Friday, March 27, 2015

Senior Success: Living Larger While Trending Tiny

What if life got bigger, instead of smaller, as we age? 

As we downsize our homes, possessions and expenses, can we grow socially, creatively, mentally and physically?

Aunt Tae, Wii bowling champ at age 98
Photo by Letty DiLeo
I’ve been seeing signs all over that we can. I just joined a new gym, and it has a Silver Sneakers program. Many Medicare plans include membership to this fitness program, housed in 13,000 locations all over the country. I’m not old enough to join, but when I peek in the packed studio I see not only active people, but people forging bonds and sharing laughs. One member, age 70, told me she had no time to take classes before she retired, but now attends up to six a week. She values the friendships she has made as much as the benefits of exercise.

Daniel J. Langton’s new book, 
much of it written in his 80s
A recent New York Times article, “Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind” by Abby Ellin, cites many examples of seniors who now excel at skills they developed later in life. The article quotes Karl A. Pillemer, a professor of gerontology at Cornell University: “We absolutely have to revamp this idea of a linear pattern of accomplishment that ends when you’re 50 or 60. There are simply too many examples of people who bloom late, and it’s the most extraordinary time of their life.” The examples range from the famous (Grandma Moses) to the lesser know (Jan Hively, a retired educator in Yarmouth, MA, who is quoted in the article: “I’m doing my most meaningful work at 83.”)  

Within my own family I find dear relatives over 80, some continuing to do well, or even better, what they have done for decades. Others are taking on whole new roles. My cousin Daniel J. Langton, the poet, has penned some of his richest work in his 80s. My Aunt Tae, now 100, became Wii bowling champ in her assisted living home at age 98. 

And it turns out science is on the side of seniors. The Times article points out two different types of intelligence: crystallized (general knowledge) and fluid (problem solving) intelligence. Fluid intelligence and the ability to solve problems usually peaks in our late 20s. But crystallized knowledge increases as we age. Yay! All that general knowledge is bound to find a creative outlet, especially once retirement gives you the time to think about it.

Studies also are showing you can improve fluid intelligence, the intelligence that shrinks with age, with non-academic pursuits, according to an article in Psychology Today. The author, Christopher Bergland, lists physical activity, playing a musical instrument, making art, improving motor skills, meditation, daydreaming, and getting a good night’s sleep. Sounds like a great checklist for tiny retirement to me.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seven Steps to Smaller Joys

The vintage North Carolina 
pottery glows against 
the wood grain.
Photos by Letty DiLeo
The bigger your house, the harder it is to trend tiny. The more stuff you have, the more difficult to downsize. This seems pretty obvious, but until you make the move, you have no idea.

And our move from our house of 2,200 square feet to one of 1,700, while not dramatic, still called for more purging than we realized. Our old house, almost 100 years old, had nooks and crannies to store all kinds of stuff accumulated over 23 years. The new house, five years old, is more sparse: spacious rooms, but far less storage. Here are the steps we took to get ready.

1. We started by making lists of major items that were coming with us, being sold, or being donated. Since we were using a moving company, we didn’t want to move even one item that would not fit in the new house. 

2. We used a floor plan and scale model rectangles of our furniture to plan out each room. 

3. In addition to lists for keeping and donating, we also had sub-lists of the best place for sale times to go. 

Even the teardrop camper has its own home in the garage, 
ready for some tiny retirement camping.
4. We decided against a yard sale as too much effort for too little return. Instead we chose two consignment stores and an auction house, and listed a few big items, like a piano and treadmill, on Craigslist. 

5. The first store offered free pickup, but was very selective in what it accepted. We got them to take as many of our nicer, bigger pieces as possible.

6.The second consignment shop was less selective, but you had to get the stuff to them. We brought in smaller, nice items that were easy to transport and likely to sell.

7. The auction house took just about anything, and offered pickup, but a small cash return since stuff sold so cheaply at auction. We offered them some bigger items and also donated many things to our favorite charity thrift shop.

It was a bit frantic at times, but finally all that remained was what we were bringing with us. I’ll skip over moving day. We liked our local movers and we were going only 15 minutes away, so it went pretty smoothly.

My pottery collection in a thrifted corner 
cabinet adds warmth, memories, and joy.
The overwhelming part was waking up to a sea of boxes. We had packed ourselves efficiently, but in the rush did not do a great job of labeling. It seemed to take forever to clear a room of boxes and find places to put three generations of stuff. I had pared down my keepsakes, but not enough. But nothing big had to go: our little rectangles had done their job. Our desks even fit into our tiny new office, a fifth the size of our old one, by mere inches.

But I had to get tougher on my boxes of tchotchkes, knickknacks and antiques that date back to my great -grandmother. I’ve now boxed up stuff I have no place for but am not quite ready to sell or give away. I also boxed things I know I want to keep but don’t have a spot for right now. I donated a bunch more things. And I chose the items I did want to display: my North Carolina pottery from my cousins, aunt, mother and grandfather. We had sold our large china cabinet, knowing it would not fit. But I went in search for a small corner cabinet and found one at the second thrift store I tried for $40. Three generations of rustic pottery now adds a homey charm to a new house that’s short on nooks and crannies.

We learned that trending smaller involves carefully curating your belongings, finding creative ways to dispose of stuff you don’t need or want, and taking time to display and enjoy things that give you joy.