciting for them to see the artwork they associated with their grandparents and great grandparents. By the time they finished deciding what they could make room for in their lives, every family heirloom found a new home. There’s almost nothing left from my original home.

And how does that feel? Strangely, it’s like a purge, a shedding of excess baggage. Or maybe it’s like losing twenty pounds. I want to simplify my life. Anything that won’t go in the dishwasher gets passed to younger women in the family. It’s their turn now. I’m just glad they’re interested. Most of today’s young people wouldn’t be interested in their grandmother’s sterling silver place settings that require polishing. Nor would they find desirable the huge collection of Bridal Wreath china that must be washed by hand. In the spirit of my new, very modern house I’ll be saving my energy for my new way of life.