Leaving the Past

Embracing the future
By Nancy Conroy

I announced to my husband in 2018 that, by the time he turned 75 in 2021, we would have sold our house and moved into a rental apartment. I even arranged for a real estate agent to meet with us in 2018 to discuss what we should consider spending money on, or what we shouldn’t, to get the house ready for sale. I should note that my husband was not thrilled with this plan but did acknowledge it was probably a wise path to take.

Well, he turns 75 this year, and we have sold our house and moved into a rental apartment in the Byward Market in Ottawa. It has been quite the journey, especially since we had to organize this during the pandemic. Now, I could identify all of the practical steps we had to take to make the move. However, I thought it might be more useful to share with you the psychological process that we are going through as we leave our home of 32 years and shift to a very different lifestyle.

There is no question that some aspects of the process we have gone through are quite stressful and have required considerable psychological adaptation. Even the decision to make this move was a difficult one and required us to acknowledge that we are not getting any younger. We felt it was wise to move now when we are both relatively healthy. I have osteoarthritis and we both agreed that being on one floor, with no outside maintenance to carry out, including shovelling snow and tending to the garden, would be a better environment for me, especially if I
need a hip and/or knees replaced. We also wanted to avoid being one of those elderly couples who only decide to move when a crisis occurs.

Having made the overall decision to move, we were then faced with the need to downsize our possessions. In the early stages of getting rid of our stuff, it was fairly easy. For example, my husband, a musician, had a large collection of record albums he had amassed over many years. When he discovered the benefits of streaming music, he concluded that he could afford to get rid of his entire collection; I was most impressed that he was able to make this decision.

I, too, began by packing up boxes for St. Vincent de Paul with items that I no longer wanted or valued. This included getting rid of books, Gourmet magazines, and all sorts of ordinary items. However, as we moved closer to the sale of the house and the move, it was necessary to consider getting rid of more precious items. One evening, as I sat watching TV, I sifted through three boxes of photos that included family pictures, travel photos, garden pictures, etc. As I threw out about half of these photos, it struck me that it felt like I was throwing part of my life away. This same feeling came to me as I made the decision to throw out the raw data from my Masters thesis; I always thought I might be able to use it to do a PhD. I had to conclude that this pipe dream was just that. Coming to the conclusion that it was time to let some of my dreams go, like getting a PhD, was difficult.

Going through this process has made me realize that making this move is nothing like the moves we made as young adults. It has required some hard thinking about what it means to be over 70, as this move may be the last one before we have to move into a retirement residence. For the 32 years we lived in our home, I spent a good deal of my time gardening, cooking, baking, and entertaining. I also spent considerable time collecting—primarily porcelain and pottery, but also other antiques. All of these activities have brought me great pleasure and have helped to define who I am. Accepting the reality that I would no longer pursue these interests has taken some time to come to grips with.

As we carried out all of the practical steps to make the move happen, my husband and I both realized that we would need to rethink who we are. For example, despite the fact that I love to cook, I am trying to get my mind around entertaining without doing all the cooking. Perhaps in my new life, dining out or buying ready-made goodies will be the best route to go. If we want to hold a party, perhaps I’ll rely on the products and services of a caterer, rather than making everything from scratch myself.

I have also had to decide that I am no longer going to be a “collector.” This has been a very difficult decision to make. In order to really downsize, I have had to get rid of many of the precious and special artifacts I have collected over the past 50 years. The only way I have been able to achieve this, with one small exception (see photo), is to stay away from estate sales, garage sales, auctions, Kijiji, and eBay.

I told myself that it would just be sold, along with many of my other purchases, in an estate sale after we moved. Now I have decided to keep it!

I may decide to stop being a collector, but the collecting bug seems to be alive and well just below the surface! This has made this move most difficult as every artifact I ever collected or inherited required a tough decision: keep it or get rid of it. My husband and I have both noted that, even once you make the decision to “get rid of it,” doing so is very time consuming.

We believe that our decision to downsize, given our circumstances, was a good one, and we very much look forward to our new life in the Byward Market as an exciting adventure. There is no question that we will still be the same people we were before the move, but this transition has transformed the view we have of ourselves, and we are proud that we have been able to adapt to the realities of the aging process. In the end, it seems that we have essentially been able to let go of the past while embracing this next exciting stage in our lives.

Nancy and her husband, Peter, and their Mini Dachshund, Max, are now enjoying apartment living and still find time to visit their cottage on
Devil Lake.