Over Father’s Day weekend, when my dad and I were alone for a few minutes, he brought up a subject that had obviously been weighing on his mind. He said he realized he and mom live 2 ½ hours away from my brother, sister and I, and if anything were to happen to either of them, it wouldn’t be easy for us to be there to help. He would like to downsize, and move closer to us.
Dad will turn 78 this August, and he’s a very healthy, active person that looks at least 10 years younger. But the reality of the situation is he has cardio pulmonary obstructive disease, caused by a near-death experience with pneumonia when he was a baby and the ‘bad lungs’ he and his siblings inherited from his father, who also struggled with it. My grandfather died when he was 87, and my father has taken much better care of himself; but the disease has reduced his ability to breathe freely, saps his energy, and causes more frequent sick days. As a result, birthdays are causing him to think more and more about his mortality.
As we talked, he said he didn’t want to wait until problems with his health forced them to move. Due to her vision, my mother doesn’t drive more than a few miles from home, and that will become more of an issue as Dad’s health deteriorates. He wants to move to the Cincinnati area so he can be closer to his grandkids and great grandsons. He wants to be able to attend soccer games, birthday parties and just be more a part of their day-to-day lives. The problem is their stuff.
My parents are very frugal savers. Mom still has clothing she wore in college, and my dad still wears a tux he bought to sing in a concert the year I was born. They were born in the 1930’s, shaped by the Great Depression, and spent their childhood ‘making do’ with whatever they had. Mom was particularly shaped by her experiences. She holds onto everything they acquire because “one of you kids might need it someday.” This need to save things has gotten so bad she recently pulled glassware and furniture out of a bulldozed, burned down house and salvaged them. I cannot make this up.
In order to move, they will have to let go of things. Dad knows how difficult it will be, and how long it will take them to do it. He said if they start now, they might be ready in 2-3 years. Then he said something else I think is closer to the truth. “When you’re accumulating stuff, it allows you to focus on the future because you have all these things you might eventually use. When you downsize, it forces you to acknowledge the reality that you are going to die someday, and you don’t need it all.”
Maybe if we ask ourselves if we really need something before we accumulate it, we’ll have less to weigh us down when we get older, and the transition will be a little less painful.
Jeannette A. Jones, CPA, CFP®