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Posts Tagged ‘downsizing’

This past week has been the most emotionally and physically exhausting time of our lives. We’ve sold our house and moved into the home of a very dear friend. We are thankful for his generosity, but are grieving, nonetheless. A part of us is gone. For the first time in our lives, we have no home to call our own.

People quickly find metaphors for times like this. They say that selling our home to correct our financial situation is like an amputation – painful, but necessary to our survival. Someone has said that we exchanged an “ace, two, four, six and seven” for a “two queens, two jacks, and a ten.” Play the hand correctly and maybe we’ll last the entire game.

We’ve imagined the sinking ship, the jump to a lifeboat. Even more so, I found myself comparing our situation to the evacuation of civilians in a war-torn country. Like them, we ran out of time to think. We threw out what we could not carry: items too bulky to transport, some of sentimental value, some, to our frugal minds, still salvageable. We balanced the replaceable value of an item against the cost of storing it; the sentimental value of one keepsake versus another, knowing one would be thrown out. There were sad goodbyes and outbursts of grief that surprised even us. In between, we held on to the sensible logic of the move. “This house is too large for us now. The new owners will be so happy here.” All of it true.

There can never be enough hours to move what amounts to a lifetime of possessions and memories. We filled a twenty cubic foot garbage bin in our driveway, two sixteen foot storage units, and still had to drive five carloads of goods to our friend’s home, forty-five minutes away. We arrived at three a.m.. While others were asleep, we tiptoed inside (limped might be more accurate), dug for nightclothes in hastily packed suitcases, and tried to sleep. My husband’s exhaustion won over and he was snoring within minutes. I lay awake, unable to stop the thoughts looping through my head: the way things used to be and how it came to this, and even more, would we get through it? I closed my eyes and replayed our visit to the lawyer earlier in the week: the look of compassion on his face when he heard about our situation; his quick glances at my husband between each clause of the contract, as he probably imagined himself in our shoes. I heard the words that seemed so out of place as we signed our house away. He said “Life is a journey.” I remembered the way he shook my hand and held it just a little longer than necessary. “Good luck,” he said. I avoided his eyes, because if I looked into them and saw sadness or pity, I would have crumbled.

So here I am, four days after our move, lucky enough to be welcomed into our friend’s big, comfortable home, but still “bleeding on the page,” as someone once said, and likely embarrassing myself. But it is honest and it is real and it is all I know how to be. Faking cheeriness right now isn’t possible.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog since its start might say that this is our roadblock, the biggest one we have ever faced, and that the detour ahead leads to a much better place.

I hope you are right. We are more than ready for a fresh start.

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Today was our thirty-ninth anniversary. It marked more than our thirty-nine years together though. It defined our point of transition, because today the young couple who are buying our home visited us, and our upcoming move became real.

For two months now, we’ve had to keep their identity a secret from our neighbours. The reason? The wife, who I’ll call “T,” grew up on this very street. She went to school with our sons. Her parents still live down the street. And more than anything, she and her husband “P” wanted to surprise our wonderful neighbours with the news that they will be moving into our home. Today was the day.

Could it feel more right? For twenty-four years, we have lived and loved in this home. It isn’t perfect, but it’s part of us, and one of the hardest things about moving was the idea that the new buyers might neglect it, or divide it into apartments as a business venture. Then we learned exactly who the new owners would be, and it was kismet. Bittersweet, but sweet nonetheless. This house will be loved.

While we women chatted, my husband walked the property with the young man who would soon be its owner. He already has plans for what he will do: a treehouse here, extension there, gazebo where the old poolhouse stands. My husband said the conversation reminded him of his own dreams when we bought all those years ago.

There was sadness, which we tried our best to hide. But there was also acceptance and happiness for this young couple. This home needs the spirit that their family will bring. As for us, it really is the right time for us to leave and begin a new chapter in our lives.

Tonight we celebrated our anniversary at a local Italian restaurant. We talked of what the future might bring, of the kind of life we want to live. Right now, it is surreal and a little frightening. We can’t help but compare it to abandoning a sinking ship. For three years, we plugged leaks and bailed out water, but it wasn’t enough. Now we have a lifeboat that’s seaworthy, at least for a while. We just have to find the shore.

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For several years now, I’ve had the pleasure of managing a wonderful online writing group called The Writing Bridge. Every month, we post a poetry challenge. Compared to many on the site, my poetry skills are mediocre at best, but we were low on entries, so I decided to write something on the one topic that occupies my mind right now: my hopes for our future. As it turns out, composing the poem couldn’t have been more timely. That future begins today.

“A Verandah View.”

A verandah wraps around
the tiny place we’ll someday call home.
From it, we’ll watch the seasons pass.
Beside its rail, tulips and golden forsythia
will herald spring.
Fat peonies will hang low,
colonies of ants opening the petals wide.
And daisies. There will be daisies.

On warm mornings, we’ll drink coffee
on a verandah swing.
We’ll count chickadees,
and shoo away greedy blue jays
monopolizing the feeder.
We’ll pass the local newspaper between us
and plan our day.
Weight of worry lifted, we’ll be light as air,
free to write, to paint, to imagine.

On afternoons, we’ll walk by store windows
displaying local wares: crafts and art and homemade soap;
vegetables and fruit from the farmers’ fields.
The smell of fresh bread will lure us
to the village bakery; caving to temptation,
we’ll choose cinnamon buns or rhubarb pie
cooling in the window.

We’ll linger there with others,
laugh and philosophize
over the decadence of our favourite pastries;
the best places to travel; the latest production of
the local theatre group.

The importance of
“LIVING IN THE MOMENT.”

And in the evening, when dinner and dishes are done,
and we grow tired,
we’ll return to our verandah and
the gentle rhythm of the swing.
Chickadees gone, we’ll count shooting stars instead,
relax to the songbirds’ lullaby and
think the same thought each night:
“Aging is inevitable. To grow wiser,
we needed a verandah view.”

Spring has made a huge impact on the real estate market where we live. Suddenly this weekend, potential buyers descended upon us in record numbers. Yesterday, an offer came in. After three hours of negotiations, the deal was complete. While conditional on the sale of their home, it still carried an emotional impact. Suddenly, all of this is very real.

After months of trying to sell our home, actually signing the acceptance was surreal. The respective agents shook my hand in congratulations, but I felt no sense of happiness. We met the young couple who would soon call our home of twenty-four years theirs, and were surprised to learn we already knew them (sworn to secrecy on this for a while but more will be revealed later). I couldn’t help but be happy for them and their obvious excitement.

They left, and then it hit me. I bawled my eyes out.

Change is always a challenge, but it’s particularly difficult when it’s under duress – not so much a real choice, but something crucial to your future. In our case, there isn’t a whole lot of time left to improve our financial footing for our retirement years.

What’s amazing, though, is that once you step out of your comfort zone, the choices available to you seem endless. Where do you go? Do you rent or buy? Buy something temporary, with an eye to a retirement move, or buy something you will want to live in forever? What about house-sitting? A small piece of land up north with a plan to build later on? A fixer-upper?

Having our roots ripped from the ground is a huge adjustment, but maybe, just maybe, it will allow us to feel more adventurous, less encumbered. Free of preconcieved notions about our future, we may end up re-inventing ourselves in the process. And if we’re lucky, maybe someday there will be the perfect little home with a verandah view.

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I’ve never really been a morning person. Sure, I can fake it when I have to, jumping out of bed at the first sound of the alarm, and moving through my “to-do” checklist like a “Stepford Wife” model of efficiency. But I’m moving just to stay awake. Sit me down for two minutes and I’m apt to nod off again. If it’s up to me, it’s late to bed, later to rise – usually a very civilized nine-thirty.

For the past ten days, I’ve had no choice in the matter. My husband has started a new job, and since he’s still on crutches, he needs my help in the morning. Otherwise, he’ll end up “ass over teakettle,” as his dear mum used to say. And because this will be his schedule indefinitely, I’m forcing myself to stick to it too. It gives me more time to think.

Now that spring is here, our home is on the market again, and I spend my days either compulsively cleaning the house to impress prospective buyers, or searching online for our next place to live. I feel like an anxious little mother robin, trying to figure out where to build her next nest.

We’ll be downsizing, and the verdict is out on whether we’ll move further into the country, where homes are less expensive, or closer to urban centres, where there are more job opportunities. Weighing the pros and cons of each is exhausting, and it’s tinged with a sense of loss. This move is based on practicality, not simple wanderlust, and so far nothing I’ve seen online makes the decision any easier.

It was beautiful outside this morning, and a moment of lucidity hit me when I carried my husband’s coffee to his car and reminded him to drive safely. The reality is that each day that passes is one less in this much-loved country home, and I’m not taking the time to appreciate it. So I walked inside, poured myself a coffee, grabbed the novel “Precious,” and joined my dog, Cadeau, and cat, Cleo, on our backyard deck. I’m glad I did.

By now, everyone knows the story of Precious, based on the attention generated by the screenplay. It is a story about survival against all odds, and the power of self-esteem. The heroine picks herself up from the worst of circumstances and begins to build a new life for herself. The last few pages of the book are pieces written by the girl and by her classmates, other young women struggling to get on track. I read those last pages this morning, and it set the perfect tone for my day.

I closed the book and looked around me, trying to remember the last time I gave myself permission to do this, just sit outside on an early spring day rather than plant myself in front of the computer or rush to finish chores. Why have I wasted these so many mornings when I could have been here, feeling the sun and listening to the birds on my backyard deck?

On our first day in this home, I remember waking to their singing. It was a striking change from the city, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to sleep through their early morning cacophony. Over the years, I’ve come to take their concert for granted, but today, I heard them again as if for the first time. I tried to identify the source of the diverse dialects. A blackbird atop the birch? The small yellow songbirds high in the willows? The killdeer on the slope at the back? The robins near the front of the house, gathering materials for their nest? There were so many more whose names I never bothered to learn.

I felt a wave of regret, but shook it off. Like the heroine Precious, we all move through different chapters in our lives. Sometimes, we’re pulled there, kicking all the way. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is never easy, but it comes down to this: we can choose to remain mired in the past and mourn its loss, or we can rejoice in all the blessings we still have and look to the future. No matter how uncertain life can be, there will always be sunny April mornings, and the birds will still be singing their morning song.

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weddingRight from the start, my husband and I realized we shared a similar philosophy towards money: it couldn’t buy happiness, but it was definitely meant to be enjoyed. Now, that doesn’t sound too unusual, until you consider the fact that together, we put a higher value on enjoying our money than we did on saving it. Until recently, I didn’t really consider the reasons for that shared view. To be honest, I was too busy just trying to make everything “work.” But in going through a situation like the one we’re in, you inevitably come to a point where you can no longer blame only circumstances. You begin to blame yourself. Self-recrimination is all part of the “mourning” process, but it can only go on so long, and once it was over, I had a lingering need to understand “why” we’d made some of our choices over the years. After all, we weren’t stupid. We weren’t extravagant. And to be honest, we weren’t terribly materialistic. So how did we get to this point in our lives, when we’re nearing sixty?

My perspective was clearer when I considered my husband’s beginnings.
His family had emigrated to Canada in 1957, in search of a better life than the one they’d left behind in East End London. Nothing came as easily as they’d anticipated, and my husband, just seven on his arrival here, learned quickly that it wasn’t fun to be one of the “have nots.” As soon as they were old enough, he and his siblings had to take on part-time jobs to help support the family, and much to the frustration of his parents, he usually spent his paper route money (on candy or cookies) the minute it was earned, sometimes even before he got home!

Those free-spending ways stayed with him through adulthood, the only difference being that with a wife and sons, there were three more people in his life to spoil.

Understanding my own situation took some serious soul-searching. I was the oldest of seven children, and my parents had to be frugal to feed and clothe so many. We were taught that wanting more was being greedy, and sometimes I found myself resenting the restrictions they lived by. Later, their financial situation improved, but to me, they didn’t reap the benefits of that as much as they could have. They didn’t ever seem to have “fun,” and it frustrated me because I could think of hundreds of things they could afford to do that would bring them pleasure: travel, dinners out, and entertainment, to name a few. I knew I wanted my life to be different. If I was going to work hard, I was also going to play hard. In many ways, the freedom to spend my own money as I wanted, to savour my share of the pleasurable experiences in this world, was a subconscious form of rebellion. And eventually, it led me to take too many financial risks.

The bad habits did not happen right away, possibly because credit cards were not yet a reality. The budget for my engagement ring was modest and would be not one penny more than the $225 my husband received when he sold his guitar amplifier. Our wedding, in July of 1971, was nice, but not extravagant. To save money, we spent the night in our apartment rather than a hotel. Our honeymoon flight was a present from his parents; our spending money, gifts from wedding guests. My going-away outfit, a wool-blend suit bought off-season and discounted by 50%, was a disaster. I sweated buckets and squirmed uncomfortably for the entire six-hour flight to England. I certainly didn’t feel like a big spender when we arrived at Gatwick and boarded the bus for another three-hour trip to our destination!

Actually, it wasn’t until we’d been married for nearly two years and decided to buy a home that we started to take financial risks. It came from a sense of our own “power” – just how much we could actually afford if we put our minds to it, just how “tight” we could live in order to get the things we wanted. Within three months of borrowing $2000 to buy a 1970 Mach I Mustang (gorgeous, by the way), we’d found the house of our dreams, borrowed $500 as a down payment on the house, paid off our car loan, and arranged a “hidden second” mortgage with the builder.

Two years into our marriage, at the ages of just twenty-two and twenty-three, we didn’t have a cent in the bank, but we had a house, and we felt invincible.

Next installment: Sometimes, we succeed despite ourselves.

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