I recently traveled to the frozen hinterland of Colorado. It was May, thirty degrees Fahrenheit, snowing. The clerk at the rental car window had the worst cold I’ve ever seen. I could feel his germs compromising my immune system. It would only be a matter of minutes until my reasoning ability would be detrimentally affected. Driving from Denver to Colorado Springs, I could sense the real possibility of a modern day Donner party (“Donner, party of nine, uh, eight, no wait, seven. . . .?“) coming my way. True, I was alone, but hunger is a powerful force (“Donner, party of one, uh, no, 7/8ths. . .?”). Snow is terrifying. I live where, at times, planes cannot land because the tarmac is melting. A place where I cover the cacti in shade cloth this time of year. For their own good.
About my stunningly poor sense of direction. Yes, it is a straight shot from Denver to Colorado Springs. South, I think. Yes, I had MapQuest telling me exactly what to do. Yes, NPR kept me company and provided the illusion of civilization. And yes, I recently got lost –I prefer momentarily misdirectioned– driving through the neighborhood where I went to high school (see: Ye Olden Tymes).
The point of my visit was to earn my designation as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. Apparently, finding Colorado Springs on a map is the first part of this intensive process. My experience only underscored the comfort we derive from our familiar surroundings. Want to age in place until “A Rose for Emily” seems like a reasonable plan? I get it. Just don’t go outside. It’s cold out there.
The Wild West is alive and well / In case you wondered / Men of Iron / Moving East / One Last Time.
Gerontologists call it the “material convoy”: the stuff we collect that defines our lives. Professional organizers, move managers, and the like might, when no one is within earshot, in a moment of professional weakness, call it “junk.” Everyone has it, but older folks tend to have more of it, if for no other reason than having been on this earth for a longer time. The myriad attachments and related aspects of the self can be carefully delineated, if need be, and include status, sentiment, security, fear, self-image, and hopes for the future. In short, identity. Whether it be furniture, size 4 jeans, shoes, cars, newspapers from the 1980s, or, in my case, a Saf-T-Pop sucker, sitting in my kitchen cupboard for the past five years. I can’t remember how I got it. What I can remember is that when I was a child (in Ye Olden Tymes) my father would bring me one when he returned from work in the afternoon. So, when I acquired this particular Saf-T-Pop I did not consume it immediately. I set it aside. Five years ago. Today, in a fit of whimsy, I ate it. It was a little stale, but I’ve eaten worse. As move managers, we do well to ease our clients away from the tangible relics of memory, reaffirming that what is most dear is stored within. No small stuff.
One of the pleasures in senior move management is working with someone–often a single woman– who truly wants to downsize: not because she has to, or because the kids think it’s a good idea, but because she wants to. “I’m tired of being the one with all the old stuff” might be one phrase that lets us know our client might be open to more radical change than some. Maybe the collection of coffee cups (sixteen mismatched and counting) might go, in favor of selecting the four most beautiful. Maybe paring down the objects, to allow the simple beauty of what remains to be seen more clearly, will create a new look. A smaller new space does not have to try to replicate the exact look and feel of the former residence; we are not fooling a child with a new goldfish. A new, cleaner aesthetic can emerge: one that speaks to the later stages of life, allowing for clarity, reflection, and gratitude. And one beautiful cup of coffee.
Who was that woman who stopped amidst the push-up portion of this morning’s exercise class–surrounded by fifty of the city’s most ambitious and judgmental fitness buffs– to scoop up a fallen moth, taking it downstairs to her locker where it would be safe until class ended, only to realize that said stunned moth had recovered enough to not be so stable in the locker, so woman had to remove her id card from the locker, continue to cup Mrs. Mothra (she looked ladylike) in her hand, and literally run through the entire facility to the front entrance (after confirming with staff that the “Emergency Exit” did not apply in this circumstance–if not now, when?), go outside, gingerly place surprised insect under a plant where she would no doubt be eaten by a bird five minutes hence, and ran back upstairs to said class, praying heartily that no other moth would be seen within the next hour? Me. Is there anyone else who you would want to assist your grandmother in her move into assisted living? I hope not.
. . .on what comprises the ideal pre-hot yoga meal, but we now know that it is not thirty gumdrops and a pot of black coffee. While life may be sustained, however briefly, on such an afternoon indulgence, the price will be paid in what can only be described as the digestive equivalent of Bridgegate. The center cannot hold. Science itself relies not upon the sudden “Eureka!” moments that stand out over time, but rather the daily, tedious accumulation of evidence that must be sifted and studied in order for patterns to emerge. So, while yesterday’s Gumdrop Jamboree may appear to have been nothing more than a grievously miscalculated sugar-fest, by a middle-aged person who shall remain nameless but really should know better, in fact it may stand as one of many unheralded contributions to the progress of humanity. You’re welcome.
Our closets offer such encapsulated glimpses into our lives that it is difficult to present a true picture of what they mean to us. Hope, shame, and pride mix to create a clothing cocktail that alternately thrills and disappoints. My own dream closet might be the smaller interior spaces in an Ann Taylor store: old fashioned mirrors, lighting, bright clean surfaces with perfectly hung clothes—no, outfits—no, ensemble–that present me as a promising career woman with an especially keen defining eye. (Research topic: can a person in her fifties still be promising, or is this pretty much it?) As if I might bump into Audrey Hepburn, reaching for the same scarf on a chilled winter’s day.
My own actual closet, while hosting all wooden hangers, clothing organized by color (a series of gray shirts, right next to a series of black shirts) would more likely belong to Jackie Gleason, starring as Ralph Kramden in yet another hilarious episode of The Honeymooners. Six pairs of what can only be described as mannish (ouch) loafers, in various stages of decomposition. The more I like you, the crappier my shoes. I’ll sometimes wear dark socks in an attempt to hide the holes on the sides. Ain’t love grand?
The rules of basic closet-keeping are generally sound advice: would you buy it today? If not, consign, donate, or re-gift to an unsuspecting cousin. But the rules never pause long enough to witness the fantastic wrestling match between Audrey and Ralph, quietly fighting for nearly fifty years to define the heart of one who might reach for a fancy martini, only to come away with a nice cold beer.