Last year, I moved from the five-bedroom house I had lived in for 52 years to a two-bedroom apartment. Five of those 52 years, I lived in that house alone after the death of my husband. A year later, I ask myself: "Did I make the right decision?"
The decision wasn't easy. I took my time, carefully weighing the pros and cons. By moving to another city, I would be leaving my friends and neighbors. That would be hard. They were dear to me because all the members of my immediate family, with the exception of one aunt, had died or moved. I would also be trading in a home filled with the past for a smaller space that held no memories. And, if I moved out of town, I would have to replace all my doctors.
On the other hand, maintaining my house was becoming harder and more expensive. My property taxes were going up. I was spending my winters in Florida, but I still had to heat my house to withstand the Wisconsin winters, and the cost of utilities was rising. My good neighbor, who not only mowed my lawn in summer but removed the snow in winter, kept a check on my house in my absence. I realized that situation could change, because he was considering retirement. All my daughters lived in other cities, and except for my surrogate family of friends and neighbors, I was alone.
When I finally made the decision to sell my house and move closer to daughters No. 1 and No. 2, they considered it a gift. Together we were able to dismantle the house, and now they are close by should I need them. We all live within a few blocks of each other in a town just north of Milwaukee.
After my move, one of the first things I did was line up new doctors. I made inquiries and did research. Although I felt a sense of loss when I had to give up my old doctors, I now have confidence in the new ones.
Then I set out to find a new church, hairdresser, banker and mechanic. I have found good replacements for all and even have a grocery store around the corner from my apartment.
I have not, however, been able to replace the good friends I left. I try to keep in touch either by phone or mail, since our visits are infrequent.
Now that I am settled, I have found new interests and developed new friendships. I've joined a book club, I go to yoga classes and I have taken computer courses. I sign up for as many group activities at the library as I can.
Best of all, I've come to know my daughters and their husbands and children better. In cases of emergency or important family events, it is always more convenient to be near than far, but it's those impromptu situations when my family includes me that have added such a delightful zest to my life.
Recently my son-in-law Steve invited me to join him in viewing Mars. He set up his telescope in a park overlooking Lake Michigan. On that evening, we could actually see the pocklike cavities on the planet. It was awesome. On another evening, my granddaughter Emily invited me to attend the rock opera Aida with her. We thoroughly enjoyed the performance and our evening together.
Not every senior's situation will mirror mine. Some seniors will have health, financial and other issues to consider. But I urge anyone who is feeling the burden of maintaining a house to consider downsizing. Even if you aren't planning to make a change yet, your life will be less complicated. Free yourself of some baggage. Who knows, new treasures may enter your life.
I have set my spirits free so that I can smell more flowers, sing more songs, read more books and give more of myself to others.
Did I make the right decision? Yes! And, most important, I made the choice myself. Like Frank Sinatra sings, "I did it my way."
-- LaVerne Hammond, who divides her time between Wisconsin and Florida, is at work on her memoirs. Write her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg FL 33731.