Seniors Speak Out

Scaling Down: What things could you live without?

Moving and downsizing can be an emotionally—and physically—charged process.  An AARP blog called “Life Reimagined” instructs readers how to keep mementos that bring happiness and joy without cluttering a space.  Residents and guests of this continuing care community share their memories of moving, and the possessions they couldn’t possibly live without, below.


Shirley Stevens

“We have moved many times.  When I married my husband, he was in the service, and we lived in South Carolina.  When he got out, we moved to New York, near Rochester.  His job [eventually] took us to Buffalo, New York, then to Petersburg, Virginia [and finally] to Exton, Pa.  There was a company incentive [that they would pay for the movers] and they just said, ‘Call somebody,’ so we brought the household with us—we moved three bedrooms, a living room and a dining room.  We even took the appliances—that’s what you did back then.”

What are Shirley’s most prized possessions?  “Pictures, movies of my children when they were little—sentimental things that can’t be replaced.  And of course I love my grandmother’s dishes,” she adds.  “They’re cream china with grey roses and a gold rim around the edge—we only use them on occasion, when everybody’s there, [like a family reunion].  I remember our family reunions in South Carolina—everyone had their own watermelon.  My father would put planks between trees for tables—we only ate the hearts of the watermelons.  I don’t have a lot of material things, but I have a good family,” Shirley smiles.


Gretchen Lerch

“My husband and I lived in Bryn Mawr for 37 years, and when my husband was sure we needed to downsize, I said, ‘Ok, but I’m not getting rid of one thing!’  We had six van loads, but our new house has huge storage areas—we still have 60 some cartons that have never been opened but I know what’s in them, of course—I have two sons who keep saying, ‘We want them, but not now.’  My husband’s a great one to ask, ‘Where are going to put that?’ and I answer, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find a place.’”

What couldn’t Gretchen live without?  “My dog, Willow.  So many things—china, crystal, silver, linens, furniture—it all goes back many generations.  I have always felt they are on permanent loan to me, so that I have no right to get rid of them.  I’ll get rid of plastic stuff,” she laughs.  “I guess I’ve more downsized my volunteering than my possessions.  I went to Moore College of Art and was a designer, but not professionally, and then I volunteered for 49 years: Elwyn and Melmark, at the Junior League of Philadelphia, at our church and my children’s schools—I still volunteer at the Chester County Hospital.  I don’t just have bric-a-brac—everything has a story attached to it.”


Bea Conner

Traditionally, the move to college is a big one—picture trips up and down stairs, boxes and bags full of clothing and books.  While for many, the move represents a child’s first time away from home, Bea enjoyed a different route.  “I’m a West Chester native—I grew up here and went to West Chester University to be a schoolteacher.  I lived at home and walked to school every day—it was only five or six blocks—and to other things there, too, plays and football games,” Bea recalls.  “I didn’t have to move a thing—I just walked.  Growing up I was always active—I played hockey and soccer—I was never still.  Everyone was always saying, ‘Bea, sit down!’” she laughs.

What’s been passed down to Bea?  “I raised my children in the same house I grew up in, a third-generation funeral home.  My late husband Oliver had a degree in mortuary science and worked for my father, and when Oliver got his license and my father was ready to retire, my husband took over.  Now my son owns the business—it was nice that it could stay in the family.”