Moving On

Nothing happens until the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change.
   Arthur Burt

My parents still live in the house they built in the mid-1960's. It's a lovely house of modest size, well-built, beautifully maintained, on a nice little city lot of perfect green grass and tidy, colorful flower beds. When we moved into that house I was not yet a teenager, my little sister just eight. There my parents did what middle-class folk did in neighborhoods like theirs: earned a living, raised their kids, kept things “nice”, took care of each other and whatever else needed doing.

The Cross homestead, November, 2014

The Cross homestead, under a Novembery white northeast Ohio sky.

If my parents made any big mistakes, the standout is that they stayed too long in that house. They're now in their eighties, living independently, but sometimes struggling to do so. The house has become a liability; too many stairs, too many hard surfaces, to few hand rails. Mom's had a couple of falls, resulting in broken bones and difficult recoveries. The house my parents have lived in and loved for so many years is trying to kill her and will succeed if they let it. They didn't move to a more suitable place ten years ago when it would have been easier. Now they have no choice, but as you might imagine the decision to leave has been incredibly difficult for them. There is nothing unique about this; age, wear, and tear take their toll on everyone, options become limited, and tough choices must be made.

Living there nearly fifty years, they've accumulated a great deal of stuff. They have a houseful of first-rate American antique furniture. They began collecting in the 1970's and didn't stop soon enough. They've sold almost nothing; they now have enough tables, chairs, cabinets, hutches, and cupboards to nicely appoint several houses. Any wall space not occupied by art is filled with antique tools, farm implements, and a large collection of glass smoke bells, a passion of Mom's. A quarter of the basement holds the laundry, while the remainder is Dad's tiny, but well equipped machine shop. The retired machinist never really retired. He can fix nearly anything that breaks, and his shop is where he does it.

Where Will It All Go?

After much discussion, plenty of arguing, and (I suspect) some protracted stony silences, my parents recently did the only thing they could: investigate other residential options better suited to their needs, arrange to put their house for sale, and confirm their well-planned and managed finances would carry them through the big change. Now for perhaps the biggest challenge: dealing with all of their stuff. They'll need some of it, of course. Even a thousand square foot two-bedroom apartment needs furniture, kitchen paraphernalia, all the little things that make a home. Including, of course, a bit of art.

What about the rest? My parents have always been more than generous; my sister and I could take nearly anything we want. But we're not kids; we've been on our own, living as responsible adults (well, mostly) for decades. We don't need anything. We have our own houses full of as much stuff as we want. I love nearly everything in my parents' large art collection, but my wife and I have our own, with zero wall space for additional work.

No, most of the content of my parent's home, things they've lived with forever, will be sold. They've already contracted with someone to manage that sale once they're moved from the house. Much stuff will disappear from their lives.

Is That So Bad?

It will be a huge adjustment, one that will take time. Mom seems happy about the impending move. There's no question their lives will be easier after the move. Dad is already grieving the loss of his present lifestyle, even though it will likely be many months before the apartment they've selected will be available and their house can be placed on the market. It's a difficult time. But as mentioned, there's really no other option. Mom and Dad will make new friends, develop new interests, find new challenges. Given sufficient time they'll become comfortable and one day discover all the newness isn't so new anymore, that life has gone on, and it's OK.

I spent my teenage years in that house and neighborhood. I moved out at age nineteen, but I didn't move far until I was nearly thirty, and even that move put me only forty miles (64 km) away. Since 2003 I've been two thousand miles away. I see Mom and Dad much less often, and then only for short visits. Knowing that house will disappear from my life isn't exactly painful, but I know I'll grieve a little, too. A big part of my past will become somebody else's future. Still, I'm glad this necessary move is finally happening.


I've been thinking a lot about all of this. Naturally I want my parents to be happy. I also want them to be safe, and to have medical (and any other) help quickly available when they need it. Their plan is a compromise, by definition requiring some sacrifices for the benefits gained. Bittersweet.

Our parents forever have something to teach us. From their struggles of the last few years I've learned NOT do what they did. Like them, I love where I live. I'm very fond of my house, it's location, and all the things I can do from here. But my wife and I will leave this refuge one day; we plan to do that before we're forced to. If we remain healthy I hope to live here another ten years. Then we'll look to downsize, move to simpler, more accessible, lower-maintenance quarters, some place closer to the kinds of services older people can expect to need.

What about all of our “stuff?” Pat and I have kept our accumulation of stuff to a minimum. We've also done the occasional purging of stuff; my favorite rule is to put something I've not used into a box or bag, write the date on that container, and if the thing hasn't been touched one year from that date, I clearly don't need it. A new home will be found for it, or it'll be recycled or discarded. This is amazingly effective at eliminating clutter. There are of course exceptions, but not many. Still, we have books (not a large collection; that's what libraries are for), a considerable art collection, the inventory of my own photographic work, and more furniture than will fit into a typical apartment or small condo. All will have to be dealt with when it comes time to downsize.

You Can't Take It (All) With You

All of this leads to my photographic work. Forget for now the equipment. My camera pack isn't significantly large; my kit is modest, and is carried on my back when I'm working in the field. But it takes much more than cameras, lenses, and tripods to go from image capture to displayable print. My Epson Stylus Pro 7900 printer is large. We've half-a-dozen computers and piles of hard drives full of image files. I have shelves full of sheet and roll paper, some ink inventory, a supply of pre-cut mats, and a few frames. I also have an inventory of matted and framed prints, sometimes only a few, more often a few dozen, some small, many quite large. Finally, there are the many prints I've made that are not framed nor mounted in any way. These are fragile "raw" prints, stored in various ways to accommodate their sizes.

Sunset at Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge in western Montana, U.S.

Unframed prints of images like this panorama of sunset at the Ninepipe NWR in west-central Montana present a storage problem. My most recent print of the picture is over 40 inches (102 cm) wide. The only practical solution for keeping such prints safe is to roll them and store them in mailing tubes. Smaller prints are stored flat in boxes.

When it's time to downsize, what will I do with these prints? Should they be kept? Donated (to whom)? Destroyed? Do they have any significance? I don't know. There's no real legacy here. I suspect most of the raw prints on-hand will someday be destroyed. I'd rather not think about it, and it's true I can safely avoid it for some years yet. But while I'm avoiding that, the pile will grow; I'm not done making new pictures and new prints!

Some of these issues will resolve themselves over time. But the lesson from Mom and Dad is to prevent the problem in the first place, or, since it's probably too late for that, at least get it under control now. I think I'm doing that. I'm an organized person (who among us doesn't think he or she is?). I have good storage for my framed and matted prints, and I've a project underway to build safe storage for the raw prints up to thirty by forty inches. When it's time to move from here to smaller digs, it will be easy to gather together all things photographic, which I hope will simplify sorting what can be kept from what must be discarded. As always, we'll see.

Best of luck to anyone going through life's changes, anyone making big decisions about their future. It's something most of us will face when staying becomes more painful than moving on.

November, 2014