Second wind: Downsizing can be a downer
When you hit 62 or so, you are supposed to stop working, put on plaid golf pants and downsize your living quarters.
But those vintage ideas are changing. At least a quarter of the Boomer generation intends to keep on working, most of them prefer jeans to plaid, and even the idea of downsizing is getting another look.
There are two reasons for this: 1) The his-and-her turf wars that can break out in retirement, and 2) A growing extended family that may want to visit the grandparents to see how they are getting along in their Geezer Years.
When the empty nest isn’t really empty
OK, so by your sixties, the kids are probably gone, but there may be two big birds still in the nest and the last thing they need is downsizing.
Imagine Papa Bird, now retired from the job that kept him out of the nest all day and out of Mama Bird’s hair. Now Papa is home all day. He wanders through rooms. He doesn’t rule his office anymore, so he now rules the remote.
And Mama, who used to rule the roost in the daytime, now shares it with fishing shows and hourly updates from CNN about the muddled Middle East. And if Pop is tying flies, wood-working or otherwise being productive, he may have invited Larry King in along with other media talk hosts from all over the planet. And at loud volume, because the dear old bird can’t hear as well as he used to.
With Pop home now, there is the matter of the dining room table, which used to be off limits to him because he had his own workplace somewhere else. Now there’s a struggle for surface domain.
Who owns that big flat space? Is it the man of the house with computer parts, paperwork and the flotsam and jetsam of hobbies, or is it Mom, who wants to set it with her good china because the kids aren’t around to break it now?
And so it goes, the struggle over audio space and volume levels, the fight over turf and ” did I mention the two-part wrestling over the thermostat?
So do you think these people should downsize into even smaller quarters? I could argue they should buy a bigger house, or maybe two. It’s been done. Margaret Sanger, she who started the birth control movement in the US, insisted on two houses, not one, when she got married.
At the very least, both partners should have a room ” whether you call it a den, an office, a workspace or a cave. He should be allowed to have a TV screen, just like a sports bar, all the better to see Monday night football. (I have lobbied the networks for Monday night ballet as a cultural counterbalance, but nobody has yet bought the idea.)
Mom should be able to frou-frou up her private quarters ” or, as in my case, throw papers and books on the floor until she disappears into a mass of unfiled folders and unread books.
Separate but equal is one way to begin solving the turf wars. I write this in what used to be a laundry room. Hey, put in a window and a French door and ” voila! ” my office. Cranky Pants rules his cave. I rule mine.
Peace. It’s wonderful.
And now for a confession of cluelessness about family matters and space: You’d think a couple with six kids and 12 grandkids between them would know better than to downsize. But we didn’t. So we over-downsized. Now, visiting family gets squeezed into a too-small house. We bought a motorhome as a guest house and it helps, but we wish we opted for more bedrooms.
And so it goes. Inflatable Beds R Us.
Words for the wise
Don’t buy the usual scripts for aging without looking to see if they fit your life. Don’t downsize unless you have good reason. Sometimes the best idea is to stay right where you are, even if there is just one thermostat.
Mel Walsh has a degree in gerontology, the study of older people, but has learned far more about aging from life itself. Visit her Web site at http://www.melwalsh.com. Buy her book, Hot Granny, and enjoy the giggles.
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