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Chapter Four: Findings

Within-Case Studies

To follow are sixteen within-case analyses of the in-depth exploration of each

household as a stand-alone entity (“Encyclopedia of Case Study Research,” 2010). To

gain an intimate familiarity with each particular case and discern the identity themes

revealed, every household has a narrative based on interviews, a list of storied

possessions, the life story possession analysis, and case by case themes to answer the

research question: “What identity meanings, related in life span stories, are embedded in

the possessions older adults moved to their new residences?”

Household case study #1: Cole.

Cole moved from living independently in single-family house (SFH-I) to a

condominium (C) within a short walk from is son. It was his second downsizing move

(DSM) as seen in Table 4. Below is Cole’s

life story.

Table 4

Cole’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS




Sq. Ft.

Type DS

M P#

Cole 1923 94 W 35 1,500

I 900 C 2 13

Cole’s parents worked in Yellowstone National Park. Black and white

photographs of erupting geysers, bighorn sheep, bison, grizzly bear, moose, and elk are

featured in Cole’s albums. During the Great Depression, this idyllic lifestyle changed.

His family lost their house to the bank. After that, a desperate family odyssey began, first

to Seattle and then to Ohio, as month after month his father searched for work.


For a time, they stayed on a farm in Ohio. Cole had no friends. “I was a sorry boy,

I’ll tell you. I remember it raining one time walking to school, and then I remember the

onion smells and the filth.” He helped earn living expenses by picking onions. His family

bathed in the creek along with other migrant workers. Cole was mortified when he failed

school. The only pleasant memory he has of that time is of two farm dogs.

About a year after they arrived on the farm, his father was hired as a grocery store

manager in Detroit. “Boy that saved his life. It saved our lives. Things got better from

then on.” The entire family worked in the store though only his father was paid. They

lived off his pay and ate unwanted cracked eggs and old potatoes. “We ate a lot of

potatoes; they could clean up, and those onions—we loved onions too.” Eventually, the

family was able to get a house and a dog. Cole became an avid reader and still reads daily

from a poetry book he bought in high school.

On weekends in high school, Cole and his friends roller-skated all over the city

even as far as Walled City, a celebrity night club. “We’d get out where the big bands

played. I remember they’d shoo us away. They wouldn’t allow us to stay near, but we’d go

out there anyway. Boy, that was great!” Even though Cole’s hearing was impaired in his

advanced old age, he kept his phonograph, “It’s fun. I love my records. Music is

enjoyable and reminds me of places, things, and people.”

Cole became a Navy fighter pilot over the South Pacific during World War II. Air

battles required intense focus. “You had to be a gung-ho to survive: they were shooting at

you!” Often when they were flying blind in bad weather, he would see a hole in the

clouds and dive through it, the other planes following their leader. During one mission, a

bullet penetrated his plane and lodged in the parachute he was wearing. Cole shot down


the enemy plane and saved the bullet from his own parachute. During our interview, Cole

looked through dresser and desk drawers to show it to me, but he could not find it.

Following the war, Cole came home and stole his friend’s beautiful, tall

girlfriend, Annie, after meeting her at a square dance. They married and had four

children. Cole flew with the Navy Reserve on weekends and worked as a sales


during the week. “Flying is the best thing in the world. We had a party every single

Saturday. God. I’m telling you, we had parties. I flew all day. At night, I would invite

Annie out to the base, and then we would party.” Dancing to a jukebox at the Oak Club

with other pilots and their wives was “a ball!” The photo albums he kept in his old age

are filled with reminders of his war and Navy Reserve adventures, his friends, and

family. Showing off one photo, Cole said, “That’s a priceless, perfect picture. See the

planes coming back, and they’re all spread out? They didn’t have far to go, they just took

off, and within 15 minutes they were fighting. To me it’s priceless.”

He loves woodworking, miniature trains, and music boxes. “After the war I got

into these crazy music boxes, and boy that was really fun. We had a club, and other

people made them like I did, and we traded them and had meetings.” Annie and he

collected over one-hundred music boxes. They enjoyed traveling internationally with

MBS, the Musical Box Society. They vacationed yearly in Florida and bought an

additional house there after they retired.

After sixty-four years of marriage, Annie died, and Cole began living in Florida

all year. His daughter “worked like hell” to disband and sell the Michigan house. Cole

did not participate in the process. Later, Cole’s children became concerned about his

memory. They asked him to move closer to one of his sons, Barry, who could visit him


daily. Cole moved into a one-bedroom condominium down the street from his son.

Sparsely furnished, he decorated it to his liking. Magazine advertisements with

photographs of dogs are taped on the walls, along with an advertisement for stiletto heels

modeled by a woman’s long leg. At the insistence of Barry, Cole added framed family

photographs to his everyday life display.

A balsa wood model airplane hangs from the ceiling. Across from his chair is a

poster of fighter planes. On the floor is his tool chest, his most prized possession because

he still wants “to build stuff, to keep stuff repaired.” After his move, reassembling the

train track through the village scene proved too much for Cole, and he became frustrated.

The set is packed away, but a miniature house reminds him that the train set still exists.

One of his music boxes sits in the middle of the room on an occasional table. His photo

and music albums are on the bookcase across the room, and Cole’s book of poetry lies


the table next to his chair. When Cole sits in the chair, his dog is always at his feet.


Table 5

Cole’s Objects Identified in Narrative


1 phonograph Cole—young adult onward

2 photo albums Cole—throughout


3 model air planes Cole—high school onward

4 framed photos Cole—young adult onward

5 books Cole—high school onward

6 train set houses Cole—young adult onward

7 tools Cole—young adult onward

8 sewing machine Cole’s wife—retirement

9 DustBuster Cole—retirement

10 music boxes Cole and his wife—midlife onward

11 school pennant & pins Cole—high school

12 travel bag Cole—young adult onward

13 airplane poster Cole—young adult onward


Figure 9. Cole’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #2).


Figure 10. Photographs of Cole’s storied possessions: upper left—toolbox; upper right—

ceramic houses from electric train village with children’s drawing; lower left—framed

family photographs; lower right—airplane poster & balsa wood airplane model.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Cole moved to his new residence. There are four themes of meaning embedded in the


possessions Cole and his son moved to his condominium: 1) work is life, 2) remembering

the fun and glory, 3) family and friends, and 4) living routines.

Work is life. Cole’s most precious possession is his tool box. The effect of the

Great Depression on his childhood is a constant reminder that the ability and possession

of work brings life. He kept belongings that would allow him to maintain his place and

his belongings. Hand tools, such as claw hammers, incorporate stories of work, “I got a

big kick out of that. You had to seat a nail on oak flooring, seating it—the first blow seats

it—and then you had to pound the hell out of it.”

Remembering the fun and glory. Although he is no longer able to hear the music,

Cole kept his phonograph albums and turntable. They incorporate his love of music and

embed the stories of Officers’ Club dance parties and Detroit teenage roller-skating

adventures. Likewise, the village house, from his electric train set, recalls the time when

the train set was a constant fixture in his home as well as recalling the fun in assembling

things. The airplane poster is embedded with the adrenaline of being a fighter pilot and

the glory of flying machines. His balsa wood model planes combine his joy of

woodworking and assembling with the joy of flying, and his flying bag incorporates his

travels. “I got the flying bag in 1942 and sewed patches on it: Australia, Texas, Bermuda,

Belize—a beautiful island. You can smell how musty it is. We swam and snorkeled


Family and friends. Cole actively uses his photo albums to remember his life.

Each photograph is a story. Many of the black and white images capture events and

people that only Cole remembers. No other person is still living who can recall these

happenings with him. The photograph has become the happening. This was evidenced


when I asked him about a specific event during the depression, and Cole responded, “I

can’t tell you, I don’t know… no one can tell you [emphasis mine]. Don’t even remember

friends, no. I remember we were by a creek, and that’s how we washed. You’d go down

on the creek, and sit on the rocks, and wash. I remember that.” Without the photographs,

items that Cole cannot remember no longer exist because no one else can fill in the

memory gaps. For Cole, the value of these links to his past life are inestimable, “The

[photograph albums] are from the 40s, 50s. They’re all—they’re everything. These are

priceless, priceless.” Cole’s music box is imbued with the gatherings his wife and he

attended throughout the world with other music box club members.

Living routines. Cole’s book of poetry allows him to maintain a routine he

established in high school and which provided mental grounding during his time as a

fighter pilot. His tools and sewing machine allow him to continue creating even without

his workshop. Speaking about the sewing machine, Cole’s son said, “When he got here,

he wanted to sew things. He would look for stuff to do, so he would patch a towel, sew

his pants, things like that.” Cole did not have possessions with low point meanings in his

life. Many of his possessions embedded meanings from more than one of the life story

event themes. For instance, the airplane poster, around which he created a vignette, had

meanings of pinnacle events (successfully surviving air battles), readjustment points

(becoming the squadron leader), and everyday engagements (a consistent interest in the

mechanical assembly and performance of specific planes).


Household Case Study #2: Elaine. Elaine moved from a senior independent

living (SIL) apartment to an assisted living (AL) studio apartment. It was her third

downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 6. Below is Elaine’s life story.

Table 6

Elaine’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.

Type DSM P#

Elaine 1923 94 W 1 1,135 SIL 375 AL 3 9

Elaine was born in a small, Midwestern college town. As a child, she loved cats

and had an affinity for music. She sang and practiced the piano diligently. Unlike other

children, this passion did not fade when she graduated from high school. It was a constant

in her life, as was the admiration for her father embodied in her hope chest. He made it

for her by hand, investing both his time and money.

After high school, Elaine’s love of music went with her to college where she

received a degree in voice and music. It was there she met Jeff, a veteran of WWII. They

married and had four children in close proximity. Elaine gave up her dreams of a music

career to teach high school. She collected small, porcelain pianos, though, and continued

playing on her own piano and organ throughout her life. Jeff worked in the automobile

industry, and they relocated to four different states as he moved up the corporate ladder.

The hope chest always came with them. Elaine was never able to indulge her desire for a

pet cat, as Jeff had forbidden them. He hated the smell. However, as a gesture of love

from one cat lover to another, a friend of Elaine’s gave her a life-size one of the porcelain



Their moves stopped when they decided their children needed to stay in the same

high school and church congregation. Family and church were very important to them.

Their family entertained often, participated in sports, played bridge and card games, sang

around the campfire, and told stories. After retirement, Elaine and Jeff took cruises and

traveled to all 50 states. They had 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Elaine and Jeff were original participants in my pilot study. At that time, they

were disbanding their patio-house to relocate into a senior living apartment due to Jeff’s

failing health. Although they knew they needed to relocate, they did not do so until their

children forced the issue. Jeff was unhappy, but the children felt trapped between wanting

independence for their parents and knowing Elaine was concerned about remaining in the

patio-house. She often broke down and cried when talking with her daughter-in-law.

During disbandment, they gave away or sold most of their things. Finding a new place for

the beloved organ and piano was particularly difficult. No one wanted them anymore.

Neither were in vogue, and floor space was not available. This disappointed Elaine, but

Jeff and she maintained that they weren’t really attached to material things. Elaine made

sure to hang on to the hope chest, though, forgoing a washer and dryer in order to have a

space for the chest. The porcelain cat came as well.

Less than a year after they moved, Jeff died, age 92. They had been married for

seventy-years. After disbanding her household to the bare essentials, Elaine moved once

again into an assisted living studio closer to one of her children. It was an emotionally

wrenching and ultimately debilitating move.

Elaine’s daughter-in-law, Tori, gave me the remaining information through a

telephone interview. Tori and Elaine’s son, Preston, were experiencing their own health


crisis the year Jeff died. Tori’s had surgery for metastasized cancer. She went into a coma

and came close to dying. Additionally, a different one of Elaine’s sons moved out-of-

state to be closer to his children. This left only Preston to assume Elaine’s ongoing care.

After Jeff’s death, Elaine was very vocal about wanting to live with Preston and Tori, but

Tori was unable to take that responsibility. Preston took Elaine to five different assisted

living facilities before she chose one, but she was very angry about not being able to live

with them. She said she could not believe she had three children and none of them would

take her in.

During the senior living apartment disbandment, Elaine sat in a chair while her

family members brought her items to decide upon. Her most prized possession, her hope

chest, went to her granddaughter. Tori thought she was in denial through most of the

disbandment process.

During the first disbandment, Elaine told me photographs and photo albums were

important to her because they represented family and friends. They’d lost a son to cancer,

and his photographs reminded her how much she missed him every day. She and Jeff had

kept photographs and a few paintings given to them by friends to take to their senior

living apartment. However, after moving into her studio apartment, Elaine did not

personalize her space. She routinely asked her children how long she had to stay there.

Preston, in an effort to convince her that the studio apartment was now her home, brought

a hammer and nails and hung the family photographs, the paintings, and a clock from her

alma mater.

When I visited, I noticed the lift chair Elaine had proudly showed me in an earlier

disbandment. It had been moved to the studio with another chair, a dresser, and a desk


chair. She had a new twin bed because her larger bed did not fit. Her children were

frustrated with the tight space; it made visiting awkward. They had wanted her to get a

one-bedroom apartment, but true to her values, Elaine did not want to spend the extra

money. The porcelain cat, however, moved with her and occupied a spot next to her bed.


Table 7

Elaine’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 photographs Elaine—children and

2 paintings Elaine from midlife

3 porcelain cat Elaine from midlife

4 alma mater clock Elaine from young adult

5 calendar Elaine current

6 desk chair Elaine from midlife

7 lift-chair Elaine—recent purchase to replace

8 dresser Elaine from midlife

9 twin bed Elaine new for assisted living


Figure 11. Elaine’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #2).


Figure 12. Photographs of Elaine’s storied possessions: left—family photographs,

painting, chair; right—desk chair, clock, calendar.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Elaine moved to her new residence. I only identified one theme of meaning embedded

in Elaine’s remaining possessions. Perhaps this is because the move to assisted living was

a turning point for Elaine. She and Jeff had previously maintained that they were not

really attached to material things, but at this point in her life she turned away from the

comfort of embedded meaning in her possessions.

Resisting rejection. The first time I interviewed Elaine, her husband was still

living, and we discussed their first disbandment experience for my pilot study. There was

a marked change with the second disbandment after Jeff’s death. The theme of meaning

associated with the subsequent disbandment was resisting rejection. Elaine’s resistance

was demonstrated by her refusal to personalize her space with family photographs and

paintings from her previous residences. Feeling rejected by her family, she resisted

attempts to create a sense of home. She routinely asked her children how long she had to

stay in assisted living. Elaine’s anger was not abated by her oldest son’s effort to


personalize the studio apartment by hanging the photographs, paintings, and a clock. Her

possessions fall into the representations of adjustment theme because they are placed in

an environment that is a permanent change in her life direction, exemplified in her

statement, “I don’t miss my stuff. I miss my life.”At the time of Elaine’s first

disbandment, she told me her photographs were one of her most precious possessions

because they represented family. During our second disbandment interview, however, she

discussed one of the only decorative objects in the room: the life-sized porcelain cat her

friend made years ago. She was pleased with the way she had gotten around her late

husband’s no-cats mandate saying, “So, I have a cat that doesn’t have a smell.” The cat

became a storied possession of her resistance to others trying to make home for her.While

I was writing up my findings, Elaine’s health declined further. She died shortly after

entering hospice care. The end of Elaine’s life with her possessions reflects suggestions

by Rapoport (2005), as mentioned in Chapter Two, that our home range expands over the

life course, begins shrinking with old age, and becomes very limited frailty.


Household Case Study #3: George and Tillie. George and Tillie moved from

living independently in a single-family house (SFH-I) to an assisted living (AL) one-

bedroom apartment. It was their first downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 8. Below

is George and Tillie’s life story.

Table 8

George and Tillie’s Profile

Nom de
Plume YOB Age MS

Sq. Ft.


M P#

George+ 1925 91 M 30 3,500 SFH-I 584 AL 1 22

Tillie 1940 77 M 30 3,500 SFH-I 584 AL 1 22

Tillie grew up in the farmhouse her grandparents built it in 1903 and in which her

eight brothers and sisters were born. With the help of her nine children, Tillie’s mother

maintained a half-acre garden, canning enough vegetables to feed their family through

the winter. There were three metal stars on the exterior of the house. Tillie was grieved,

years later, when their farmhouse was destroyed in a fire. A newspaper article about the

fire was framed in a shadowbox with one of the metal stars from the house. The

stoneware crock that Tillie, her grandmother, and mother used to make sauerkraut and

pickles was in the apartment living room. In addition to cooking and baking, Tillie’s

mother taught her daughters to sew. Tillie kept a quilt that her mother, aunt, and sisters

blocked, embroidered, and appliqued as well as her own high school sewing box.

After high school, Tillie taught school, had three children, and divorced her first

husband of twenty-five years. She moved with furniture, household items, and


memorabilia several times before she met George. They married after meeting while

working at the phone company, and she moved the stuff into their house.

Twelve years older than Tillie, George, an only child, was born during the Great

Depression and moved from one apartment to another. He did not have his own room

until he was sixteen years old. George’s father managed grocery stores. At one of them,

he had a candlestick phone on his desk. His friends also had candlestick phones in their

houses. George’s favorite possessions were two candlestick phones that he adapted for

landline use. Their grandchildren enjoyed using them to call friends.

After high school, George served in the Navy for ten years. Later he worked for

the telephone company. He lost his first wife to polio, leaving him a single father of two

very young children. One day, before his wife contracted polio, his three-year-old son

asked if he could have one of the neighbors’ new kittens. Although she said no, she was

surprised later when she reached into the cookie jar and touched a kitten. Startled, she

threw the cookie jar lid, and it broke in two. George kept it. Years later, Tillie and he

repaired the lid, which had a large ceramic apple on it, and gave the cookie jar to his son

as a gift. George also kept his mother’s Franciscan Apple stoneware boxed in the

basement. After Tillie discovered it, she insisted they use the stoneware. Throughout their

marriage they enjoyed collecting additional pieces together.

After getting married, they sold their individual houses to buy one house. It was

very plain and located on land outside of town. Until their household disbandment,

neither George nor Tillie systematically culled their belongings. They were comfortable

amidst their meaningful clutter.


While George was in the hospital, Tillie had an auction with the help of their

children. Disbandment was a traumatic experience, and the things they kept were very

important to them. Tillie rented a one-bedroom apartment and moved what furniture

would fit. In hindsight, she and George would have rather had two bedrooms. They feel

crowded in the seven-hundred square feet, but they also have storage in the facility’s

basement where they put Christmas decorations. A daughter, Lori, and


helped arrange photographs and objects on the walls of the apartment. There is a

photograph of George’s 90th birthday with all their family. They also have a framed

photograph of the Navy carrier George served on. The photograph had been in the

auction, but Tillie’s little brother, who was also in the Navy, rescued it. He framed and

gave it to George knowing he would want to keep it.

George and Tillie still listen to CDs. George enjoys Glenn Miller and big band

music. Although he has some of his favorite books, including a dictionary and Bible,

George misses his extensive collection. Tillie feels badly about the Franciscan Apple

stoneware collection she sold, but she kept eight place-settings and serving pieces and the

oak dining room table, four chairs, and china hutch, along with her heavy aluminum

cookware. Years ago, she burned the food she cooked in other pans. The aluminum was

tried and true.

Although George had many beautiful clocks, they only kept an oak grandfather

clock—a Christmas present from Tillie many years before. A handmade stained-glass

window, a wedding present from a friend, hands on the wall. Tillie has antique glassware,

cookie cutters in old fruitcake tins, and old jars above the kitchen cupboards. They have a

large Planters Peanuts nut bowl set that included small individual bowls. They use them


when they play bridge with other couples. Torrie’s son made the small oak cabinet with a

lower shelf that they hung on the kitchen wall and in which they store coffee and tea.

George and Tillie’s previous king-sized furniture would not fit in their new

bedroom, so they kept his parent’s queen-sized suite. A daughter used family

photographs to create a three-dimensional star that hung on the bedroom wall; Tillie is

thinking about moving it into the living room, so more people will see it. A family tree

was created with photographs that were taken during Tillie’s parents fiftieth wedding

anniversary celebration.

George considers the apartment home, although he does not “like” it. However, in

accordance with the pragmatic life understanding revealed in our interviews, he finds

some good; he enjoys the view out the apartment’s window.


Table 9

George and Tillie’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 oak hutch, dining table, & chairs Tillie—midlife

2 Franciscan Apple dishes George’s mother onward

3 Rollator carts George & Tillie—frailty

4 90th birthday family photo George—frailty

5 grandfather clock George & Tillie—midlife

6 candle stick phones (2) George’s father onward

7 framed photo of navy airline carrier George—young adult

8 lift-chairs (2) George & Tillie—retirement

9 George Miller CDs George—young adult onward

10 Planters Peanut collection George & Tillie—midlife on

11 sunflower objects collection Tillie—midlife on

12 bedroom furniture George’s parents

13 photographic family tree Tillie—parents onward

14 photo in beautiful frame George’s mother

15 yellow and gray bedding Tillie—frailty

16 photo of previous old house George & Tillie—midlife on

17 shell object collection George & Tillie—midlife on

18 artifacts from Tillie’s ancestral home Tillie’s grandparents onward

19 Tillie’s mother’s vanity dresser set Tillie’s mother

20 sewing box Tillie—high school

21 Christmas decorations Tillie & George—midlife on

22 handcrafted quilt Tillie’s extended family


Figure 13. George and Tillie’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #3).


Figure 14. Photographs of George & Tillie’s storied possessions: upper left—candlestick

phone; upper right—stained glass & sea shells; lower left—mother’s vanity dresser set;

lower right—Planters cookie jar and nut bowls.


Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

George and Tillie moved to their new residence. There are four themes of meaning

embedded in the possessions George and Tillie moved to their new one-bedroom senior

apartment in assisted living: 1) expandable, 2) collectors, 3) organization is less important

than abundance, and 4) active and adaptable.

Expandable. Tillie grew up in a large rural family and has three children. George

grew up as an only child and has five children. George and Tillie are people who expand

themselves to take in people and things. The statement “less is more” has no relevance

for them. They spent their life together adding more possessions to what they already

loved and thought beautiful. Beauty for them was magnified through quantity. When

family members passed away, George and Tillie took in their possessions. They

expanded the footprint of their house to incorporate antiques from relatives. Disbandment

was traumatic for them. Even though they auctioned most of their items, the items

remaining fill the new apartment to overflowing. Expandable, as an identity, is embedded

in the gestalt of possessions. Downsizing their possessions was a health-related

requirement rather than a turning point in their lives.

Collectors. One of the ways Tillie and George expanded their possessions was

through collecting, an activity they enjoyed doing together over many years. They

traveled looking for antiques and began collections of many different types of items. The

identity of collector is embedded in many of their possessions. Collections are nested in

collections. Above kitchen cabinets is a tin container collection. Inside one of the tins are

Mr. Peanut nut cups. Inside another is a collection of cookie cutters. George and Tillie are


no longer able to travel and purchase items. By keeping smaller collections, they are able

to keep the identity of collector, an area of companionship throughout their marriage.

Organization is less important than abundance. George and Tillie do not live in

abject disorganization, but they have more items than they have access to storage.

Horizontal surfaces are covered, and prized possessions are stacked one on top of the

other. George does not like the clutter, but both he and Tillie prefer to live in

disorganization than give away possessions.

Active and adaptable. Music and activity still matter to George and Tillie. His

Glen Miller collection is within easy reach of his chair. Lift chairs help them to stand

making movement less painful. They bought a new car after their auction which allows

them to put their Rollators in the back seat. They can continue grocery shopping with the

walker-cart combination. Although they are able to entertain using their Franciscan apple

china collection and dining table, they generally go to the dining hall. The ability to

entertain is more important that entertaining.


Household Case Study #4: Lance and Monica. Lance and Monica moved from

living independently in a single-family house (SFH-I) to an assisted living (SIL) two-

bedroom apartment. It was their first downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 10.

Below is Lance and Monica’s life story.

Table 10

Lance and Monica’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.


M P#

Lance+ 1928 91 M 22 1,800 SFH-I 980 SIL 1 28

Monica 1930 87 M 22 1,800 SFH-I 980 SIL 1 28

Lance’s father was a cowboy born on a ranch. During the Great Depression, he

got a job in the post office. He didn’t get paid much, but he got paid weekly. Lance’s

mother was a school teacher. When they decided to marry in 1925, Lance’s father picked

up his mother on a Friday after school, and they went to the blacksmith’s. The blacksmith

was a Baptist preacher, and he married them in the car. Lance’s father said it was the first

drive-in wedding. His parents had four boys and a girl. They stayed in Texas, where

Lance was born and raised.

Lance first started out in law, but after a while, he and his family decided that law

school was not for him, and he went into ministry. Lance met Monica on a Greyhound

Bus coming back from a student conference.

Monica’s grandfather came out west on a covered wagon. She still has his rocking

chair as seen in Figure 16. Both her parents grew up on ranches. Her father became a

pharmacist then a pharmaceutical sales representative. He was hearing impaired, and


Monica’s mother had ongoing anxiety about his ability to hear trains when he traveled.

During her childhood, Monica and other children could ride the bus to town and go to the

movies without worry. After high school, Monica looked at several colleges, but her

mother wanted her to go to a local college in case something happened to her father.

Monica studied journalism, and when she was a junior, she went to work for the

Dallas Times Herald. She and Lance married after she graduated in September of 1951.

Lance became a college minister, and Monica, embracing the social attitude of the time,

chose not to continue in her career after she had children.

At Lance’s second appointment, during Senator Joe McCarthy’s interrogation of

suspected communists, Lance was asked by the school to sign a loyalty oath. He

conscientiously wrote a letter saying he would sign the loyalty oath, but it was illegal and

improper. Deciding he couldn’t do the same the following year, they moved to a third

campus appointment after friends helped create a job for him. He became a Bible teacher

and Director of Student Activities. Those friends remained dear and valued. After four

years, they moved northeast for Lance’s graduate degree, a very different environment

from their southwestern roots. Their third son was born the year it snowed 88 inches. It

was a difficult and financially lean time. They thought it was heaven to move back to the

southwest after a year in the harsh weather. Eventually, Lance got an appointment at their

alma mater, and he served as campus minister until his retirement.

When Lance and Monica started encountering age-related physical declines, they

decided to move. They wanted to make the change before they had to stop driving or

were no longer able to communicate with others, something they had seen happen to their

parents. They used senior move managers who suggested what furniture would fit in the


new residence they had selected, and Lance and Monica told them what they most

wanted to keep. An estate saleswoman sold their remaining possessions.

Lance and Monica believe they have everything they need, but she misses the

little things. Somewhere in the move her mother’s and grandmother’s wedding rings were

lost. So was a small vase that her aunt and given her. It had been a wedding present of her

grandmother’s. It was just a little thing, but she feels its loss. Still, Monica knows she has

plenty of souvenirs. The things that family or friends gave Lance and Monica are most

valuable to them. Photographs of friends and family are displayed. Their beloved books

fill their bookcases. Even more photographs and books are stored in their closets.

The only big mistake Monica and Lance believe they made concerns a couch. The

senior move managers told them their old one would not fit—what they meant was it

would not fit with their understanding of what the room ought to look like. They replaced

it with a smaller one, but after they moved, Monica and Lance realized there would have

been physical space. It would have been tight but that would not have mattered. Having a

comfortable place to nap in the living room would have been better.

Their apartment feels like home mostly. Their phone is important. It gives them a

digital printout of the conversation, so they know what is being said. It helps Monica stay

in communication with others. They regret there is no place for children and friends to

sleep when they come to visit, but that does not happen very often. Lance and Monica

believe the place would not be as good without their things; but they do not think it

would be too bad. Monica likes to think that she could adapt to it, but she likes having her

things. If none of them were there, it would be strange; but she thinks they could make it.


Table 11

Lance & Monica’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 drawing by Lance’s mother of

family farm & clock

Lance’s mother

2 curio cabinet for figurine collection Monica – young adult on

3 technology -TV, DVD players,

radio, tape player

Lance & Monica retirement

4 family photographs Lance & Monica childhood on

5 quilt made by Lance’s sister after

50th anniversary

Lance & Monica retirement

6 alma mater symbol crest important to Lance & Monica

7 rocking chair from prominent ranch

Monica’s grandfather’s

8 painting by long term colleague

Lance & Monica midlife

9 numbered print illustration “Bronc

for Breakfast” bought by Monica at

Charlie Russell’s museum

Lance – midlife

10 collection of figurines Monica – young adult

11 2 paintings from Alaska where

relatives live

Lance & Monica retirement

12 inherited table Monica’s parents


13 molas hand-stitched by women of

small Caribbean island

Lance & Monica midlife

14 bookcase with books Lance & Monica childhood on

15 copy of alma mater bronze bench

plaque dedicated with tree to Lance

for his work

Lance retirement

16 file & map case Lance & Monica midlife

17 Japanese statue – owned by

sociology teacher friend with whom

Lance played tennis; family gave

him statue when she died.

Lance midlife

18 desk brought from Kentucky by

covered wagon in 1875 by Lance’s


Lance great-grandfather

19 lamp from prominent ranch –

formerly coal oil – converted to


Monica’s grandfather’s

20 plates – contributions from both

sides of the family

Lance & Monica ancestors

21 plaque- awarded to Lance when a

Peace & Justice Fellowship was


Lance midlife


22 needle-points done by German


Monica ancestor

23 cedar chest Lance’s grandmother

24 tennis bag Lance played

25 chest of drawers made by Monica’s


Monica parent

26 pantry known as the place the china cabinet

almost fit!

27 closet/pantry: Lance’s tool chest,

books, Monica’s tote bags, 5

elephant book ends, slow-cooker,


Lance & Monica – retirement

28 Monica’s wedding photo above Monica-young adult


Figure 15. Lance and Monica’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #4).


Figure 16. Photographs of Lance & Monica’s storied possessions: upper left—second

bedroom with quilt, rocker, family photographs; upper right—farm clock, mother’s farm

drawing, family photographs; lower left—book shelf with books & plaques; lower right—

wedding portrait, chest of drawers made by father.


Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Lance and Monica moved to their new residence. There are four themes of meaning

embedded in the possessions Lance and Monica moved to their new two-bedroom

apartment in the senior living facility of a continuing care retirement community: 1)

relationships matter, 2) family matters, and 3) books matter.

Relationships matter. Lance and Monica embedded layered meanings into

possessions that demonstrate investment of time and energy in relationships with people

throughout their ministry career. These meanings support gendered social mores. Monica

invested in raising their children and supporting Lance’s ministry. He received the

accolades that are represented by possessions. Together they spent time with other people

which is demonstrated in prized life-long relationships and gifts given to them by these

people. These gifts are both signs and symbols of their investments. Monica’s support is

demonstrated by the fiftieth anniversary quilt, which is Lance’s most prized possession.

The current acquisition of the phone that enables Monica to communicate better

demonstrates Lance’s support of Monica and their relationships.

Family matters. Generous displays of photographs surrounding the fiftieth

anniversary quilt create a sign meaning that family matters to Lance and Monica.

Throughout their apartment are other photographs. Fine and folk art also demonstrate

embedded family meanings that extend the mortality of parents, grandparents, and great


Books matter. Reading is a shared activity between the couple. Although they

sorted and gave away books, the apartment has large spaces donated to the books they


kept including books secreted away in their closet because they do not fit in the



Household Case Study #5: Fern. Fern moved from a senior independent living

(SIL) apartment into a bedroom in her daughter and son-in-law’s single-family house

(SFH-AC). It was her third downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 12. Below is Fern’s

life story.

Table 12

Fern’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
M P#

Fern 1927 90 W 12 1,000 SIL
114 of
3,200 SFH – AC 3 14

Carrying her slight 4’6” frame with grace and dignity gives Fern a Yoda-like

appeal. Her daughter said she sometimes gets cranky, and when bored she worries, but

that is not her public persona. As part of her ninetieth birthday celebration, Fern sang “I

Got You Babe” at a karaoke bar with a female impersonator, “Cher.” Fern’s clothes are

upbeat and stylish. Her hair is coiffed, and her nails manicured and pedicured.

Born just before the Great Depression, Fern was the fourth of five siblings. Her

oldest brother and sister are still living. His brother calls Fern and her sister weekly. Fern

has photographs of her siblings that are precious to her. When she looks at the pictures of

their young family, she acknowledges they didn’t have much, “But we didn’t know. I was

too young, and I didn’t know we were poor.” Their mother died when Fern was four.

Their father, JW, told the older children to take care of the younger ones, which they did.

When Fern was twelve, the Depression had fully engulfed the US. Her father fell

ill. He asked her older brother, then 18, to find families to adopt the two youngest

children. Fern was adopted by a family who could provide her with a good education.


The adoptive family did not care for her in the way her family of origin expected.

Her adoptive father was a pedophile. After high school, Fern attended college classes,

dated, and knit socks for boyfriends. She met a man named Simon through a mutual

friend. Simon, six years her senior, was career military. When he found out about her

living situation, he wanted to get married, so they did. Fern has no possessions from her

adoptive family because of the unhappiness associated with them. She considers herself

“pretty darn lucky” to have a family of origin that helped her to be strong during this


Simon and Fern traveled with the military for thirty-one years. He was an Army

pilot. After they retired from the military, Simon taught at a university, and she worked

for the city. “We loved our small town and took part in everything.” They built a house

and finally had their own place to display the items they collected on their world travels.

They became very involved with their religious community, even hosting a world-famous

leader at their dining room table as they worked together to help others around the world.

Fern worked for the city for ten years. When she retired, the city had “Fern Day” in

appreciation for all her work.

Simon and Fern continued traveling for pleasure. They often went to air shows to

watch planes with their daughter, Leah, and their son-in-law, Joel. They stopped traveling

when Simon was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While having chemotherapy, he

became depressed and decided he was too tired to continue the treatments. Fern refers to

their marriage as good while acknowledging that she and Simon were not perfect people.

Fern says that she learned to view love as unconditional. “When I look at a picture of

him, I could never, never remarry. Never.”


A couple of years ago, Fern began to spiral downward emotionally and

physically. She was in pain. “I was getting depressed, losing my friends, and I knew I

couldn’t help them.” Leah and Joel, who live in a nearby town, suggested she sell the

house and move in with them. As their house was already fully furnished, it meant that

Fern needed to get rid of most of her belongings. She made a choice to sell the house and

virtually everything in it to a single woman who Fern believed was in need and worthy.

The walls in Fern’s new bedroom are covered with items from her life with

Simon. She has two chairs. In the morning she knits quietly by herself and enjoys a cup

of coffee. Her wedding ketubah is directly across from her chair. Simon’s photograph is

on her bedroom table. At the foot of her bed is another chair next to a TV and DVD

player. She uses this area of her room to exercise along with a DVD. At the head of her

bed are framed fans given to Simon and her when he taught in Taiwan. There are

paintings on another wall. The artist is Sammy Davis, Jr.’s wife. The paintings originally

belonged to Fern’s sister-in-law who was a friend of the artist.

Throughout the rest of the house are framed illustrations and photographs of

different planes in flight; some of them were flown both by Simon and Joel when they

were in the Army. On the fireplace mantel is a menorah Simon and Fern bought in Israel.

Fern’s candelabras are in the dining room so that she can do her Friday night blessings

and holidays. She also has all the pieces for Passover Seder. Leah and Fern mingle their

cookbooks and photographs. Leah has a business office in the house, and Fern has a

computer and desk opposite to Leah’s. Fern communicates with friends and family using

Facebook and email.


Fern enjoys her life with Leah and Joel. “I’m very, very happy. I really am.” Fern

travels with Joel and Leah, and she contributes to Leah’s business with knitted scarves

for Leah’s clients. “I knit in the car.” When I suggest that may be the secret to aging well,

Fern responds, “I’m having a ball!”


Table 13

Fern’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 photographs Fern—childhood on

2 computer Fern—frailty

3 Original fine art


4 photograph of her beloved late-



5 richly ornamented ketubah Fern—young adult

6 bedroom chairs Fern—frailty

7 chair (living room) daughter purchased for Fern—frailty

8 chair (master bedroom) daughter purchased for Fern—frailty

9 cookbooks Fern—young adult on

10 two closets filled with clothes Fern—frailty

11 DVD player Fern—frailty

12 prints of aircraft daughter, son-in-law young adult on

13 Shabbat candelabras Fern—midlife on

14 knick-knacks Fern—gifts from friends, midlife on


Figure 17. Fern Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #5).


Figure 18. Photographs of Fern’s storied possessions: upper left—illustrations of WWII

aircraft & bookcase; upper right—computer, desk, & family photographs; lower left—90th

birthday celebration book; lower right—womb chair & ottoman, WWII aircraft


Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Fern moved to her new residence. There are three themes of meaning embedded in the


possessions Fern moved into her daughter and son-in-law’s house: 1) engages the

present, 2) remembers the past, and 3) erases baggage.

Engages the present. Fern’s decision to engage with every new day is

demonstrated in the photographs she keeps of her karaoke performances with Cher, her

two red chairs positioned throughout the house so that she can be participate fully with

her family, and her computer desk arrangement that allows her to communicate with

friends and family at the same time her daughter is conducting business. The womb

chairs as a modern element have sign meanings that she is stylish and contemporary. Her

knitting and exercise chairs demonstrate she is active.

Remembers the past. Fern’s photographs of her late-husband and late-sons extend

their mortality, help her remember them, and are embedded with the meaning that she

sacrificially loved one man and was the mother of sons. This meaning is echoed in her

ketubah. Photographs of her family of origin contain meanings of overcoming extreme

grief and surviving. Small knickknacks and fine art are also embedded with meanings of

family members and friends who are no longer living but whose relationships were

important to her.

Erases baggage The absence of any possessions from her adopted family

demonstrate her intentionality to remove emotional baggage from her life.


Household Case Study #6: Bridgette and Leon. Bridgette and Leon moved

from living independently in a single-family house (SFH-I) a two-bedroom senior

apartment facility (SA). It was their first downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 14.

Below is Bridgette and Leon’s life story.

Table 14

Bridgette and Leon’s Profile

Nom de
Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
M P#

Bridgette+ 1932 85 M 40 1,000 SFH-I 957 SA 1 22

Leon 1934 83 M 40 1,000 SFH-I 957 SA 1 22

Bridgette’s father was a trucker, something she is proud of. She has a photograph

of her father and other truck drivers standing by a group of trucks lined up in an arc. As a

child she loved roller-skating and met Leon at a neighborhood roller skating rink after she

graduated from high school.

She was a legal secretary, and Leon was enrolled in college after having served

four years in the Navy. They married and went to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon and

came back to live in an apartment above a garage. Leon had a friend, Tom, who noticed

Bridgette could not reach the upper cabinets in the apartment, and he built a stool that she

still treasures. It never had a loose screw, and their children carried it around the house

and brushed their teeth on it. She thinks of Tom every time she uses it.

After college, Leon became a mechanic like his father. He also remained in the

Navy Reserve for twenty-six years. Their marriage was fruitful. They had one daughter

and three sons, but while they were in the disbandment process, their middle-son died in


a motorcycle accident. Their grief delayed Leon and Bridgette’s move, and they still

attend a grief support group in their current senior apartment facility.

I arrived at their two-bedroom apartment for their interview during the holidays; a

wreath with miniature hand crocheted Santa socks decorated the entry door. Children’s

Christmas books lined the breakfast bar. A Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments,

and a baseball batting Santa figurine displayed. The figurine is special because Leon gave

it to Bridgette. The nativity set was out. Of the twenty-five they owned, it is the only one

they kept. Bridgette explained it is called a pencil set because the figures are tall and

weird looking—the uniqueness has value to them.

Leon’s bedroom is larger than Bridgette’s and has a larger attached bathroom.

The smaller bedroom, however, had the larger closet Bridgette wanted. She gave away

clothes to get the things she wanted to fit in the closet. She put a chest-of-drawers from

her bedroom suite into it, along with a child’s table and chair that she said was so ugly it

was cute. She kept puzzles, paper dolls, balls, jacks, and crayons in her closet. The toys

were gifts from Leon or their children. Although she wanted some of them for their great-

grandchildren, Bridgette, herself, enjoys coloring and doing puzzles. She and other

residents recently put together a two thousand piece Gone with the Wind puzzle on a table

outside their apartment.

Bridgette keeps her favorite books in her bedroom bookcase. On the wall is a

frame with photographs of Bridgette at four and Leon at three. They lost most of their

photographs in a basement flood years ago. Bridgette made albums with the surviving

photos for children and grandchildren. She has a small pencil collection and a chair that


Leon traded a Volkswagen pickup truck to get. Bridgette named her bed and their couch

as two of her most prized possessions.

Leon said he had fun creating his library by putting his bookcase in his bathroom.

His books had notable themes: the sinking of the Indianapolis, aviation-related World

War II, Henry Ford, The Spirit of St Louis with Lindbergh, and Volkswagen cars. A book

Bridgette gave to Leon in 1967 is one of his favorites.

Once, when Leon and Bridgette were in Arizona babysitting their grandchildren,

they went to a PTA carnival, and Leon paid a dollar to have a caricature of them drawn

on butcher paper. He had it framed, and it is now on their bedroom wall. On an old City

Hall table sits a curio cabinet filled with small engines Leon made from scrap metal, Blue

Angel Navy wings, and Lions Club pins. His dresser top holds Bridgette’s baby sister’s

bronzed shoe; she died from whooping cough before she was two-years-old. Their late

son’s cinerary urn is next to it, along with a photograph of him with his baby brother.

Another photograph of a much younger Bridgette and a clock given them for their 50th

wedding anniversary are also present.

In the living room, Bridgette and Leon trade ends on the sofa to watch TV or

something from their extensive DVD collection. They share Leon’s stool as their foot

rest. They have a small kitchen table and chairs from their former house. An umbrella

basket from a Longaberger party sits next to the table. Their daughter-in-law bought the

basket. Bridgette wryly acknowledged the basket never had a wet umbrella in it.

A storage unit houses out-of-season clothes, handcrafted things made by

Bridgette, seasonal decorations, another steam engine built by Leon, and Bridgette’s

LuRay pottery.


The day before the interview, Leon and Bridgette were running errands. Bridgette

told me, “Yesterday I said, ‘When we go home, we need to do so-and-so and so-and-so,’

and I thought when we go home, it’ll be a different place, but when we go home now, this

is where we come.”


Table 15

Bridgette & Leon’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 little stool Bridgette—young adult

2 Longaberger umbrella basket


3 children’s table and chair a nasty

shade of green


4 paper dolls & crayons Bridgette—midlife on

5 bureau Bridgette—midlife

6 Luray pottery Bridgette—young adult on

7 little clock Bridgette & Leon—retirement

8 kitchen bowls Bridgette—young adult on

9 baseball batting Santa Bridgette—retirement

10 pencil nativity weird looking pieces Bridgette & Leon—midlife on

11 gal drew our caricatures for a dollar Leon—retirement

12 little steam engine Leon—retirement

13 abacus Leon—midlife

14 Blue Angel Navy airplane pins Leon—young adult on

15 Lion’s Club pins Leon—midlife one

16 book collection Leon—high school on

17 urn with son’s ashes Bridgette & Leon—frailty

18 rectory table Leon—midlife

19 photograph of young Bridgette Leon—young adult


20 photographs of sons Leon—midlife

21 bed Bridgette—midlife

22 ladder back oak chair Bridgette—retirement


Figure 19. Bridgette and Leon Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #6).


Figure 20. Photographs of Bridgette and Leon’s storied possessions: upper left—jewelry

box and small green chair and table in closet; upper right—son’s cinerary urn; lower left—

Leon’s curio cabinet with Lion’s and Blue Angel Navy pins; lower right—living room

showing books, TV, DVDs, and Longaberger umbrella basket.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Bridgette and Leon moved to their new residence. There are three themes of meaning

embedded in the possessions Bridgette and Leon moved into their senior apartment: 1)


woven interests, 2) family, and 3) joy in the unique.

Woven interests. Possessions are embedded with their own personal identities but

are woven together throughout their space. The weaving of the possessions creates a

gestalt that demonstrates their investment in each other.

Family. Meanings of poignant grief and family unity are embedded in their

possessions as seen in photographs, folk art, and décor. Possessions incorporate chosen


Joy in unique. Possessions they consider odd or weird are embedded with

meanings that embrace the different, unique, and unusual.


Household Case Study #7: Grayson. Grayson moved from living independently

in a single-family house (SFH-I) to a two-bedroom senior apartment (SA). It was his first

downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 16. Below is Grayson’s life story.

Table 16

Grayson’s Profile

Nom de
Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
Type DSM P#

Grayson 1932 85 W 43 2,000

I 957 SA 1 21

Grayson grew up as a Kansas farm boy. After graduating high school, he flew

B47s during the Cold War, in that brief span of time, when the Korean conflict took a nap

and Vietnam had not yet fully drawn the attention of the United States. He knew the mass

and weight of that war plane.

When I met him, it had been seven years since his wife, Sadie, had died.

Grayson’s friends, neighbors, and family know his grief was deep, but they thought he

was healing. “How does a gutted animal heal,” he pondered. But he continued as best he

could without his wife. He did not quit.

Today he still serves his college-pledged, national fraternity. He has received their

highest award for service, a lead crystal vase etched with their emblem and his name, one

of his prized possessions. “I don’t mind bragging about it.” He is now, in the language of

the fraternity, a Silver Gray: an older man who can lead, inspire, correct, and encourage

younger men. When he himself was the young man, growing up in hill country with farm

boys, it felt natural to pledge a brotherhood built on principles of mutual assistance,

intellectual growth, trust, responsible conduct, and integrity. Grayson’s beliefs were


forged in part through this fraternity alliance. He came to fully believe that men were

mutually obligated to help others work to achieve higher goals. To do this he devoted

time cultivating his mind not just in college but for the rest of his life. He is a voracious

reader of science, business, and theology, and fiction. He and Sadie both loved books.

Four decades into their marriage, they spent hours together reading the fantastical antics

of Harry Potter. They were delighted by his life in Gryffindor, a fraternity-like house in

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Unlike Harry Potter, however, Grayson could not craft a spell to get himself out

of the grief of living without Sadie. Looking around their house, he knew the home they

built was solid. Her heritage, laughter, energy, and artistry filled every crevice. Sadie

spent hours laboring over photo albums. He watched in pleasure as she created a

needlework honoring his national fraternity role. It embodied their union: her artistry, his

endeavors—all stitched together. “It’s a beautiful thing. I’m just so pleased to have it.”

Neighbors were like extended family at the house he had shared with Sadie for

over forty years. He had been a boy scoutmaster at the school where the kids played

sports. Even so, they did discuss leaving. Sadie’s health and mobility were failing. They

knew they could not stay forever. When she died, Grayson knew staying was not what he

wanted to do. He needed his own place. “After my wife died, I moved and didn’t want to

try to duplicate our house. I largely sold everything and started brand-new.”

Grayson researched and decided upon a new neighborhood, an apartment

complex built for seniors. His daughter assisted as needed, but Grayson remained in

control. After giving his children free reign to take what they wanted, he simply left the

rest to an estate sale. He took very little. “I brought things that interested me.”


Walking through the house before the sale, he saw alien things dispersed

throughout his own. There were stuffed dolls on every shelf in his garage. Just that

quickly, it was no longer his house. Instead, the senior community became his Hogwarts,

his apartment, Gryffindor. “This is my home—I plan on being here so long as it’s

acceptable.” On moving day, he hung Sadie’s fraternity needlework on the wall beside

her photograph.


Table 17

Grayson’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 Flint Hills of Kansas and recently

bought paintings of the area

Grayson – retirement

2 post rock and wire fences are

another salute to the area.

Grayson – midlife

3 needlepointed the fraternity’s coat

of arms

Grayson from wife – midlife

4 fraternity award Grayson – retirement

5 model of Air Force plane he flew

Grayson – young adult

6 photo of my Swedish family (wife’s


Grayson – young adult

7 small Scandinavian knickknacks Wife’s – young adult

8 photo of Grayson Grayson from wife – midlife

9 photograph albums Grayson’s wife – midlife on

10 small bear figurine from Alaska Grayson – retirement

11 small Greek pottery Grayson – midlife

12 image of Provence, France Grayson – midlife

13 mountain photographs Grayson – retirement

14 books Grayson – childhood on

15 box of cassette tapes Grayson – midlife on

16 Santa figures crafted by friends Grayson – midlife


17 desk Grayson – midlife

18 small figurine of favorite dog,

Rufus, a Corgi

Grayson – retirement

19 computer Grayson

20 large wooden chest Grayson – childhood

21 bedroom furniture Grayson – childhood


Figure 21. Grayson Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #7).


Figure 22. Photographs of Grayson’s storied possessions: upper left—desk with small

figurines, fraternity needlepoint, computer, bear, Greek pottery, model plane; upper

right—Rufus figurine; lower left—mountain photograph; lower right—Santa figurine,

fraternity award, Provence illustration.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Grayson moved to his new residence. There are three themes of meaning embedded in


the possessions Grayson moved into his senior apartment: 1) living in the present, 2)

fraternity and family, and 3) not homey.

Living in the present. Grayson intentionally created a fresh space embedded with

the meaning of being a single older man. Living room furniture is all new with one

embedded layer of meaning: moving into the present. He kept his desk that incorporates

meanings of business and work. It takes up a large portion of the second room, which is a

study rather than a second bedroom. Photographs are not displayed but in albums boxed

in the closet. He chooses not to display older photographs and has not received new ones

from his children. His bed is a single bed from childhood.

Fraternity and family. Small decorative objects are scattered throughout the

apartment. These possessions are embedded with meanings of family and fraternity, but

they are small, and easily moved from place to place. The exception to this is the large

wooden chest in his bedroom.

Not homey. Grayson’s décor possessions do not create the homey, middle-class

aesthetic that means family and comfort (McCracken, 2005). Although his furniture looks

comfortable, it is not worn or mismatched. His fine art is well chosen for meanings

embracing the environment of his childhood. There is no clutter. Rather there is a place

for everything and everything is in its place.

Household Case Study #8: Mary. Mary moved from living with her adult

daughter in a single-family house (SFH-AC) to a one-bedroom senior apartment (SA). It

was her second downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 18. Below is Mary’s life story.

Table 18

Mary’s Profile


Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
Type DSM P#

Mary 1932 85 W 45 1,500

AC 510 SA 2 13

Mary’s extended family lived on a cattle ranch in a large farmhouse surrounded

by deep porches with rocking chairs. She was named Mary Twyla on the porch in her

grandmother’s arms. After high school, she became a nurse and married a United States

career Marine. They were the country mouse and the city mouse. When they got married

and left her hometown and family, she decided to never say that she missed home. They

lived on many bases, in many duplexes, and she had other young married wives as

neighbors each time they relocated. One early morning one of the neighbors came to the

door and told Mary she was getting a divorce and moving back home. Mary was

confused because all the wives knew they were marrying military men and would be

relocated often. “It was so sad. I never did say, ‘I want to go home,’ because I really

never did.”

They moved every two or three years. Mary and her husband believed Jennifer,

their only daughter, had as much say in the family decisions as they did. They were not

going to be authoritarian, controlling parents; instead, they would be a team, both in

Jennifer’s education and in their relocations. When Jennifer was little, they began moves

by showing her maps of the city they were going to and talking about the fun things they

would do. They made moving an adventure. Jennifer never minded going to a different


When her husband retired from the Marines, the family voted together to move

close to his family of origin because Jennifer was not around relatives growing up. Mary


vividly remembers driving off the freeway toward their destination, “To me, it’s like a

camera inside. When we were driving off the freeway, we had a big rainbow. We

wondered what was on the other side of the rainbow for us. The colors were just right

there, and the car just went under it.”

Mary continued nursing at a new hospital. Jennifer became a volunteer candy-

striper at the hospital and later became a nurse working at the same place as her mother.

A photograph of Jennifer in her striped uniform hangs on Mary’s apartment wall.

After their final move, they purchased their first house. Mary’s new neighbor was

an older woman who lived by herself—Mary’s current age now. Her neighbor’s daughter

came over with a knickknack shelf and said her mother, who was downsizing, wanted

Mary to have it. Looking back, Mary thinks her neighbor was very sad about downsizing.

“It was like her heart was hurting as she was doing it. Like, I don’t want to do it, but I

have to do it.” Mary was pleased that she did not feel as sorrowfully during her own

household disbandment.

After Mary’s husband died, she lived on in their house for a while, but eventually

Jennifer said she did not want her to live there any longer. It was time to downsize. Mary

decided to take something from each part of the house, as memory keepers. She took one

of the loveseats and one of the tables from the great room where they had two love seats,

a big couch, and a tapestry. There are photographs hidden neatly away in the table that

she and Jennifer will sort later. She kept a little cabinet and trimmed the legs to fit under

the window in her new living room. The buffet is from her breakfast area in their house.

A chair is from her dining room.


The ottoman that folds out into a bed has a different story. It was purchased for

Mary’s new apartment as a bed for Jennifer when she wants to spend the night. A chair

from her previous bedroom holds a TV. Her grandsons bought a new recliner saying,

“Grandma, you need a chair, so you can raise your feet up.” Her bedroom furniture and

her parents’ walnut end table are very important to her. Her sister has the matching table.

Family photographs are also very important. They hang next to paintings Mary has

recently been creating.


Table 19

Mary’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 love seat Mary – midlife

2 wooden cabinet Mary – midlife

3 wooden table Mary – midlife

4 chair Mary – midlife

5 drawings Mary – frailty

6 recliner Mary – frailty

7 framed family photographs Mary – childhood on

8 end table Mary’s parents

9 ottoman Mary – frailty

10 bedroom suite Mary – midlife

11 curio cabinet with figurines Mary – midlife on

12 whatnot-stand Mary – midlife

13 candy-striper photo of daughter Mary – midlife


Figure 23. Mary Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #8).


Figure 24. Photograph of Mary’s storied possessions: family photos, end table, recliner,

and paintings by Mary.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Mary moved to her new residence. There are two themes of meaning embedded in the

possessions Mary moved into her senior apartment: 1) family and 2) values past place.

Family. Each of Mary’s possessions is embedded with the meanings of family as

a harmonious working team that cares for one another and as an object of pride. The

recent paintings she created are signed so her daughter will have them after Mary is dead

and will be able to remember her.

Values past place. Each piece of furniture was chosen to represent a room in her

previous house. The embedded meaning is intentional remembrance of nuclear family

enacted within home.


Household Case Study #9: Paulo and Pauline. Paulo and Pauline moved from

living independently in a single-family house (SFH-I) into a two-bedroom senior

independent living (SIL) apartment. It was their first downsizing move (DSM) as seen in

Table 20. Below is Paulo and Pauline’s life story.

Table 20

Paulo and Pauline’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.

M P#

Paulo+ 1933 84 M 26 2,800 SFH-I 984 SIL 1 24

Pauline 1936 81 M 26 2,800 SFH-I 984 SIL 1 24

Paulo and Pauline’s ancestries are integrated into the United States’ mid-

nineteenth century western expansion and the development of its inland waterways. They

were tangibly connected to their family’s past through heritage furniture and furnishings

that were handed down four generations before being ensconced in their retirement


Pauline’s grandfather was born in the northeast and by the time he was twelve-

years old, he was working on the river. He had few material possessions when he moved

west. He built a candy factory that delivered sweets locally and shipped product to

department stores in Chicago. His family became financially prosperous. Prosperity

allowed the family to purchase luxury items, exemplified by Pauline’s mother platinum

trimmed bone china.

Paulo’s grandfather was one of eight children born to a farmer in the northeastern

United States. Unable to provide him with land for a farm, his family sent him to work in


a bank at a frontier outpost on the Missouri river where Paulo’s grandmother’s family

owned a mill and a horse corral. After Paulo’s grandparents married, they built a house

close to the river. Their furniture arrived by steamboat from the east. Seeing an

opportunity, they complemented the mill and corral businesses with steamboat and

wagon train enterprises. They expanded the mill, and when the other businesses became

obsolete, the mill economically maintained the financial prosperity of their descendants.

Toward the end of his life, Paulo’s grandfather became interested in learning

about his European heritage. In Paulo’s study, is a copy of the book his grandfather wrote

compiling the family’s historical information. Occasionally, Paulo rereads the book,

always finishing with a realization about the caliber of people who built the United

States, “They were all hardworking, dedicated, religious people.” Along with this family

history, Paulo kept books that had been handled and read by multiple generations of


When I asked Paulo about his most precious possession, he told me it was his

treasure box because it was filled with memories that began as a very young child.

During that time, his family rebuilt their house. His grandfather gave him money to buy

the furnishings for his bedroom. When they were shopping, Paulo saw the treasure box.

“I fell in love with it. It was my secret box as I was growing up.” The treasure box was in

the study in their retirement apartment directly across from Paulo’s primary chair.

Paulo worked at the family flour mill until he joined the Navy and fought in the

Pacific during World War II. As a bachelor, his mother told him he needed to buy a nice

piece of furniture for his apartment, and he purchased a high-quality chest.


After Paulo met and married Pauline, the first thing they bought for the house was

a dining room table. Pauline also bought double-sided, drop-leaf table from one piece of

wood. They kept the chest, drop-leaf table, and dining room table after their household

disbandment. Pauline said she pleaded with her interior designer to appropriately place

the dining room table. “I love my table, and no one wanted it.” Initially, the designer said

it wouldn’t fit. Pauline did not want the space to look ridiculous or crammed, but she

didn’t want to leave it behind and was relieved when the designer arrived at a solution.

Pauline expressed to me that her most precious possession was an armoire, a

signed piece, given to her by Paulo’s aunt and prominently displayed. The fact that it was

signed made it monetarily valuable, but the meaningfulness of the armoire came from the

relationship Pauline had with the aunt. “I loved her. It was just too bad she wasn’t my

mother-in-law. She had no children. I just absolutely adored her, and she loved me too.

She told my mother she thought of me as a daughter.”

Paulo ad Pauline moved often during Paulo’s active career. Those experiences

were advantageous for the technical aspects of relocating, but they did not help with the

emotional grief of losing heritage pieces that neither her children nor grandchildren

wanted. Many times, Pauline told me that it “killed” her to lose four generations of

beautiful furniture. However, once they determined what was necessary, they embraced

the pioneering aspect of their ancestors. Pauline built a mental wall, placed her lost

furniture on the other side of it, and made a conscientious effort to move on. Paulo said,

“When we sat down, we decided, ‘This is what we’re going to do. This is the next part of

our life.’” They chose a continuing care retirement center that was under construction.

Five days after they moved, their furniture was in place, the kitchen was arranged to


Pauline’s liking, and artwork was hung on the walls. One of the pieces was painted by a

famous Midwestern artist who gave it to Paulo’s parents as a wedding gift at the turn of

the twentieth century. Another had belonged to Paulo’s aunt.

From the Paulo and Pauline’s perspective, they moved into a place with other

likeminded residents. They labeled them as “Midwestern,” a definition they said

including being friendly, courteous, and helpful. They never felt they had to force their

way into a social group. Paulo summed it up, “I know all of the people here since we

were really the pioneers of this place.” They said they were at home.


Table 21

Pauline and Paulo’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 heritage furniture and furnishings ancestors

2 dining room chairs Pauline’s grandmother

3 area rug Pauline’s mother

4 child-sized, mahogany corner chair Paulo’s father

5 stuffed teddy bear from


elderly Paulo

6 family genealogy book Paulo’s grandfather

7 inherited books both parents & grandparents

8 Iliad Pauline’s copy

9 childhood treasure box young child Paulo

10 chest-of-drawers young child Paulo

11 antique desk both ancestors

12 boxes of photographs both family

13 chest-of-drawers bachelor Paulo

14 dining room table both newlyweds

15 double drop-leaf table both

16 silver candlesticks Paulo’s newlywed parents

17 silver coffee & tea service newlyweds

18 silverware collection newlyweds onward


19 Waterford crystal collection newlyweds onward

20 hardwood shelf Paulo’s mother

21 signed armoire Paulo’s aunt

22 Wedgwood Paulo’s aunt

23 painting Paulo’s newlywed parents

24 painting Paulo’s aunt


Figure 25. Pauline and Paulo’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #9).


Figure 26. Pauline and Paulo’s storied possessions: upper left—father’s childhood

mahogany corner chair with get-well bear from granddaughter; upper right—signed

armoire and Lladró and Limoges figurines; lower left—Paulo’s childhood treasure chest.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Paulo and Pauline moved to their new residence. I interpreted four themes of meaning

embedded in the possessions Pauline and Paulo brought to their retirement apartment


after disbanding their household: 1) made of the right stuff, 2) microcosm of previous

life, 3) remnant of absence, and 4) turning toward the positive.

Made of the right stuff. Paulo told me he and Pauline valued the “hardworking,

dedicated, religious people” from whom they descended and believed themselves to be

the same caliber as demonstrated through the provenance of and safe passage given to

their heritage possessions. These hardwood items connected them to the pioneers who,

through these valued characteristics, pushed into the remote regions of the unsettled

United States during the westward expansion of the mid-nineteenth century. This meant

that, during a new frontier in their lives, they could push past the unseen future of

household disbandment and successfully pioneer the newly constructed retirement


Microcosm of previous life. The antique desk kept in active working order

demonstrated the volunteer work in which Paulo was involved. It meant that he continued

to live in a microcosm of experience similar to his executive business life before

retirement. It meant he was useful and important to society. Pauline’s books, Waterford

crystal, and silver collections meant she continued to live a quiet interior life as someone

of status situated in a wealthy environment. The existence of the collections, accumulated

over her adult life, demonstrated that her investment of time was still of value. The dining

room table continued to allow for the family gatherings that had daily anchored their

family through their married lives. It meant the potential for active family communication

still existed even though they no longer owned the house in which they used to gather.

Remnant of absence The heritage items in the apartment were a remnant of the

collection that represented four generations of family. Their presence was a visual


reminder that the participants had been unable to provide safe passage into extended

family houses for most of the collection. These items were unwanted by family. The

remnant meant that the absence of the remainder needed to be walled off in the

participant’s mind as thinking about it “killed” her.

Turning toward the positive. Disbandment of the heritage collection of furniture

was a low point in the participants’ lives. During this low point, they used the

characteristics demonstrated to them by their forefathers; Pauline told herself she needed

to “move one.” This meant the low point became a turning point. They embraced the

“next part of their lives” (Paulo) and evaluated their experience as having done well.


Household Case Study #10: Robert and Elsie. Robert and Elsie moved from

living independently in a single-family house (SFH-I) into a two-bedroom senior

apartment (SA). It was their first downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 22. Below is

Robert and Elsie’s life story.

Table 22

Robert and Elsie’s Profile

Nom de
Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
Type DSM P#

Robert+ 1934 83 M 12 1,800

I 957 SA 1 17

Elsie 1942 75 M 12 1,800

I 957 SA 1 17

Robert is sixth of seven generations of the Duncan family in America. He has a

crest that belonged to Hugh Duncan, born in 1794. Robert is also the great-great nephew

of President William McKinley, and when he asked Elsie to marry him, he gave her

President McKinley’s wedding ring as her own. McKinley was wearing it the day he was


Elsie connections to past are also important and run deep as evidenced in her love

of antiques and the items she chose to keep. When they disbanded their house, Elsie sold

her bone china place settings but kept an English bone china large soup tureen from her

German grandmother. Her grandparents bought the tureen in England and took it to

Germany, and from Germany it came to the United States. She also has a few flow blue

porcelain pieces from her great aunt’s family. From her antebellum family, Elsie has an

antique table. A map case is also very special. Her great uncle built it out of wood, and a

friend of his did the metal work.


Their marriage is the second for them both. Robert was an ordained Episcopal

priest for fifty-four years and a public library administrator who lived in twenty-four

places over his life time. He has two children from his first marriage. One child has

passed, and he does not see the other often. Two photographs of them are on his dresser.

Elsie had difficulty both in her first marriage and in raising her children. She has a

good relationship with one of her children, but he is not able to visit as often as both

would like. When Elsie separated from her first husband, she became a state library

consultant. She met Robert on an escalator at an airport after attending a library

conference. They went for drinks and exchanged life stories. They continued seeing each

other at national conferences, and finally married twenty-one years ago. Elsie bought a

new bed when they were dating; it has special meaning because Robert shared it with her.

They keep their wedding announcement from twenty-one years ago along with Elsie’s

wedding photograph on their dresser, a chest-of-drawers built in Pennsylvania in 1830.

Books are living entities in Robert and Elsie’s lives. Robert was an ordained

Episcopal priest for fifty-four years and a public library administrator who lived in

twenty-four places over his life time. Elsie is a writer. She was a children’s librarian and

supervisor for twenty-five years; she wrote books and gave workshops for teachers and

librarians that were used throughout the United States. She was on the Caldecott

Committee and is a Caldecott Award recipient. Along with their living room furniture

and dining area, their few remaining bookcases fit in their living area. Many boxes of

books were lost when they were being physically moved from one place to the other, and

their absence is still felt deeply.


When Robert lost his job due to political reasons, Elsie became the primary

financial provider. She worked in various library systems. They moved around the

country, but after three bad work experiences, she decided to retire early and moved back

to where Elsie grew up. Only a sister-in-law still lives close. Connections in their new

residence have not come easily. Although Elsie has several photo albums she put

together, they threw away many photographs during disbandment. There was no room for

them, and Elsie’s philosophy about photos is different research indicates for most older

adults (Ekerdt & Sergeant, 2006). “You have to cut your losses. We don’t take very many

photos. The other thing is so many people who are probably here are the ones that cling

on to the importance of their families. They would be the ones that would have these

poster size pictures of their kids all over the place”

They chose the senior apartment facility because it was affordable, new, and

aesthetic. Robert easily adjusted to their new place; Elsie, however, does not think she

will ever adjust. She views most of the other residence in the senior apartments are as less

intellectual, educated, or as literary as their previous friends.

Art brings enjoyment, though. Elsie said, “We like art. We might have a little

photo here or there, but I don’t cling onto that.” Art books reside on the lower shelf of a

table in the living room. The second bedroom is Elsie’s studio; the walls are covered with

art images including Egyptian paintings they bought in Egypt, a George O’Keefe print,

and a print of the Girl with the Pearl Earring.

Robert and Elsie fill their days with their past times. Robert describes himself as

having a happy disposition and good health. He is a newshound and enjoys watching TV.

Elsie lives a “life of the mind and not the body,” although she considers herself a foodie


and cooks often. She brought as many favorite kitchen utensils and machines as would fit

in their new space. Her “saving grace” is writing though, especially her poetry. She

considers it very close to a spiritual experience because it addresses her emotional side.

On Elsie and Robert’s kitchen counter is a vase made by a friend which they try

to keep filled with fresh flowers. Sun shines through the glass and lights it up. It is a

reminder that things with meaning are important to them. “There’s so many things that

have significance for us. It isn’t that we just went out and bought it in a store. Like Ikea

stuff. That’s not us.”

Although their new apartment might not be ideal for Elsie, Robert feels that any

place in which they live together would be home.


Table 23

Robert and Elsie’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 crest belonged to Hugh Duncan


Robert’s ancestors

2 Elsie’s wedding ring Robert’s ancestors

3 our wedding announcement Elsie and Robert – midlife

4 art Elsie and Robert – midlife

5 photographs Elsie and Robert – midlife

6 photo albums Elsie and Robert – midlife

7 Egyptian paintings Elsie – midlife

8 Georgia O’Keefe print Elsie – midlife

9 Caldecott award Elsie – midlife

10 Published poetry Elsie – midlife

11 books & bookshelves Elsie and Robert – childhood on

12 Constitutional Congress book Robert – young adult

13 English bone china Elsie’s grandmother

14 map case Elsie’s great uncle

15 gate-leg table Robert’s ancestors

16 master bed Elsie – midlife

17 Robert’s chair Robert – midlife


Figure 27. Robert and Elsie’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #10).


Figure 28. Robert and Elsie’s storied possessions: upper left—great-uncle’s handcrafted

map case; upper right—Elsie in her chair with antique tables and painting; lower left—

Robert’s chair with antique tables and bookcase.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Robert and Elsie moved to their new residence. There are three themes of meaning


embedded in the possessions Robert and Elsie moved into their senior apartment: 1)

historical family, 2) readers and a writer, and 3) art aficionados.

Prominent historical family. Possessions are embedded with the meaning that

Robert and Elsie are members of historical families whose members played a prominent

role in the community. This meaning of family dominates current meaning of family,

which overall is one of disappointment, as seen in the positioning of a few photo albums

on the lowest bookshelf amidst numerous art books, a few small photographs of children

displayed in the privacy of the bedroom, and their narration of current family. that

Readers and a writer. Books are present in all three of the major rooms in the

apartment. Bookcases dominate the living room, and books are scattered on pieces of

furniture. Books written by Elsie are present.

Art aficionados. Fine art or replications of fine art in illustrations or posters are

prominently displayed on the walls. The Caldecott Award is embedded with the meaning

of being a recognized illustrator of children’s books. Sculpture is embedded with the

meaning of an artist creating it for them; the cover of Elsie’s most recent book is

illustrated by a graphic artist employed by a large greeting card company. The meaning

embedded within the meaning combines the pride of being a writer with the pride of

having the illustration.


Household Case Study #11: Gina. Gina moved from living independently in a

single-family house (SFH-I) into a one-bedroom senior apartment (SA). It was her

second downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 24. Below is Gina’s life story.

Table 24

Gina’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
Type DSM P#

Gina 1935 82 D 15 1,500

I 510 SA 2 18

Gina was more interested in the time “after” her divorce than the “before.” Except

for her mother’s crystal and china, books, and some photographs, our interviews

discussed no items from her childhood or early adulthood.

Gina had grown up in church. She had played by the rules, married someone she

met there, and had three children—two boys and a girl. Her husband was headmaster at

the boys’ school. She developed a strong Tupperware business eventually making more

money than her husband. She saved for the future and the children’s college funds. Their

family looked like the American dream.

Until her husband packed his bags, emptied all her savings and checking

accounts, and ironically took all the children’s photographs with him. He sued her for

divorce. Because legally there were no uncontested divorces in their state, he had to

demonstrate significant reason. He said she was an unfit mother and a bad wife. Her

neighbors were called as witnesses. They testified that her children’s clothes had dirt on

them when they were playing outside, and their toys cluttered the house.


He remarried four months after the divorce. The church they attended sent her a

letter saying she was no longer welcome. The custody agreement allowed her ex-husband

to have the children for Wednesday nights and Sundays, so they could attend church

services with him. He paid child support but not alimony. Gina was no longer living the

American dream, but she knew how to work and live frugally. She had her mother as an

example. A registered nurse, she had worked throughout Gina’s childhood.

She was hired at an advertising company, the only female salesperson. Eventually

she managed her own accounts. She traveled to their businesses and increased sales. She

was surprised when her boss called her into the office and said, “You are the best

salesperson we have, but sales have decreased overall. These men need their income to

provide for their families. You’re so good, you’ll be able to find work elsewhere.”

She was worn down by the misogynistic small town. Nine years after her divorce,

Gina shook the dust off her feet and moved to a large metropolitan area. She researched

the local high schools and bought a house near the best one. She became a successful

realtor and an interior decorator. Adept at finding bargains, Gina restored furniture to its

original glory. Collecting antiques, she crafted a French country house and grew

lavender. A lover of impressionism, she added paintings to her walls. Her sister, an artist,

painted a large canvas depicting Gina lying on her side full of life. She hung the painting

in her bedroom. Her many books, pets, and art helped her escape life’s stress.

Both sons and her daughter worked their way through college becoming

financially successful, caring adults. They went where their jobs, education, and other

interests took them. Gina basked in their glory. She was please when her son and


daughter-in-law asked her to move to their city. “Why don’t you come here? We want

you to be with us and not so far away. If anything happened to you, it’s too far away.”

Her lifestyle and status changed. While she was working, Gina enjoyed her own

status. After she moved, she was delighted to realize she was recognized as the mother of

a local celebrity. His status gave her status. Knowing she loved the opera and art

museums, he bought her two season tickets. Although she sold her car when she moved,

she kept her driver’s license. Other women in the apartments have cars but no longer

drive, so sometimes she drives them in their own cars. She also cooks less. One meal a

day is provided by the establishment, and her son and daughter-in-law pick her up nearly

every Sunday for lunch. It is a pleasure to have grandchildren nearby with whom to bake


After disbandment, one of the large pieces she moved was too tall to fit in the tiny

apartment, and it was hauled to charity. Crystal and pieces of her mother’s china are

displayed above the small wall of kitchen cabinets. Plant cuttings from her garden grow

by the window. Most of her books were donated to the facility’s library, but those she

kept are under chairs, the sofa, and in an antique cradle. She had stored her Christmas

decorations and winter clothes under her bed by raising it on blocks. When getting into

the tall bed became a problem, Gina investigated additional basement storage. But

moving had come with invisible strings. Her daughter-in-law, Brenda, wanted to exhibit

more control than Gina liked, particularly regarding her possessions. Brenda thought

Gina had moved too many things. She refused to pay for additional storage. But as she

learned to do throughout her life, Gina maintained control over the situation by finding a


small part time job, and now pays for the storage herself. For the time being, she has that

string has been cut.


Table 25

Gina’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 restored furniture Gina – midlife on

2 collected antiques Gina – midlife on

3 lavender Gina – midlife on

4 impressionistic paintings Gina – midlife on

5 Painting of Gina by sister Gina – midlife

6 framed photographs Gina – midlife on

7 crystal Gina’s mother

8 china Gina’s mother

9 plant cuttings Gina – retirement

10 books Gina – childhood on

11 chairs Gina – midlife

12 sofa Gina – midlife

13 antique cradle Gina – midlife

14 family photographs Gina – childhood on

15 antique steamer trunk Gina -midlife

16 seasonal decorations Gina – midlife on

17 framed needlepoints Gina -midlife

18 recipes Gina – young adult on


Figure 29. Gina Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #11).


Figure 30. Gina’s storied possessions: upper left—refurbished sofa and fine art; upper

right—refurbished chair, cuttings from plants, lavender; lower left –mother’s crystal and

tea pot; lower right—refurbish desk and chest of drawers, books.Identity meanings,

related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions Gina moved to her new


residence. There are three themes of meaning embedded in the possessions Gina moved

into her senior apartment: 1) reclaimed, 2) power of the maternal, and 3) cultured.

Reclaimed. Most of the furniture pieces in Gina’s apartment were castoffs

reclaimed by her. She invested significant psychic attention (Csikszentmihalyi &

Rochberg-Halton, 1981) into each of the pieces as she repaired, refinished, and

reupholstered broken objects changing them into functional, beautiful possessions. These

pieces along with the painting above her bed are embedded meanings of being reclaimed

and made beautiful.

Power of the maternal. Photographs of her socially successful children and their

families prominently displayed in silver frames and the crystal and china belonging to her

mother are embedded with the strength of the maternal relationship in Gina’s life.

Additionally, her daughter’s investment in helping choose each of the possessions Gina

brought to her new place is embedded in each of the objects. Her late-mother is an anchor

to Gina and Gina is an anchor to her children. These are embedded and layered meanings.

Cultured. Furniture pieces and décor objects are embedded with traditional high-

status culture. Fine art in the impressionistic style was personally sought out, chosen, and

displayed with intentional organization. Gina did not reclaim just anything. She

reclaimed cultured objects.


Household Case Study #12: Claire. Claire moved from living independently in

a single-family house (SFH-I) into a two-bedroom senior apartment (SA). It was her first

downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 26. Below is Claire’s life story.

Table 26

Claire’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
M P#

Claire 1936 81 W 40 3,000 SFH-I 957 SA 1 13

Claire was raised as an only child. Her extended family was cloaked in mystery.

Many things she grew up believing were true were not. “When I was very young, I used

to have questions, but my mother said it wasn’t any of my business. She would never talk

to me about family, and I never, never, never understood to this day.” Both of her

maternal grandparents died by the time Claire was five. Claire’s father had been adopted,

and she did not meet her only living grandparent, her dad’s father, until she was


Claire married and had three children but was widowed young. She lived by

herself for forty years as her children spread throughout United States. Although it was

exhausting, she loved her job. It required her to do research, which she enjoyed. She

became a computer nerd not by choice, but because she was the first one in the office to

learn how to use a computer. She discovered she liked it and bought her own computer in

1991. As with many others, the world got larger when the internet arrived.

As a naturally curious adult, Claire became deeply involved in discovering her

genealogy. She had always resented not knowing about her extended family, and she


finally spoke with her dad’s half-brother. Her research led her to the facts she desired.

When her father was nine, his mother had died, and he was given to his maternal

grandparents to raise. He lived with them and an abusive aunt who he hated. When his

grandfather died, his grandmother took her father and uncle back to live in her home in

Copenhagen. One of the largest mysteries of her life was solved. After Claire’s own

father passed away, she inherited framed chocolate advertisements from Denmark that

hat belonged to her great-grandmother. Her uncle had brought them back from Europe

and given them to her father. The chocolate pictures meant a lot. They were tangible

evidence that she had family history.

Claire worked for fifty-two years. She put in twelve to sixteen hours a day,

traveling all but one week of the year. When it was time to retire, she was ready.

I visited with Claire a year after she relocated to an unfamiliar large metropolitan

area to be close to one of her daughters. She was sensitive to the fact that she could no

longer walk completely upright and needed the assistance of a walker, but she was proud

of her apartment. She had lived in a two-story, 3,000 square feet house located in a much

smaller city several hours away. She missed her home of forty years but acknowledged

she could not live there after her sudden, unexpected stroke. Claire’s daughter

investigated over fifty places for her to move to. Together they toured six of them and

decided upon one, The Fairbanks. All three of her children participated in her relocation,

and she is “very happy in her little apartment.”

Claire’s out-of-town daughter is an interior designer and took charge of creating a

beautiful and comfortable place for her mother. She chose items from Claire’s existing

furniture, hung the great-grandmother’s chocolate pictures on the wall, and had new


drapery installed before Claire arrived. The arrangements surprised Claire’s only son,

who did not understand why she purchased so much new furniture. She was thrilled to

tell him, “I didn’t buy one stick of anything!” Her children helped disband her previous

house. They took some things, but most items were given away. Her in-town daughter

was given the responsibility of storing Claire’s physical photographs in her basement,

which they hope to go through one day.

Claire’s osteoarthritis caused her more problems after her stroke. She has “fierce

back pain” but good days mix with the bad. “It’s terrible to get old, but there’s not much

one can do about it.” Her doctor, who is also a good friend, told her he could not stop her

from experiencing the effects of aging, which she found hard.

In her senior apartment, she has two computers on her desk. She has three,

altogether, but one is archaic, and she does not use it. When she talked about her

computers, Claire said, “It’s my life. I also use my iPad. I belong to a couple book clubs,

and I read on the computer. I’m a news junkie. I just want to know what’s going on in the

world.” After she recovered from her stroke, Claire appreciated things differently. “Home

is just having the things that I like around me,” she told me. She loves to sit and read or

watch the world go around on the NASA channel for hours. Although others might think

she is “absolutely nuts,” Claire sees it as something she has always done—research.


Table 27

Claire’s Objectives Identified in the Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 Furniture when she redid house

Claire – midlife

2 Four pictures from Europe Claire’s great-great-grandmother

3 Art class collectibles: two bowls,

candy jar, glass shoe, and blue vases

Claire’s mother

4 Small painting Claire’s boss – midlife

5 Clear, small vase with broken top

celebrating oldest daughter’s birth

Claire from her husband—young


6 A miniature porcelain horse that was

a gift from a friend.

Claire from a friend – midlife

7 A curio cabinet with collections Claire – midlife

8 Seven etchings bought because she

loved them

Claire – midlife

9 Etching given by Lloyd’s of London Claire – midlife

10 Technology Claire – retirement

11 Books Claire—childhood on

12 CD & DVD collections Claire—midlife on

13 Photographs Claire—childhood on


Figure 31. Claire Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #12).


Figure 32. Photographs of Claire’s storied possessions: upper left—painting by boss,

mother’s china; upper right—living room with drapery from daughter and furniture from

house, painting; lower left—computer, books; lower right—photograph, Lladró figurines.


Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Claire moved to her new residence. There are three themes of meaning embedded in

the possessions Claire moved into her senior apartment: 1) researcher, 2) independent,

and 3) family and friends.

Researcher. Through research Claire extends herself into the world. She is

fascinated by discovery and surrounds herself with precious possessions that represent

her family discoveries and relational connections. Her favorite items collectively mean

that Claire found out what was going on in her family and in the world. These

possessions mean that Claire now has an extended family to which she belongs.

Independent. Claire purchased all her furniture after she became a widow. As a

career woman she supported herself and traveled the world. Possessions purchased during

those experiences are embedded with her successful independence.

Family and friends. Claire has many possessions given to and created by family

and friends. Her children helped her move and arranged her furniture. Her daughter chose

her drapery. All these items are embedded with the meaning that she is a valued family

member and friend.


Household Case Study #13: Donna. Donna moved from living independently in

a single-family house (SFH-I) into a two-bedroom apartment (A). It was her first

downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 28. Below is Donna’s life story.

Table 28

Donna’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
Type DSM P#

Donna 1936 81 W 46 1,370

I 930 A 1 13

Donna’s father was an alcoholic. His disease dominated her childhood. High

school became a haven for her. She was very social. Academics played a far secondary

role. She liked being friendly to everyone, not just her best friends or social circle, and

she loved playing the piano. Her parents bought a second-hand upright, so she could

practice at home. Daily, immediately after school, she taught her fingers what keys to

play. She was joyous. One day she was stunned when she came home, and there was no

piano. Her mother said the piano was too heavy for the living room floor, so her father

took it away. This made no sense to Donna. She said losing the piano was the most

traumatic experience of her life.

Years after the piano’s disappearance, Donna discovered her father and his friends

had stolen it. They took it to the neighborhood bar where they regaled each other with old

Irish tunes. This characterized home life with her parents: unacceptable and sometimes

cruel behavior hidden behind lies, fighting, and betrayal. High school was different.

Donna reigned as a social star and was voted homecoming queen. Her boyfriend, Rocky,


the star basketball player, was also homecoming king. After high school, they married.

Donna never wanted a career.

Rocky provided a good living for them. He was the quintessential salesman,

wining and dining potential clients. They had two healthy children, a boy and a girl, and a

nice house. Rocky was a good handyman and fixed things as they broke or when


wanted something special created. The basement was his woodshop with tools hanging

on the walls. She loved being outside. The garden was hers, and together they developed

beautiful flower beds and a pond where she loved to watch dragonflies.

Rocky, like her father, was an alcoholic. Somehow it felt as though she ended up

back where she started. After a heart attack, Rocky gave up smoking and drinking. Donna

became involved in a program that helped the families and friends of alcoholics and

slowly began making changes in her attitudes, behavior, and thinking. Daily she read

inspirational literature. Her marriage improved. However, one winter while he was drying

his hands at the kitchen sink, Rocky collapsed. Donna called 911, but he died in her arms.

She was devastated by his loss. Sometime later she watched the movie Dragonfly

(Shadyac, 2002) in which a doctor communicates with his late wife through a dragonfly.

Donna experienced several such instances, during which she felt Rocky was helping her,

specifically with things around the house, in the garden, or with her financial budget. One

such experience happened in his basement woodshop. She treasured these meaningful

experiences. Connecting them with the movie plot made dragonfly images symbolic for

Donna. Her son is a metal sculptor and made several dragonfly pieces for her garden.

As she approached her eightieth birthday, Donna began finding household

maintenance burdensome. She moved into a two-bedroom apartment, so family members


can stay the night when they want. She has wall hangings with positive words—

tranquility, harmony, balance, and Chinese writing that meant good life given to her by a

Chinese friend.

She said these inspirational words help her to “keep things harmonious

even when I disagree with friends and family.”

I interviewed Donna twice in her apartment and asked her to tell me about her life

and her possessions. She showed me the photo album she was given for her eightieth

birthday. She said photo albums in general

helped her remember past events and family.

When she moved, she boxed most of her albums and put them in her closet. Her

refrigerator is covered with photographs that she consistently updates.

On her fireplace mantel, Donna has a plaque with the Serenity Prayer. It has been

her daily prayer for over twenty-five years. She tries to live more positively all the time

saying she had to “really work at it forever; it’s so easy for me to fall back into the

negativity I was raised with.” She also has angels. When she looks at angels, she feels

peaceful. One angel is an urn with her good friend’s ashes, which is also on the

mantlepiece. She put her husband’s photograph on her nightstand next to her bed. He had

provided financially for her, even after his death. “When I look at my husband’s picture,

it reminds me that I couldn’t live here if it weren’t for him.”

Donna can see her small patio garden from her dining room table. She loves her

son’s artwork, his metal sculptures, especially his dragonflies, which are now in her tiny

garden on the back patio. They remind her of the living dragonflies that frequented the

household pond; they remind her of her husband and the many times she felt his presence

after he died. There are stepping stones in the garden with sayings on them: “Life is not

measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away” and


“Water your spirit by faith.” Donna placed the stones, so she could see them from inside

as well as when she sat outside, surrounding herself with chosen thoughts of serenity.


Table 29

Donna’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 photo albums Donna from her life

2 family photographs on refrigerator Donna from her life

3 framed photographs from 80th party Donna

4 wall hanging—tranquility Donna

5 wall hanging—harmony Donna

6 wall hanging—balance Donna

7 stepping stones—Chinese good life Chinese


8 Plaque—Serenity Prayer Donna

9 “Life is not measured by the breaths

we take, but by the moments that

take our breath away.”


10 “Water your spirit by faith.” Donna

11 angel (urn) good friend

12 dragonflies made by son

13 Photograph of husband as a younger



Figure 33. Donna’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #13).


Figure 34. Photographs of Donna’s storied possessions: upper left—photo collection of

family during 80th birthday celebration; upper right—angel cinerary urn; lower left—son’s

dragonfly metal work; lower right—wall hangings with inspirational words.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Donna moved to her new residence. There are three themes of meaning embedded in

the possessions Donna moved into her traditional apartment: 1) turns to the positive, 2)

embraces family, and 3) remembers family and friends.


Turns toward the positive. Donna displays inspirational word to remind herself

to live positively in the present. The possessions in her garden are embedded with the

meaning of growth.

Embraces family. Photographs of family gatherings remind her of family. They

are her most precious possessions because they mean all her family was able to get

together despite difficulties and celebrate her life.

Remembers family and friends. Dragonflies and angels are embedded with

symbolic meanings of her husband, his care for her, and a dear imperfect person who was

still her friend.


Household Case Study #14: Nina and Oliver. Nina and Oliver moved from

living independently in a single-family house (SFH-I) into a two-bedroom cooperative

senior community (CSC) apartment. It was their second downsizing move (DSM) as seen

in Table 30. Below is Nina and Oliver’s life story.

Table 30Nina and Oliver’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
Type DSM P#

Nina+ 1936 81 M 20 3000

I 1,440 CSC 2 28

Oliver 1938 79 M 20 3000

I 1,440 CSC 2 28

Nina was born in a small Midwest town and grew up in a home with Christian

values and teachings. She attended a one room school house until she went to high

school. Her father was a factory manager following in the career footsteps of his father in

the dairy industry. After high school, Nina went to a small conservative Christian college

in Illinois more to stay in step with her own upbringing than out of commitment to the

articulated values. After graduation she moved to Chicago and worked as an office

assistant. At the height of the Playboy empire, she began working for Hugh Heffner

enjoying the parties and collective energy.

Oliver grew up in a middle-class working family in a steel manufacturing

community. He served in the Navy during the Korean Conflict. When he left the Navy,

he went to work for the State Department and was posted to Japan. He became fluent in a

several languages and was an avid reader. It was in Japan he met Nina, who, had begun

working for the State Department as well.


Throughout their careers, Oliver and Nina were posted to countries all over the

world. While they were in Asia, they adopted their only child, a daughter, Merida. A tight

bond was created between the three of them. Although their semi-nomadic lifestyle

overseas was filled with professional social engagements, it was also relatively lonely.

The three loved to shop. It was a way to engage with the various cultures, and

they accumulated most of their household objects together. Their first major purchases

were Persian rugs on their honeymoon in Singapore. These culturally significant rugs

increased in value over the years, and they warmed the floors of their senior living

apartment. Rattan living room furniture was purchased after many years of living in

furnished apartments. They added a custom print made for them by a famous artist while

they lived in Japan. It was Oliver’s most precious possession. Bookcases housed an

extensive book collection.

When they began disbanding, Oliver, a book lover, sold over 2,000 books from

his library. In the process, he met world renowned authors and learned about book-cities,

towns that supported independent, iconic, brick and mortar bookstores. Within twenty-

four hours of listing one of his books online, he had over four-hundred offers. It was an

unanticipated adventure and educational experience that anesthetized some of the pain of


I visited with Nina and Oliver five times, face-to-face and via email. Merida was

at in-person meetings and actively participated in our conversations. She told me that

when she thought about their many residences over the years, she realized that the living

room arrangement was the primary element that gave her a sense of home. Throughout

their moves, the furniture arrangement had always been a consistent element in their


changing living space. During the disbandment, Merida became a recipient of many of

their possessions. Unlike many adult children of her generation, she was interested in

keeping her parents’ precious possessions. She has not stayed in contact with girlhood

friends; it is her parents’ possessions which connect her to her childhood.

The distillation of their belongings was a three-year process. The most difficult

aspect was the deaccumulation. When they originally retired to the gated lake

community, they moved into a 3,700 square foot house, smaller than their previous

residences. Many of their belongings, including what they called the chicken-chair, were

stored in their detached garage, which Nina called huge. Their new apartment is 1,400

square feet with two bedrooms. Nina had disliked the corridor leading to the apartment

because it reminded her of a hotel. However, when she opened the door to their

apartment, she immediately felt at-home.

During disbandment, Nina and Oliver, who dislike the thought of constantly

carrying cell phones, became very adept using CRAIGSLIST® and eBay® to sell their

belongings to people across the States. Some buyers drove thousands of miles to pick up

unusual items. They incorporated family heirlooms into their apartment. Silver framed

photographs of parents and other family members adorn a hardwood sofa table. A framed

child’s watercolor painting is both a result and a memory of Merida’s childhood art

lessons. Her childhood rocker is displayed. And once again, Oliver and Nina remained

true to their decades long established practice and arranged the living room in the pattern

that connects them all to the past.


Table 31

Nina and Oliver’s Objects Identified in the Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 Mother’s cedar chest Nina – parents

2 Framed picture of doily Nina – parents

3 Mother & Dad’s table family pictures Nina – parents

4 rocking chair Nina – parents

5 quilt Nina – parents

6 stool Nina – young adult

7 Peruvian vintage hall tree Nina & Oliver – midlife

8 Kitchen table, red oriental chairs Oliver – young adult

9 Mountain stone carving Peru Oliver & Nina – young adult

10 Italian ceramics Nina & Oliver – midlife

11 Parador from Philippines Nina & Oliver – midlife

12 Magdalena Armoire Nina & Oliver – midlife

13 Korean chest Nina & Oliver – midlife

14 pictures our daughter drew Nina & Oliver – midlife

15 Ceramic from Peru Nina & Oliver – midlife

16 Hibachi and Tetsubin antiques Oliver & Nina – young adult

17 decoupage patchwork cat Nina & Oliver – midlife

18 Japanese chest Nina – young adult


19 Woodblock print from Japan Oliver & Nina – young adult

20 living room furniture baskets Nina & Oliver – midlife

21 tea-kettle Nina – midlife

22 Woodblock print from Japan Oliver & Nina – young adult

23 our daughter age 2 and 4 Oliver & Nina – young adult

24 painting from Burma Oliver & Nina – young adult

25 potted plant Nina – retirement

26 books Oliver – childhood on

27 Persian rugs from Singapore Oliver & Nina – young adult

28 Breuer chairs Oliver & Nina – retirement


Figure 35. Nina and Oliver’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #14).


Figure 36 Photographs of Nina and Oliver’s storied possessions: upper left—sofa with

pillows from previous houses, 20-year-old plant; upper right—hall tree with Oliver’s hats;


lower left—Parador from Philippines, Korean chest, mother’s doily; lower right—

Magdalena Armoire.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Nina and Oliver moved to their new residence. There are three themes of meaning

embedded in the possessions Nina and Oliver moved into their senior cooperative

apartment: 1) international, 2) family, and 3) book collector.

International. A possession from each country they lived in was brought to their

new residence. Fine art and furniture pieces are embedded with the meanings of serving

their country abroad on many assignments and relationships they developed in those


Family. The strength of surviving as a nuclear family isolated from extended

family is also embedded in furniture pieces, Persian rugs, and the living room furniture

arrangement. Extended family is embedded in photographs, a collection of letters-home,

hand-crafted items, and furniture.

Book collector. Oliver is the quintessential book collector. His remaining books

are embedded with the meanings of culling the collection and providing safe passage to

the hundreds of books he sold online to other collectors. They embed the most painful

part of disbandment for him.


Household Case Study #15: Susan. Susan moved from living independently in

a single-family house (SFH-I) into a two-bedroom senior apartment (SA). It was her

second downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 32. Below is Susan’s life story.

Table 32

Susan’s Profile

Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
M P#

Susan 1937 80 D 12 2,400 SFH-I 957 SA 2 26

Susan was six when her father left to fight in WWII. He returned a hero with a

bronze star, but shortly after he returned, it became evident he had a drinking problem.

Her mother separated from her father when Susan was nine and she only saw him one

more time.

Her mother got a job in the corporate offices of a factory eventually moving up to

the switchboard. The company had a nationally competitive, very generous four-year

college scholarship. Growing up in a single parent family, rejected by her father, Susan

felt she was on the outside looking in, but she found her place in the academic arena. She

excelled, applied for, and earned the prestigious scholarship. It was the only way she

could attend college. Her mother used all her income providing for their daily care. There

were no student loans. The scholarship paid for everything, even books, and two-thirds of

room and board. She graduated high school as valedictorian and used the scholarship at

an out-of-state university.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in education and came back to teach in a poor

rural area close to her mother’s house. She drove home on the weekends because in the


place she taught it was neither socially acceptable nor thought safe for unmarried females

to spend time alone outside of work. She met her husband, Arthur, on a weekend visit

home. After they married, Arthur and Susan had a daughter, Tina, and then a son, Steven.

Arthur began successfully climbing the corporate ladder early in their marriage. Each

promotion required a physical move. Susan was a dutiful wife but bending to the will of a

controlling executive was unnatural for her. Arthur lived the domestic standards of his

generation. Raised by a working, single-mother, Susan was not used to trusting a man of

the house to make the decisions.

Susan continued with her education, but their serial moves made it difficult,

particularly after she earned her master’s degree. In an education psychology class, she

taught as part of her Ph. D. dissertation research, she asked the college students to bring a

favorite object to class and share what it meant to them. A young Vietnam veteran, who

was getting his undergraduate degree in education, was in her class. He shared about his

war experience explaining that when he finished his tour in Vietnam, he was

disillusioned, bitter, and felt betrayed by the United States. Picking up work where he

could, the vet ended up in Greece working with an old sponge diver. Together they

harvested the sponges deep in the sea. Being mentored by the old diver gave the Vietnam

vet the tools and guidance to come to terms with the way his country handled the war and

treated soldiers. Back at home, he was studying elementary education because he wanted

to help children understand about tolerance and compassion. Concluding his talk, the vet

showed the class his favorite object. Turning to Susan, the returned soldier said, “I want

you to have this. It’s one of the sponges from Greece.”


It took her seven tenacious years and three universities to finish her Ph.D.

dissertation which she wrote by hand. She paid a secretary at Arthur’s company to type it

for her. She taught at universities, and at one corporate posting in the northeast, she ran

for and won a seat on the school board. She was a southern, Democratic female on a

board comprised of northern, Republican males. She learned how to negotiate politics

and help others see it her way. Her marriage, unhappily, ended in a painful divorce.

One day after separation from her husband, Susan was in a friend’s great room

sharing about her deep woundedness. She mentioned how difficult it was to sleep in bed

by herself. Her friend, a sympathetic listener, had a young daughter at home. The little

girl stopped watching the TV and came back with a stuffed, Pot Belly Bear. She said,

“Here, Miss Susan, you take Pot Belly Bear home with you. Sleep with him, and then you

won’t be lonely in your bed.”

Susan used Pot Belly when she taught, explaining that he was a continual

reminder that God’s angels come in all different sizes. She became the founder and

executive director of a county residential school for at-risk teenagers. She wrote new

guidance policies for the city. Susan also traveled internationally with friends, visiting

Thailand, China, and Africa for mission trips.

Susan retired to take care of her mother who eventually died from cancer. Her

children and grandchildren were successful in their schooling and careers and actively

involved in Susan’s life. Because her daughter is a medical doctor, Susan decided to

relocate closer to her when she turned eighty. Self-described as the healthiest eighty-year

old she knows, Susan exercises daily, still drives, and travels with friends and family.


When she disbanded her Southern home and relocated, she put her mother’s hope

chest by her bed to remind her that when life feels hopeless, one can always look for

something a little bit better. Pot Belly sits on her bed, and the Greek sponge has a place of

honor and practicality on her bathroom vanity.


Table 33

Susan’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 furniture bedroom set, desk,

furniture, entertainment center, end

tables, corner knickknack shelf,

corner curio

Susan and her mother – retirement

2 framed photographs Susan’s family and friends – midlife


3 photo albums Susan – parents on

4 Pot Belly Bear

Susan – midlife

5 memorabilia from Africa Susan – midlife on

6 book from Africa Susan – midlife

7 story lady (Native American story

teller pottery) from gentleman

Susan – midlife

8 mother’s bird figurines Susan – mother’s

9 bird house from friend gift from friend – midlife

10 painting from South Bend, Indiana Susan – young life


11 nativity scenes made by mother Susan – mother’s

12 memorabilia from Thailand

Susan – retirement

13 wooden painted eggs from

Ukrainian friend

Susan – midlife

14 PhD diploma

Susan – young life

15 children’s books commemorating

civic work

Susan for civic work – midlife

16 computer Susan – retirement

17 memorabilia from Rhode Island Susan – midlife

18 memorabilia from China Susan from mission trip – retirement

19 mother’s hope chest mother’s young life

20 hat from Paris from Paris – midlife

21 Greece sponge from veteran Susan – midlife

22 lamp filled with beach shells Susan – retirement

23 beaded necklaces from trip to Holy

Land from one of the beaches

Susan – retirement

24 keeshond figurine—Susan’s dog Susan’s dog – midlife


25 different copies of the Bible and my

books for study

Susan – young life

26 personal journals written over


Susan – young life on


Figure 37. Susan’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LPSA #15).


Figure 38. Photographs of Susan’s storied possessions: upper left—Susan’s chair, Pot

Belly Bear, photograph albums, and publish policy written by Susan; upper right—PhD


diploma, study books, painted eggs; lower left—sponge and sea shells, family photo;

lower right—beach painting, furniture.

Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Susan moved to her new residence. There are four themes of meaning embedded in the

possessions Susan moved into her senior apartment: 1) life of the sea, 2) surviving

family, and 3) believer, and 4) educated professional.

Life of the sea Susan’s favorite place is the beach. Fine art, décor, and collections

are embedded with her love of the sea. One of her most precious possessions is embedded

with the meaning of coming out of the sea as a redeemed person.

Surviving family Family is the highpoint of Susan’s life. Her possessions are

embedded with the meanings of family surviving being broken as seen in Pot Belly Bear,

her mother’s hope chest, and the beech scene painting.

Believer Souvenirs from mission trips, her Bible, study books, nativity sets, and

journals are embedded with meanings of her active faith. Her divorce was a turning point

in her life that she survived through work and her faith, a meaning embedded in the

physicality of her Bible and narrated in her journals.

Educated professional. Susan’s Ph.D. and the published city policy she

developed for high risk teenagers are both embedded with the meaning of her success as

an academic, educator, and administrator.


Household Case Study #16: Bernard and Abbie. Bernard and Abbie moved

from living independently in a single-family house (SFH-I) into a smaller single-family

house (SFH-I) in which they continue to live independently. It was their second

downsizing move (DSM) as seen in Table 34. Below is Bernard and Abbie’s life story.

Table 34

Bernard and Abbie’s Profile

Nom de
Plume YOB Age MS
Sq. Ft.
M P#

Bernard+ 1945 72 M 11 4,200 SFH-I 2,450 SFH-I 2 18

Abbie 1946 71 M 11 4,200 SFH-I 2,450 SFH-I 2 18

A precocious child, Abigail disliked playing with dolls. It was knowledge and

productivity which brought her contentment. Her grandmother, who Abbie adored, came

to live with them when she was 18 months old. Abbie’s aunt had various homes in far-off

places—Germany, Tripoli, Japan—and took care to build a relationship with Abbie

through the Hummels she collected for her. Abbie’s father was an astute businessman

who owned five appliance stores throughout the city. Her mother had a remarkable

determination characterized by the plant she received when she was sixteen years old and

had managed to keep alive throughout Abbie’s childhood.

Bernard grew up in the same city as Abbie. His father was an electrician and his

mother an artist and a fastidious stay-at-home mom. She vacuumed the house every day,

a trait she passed on to her son. An artist who paid attention to color, she also had a love

for music and collected 78 rpms. But Bernard, like Abigail, felt stifled in his childhood.

“When I lived at home, and we lived in a pretty small house, I had to share a bedroom


with my sister. I didn’t want that. I wanted us to move so bad, bugging my parents to

move, and they didn’t.”

Unbeknownst to either, Bernard and Abbie attended the same junior high, but it

wasn’t until high school that they became aware of each other’s existence. Abbie, who

had never really felt happy, fell head over heels and life changed. Not surprising to

anyone, they married shortly after graduation.

After they married, Bernard and Abbie moved into public housing. Ironically,

within a couple of years, Bernard’s parents finally moved into that larger house about

which he was always nagging them. Abbie and Bernard, with their two young children,

Scott and Caitlin, moved to the same area as his parents.

The desire to move waned and ebbed in Bernard and Abbie’s fifty years of

married life. “We had a lot of houses…. I guess we get tired of houses fast.” Abbie and

Bernard moved into the largest house they owned after their son married. It was their

favorite house. They lived there for fourteen years, but once both their children had their

own places, Abbie and Bernard began the process of downsizing after the onset of health

issues. Bernard began having hip problems. Abbie’s knees caused her pain. Although

downsizing was arduous, it allowed them to secure a meaningful retirement goal.

Abbie and Bernard wanted to spend time with their younger grandchildren, but

their daughter lived outside the city. Abbie and Bernard moved from their suburban area

into a more rural area six or seven minutes away from their daughter, Caitlin’s house.

The new house had much less storage, which forced the issue of the surplus of unopened

boxes. Prior to moving, Abbie and Bernard systematically and rigorously went through

each of the boxes, categorizing, sorting, and allocating belongings.


Abbie and Bernard chose to keep meaningful family items such as the ninety-five-

year-old plant that Abbie’s mother received when she was sixteen, Bernard’s great-

grandmother’s handmade stool, his mother’s bedroom painted-hurricane lamp, and

Abbie’s great-grandmother’s lemonade pitcher. Another sentimental item was a set of

acrylic grapes they received as a wedding present. “Even though I started thinking,

“Those [grapes] look a little tacky,” I wouldn’t get rid of them because they have a

meaning. Grandma Smith and my brother gave them to us. They’re two of my favorite



Table 35

Bernard and Abbie’s Objects Identified in Narrative

Item # Type Ownership

1 hand-crafted, tobacco-curing table Bernard’s extended family

2 small stool, woven-reed seat, 1925 Bernard’s grandmother

3 little table and chair Bernard’s grandparent’s

4 rose hurricane lamp Bernard’s mother

5 childhood figurine, “Little Boy


Bernard’s dad

6 desk Bernard’s parents

7 toy box his dad built Bernard childhood

8 child’s rocking chair Bernard childhood

9 painted lemonade pitcher Abbie’s great-grandmother

10 95-year-old plant and plantstand Abbie’s mother

11 secretary desk Abbie’s parents

12 Hummel collection Abbie’s from aunt childhood on

13 books Abbie and Bernard childhood on

14 Biblical reference books Abbie and Bernard young adult on

15 acrylic grapes in glass compote dish Abbie and Bernard young adult on

16 metal animal sculptures Abbie and Bernard midlife on

17 hand-crafted laundry room Abbie and Bernard young adult

18 pottery that our son made years ago. Abbie and Bernard’s son midlife


Figure 39. Bernard and Abbie’s Life Story Possession Analysis (LSPA #16).


Figure 40. Photographs of Bernard and Abbie’s storied possessions: upper left—acrylic

grapes in compote dish; upper right—mother’s painted hurricane lamp without broken

globe; lower left—mother’s plant on plant stand; lower right—dog sculpture from


Identity meanings, related in life span stories, embedded in the possessions

Bernard and Abbie moved to their new residence. There are two themes of meaning


embedded in the possessions Bernard and Abbie moved into their senior apartment: 1)

family first and 2) collective faith.

Family first. All their possessions embed the meaning of family. Family collects

together, gives gifts, provides safe passage for the past, and extends the mortality of

members who have died by keeping heritage items. The house embeds the meaning of

moving to be near grandchildren.

Collective faith. Abbie and Bernard are active church members and Bible

teachers a meaning embedded in their Bibles, study books, and a hidden box of cassette

tapes with sermons they traveled to conferences to hear.

Within-Case Summary

The sixteen within-case studies, which include twenty-three older adult

participants, were analyzed to answer the research question, “What identity meanings,

related in life span stories, are embedded in the possessions older adults move to their

new residences?”

Findings suggest that identity meanings are richly and diversely embedded in

many types of possessions. A total of seventy-nine identity meanings including personal,

social, and collective identity meanings are illustrated in Figure 41. Personal identity

meanings (fifty-three instances) account for over half the total. Social identity has

twenty-one instances, and collective identity meanings has five instances.

In answer to the research question “What identity meanings, related in life span

stories, are embedded in the possessions older adults move to their new residences,” the

seventy-nine identity meanings are found in thirty-five themes collected from the within-

case analyses. Some themes have multiple identity meanings. For instance, one

PROGRAMMING– DCI Chapters 11 + EBD Chapter 6, 7, 9, 15

Problem Statement: A one or two sentence description of the scope of the project

Client / User Profile: Who is/are the client(s)? Who is/are the user(s)? What are their characteristics? 

Building Needs

Assess existing building or develop needs assessment for new structure

Document and describe the interior architecture of the existing building

Inventory existing HVAC, acoustical, lighting, electrical and plumbing conditions, and special or unusual needs

Inventory existing fixed-in-place furnishings and fixtures or equipment (FF&E) and unusual spatial needs

Identify signage needed

Consider humidity and temperature levels needed

Safety and Security Needs

Address physical and air quality safety issues

Log any existing unusual health related conditions or special needs of users; consider health risks of location

Location of security phone

Identify the security system

Locate fire exits

Assess adequate lighting for security

Are there dead bolts, combination locks, etc. 

Task Analysis

Identify primary activities of individual employees, work groups, and departments

Identify functional relationships between individual employees, work groups, and departments

List of activities/tasks – Ex. Sleeping, studying, reading, eating, work from office, etc.

List of Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E) needed for tasks and activities 

User Requirement List Repeat information below for each task area. List each Area and answer the following questions

Physical Identify the anthropometric measurements applicable to these users

Identify mid- and long-range plans; is the client likely to grow, shrink, or diversify.

Identify goods or services provided by client 

Social Determine image/formality desired for individual members

Determine status markers for individual

Determine desired culture and family image

Consider how socialization occurs

Psychological Identify specific psychological needs (territory, crowding, isolation, privacy, security, safety, etc.)

Define territory and spatial needs of the individual

Identify markers for sense of arrival, invitation to enter, sense of place

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