Elders and Obama's Speech

Home Maintenance in Old Age

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I enjoyed my conversation yesterday with reporter Patty Henetz of The Salt Lake Tribune. We talked about elders in relation to Representative Paul Ryan's budget proposal and President Obama's Wednesday budget speech. She was kind enough to quote me. You can read Patty's story here.]

On yesterday's post Mage Bailey, who blogs at Postcards, left this comment about the painting I'm having done in my home this week:

”Don't laugh if I suggest that a post or two on elder home upkeep/redecorating might be appropriate. I've been to too many estate sales where the home's walls are stained, the upkeep not kept up and life in that house frozen in the 1960's. That too is an important part of aging.”

So while the painter is here today, I'll take a first stab at it.

There is no telling how many apartments I've painted in my life. Years ago, it didn't seem to take much effort. I got up and down the ladder with ease, shoved furniture out of the way, wielding the brush and roller with enthusiasm.

I rather enjoyed it and at most, I strained an arm muscle or two reaching for out-of-the-way corners. Nothing serious and I had the energy to paint on whim, just because I wanted a new color.

No more. At 70, I'm aware that a fall could break a bone and I'm not willing to chance that. Plus, painting no longer strikes me as fun as it once did. The last time I did it myself, about ten years ago, parts of my body I hadn't known I had ached for several days after I finished.

Today, while I write this and get some other chores done, it's a different kind of fun watching the transformation as the painter makes his way around the walls.

This time I am painting because I don't like the color choices of the previous owners. But the time will come when it will need refreshing. It's hard to know when that will be. In New York City, the regulation for renters is that the landlord must paint every three years and that has been the standard interval for owners too.

I will have to wait to see how long this paint job holds up. At least elders don't have kids marking up walls with crayons. But I wonder if elders let their home go, as Mage mentions, because our eyesight fades with the years and perhaps some don't see the stains and dirt that accumulate?

Or that it seems to be more work – even to take down pictures and pull nails, etc. - than they have the energy for? Or, too, there might not be enough money for a painter. Or maybe an elder can no longer get around easily enough to go to the store to select colors?

I don't have any, but I would think adult children and grandchildren would help aged parents with minor repairs and painting when needed. Given my childless circumstance, I don't know if that is common or not.

Mage didn't explain enough for me to be sure, but we may part company about redecorating. For example, I've had my sofa – which needs recovering – for about 25 years and it was nearly an antique when I bought it. Although it needs some other work, which I'll get around to in time, I'm quite attached to it now and it's not going anywhere before I die.

My ancient, round, oak dining table will stay too. I bought a new set of chairs for it about five years ago which should last for whatever the definition of indefinitely is to a 70-year-old – probably death in my case. My large, wide desk falls into that category too; I see no reason to replace these pieces of furniture with anything new.

Maybe I just don't “get” redecorating - I like the main pieces I have and work with them whenever I need anything new – lamps that are broken, a worn-out chair or replacing something I bought on the cheap because I couldn't afford better at the time.

My home has no identifiable style. I guess I go for comfort and I wonder if those homes Mage has seen that are “frozen in the 1960s” are not still comfortable to their owners or if they cannot afford to redecorate. Of course, that's an entirely different issue from repairs and paint.

I agree with Mage that upkeep of elders' homes is important for well-being and self-respect. But I can understand that, depending on age and diminishing capabilities, needed maintenance can get away from someone who can otherwise generally care for themselves.

What's the solution in that case?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Unbelievable, But True


Wow, 300,000 (give or take)readers of TGB! Now if we could get some DC politicos to read your blog...ya think?

I know what Mage is talking about. I recall as a very young visiting nurse, I cared for several elders (mostly from Europe)whose homes were caught in a time warp. There were obvious maintanence issues like peeling wallpaper, paper & water stains, but in addition there was lots of "stuff" and anything considered good was covered with throws. I remember thinking that when I was older, I didn't want to live like this hence my minimalist attitude has evolved since downsizing & moving to a condo. What a blessing that we found this place. I like Mage's idea.....maybe she could elaborate on it. Have a great w/end, Ronni. Dee

I get used to things the way they are and like them. In addition, I really don't give a flip if anyone else likes my decor or my clothes or my hairstyle. That's one of the things I enjoy about being my age. I'll let my kids worry about my tacky estate sale.

Dee and others...
That 300,000 readers in Patty's story is an error. It's more like 4500, maybe 5000.

I remember when my Mother was in her early 70s and complained about her carpet. She and Dad could afford to replace it and I encouraged her to do so. "It's just too much trouble" she said. Now at 75 I have more sympathy for her attitude. Choosing the kind and color, scheduling the work, moving all the little things, watching men handle your favorite and old furniture...It is all very disruptive. And my Dad did not like "a lot of strangers in the house."
We've done business with the same carpet store for 47 years so their workers are like old friends. I am going to miss them now that they have been run out of business by the big box stores. That's another story for another time.

Holy cats! Every three years!!
I think I'll go lie down.
And I just looked into one of the closets that we would have to empty....two aspirins and then lie down.

This is a sore subject. I spent a good part of my younger years organizing and doing repairs and sometimes painting for residential clients who I would now consider elders. I repainted most of my parents' oversize home in my own mid years. And I look around here and realize that most of the place hasn't been repainted since we moved in -- 1992!

As for decor: how about "late parental furniture." We combined the more desirable or at least sentimentally preferred contents of two households with "early thrift store" found items that we had accumulated. We're cluttered and mostly comfortable, though we could use another room for my partner's fiber arts!

And moving all of this stuff around in order to brighten and repair is just an appalling thought. I always feel as if I had better things to do than suffer that disruption.

Yet when I was fixing up my parents' home and those of all those clients, I promised myself I would not live like this ... You may have just offered me a good nudge.

Every year for several now, I have been offered the choice to have my apartment painted--or not. After 13 years, it really needs it, but I can't face it. The huge collections of books, record albums (yes, still records), photographs, would all have to be moved. I can barely stand the thought of having it done for me when and if I move to be nearer my children, but temporarily? I'll look at smudged and chipped walls, thank you.

I get things as I like them and the thought of redecorating is anathema to me. Now I do change the art on the walls sometimes but painting those walls, well I should but I just don't look at them enough to make it a priority. I have thought I might be getting more lax about such as I age. I know my furniture is worn (cat scratched too) but right now that's not important to me either. As for kids doing it for parents, I have kids but cannot imagine asking for that from them but then for now I can still do it-- if I wanted... I am though very cautious about getting up on things for the reason you mentioned. Two steps on a stepladder seems about enough :)

I wish my landlord had to paint every few years. However, he must have used good paint because I've been here 5 years and it's still fine. I have the neatest thingy that grabs cobwebs that manages my high ceilings and walls nicely without my risking life and limb. Move? I don't think so unless I decide to blow this God-forsaken town.

I was thinking of moving to a new building for elders but decided that it would put me crazy (or is that crazier?) because the rooms were so tiny and wouldn't hold my stuff. I like my stuff. And giving up the built-in bookshelves in my bedroom is niot happening.

I changed a few things when I did Spring cleaning and am thrilled with the results so moving is not happening. There are a couple more things I want to do now that Spring has sprung and that will begin this weekend.

Add good neighbors mostly and I'm here for a long time.

And oh yeah, it's so cool to be posting here -- after my computer crashed last week. Today is the first time I could put a comment here.

When I moved into my town house it had never been cared for. I had workmen in and out for years adding ceiling fans, changing light fixtures, laying tile, etc. The last major project I had done was having new carpeting installed. I got robbed by the installers and I think I the stress of that episode cured me of further redecorating.

My place had been painted before I moved in 12 years ago and I have not repainted it since. Why go through moving everything again when it still looks okay?

The older I get the less I care about the decor of my place. I can't move furniture now so it stays the same.

I never ask my children to do anything when they visit. Time is too precious to have them working. My daughter did set up a wireless system for me when she was here last time, but I did not ask her to do so.

Having seen my father living in the same house for more than 40 years (largely alone for the last 7 years since my mom died) it was fairly obvious that maintenance was getting away from him. The house was a huge family home that he clearly did not have the energy to cope with, but at the same time he resisted all our efforts to get cleaners in - he fired the team that used to clean when my mom was alive and insisted he needed nothing because "I don't make a mess"! It wasn't a question of money - he simply did not believe the house was dirty and like a previous commenter said, he didn't want a load of strangers in his house.

My dad passed away last month and you can see the look on some people's faces who come and look at the house: "OMG you let your father live with these dirty carpets?". But on the other hand, would it have been fair to force him through the stress of redecoration (and let's not kid about, it IS stressful at any age!) against his will just to placate the opinions of others? I don't think so!

I'm off to work, but look what you and I stirred up. Yes, there needs to be a solution so the elders in our lives can live in clean and safe places which will keep them healthier longer.

I'll be back.

We've been in our house 12 years this summer. We're the original owners and we had the exterior painted last year. We had a hard time agreeing on color. It was just the front door and the main house color but it took us a long time to reach agreement. The inside is starting to show it's age in several places but I don't think I could go through the negotiations - room by room, trim etc. and retain my sanity.
"I haven't got time for the pain- anymore"

I appreciate these thoughts. My husband and I are trying to sort and declutter our home -room by room. We just spent 4 weeks repainting our living room /dining room. We needed help with moving the furniture- a nearby son. In the last 2 years, my husband recovered from a sudden quadruple by-pass and I have been treated for breast cancer and had a knee replacement. Since retiring, we have time to do household chores at our own speed. I can say, we felt very old after the job was completed.
We hope to enjoy our home for a few years but intend to move to a less work intensive environment while we can still be in charge of that decision. Mary

Like several others here, I have had some grim experiences with elders living in a dated hoard of "treasures" so important all thought of deep cleaning, painting, or relocating is permanently off limits.

Thus, I know I'll never understand how a worn and dirty Museum of Me comes to seem a cozy, wonderful place.

I can, however, see how most of the housing arrangements we take for granted are way too much work and/or money for most people to keep up as their energy lags.

My mother cleared most of her things out before she died and left her house in pretty good condition. Still, it took us a long time to fix her place up for sale. My mother in law also got rid of about half of her possessions and yet it took us six months to get her house in good condition to rent. She could not deal with disruptions in her last years, so we just had to let it go.
Our own struggles now with stuff need to be dealt with, too, on a day to day basis.
I just finished reading *Wish You Were Here* by Stewart O'Nan, which is about a family trying to deal with the sale of a vacation house, kicking their way through accumulations of stuff while stirring up old resentments! I found it funny but also very much the point about how hard it is to get rid of things.

That's why it's good to have a spouse,
As the two of you poke and prod around the house.
She wants to try something new and bold,
While he grumbles, let's just keep the dull and the old.
She wants to buy something new and bright,
He goes, well maybe we will, maybe we might,
And so between the two of you ...
Everything turns out just about all right!

I see myself reflected here in many of the comments as well as Mage's attitude as well--don't stay in a timewarp--and I still have very mixed feelings. We redid part of our last year and I was so pleased with the new look as well as the updated color scheme, that I'd like to continue with an allover repaint because I'm so tired of the white everywhere. With 3000 sq ft of walls (approximately) that would need new paint, and needing to hire someone to do it, I'd have to give up travel. Part of it--even if you can afford it--is deciding what's the most important to you. In my case travel (which lasts only weeks at best), or my wish to have everything repainted because that you can enjoy 300 days a year or more! ?

For us & others too, I guess, downsizing & minimizing was sorta' like retiring.....we gained alot of freedom. No yard, no maintenance & less dust collectors. Daily upkeep is less & it just looks & feels so much better. Dee

Twelve years after buying my condo, I neither would have painted nor repaired and upgraded — fans, flooring, lighting and sink fixtures, weathered sills and doors, and more, had I not decided to stage my condo for sale. While the sale is a long way off for various reasons, the impetus to give my home an uplift was a boon. Despite negative thoughts on the hazards of finding/hiring/working with strangers, being open to making the change brought good people and very good results. Just approaching my freshly sanded, painted front door, with shiny new handles and locks makes me smile, and I keep smiling as I enter and revel in the improvements — even those unseen by others' eyes.

Watching my beloved 20-something neighbor's good nesting habits inspired me to dream and then plunge in as he does, and as I used to... Today, the sole key difference is that I pay people (using earmarked funds, unavailable in earlier decades) to do what I once accomplished with lots of help from my friends. The outcomes and pleasures are equally great. Why did I wait so long? Laziness, cheapness, procrastination, excuses. Now, I am almost house proud… and I hope to delete the "almost" this summer when my next (final?) round of upgrades is behind me.

Thank you, Mage and Ronni and all the commenters for addressing a timely topic for me (and others).

Very timely. I have occasion, usually when the plumbing is leaking, to wonder why I thought a 1920's house was a good decision for my retirement. It's small and cozy but none of the floors are really level, and a less than sterling foundation job has left all the south facing windows leaning very slightly to the west. And yet I love it. I've been here over a decade. The rug is on its last legs, especially with multiples of grandgirls in and out, which is the reason I moved here. I need to chose what I do and the the rug has to wait as I chose a "big" vacation this summer with people I love, some of whom may not be able to travel much longer. Hope the rug cleaners can get the stuff out of it one more time.

i can sympathize with elders who have older elders as parents. About a decade and a half ago, my mother, almost 92 now, began falling behind in her usual standard of cleaning. If she caught me in any attempt to help, she insisted we sit down and visit. That was more important to her, so I complied.

Eventually, an eye exam led to cataract surgery and she realized she had not been seeing to clean well!

Now my children are grown with children of their own. I am like my mother. I would rather enjoy them when they visit from out-of-state. Eventually we may get those other rooms painted or the bathroom retiled or . . . and the list goes on.

Ronni, your post and commenters really touched so many issues that I am dealing with now on both sides, as an elder and the offspring of an elder. Lots to think about! Thanks to all.

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