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The Big Move

The Downsizing Marathon

Packing up the family heirlooms lets everyone involved relive great memories.

The review-sort-pack process helped ease some of the grieving as we laughed, tried things on, and found "ancient" treasures, some of which my niece had never seen. The artifacts helped us relive family stories, such as:

  • Mom's wedding dress that my grandmother made but hadn't quite finished on wedding day—instead of putting in a zipper, she'd sewed it on my mom! I'm afraid this set a precedent for many not-quite-ready episodes for our family.
  • Dad's wedding shoes, shiny and barely worn since that day in 1950, still fit perfectly. A spontaneous reenactment of the wedding took place as we packed, of course.
  • Dad's infant sweater and cap, hand-knit by his mother, did not still fit perfectly, although we tried of course.
  • A porcelain doll my mom remembered making, adorning with painstakingly handmade clothes and booties, still had its perfectly hand-painted eyelashes.
  • Scores of hats included a red polka-dot floppy hat worn by my mom in the '60s, a little cap worn by my dad when he was a kid, and a beach hat with a bright orange tie (my mom had worn it so stunningly that I thought she looked like Jackie Kennedy). All of us packers tried on hats, and silly-hat photos were a must—a great way to break the packing tension!
  • The pièce de résistance was my dad's letter sweater from Riley High School, which still fits him, 68 years later. He put the sweater on and, a bit choked up, heartily sang his high-school fight song. I captured it all on video, to create a new family treasure. How many of you can still sing your high-school fight songs?!

There were many surprises. As we sorted through clothes, filling 10 bags with items to give away, I discovered my dad had 20 short-sleeved white shirts. Yes, a score. We pared the number down to about 14, a major triumph. No, he said, he was not contemplating a career in a bakery; he just likes white shirts. "They go with everything." So true.

To determine what furniture would fit into the new apartment, I used large, flip-chart paper pre-marked with a grid. That enabled me to count out the square feet and create a huge floor plan of the apartment. I used the gridded paper to cut out proportioned representations of all my parents' current furniture. We tried all the alternative arrangements and narrowed down which of their treasured antiques and practical favorites could make the move. This helped us decide what had to be packed.

The goal was to give the apartment as much of my parents' current setup as possible. I observed their everyday routines and tried to arrange things so they would feel as few disruptions as possible. For my parents, there would be many unpredictable new things, so minimizing the extent of change was essential:

  • We recreated the setup in the family room and dinette area.
  • The key things in my mom and dad's bedroom would be set up the same way—such as the cedar chest at the end of the bed, where my mom sits to put her shoes on each morning.
  • The phones would be placed in similar spots.
  • A cabinet with a counter-height top would strategically adjoin the table so their calendar and other items they kept on the kitchen counter would be easy to reach.

The layout chart greatly reassured Mom, who thought she'd have to leave more behind than she actually needed to in the end.

It all looked good—on paper anyway.

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