Editing a Life

The New Old Age blog in The New York Times takes yet another look at the downsizing process in later life. Clearly, the quantity and frequency of media attention related to this aspect of aging surprises even those of us within NASMM, the recognized professionals assisting families with senior downsizing and move management. Written in the first person, the NOA blog post is an intensely personal and intimate peek into the author’s own challenges with downsizing her mom. She accurately (and touchingly) calls it “editing a life.”

Have you thought about how this same process will play out in your life, perhaps as the adult child of an aging parent or as the older adult yourself? What stays, and what goes? In the comments area below the blog post, a reader from California offers how the things you least expect are often considered the most valuable:

Things can be ungainly, useless, tacky, and without monetary value, and still be the ones that best evoke memories of a person, or of another time. Had I been allowed to choose, I would have chosen the music box my grandmother played to get me to hold still while she combed my hair. For my grandfather, I have a few of the block of wood he kept on his desk. I can’t know what mementos my children or grandchildren would choose, but I hope to give them a chance to choose for themselves.

In considering my own cache of possessions, I’ve been pretty traditional – and have always put a high priority on family photos. (Video – not so much, as my husband and I were married in 1978, just a few years before the obligatory wedding videotaping, and our kids came of age when video cameras were huge, unwieldy machines. As a result, my husband and I chose to actually enjoy the experiences (ballet/tap recitals, Irish dancing competitions, school plays, AYSO soccer games, Babe Ruth baseball, and graduations, etc.) in real-time rather than awkwardly trying to preserve snippets for future generations.  (OK, I’m probably using the word “enjoy” rather loosely here, but you know what I mean.) Am I a bit sad we don’t have our four kids on tape more than the 5 minutes we spent taping them that first Christmas morning? No, not really.

With game-changing innovations in digital photography in the last generation, however, I confess to new pangs of envy because young parents can now capture (and crop, saturate, straighten and warmify, etc.) every moment of their children’s lives in still photography. I love all the hope and possibilities inherent in “old school” still photography (albeit with “new school” digital technology), as opposed to the raw, sloppy realism of video.  I also prefer reading fiction to non-fiction . . . hmm, do we see a pattern here?

Beyond the stack of Rubbermaid totes containing years of photos, not much else I own is truly valuable – objectively and otherwise.  I guess I like to travel lightly – photos and memories, and lots of both.

What about you? What do you want to enjoy until the end of days . . . and then leave behind for others to know you were here? Please share . . .

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