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Successful Aging: I retired and realized I have too few friends and too much stuff

Q. I recently retired for the second time as a health-care business owner. Here is what is hitting me: Many friends have become ill, some have passed away, and neighbors are moving into retirement communities or areas close to their children. In wanting to downsize, I am going through papers, photos of vacations and even old boyfriends – so many memories of my past. Add to that my daughter tells me she is not interested in my things, that they are my memories, not hers. I find this all depressing and am surprised at my reaction. It’s not about money. I am not sure how to handle this. S.T.

Dear S.T.

It sounds as though you are hitting a perfect storm transition. Indeed, finances are critical but are only part of the story. The issues you describe are more subjective and ever-changing, and they don’t lend themselves to a spreadsheet.

Let’s take one item at a time.

Getting rid of the papers: Reviewing papers from a career, vacations and yes even notes from old boyfriends can elicit wonderful memories and yet at the same time be painful, knowing the past is a memory that cannot be repeated. Best-selling author Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (Ten Speed Press) recommends a “rule of thumb – discard everything.” She softens her approach by suggesting to dispose of papers that do not fit into one of the following categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time or must be kept indefinitely. She does not include love letters, diaries or papers that have sentimental value. Sorting these papers can slow you down according to Kondo and should be done later. Once you decide what to keep, Kondo suggests two categories: papers to be saved and papers that need to be dealt with at a later time. When it comes to photos, scanning is an option. The Kondo method is just one example of many approaches.

Friends move away: Neighbors and neighborhoods change as residents age, need more support or just want to be closer to family — usually children and grandchildren. These events go into the loss column. Such changes require us to be perhaps a bit more assertive and take a little more initiative to stay connected with people whom we enjoy. Connections can occur through faith-based activities and interest groups focusing on movies, books, theater or just walking. Also, consider having some younger folks over for coffee to fill in a generation gap. It may take a little work but is worth it.

Friends die: This is a difficult one with no easy answer. We cannot substitute for that special friend; he or she is unique as is the relationship. Perhaps the best we can do is mourn the loss, keep the good memories and move on to stay connected to what I call good people.

My kids don’t want my stuff: PBS Next Avenue published “Your Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want” by Elizabeth Stewart. The list includes the following: Books; paper ephemera (considered family snapshots, old greeting and postcards); steamer trunks and sewing machines; porcelain figurine collections; silver-plated objects; heavy dark antique furniture; Persian rugs; linens; crystal wine services and sterling silver flatware.

This younger generation that doesn’t want “our stuff’ has been referred to as the Ikea generation by Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (as quoted in PBS Next Avenue). Their lifestyle is considered minimal, they aren’t emotionally connected to things as in previous generations and they are mobile. The last thing they want to do is to lug heavy stuff across the country as they move to new opportunities, notes Buysse.

At the same time, don’t dismiss these items too quickly. My two daughters value porcelain, crystal and other items that my parents brought over from Germany in 1938. My great nephew just installed a large Persian rug in his New York apartment that he received from his grandmother. So, ask before you toss, but don’t be disappointed.

Given that all of these changes seem to have occurred at once, consider taking one at a time and complete the task, as recommended by Kondo. Start with your things followed by papers. The social connection piece could be ongoing. Talking about this transition tsunami with friends may give you support as well as new ideas on how to approach the change.

S.T., Thank you for your candor and important question. Best wishes in adapting and adjusting. It may take a little time but you will get there.

Editor’s note: Helen will be moderating a panel on “Media Influencers and Marketers Battling Ageism” at the national What’s Next Boomer Business Summit in New Orleans on April 15.

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