You Cannot Downsize A Heart

Zenobia Silas-Carson

We use many buzz words in our society. We enjoy them because they ease us into a new way of thinking and make us feel smart and up-to-date when we say them. Some modern words for uncomfortable occasions sound bright and cheerful, but many carry with them a deeper and more dreadful meaning for some.

Take the  word “downsize” that can be traced to the year 1975. The definition originally meant to “make something smaller” and has been used by companies or corporations and almost always means a reduction in the number of employees. That meaning has only been around since about 1980.

Downsizing can mean getting rid of some of our overflow, such as in collections of household goods in order to make room for different furniture or to reduce accumulated clutter. For most, it is a good word. When used in this sense, it is mostly a good thing, leaving the user with a sense of “starting over” or removing items no longer valuable or usable to the owner.

However, when the word downsizing is used in the case of a senior person in transition, and carelessly tossed about by people (relatives, friends, neighbors) who do not understand the trauma of moving out of a home into a nursing facility or a senior community , there needs to be more caution and less flippancy. In other words, “Smile when you say that, partner”. Life changes are never easy and the more compassion used in the application, the better the results.

Working and living in a senior community gives me a firsthand view of the different types of attitudes applied to the use of this word as it affects the person who is being “downsized”.  Many are ready, while others are in battle mode and rightfully so. For many, they view this as the last roundup. I am here to help with the transition

I have seen seniors pushed unceremoniously into our living center, wearing brave smiles, while their (already) downsized belongings are being shoved out of the moving truck, onto the elevator and man-handled by folks who have no connection or care if Aunt Martha’s china cabinet, or a beloved item belonging to a loved one will break into a thousand pieces, or arrive safe and intact, to be enjoyed for a little while longer in the apartment of one who recently had a three bedroom, two bath house with a basement, attic, garage, and all the trimmings.

I know, I sound as if I am a fan of hoarding, or holding on, but many have not come to grips with getting rid of “all those books” or every home made card the grand kids, who are now adults, made seemingly only yesterday.

Parting with beloved items takes more than a new fangled buzz word to take the edge off parting with treasures of a lifetime. Junk to some, but treasures to others. We must all respect that part, if nothing else.

In our new world, young people do not hold much with sentimental values, and on that note, I agree with them. When I visit my adult grandchildren, I can barely get a frosty glass of anything to my lips before a magical coaster arrives in time for me to set it down. Trash cans slide out of the lower cupboards, and snap noiselessly back into place.

I get it. I look around and notice no curtains, no doilies (who ever needed doilies?)  no little ceramic doo-dads wearing frilly dresses and no collection of potholders and/or aprons. That time has passed. For some, those times are packed away, only to be displayed again in their new apartments, because moving is a huge step. Losing friends, either through natural passing away, or simply geographical separation is difficult, so before we suggest downsizing, we must make folks fully aware that we understand and allow them to be in charge of what stays and what goes.

Many are happy to be free of so much “stuff” while others will resist. Gentle suggestions go much further than categorizing everything as junk. Urge the person to tell you a story about the item or items they do not want to part with. Where did it come from?  Sometimes letting go requires that the attachment to a thing be brought out and then letting go after at least one person hears it origin. There are some things that will be kept always and the person has the right to do so. I have books signed by the authors. They will remain as long as I remain. There are other books that get packed away and donated to the library. Others need to read and enjoy them.

When I lead groups here and the subject of hoarding comes up, I can tell by the flicker of eyes and uncomfortable squirming, that some of what I am teaching truly applies. I always use myself as an example and let my audience know that I have trouble “letting go”. We are baby boomers, born and raised in a time where you used everything up rather than tossing it, and you ate everything on your plate, and your heart was tied to sentimental music and little treasures.

The newer generation does not hold much with sentiment, so do not expect them to. Once a thing slips through the door of willing to let go, replace it with a useful new item. My son is still fighting me for the landline. “You do not need it Mother” he says, “You never use it” and  you know what? He is right! Phone calls gang up on that thing like a stack of crackers. I will have to let it go, and use my cell phone number alone. I will take a deep breath and with it, my memories of party lines, long phone cords, phone booths with glass windows, a phone book, a little seat and a fan, rotary dials, and all will become the distant memories they should be. I can always talk about them, but my entire life is now in the palm of my hand, along with the Internet and several ways to do everything.

In fact, I am taking that deep breath tomorrow, calling the cable company and eliminating my dinosaur land line. As in the Titanic song, my heart will go on, and I will live. The size of my heart will stay the same. That’s what downsizing should be all about.




  1. Right on! I’m getting ready to down-size and get rid of some things I have been holding on to for no reason except my memories, so I’ll let go! Thanks for reminding me.

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