To everyone else it was just the immaculate cape cod on Pauline Street. To the neighbors it was George and Doreen’s home for over 40 years. By today’s standards, the tidy 1200 square foot bungalow with one bathroom hardly seems big enough for the three boys raised there.  But raised they were, Kevin, Daniel and Rick:  sharing bedrooms and taking over the basement until one by one they moved on to begin their own homes and families.  Even after George died Doreen made sure it was taken care of in the manner of which he would approve.  But the day had inevitably come when even her best efforts were not enough.  It was time to let the house go. 

Doreen called me to sell Pauline Street.  When I arrived with my listing papers in hand, Doreen had her own set of paperwork – all of the maintenance records, warrantees and receipts of home improvement and maintenance.  Four decades of care in a plain yellow folder.  Her sons, long moved out of state, were eager for her put the house behind her and come closer to the grandkids. Doreen wasn’t so sure.  After all – 1461 Pauline Street wasn’t just a house.  It was a box.  A Memory Box of sorts.  Every room held a story; every inch of that home told of family and love; celebration and loss; growth and change.  Where a visitor saw an empty corner, Doreen saw where the Christmas tree stood.  Where a bedroom sat empty of furniture – Doreen’s eyes saw two twin beds and Kevin’s guitar which always sat along that wall.  And where a guest saw a tiny kitchen, Doreen remembered how many people crowded in for Daniel’s fifth birthday.  Leaving wasn’t easy.  Too much life had been lived in those rooms.

I sold the home on Pauline Street.  My last phone call from Doreen came about three hours before closing.  “This might seem strange,” she said.  “But the boys are here to take me with them and we want to say good bye to the house.  Can we go through it one more time?”  Of course, I said.  It wasn’t a strange request at all.  As a professional Realtor I long ago grew accustomed to (and shared myself) the unique attachment we have to our homes.   I met Doreen at the home. She was accompanied by Rick, Kevin and Daniel – now grown men, coming back to the home that represented their childhood.  I silently watched and followed as they walked around the yard and moved through the now vacant rooms. They laughed.  They told stories.  Every story began with “do you remember…” and ended with a friendly disagreement on the details of the long ago tale that had its genesis in this humble cape cod.  And they cried.  Unashamedly three grown men cried as they locked the door on their past one last time.  

I cried too.  Because I know that the door we shut for the last time was more than a repetition of a gesture done 1000’s of times over the life of this home.  It was shutting the door on a life, a time in history, and a family that would never exist again at 1461 Pauline Street.   Certainly there is life to be lived in the next chapter; good memories to be made; laughter to be had and holidays to be shared. But the transition to the last chapter is rarely easy and even when it holds great promise, it is hard to imagine that it will bring the same joy as a chapter well written.

Occasionally, I still drive by the house on Pauline Street.  New memories are being made there by a young family.   Sometimes I wonder if they know how special their home is?  If they ever want the details, I know three adult men who have stories to tell.  

Gary Tjader came on my radar when I broke a toilet tank lid. Yes. That pesky piece which one doesn’t appreciate until it slips from your hand, breaks and you are forced to look at replacing. I went to Google. And I found Gary. Gary’s website is an entire website devoted to, yes, you guessed it: toilet tank lids! What fascinated me about his website was not only the volume, style, and array of lids Tjader carries from his Los Altos, California shop but his ENTHUSIASM for toilet tank lids. I mean, this man is EXCITED about his product! Gary’s early career as a salesman for a plumbing parts supplier caused him to stumble across a need: Tjader narrowed his expertise to toilet tank lids and the hunt was on! Even a heap of trash bearing a couple of tank lids became a gold mine during one Lake Tahoe ski vacation, says Tjader, who collects 20 to 40 lids per month. He knows the history of lids, has identified the rare (and rare-er!) ones, and provides more education about lids than you ever thought you wanted to know. What are they made of? (Vitreous China) How much do they weigh? (An average of 10 lbs.) What colors do they come in? ( Dozens. More than you ever imagined.) Gary is so deep in toilet tank knowledge that he even has a toilet trivia page to enjoy well, while you’re on the toilet. (Myth debunked: Sir Thomas Crapper did NOT invent the toilet.) Tjader says he does make a living at selling lids but he also loves the “touchdown” feeling of finding that elusive lid.

Why is this important? Because most of us live a lifetime doing SOMETHING but rarely get to devote time to doing THE THING that spurs our passion. There is an emptiness which follows when that predictable something winds down. It is often replaced with a subtle fear that the best of your life is behind you; that your very significance was attached to that thing and is lost in the retiring. Take a moment to remember that passion that may have lain dormant for years. It may even be difficult to remember what it was. Maybe now is the time. Rethink Retirement. Perhaps retirement can mean the retiring of the ‘have-to’s ‘ and the commencing of the want to’s. The time not spent with your hand to the grindstone could be spent with your hand to the paint brush or the classroom or the telescope.

What is your passion? What breadth of knowledge have you collected over a lifetime? What is the subject that gets you excited enough that you could devote a web page of multiple links or moderate a discussion group? Rather than mourn the loss of child-centered life or job-centered routine, celebrate the gift of time. Time to pursue and research; time do meet and do; time to go and explore. Then share. Share your knowledge, share your discoveries, share your talent. Gary Tjader is arguably the most knowledgeable man on the planet in toilet tank lids – which leads to his offering this piece of advice for retirees looking for that “next thing”: build on your base of knowledge for the greatest chance at success. Gary’s success comes from decades in the field, but his passion is fueled by a genuine interest in the product.

In the words of Billy Joel: “You can be what you want. Or you can just be old.” None of us want to ‘just be old’ – we want to maintain the vitality and spark that come with maturity, experience, and excitement in our unique brand of knowledge, skill, and abilities. And, as Gary showed me, it is not the item of specific interest that matters; it is the enthusiasm for SOMETHING that draws others to you.

I was packing up after another DownSize Cleveland event.  The Kathy Chiero Group has presented over a dozen of these seminars,  hosting over 2000  Central Ohio downsizers.  Charlotte, a woman in her mid-70’s walked up to me and said “I just want to thank you for showing me that I’m not alone and I’m not crazy.”   She went on to tell me that the decision to downsize was overwhelming to her.  More accurately, when she began facing the multitude of decisions that go into  this transition we call ‘downsizing’ – she was overwhelmed.

No Charlotte, you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.  Over 9000 Americans a day are turning 55 and many of them are, or will, face the same decisions you are.  However, there are cultural , sociological, medical, and financial reasons this transition is more complex than in preceding generations.  Whether you enter this  “Act 3” with an ensemble cast or standing on stage alone – entering these years on your terms involves careful planning and execution.   When I began presenting the DownSize Cleveland seminar in 2013 I naively believed it was all about selling the house.  Over the years I have listened to my attendees and gone through a downsize myself.   I have learned that while selling a residence is a piece of the downsize puzzle it is a relatively small piece and one of the last pieces to complete the transition picture.   In the middle is a myriad of decisions which  makes one feel like you’re in a real life corn maze: dead ends and blind turns, back tracking and second –guessing.  All the while facing an unstoppable move of time in which you hope your decisions lead you out of the maze wisely, successfully, and happily.

What has changed?

The downsize decision is often not yours:  Many of you are considering selling your home and moving to a smaller space because you are being told you need to. Your children, your doctors, your spouse are insisting that you make a move that you may not feel you need to, may not want,  and are not ready to make.

Our kids do not live near us:  Increased mobility, jobs, spouses from different states (or countries) means that our children are no longer down the street.  While they love us and want the best for us they are not physically there or able to do for us.  Much of the (sometimes literal) heavy lifting of the downsize decision and move is left in the head and hands of the downsizer and spouse.  If the spouse is deceased or divorce has left you single these decisions can be intimidating, frightening and overwhelming.   The response can be that you are immobilized by the fear of making a mistake. This, in itself, can be the biggest mistake you make.

Our kids do not want our stuff:  When I began DownSize Cleveland I quickly learned that “getting rid of stuff” was Job #1 – and the most difficult faced by seniors.  We moved through life saving things with the assumption that the children and grandchildren would want the family furniture; grandma’s china, and Aunt Tilly’s 1920-era armoire.   If you haven’t discovered already: they don’t.  If it wasn’t purchased at Front Room, Ikea, or The Pottery Barn it doesn’t fit in their home or lifestyle.  This means much of it has to go.  Where?  There are resources to sell, give away for tax deduction, or throw away these items but the first step is  yours: a commitment to tackle one room at a time and empty your life, home, and psyche of “stuff”.

When should you start thinking about downsizing?  Earlier than you think.  In my experience it takes two to three years to get to the point of sale of residence and transition when the task is tackled with purpose, a plan, help and deadlines.  It doesn’t just happen.   As a Realtor I have had to witness adult children suspend grief over the loss of a parent because they were mired for months, even years, in settling a parents affairs, selling a home, and divesting the family of Mom and Dad’s “stuff”.   No one wants that for their children.

Where can you start?  Come to DownSize Cleveland on Sunday, September 11, 2016 at the Hilton at Easton.  It is a free event where you will meet 25+ transition partners and hear experts in the five major areas of Transition: Medical, Emotional, Legal, Financial, and Residential.   The event is free, but you must register at     You’ll leave armed with information and the assurance that no, you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.