Category Archives: Other topics

Downsizing dilemma: Why getting rid of books is so tough

Finally, you have reached the age when you are beginning to think about downsizing. Perhaps you have familiarised yourself with all the practical and even emotional difficulties involved and have decided you are not quite ready to take the plunge.

Is there anything you can do in preparation for the eventual day?

Downsizing Dilemma: Culling Books

Few people reach their 60s without accumulating a lot of things they know they could throw or give away without great loss.

There are the clothes that don’t quite fit, but might do so if you lost those extra pounds that you are working on. There are the gifts that you never use, but have sentimental value because of the friends who gave them to you.

And then there are the books.

Books Take Room

If you like to read, you probably have books all over your house or apartment. Perhaps you sorted through them 10 years ago (or longer) because you had moved then or simply had a fit of eagerness to clean up.

In any case, there they are, in piles here and there – in the living room, by your bedside, in odd corners, including some in the bathroom.

Whatever cataloguing system once existed has probably long lost any cogency. When you are looking for a book you know you own, you get annoyed because it is nowhere to be found.

You have long thought that books don’t take any space, but you know you are kidding yourself. Indeed, for years, you proudly collected books to make your home feel properly lived in and loved. Each addition was like another brick to a house.

Perhaps it is time to cull.

Culling Can Be Painful

Deciding to get rid of books is harder than you might think. There are the books you always meant to read and are sure you will get to one day. There are those you started, but then stopped, and you like to think you will indeed finish them.

There are some you may be keeping for the children or for when you are sick and need something not too demanding. There are a lot of reasons to keep books.

And, if you are anything like me, it is a dusty job. You keep the house generally clean, but how often do you pull out the books one by one? So not only is it an emotionally difficult business to decide to give away books, but it is also a physically unpleasant one. Every reason not to do it.

But go for it, nonetheless.

How to Start Downsizing Your Book Collection

It is possible, of course, to simply go to any shelf and pull out books you don’t really want any more. I would urge you to do it more systematically.

If you have a lot of books, mentally divide them into categories – perhaps something simple like fiction versus non-fiction, but you might have more elaborate sub-categories.

Start with just one. Search your house for all novels, say, and put them in one place. Then, to feel productive, put them in alphabetical order (and remove any duplicates of books you bought a second time, because you forgot you had them in the first place!).

Then begins the difficult part. You know how old you are, and you know how many books you tend to read in a year. You can guess that however good your intentions, there are a set of books you will never re-read or read for the first time. Put them in a separate pile. Then look again and find some more.

Continue in the same vein with other categories. Depending on the size of your collection, this may take a few days. You should find yourself with a few cartons of books at the end of the process.

Dust the shelves, and put the books back in some organised system that pleases you. Offer the discarded books to friends, family, charity shops or even to passers-by. There, you have done it.

The Gains

Believe me, there are gains. In the first place, your rooms immediately look cleaner and tidier. With luck, there are no books piled on the floor, and you may even gain space for that knick-knack you were wondering where to put. Also, you know where your books are, next time you are looking.

Best of all, you will have found many books you didn’t have any memory of buying, but would really like to read – or re-read. My high school English teacher used to say, “If a book is worth reading once, it is worth reading twice.”

Put them on your bedside in an inviting pile. Take one out and pour yourself a glass of wine.

Time well spent.

This post was first published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/downsizing-dilemma-why-getting-rid-of-books-is-so-tough/) and should not be re-blogged

Are you ever curious about your ancestry?

There is something about finding ourselves in our 60s that makes our heads turn to the past, in general, and, more specifically, to our ancestry. I have no idea why this fascination comes so forcefully at this time.

Perhaps as we age, our perception of time changes. The decades before we were born seem less long ago. Our ancestors therefore seem more real and present.

Searching Your Family History Seriously

There are some people who take genealogy very seriously. They sign up to all sorts of websites and check records going well into the past. This is a great pastime.

Depending on the size of your family, it can keep you busy for months and even years. You will doubtless learn a lot of interesting things.

The Accidental Route

Some of us learn about our ancestry by somewhat more accidental – or, indeed, lazy – means. Perhaps someone else in your family is pursuing such information, so that you can benefit without all the work. It is worth asking older members of your extended family to see what they might have found.

In my case, it turned out that a surprising number of my forbearers were keen on memoir-writing. So, various documents have turned up within the family from different periods, even in different languages.

To add to the fun, these are not always consistent in their description of the same events. The truth, as any historian would confirm, is difficult to establish.

You have to wonder what you would like to find. Someone famous? A connection to royalty? A murderer? We are all different in our wishes and in the ways in which we would respond.

Odd Pieces of Information

My parents were highly respectable, so my ancestors might be expected to be respectable, too – and many of them were. The problem is that they are invariably the least interesting to read about.

I have nonetheless come upon some relatives of more doubtful qualities. One distant ancestor was an explorer in the South Seas in the late nineteenth century. He was evidently selling tobacco on the side.

When he came upon one group of islanders who didn’t know what to do with this product, he set up smoking classes, thereby securing a demand for his regular return.

I should not be proud of this ancestor, but I must admit that I admire his ingenuity. And he wasn’t to know about the link with cancer, after all.

Family Ups and Downs

A much closer relative (my great-grandfather) was involved as a young man in import-export dealings on the Mexican-US border. From family memoirs and other sources, it is clear that this was not genteel territory.

Evidently, there were some careful judgements about the declaration of silver at the border. As the proceeds of import taxes were said to end up in the pockets of those collecting them, the moral issue could be said to be unclear. In any case, he ended up a very rich man.

As history often shows, the money was completely lost by his son, my grandfather, in a series of ill-judged enterprises – to his permanent shame. He ended up as a door-to-door salesman in the 1920s and ’30s.

The Significance of It All

Once you have considered your ancestors, you wonder what to do with the information. Does it help you to understand yourself better? I am not so sure. But you do end up feeling like one link in an inexorable chain – and wonder even harder where your grandchildren and their descendants will take it.

When my son was a small child of just five or six, he heard about the concept of infinity. Like many children, he was fascinated by it. He also began to realise that there were generations within families, with some coming before, like his grandparents, and some after.

One morning, he put the two thoughts together. “You know, Mum,” he said, “the people coming before us were not infinity, but the people coming after us are infinity.” His English wasn’t up to the task of expressing his thought, but the thought itself was profound, indeed.

This post was first published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/are-you-curious-about-your-family-history-heres-how-to-start-researching/) and should not be re-blogged

Crime and Punishment: memories of school

My husband and I had an unusual experience recently. We visited his old school, along with about 60 other men in their 60s and above. There were also a few other wives. Let me explain why we were there, and the impact of the visit.

New Use of School Premises

In the early 1950s, he went to a boys’ grammar school. In the UK, this is a state high school for boys aged 11 and over. It was located in the extensive docks area near Tower Bridge in the East End of London. Most of the boys were from local working class families, but the school had a good reputation and they studied hard.

In the late 1960s, the school re-located to another part of London and the premises were used for various other educational purposes. It eventually fell into dereliction. The area, in the meantime, changed beyond all recognition and is now full of restaurants and office buildings spilling over from the business district in the City of London.

A few years ago, the school building was bought by an Indian luxury hotel chain called the Lalit. It was given a complete makeover and is opening for business shortly. As part of the hotel opening, all alumni of the school and their wives were invited to a reception to see how it had changed. We were feted with champagne and taken around the building.

The old assembly hall had become an elegant dining room and the ordinary school rooms had become well appointed guest rooms. There were also the usual places associated with a hotel, including reception rooms, a bar and so forth. Everyone agreed that the renovation had been an excellent job. It was splendid to see.

Memories

While we trooped around the premises, the men exclaimed about the changes of use. They said things like “This used to be the physics lab!” and exchanged memories of being there.

There were memories of sports events, exams, the way assembly was run, particular teachers and eccentric classmates. Conversations started with “Do you remember…?”

But by far the most common memory was of having been caned by the headmaster. This is known in England as “six of the best.” One man remembered a stool he had to hold onto while he bent over to be thrashed. Another, presumably a bit of a tear-away, proudly claimed to have had over 150 lashings over his time at the school.

My husband said that he had had only one caning, for admitting that he had taken a second pudding, or dessert in American English, at lunch. He had not been the only boy to do so – just the only one to admit it.

Nobody remembered the head with any affection.

Women’s Memories

An equivalent group of women of a similar age, wherever they are in the world, are likely to have very different memories of school. Punishments might still be a strong component. Indeed, it brought back my own memories. I was generally a very well behaved little girl, but I still remember being called in to a head teacher when I was about eight for loudly singing the well-known Christmas carol about three kings in its inappropriate form. The words included something about a rubber cigar.

We girls were beaten much less frequently than boys, I am sure. However, we were told off, given detention and generally forced to undergo some unpleasant activity in an effort to make us behave. And corporal punishment continued in some places for a long time, as my daughter-in-law, who left her school in a small town in Louisiana in the 1980s, informs me.

These memories sit in the back of our heads, rarely aired. But when they come out, they are very strong.

This was originally published by Sixtyandme (http://sixtyandme.com/discipline-and-detention-looking-back-at-school-in-the-1950s/)

Why downsizing is so difficult

Downsizing-Banner.jpg

When I was young, I would look at old people living in big houses and think it was all wrong. Young families needed their space, so why didn’t they just move on and let others have their houses? And anyway, wouldn’t they prefer a place that was easier to manage?

Ah, yes. If only it were that simple. As we of older years well know, moving anywhere is a very major decision and a very difficult one. Perhaps some find it easy, but I have yet to meet them. It is a huge upheaval, both practically and – perhaps more importantly – emotionally.

Practicalities

Downsizing means finding a new place to live. Do you move to a new area to live near your children or simply to gain new experiences? That means leaving behind all your local knowledge, such as the best shops for your favourite food. You may well miss the neighbours – the people who look after the cat when you are away or even help out when you are ill. Such support is not easily replaced.

There is also the question of what kind of house or flat you move on to. You expect it to be better, but you also know there may be hidden problems. You may find you miss having that extra room. Or the walls are too thin and the neighbours noisy. Or it is harder to get around by public transport.

Looking through your past life

But most difficult of all, downsizing means sorting through all your things and throwing or giving a lot away. To young people, such sorting may seem like nothing more than a lot of boring afternoons spent going through old stuff. To us, in contrast, it means confronting some heavy emotional issues.

Many of the things you own have a significance for one reason or another. Some may remind you of your childhood or earlier years. Some may have belonged to your late husband or your parents or even grandparents. Going through these things means thinking about your life and what was important in it. Getting rid of them means saying good-bye to your past. These are very difficult tasks.

The good side

Of course, there are many good reasons to move. By buying a smaller place, you will invariably release some equity, enabling you to pay off your mortgage or otherwise cushion your future. Or it might provide capital to allow your children to put down a deposit for a home of their own. It will also be cheaper to run and easier to clean and maintain. It may be newer, brighter, and more in keeping with your current and future circumstances.

Making the decision

All in all, it is a very difficult decision. You may want to act when you are young enough to weather the upheaval. You don’t want to be faced with a move just when your spouse or partner has died.

Thus, a lot of us will conclude it is an excellent idea to move on, but maybe it could wait a few more years. If that is you, you are not alone.

This was originally published by British Seniors (https://www.britishseniors.co.uk/life-over-50/guest-authors/why-downsizing-is-so-difficult/)