Decisions, Decisions: Which door do we choose?
A decision can be a collection of disparate ideas with very different consequences. How do we bring the two together? This can be harder for some than others.
You're thinking ahead to fall and winter. Maybe, you need a new warm coat and have options based on size, materials, warmth, cost, reliability. You narrow it down to a puffer coat since it's cold where you live in winter. You want black but who needs Canada Goose that costs a small fortune. You go online and choices bubble to the surface; reviews of puffer coats are mixed. You still can't decide. Suddenly, there is a discount for one of the coats you've eyed. You realize that price is the determining factor. Decision made. Enjoy!
The problem with many decisions today is that we often have too many choices. Deep vaults of information are made accessible to us via technology in addition to information overload in magazines, newspapers, TV shows, movies, friends' opinions and more.
So, we ruminate. And some of us do so much more debating than others. We convene a village to get their thoughts. There is something enticing behind each door of what could be or not, but which door to choose?
We have found that decision making is on a continuum from easy choices with little consequences to major life changes. It can be as prosaic as standing in front of the closet choosing something to wear. Is it a day when we are late for a meeting, feeling fat or tired? Or, here's an easier example. Should we buy the expensive Scharffen Berger baking chocolate, or will the cheaper Baker's suffice, which these days isn't cheap as prices rise? Will it really make a difference in our brownies, cookies and hot cocoa? (We say, yes). Many would disagree.
Some decisions are a notch or two up on the continuum. Example: Should we replace our dining room chairs after so many decades? They've served us well, still work but look dated. The pandemic made many of us change up our interiors with fresh furnishings and coats of paints, a pseudo-fix for giving us a sense of new surroundings when we rarely ventured out.
Now, ratchet it up another notch; these are the decisions that make a major dent in our bank accounts or in our lives. Should we redo our kitchens when we're at our advanced ages? It will take months and cost us so much more than years ago due to Covid-related material and appliance shortages. And, of course, there's also the labor shortage and difficulty of finding skilled help. But...we reason, on the plus side, we spend so much of our time there reading the newspaper, cooking, hanging out with family and friends.
Or how about a new car when you're not a "car" person. You need something to drive but since you're in it often, why not something comfortable, stylish and in a color we like. Can we justify a Tesla, BMW or fancy Volvo when a Subaru works fine, especially in colder climates.
Ironically, if we keep having these to-do or not-do debates, we'll be too old to go through any car choices or a big home improvement and enjoy the space before we make what may be a final move to perhaps an assisted or independent living facility. So, we edge closer to a yes, ignoring how much time we'll have in that home or even if the robust sellers' market will continue. (News reports signal mixed signs; some say yes it will last for a while despite higher interest rates due to the housing inventory shortage almost everywhere. However, signs are showing up of houses staying listed longer and fewer offers above the asking price.)
At the top of the decision-making continuum is a major life decision that will affect what little time we have left. It's a choice that some of our closest friends and family debate: Should we move closer to our grown kids even if they're miles or a plane ride away?
To do so will mean uprooting our lives, incurring big moving costs, starting over with friends, doctors, a hair stylist (that's a big deal for women), gym, walking pals, temple or church, and so on. It's a huge upheaval. However, we reason, don't we want to spend the years we have left closer to our kids in case we get ill as well as to enjoy time with them and any grandchildren?
So, we debate, analyze, list pros and cons. Do they really want us near them, or might they then feel obliged to see us more than once a week? Will they include us in big celebrations and mundane activities? How do their significant others or spouses feel about us being in their orbit, if they exist? And might their friends resent an old person tagging along? In one case, a friend has grandkids in two very far apart locations so how does she avoid favoring one versus the other? And what does she really want to do?
And then we query our friends and family. One says her two grown children and four grandchildren not far away might go weeks without seeing her. That's a bummer in our view. Why move? Another asked a sibling about moving closer and the answer was not a resounding, "Yes! Do it!" That kills that idea.
It's time not to pussyfoot around; this is huge. Ask for specifics. Be prepared to lower your expectations but state them to those you love and might want to be near. Your kids cannot read your mind so you need to share what you hope for and what they can realistically offer. What are they comfortable with? A visit for dinner or lunch or some activity once week or every other week? Will they include us on weekends, especially Sundays, which can seem very long and lonely when alone? What's the point of a move yet if they say once a month would be delightful? You can stay in your location and visit instead, we think.
To get closer to a final decision, we use our usual method, which we tried out decades ago. We pull out our long yellow legal pads-or for some try a new page or Excel spreadsheet on a computer-and make a list of pros and cons. We suggest being brutally honest about our kids' lives and if we'll fit into their daily or weekly schedules. At the same time, we urge being brutally honest with ourselves about how we feel about giving up long-time connections now if we don't have to move.
Ask yourself what you love about where you live and would miss most and how good you are about making new contacts-or not? It takes work and being socially aggressive in some cases. And it doesn't happen fast. One new acquaintance Barbara made said she was shocked that after a year in her location she hadn't found a soulmate.
Think about the stress of the move itself-going through belongings and deciding what to pack and move and throw out or give away. It's an arduous task and expensive, not for the old. There are experts to help these days but that will cost and take time.
What you write down on the yellow pad is fine, but the two of us like to process out loud as well. Call a confidante and run through the options. Tell them to tell you what they are hearing in your words and your tone. Share it with your kids. Sleep on any decision. Look at your list again. Your decision will come to you, maybe not right away but over weeks or months or even a year.
And maybe, it will be to go when more ailments pop up or your memory starts worsening but not too late to settle in and enjoy life in your new destination. You're developing a plan, and it's yours to change again, even multiple times. If you manage to reach a conclusion, count yourself as happy with your decision. If you're still unsure, don't do anything yet. And don't beat yourself up that this process is arduous.
The good news is that even if you move, settle in and find yourself less than thrilled, you can move again. It will cost and take time but no move, except the final one (and you know which we mean), has to be permanent.
Note: To help seniors make certain decisions such as downsizing, check out RetireGuide.com; a free site which recently published a step-by-step guide to downsizing for seniors or those working toward retirement. It covers everything from finances and moving logistics to how to cope with the emotions that come from parting with a family home.