Senior Living: A Fresh Start

When downsizing, seniors realize it’s not the stuff that matters; it’s the community.

For more than a decade, Ray Kersey and Kay Murray were the quintessential snowbirds. Married for 37 years, the couple spent summers in a three-bedroom townhouse in Durham, North Carolina, and winters in a beach cottage on an island off the coast of Fort Pierce, Florida. They owned, at various times, a boat, a motorhome, a sports car and, at one point, an airplane. In short, they had a lot of stuff.

But they also had active social lives in each community, hosting and attending dinner parties, attending theater productions and gatherings with friends to play bridge.

Now in their 80s, Kersey’s worsening vision and Murray’s Parkinson’s disease had become too much to manage on their own. Despite roots on the East Coast, in 2014 the couple put both homes up for sale and relocated to Redwood Terrace, a senior living community near Murray’s sons in Burlingame and Del Mar, California.

“Of all our moves, including ones to France and Italy, this one was the easiest,” Murray says. “We had so much help-from unpacking to hanging pictures to making the bed. A move of this nature at this point in our lives was a difficult experience both physically and emotionally. However, the transition went rather smoothly.”

The transition went so smoothly Kersey admits they should have done it a couple of years ago. “We knew it needed to happen,” Kersey says. “We just needed to prepare ourselves for it and get the right support.”

Moving Into a Senior Living Community

The couple received help from Gentle Transitions, a complimentary moving service provided to new residents, and they also took advantage of, another complimentary service that helped the couple sell their North Carolina home, easing the burden of having to hire a Realtor, list the property and stage it for showings.

“The staff was very sensitive to how seniors might feel,” Murray says. “The hardest thing was downsizing and parting with mementos and furniture we no longer had room for.” 

All the logistical support gave them the energy to deal with the really hard questions of what to bring to the new home.

With two homes to consolidate, Kersey and Murray agonized over which possessions to keep. They decided to take only the things they absolutely needed. Furniture, décor and odds and ends were sold, given to charity or handed down to children and grandchildren.

When Murray realized her fragile 99-year-old upright Steinway wouldn’t survive the cross-country move, she decided to donate the piano to a church in North Carolina. Rather than give up playing music in her new California home, she brought a full-sized electronic keyboard from their Florida home.

Kersey had an equally difficult toss-it-or-take-it decision to make. An avid and prolific photographer, he knew his boxes of old photographs were simply too cumbersome to move. To help make the process of tossing them less difficult, he passed down some favorite snapshots to his children and grandchildren.

Less Stuff, Less Stress

As challenging as it can be to whittle down your belongings, many seniors find it liberating. Nancy Schlossberg, author of “Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose,” and expert on adult development and aging, travels the country speaking about adjusting to life’s transitions. She says de-cluttering before a big move can help with making a fresh start.

She has personal experience with the process. Now 85, Schlossberg, a retired counseling psychology professor at the University of Maryland, left her Washington, D.C. home 17 years ago to settle in Florida.

She advises seniors to get help, just as Murray and Kersey did. “Don’t try to do it yourself,” Schlossberg says. “We get very attached to material things because they represent memories and people. The key is to figure out what part of your identity is being compromised by getting rid of whatever you have to get rid of. Have a plan before you start.”

A New Chapter  

Kersey and Murray immediately felt at home in Redwood Terrace. Outgoing and open-minded, the couple quickly made friends. Within two months, Murray was playing bridge and Kersey had discovered both a woodcarving shop and a woodcarving group at Redwood Terrace.

“We don’t feel like we’ve given up our independence at all,” Kersey says. “We’re pretty open to exploring anything that might come along.”  

Schlossberg says seniors who remain in the family home as they age are more prone to loneliness and isolation. Those who move into communities are more apt to establish relationships with likeminded people, which can provide much-needed support in difficult times.

When seniors making the move get the logistical support that allows them to focus on all they are going to gain, rather than all of the stuff they may be parting with, the transition can be liberating.

“This move has given us an opportunity to step into a new life,” Murray says. “We feel well taken care of and we’re happy to be here.”

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