Aging By Design, Not Default

Photo by Kristen Coffield
Kristen Coffield and Joe Kilbourn
Kristen Coffield and Joe Kilbourn

When my mother passed away eight years ago, my husband and I began the process of trying to get my stepfather to relocate from New York to where we live in Northern Virginia.

 

I had no idea it was actually going to take eight years to convince him.

 

My mother had a shop in the charming town of Bronxville, New York. As a single mother of two young girls in the 1960’s, she found herself needing a job to support her family. She had a keen eye for interior design and a passion for display; she felt that starting a local retail business would afford her the best options for managing work and a family.  Her shop was a huge success, and a much-loved fixture in town. For over forty years, her shop was a reliable source of income and a great source of satisfaction for my mother. My sister and I used to joke that the shop was our mother’s favorite child.

 

By the time my mother’s cancer returned in the early 2000’s, the shop had become less profitable and more challenging. The world of online shopping had changed retail forever, and greedy landlords were unsympathetic to the challenges of small, local businesses. It was time to close the doors and say goodbye to the shop. There was, however, still a LOT of merchandise! Even after sales and more sales, my mother just couldn't part with it all.

 

Happily, my mother and stepfather had purchased a second home near us in Maine, and my mother filled it with wonderful treasures from her shop and antique furniture overflowing from their primary residence. My parents now owned two homes filled to the brim with stuff!

 

After my mother’s last summer in Maine, my stepfather knew he had to downsize. It was overwhelming — almost paralyzing. There was so much stuff in both houses. We muscled through, however, and the four-story townhouse that had been my childhood home was finally sold. It was a bit creepy when an estate buyout company picked the bones clean and emptied the house of all we couldn't manage to take or sell. 

 

Despite our entreaties for my stepfather to join us in Virginia, he stayed in Bronxville and downsized into a one bedroom apartment in town. 

 

Two summers later, their house in Maine was sold; and in the tradition of island homes, most of the furniture went with it. Now, he had truly unencumbered himself and was traveling light. We thought this was the perfect time for him to relocate near us and get into a comfy spot, with garage parking, a door man and more amenities. No more stairs, he could walk to restaurants, shops, the gym, and us. No dice!

 

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, limited mobility, and an 85th birthday were the things that finally tipped the scales in favor of his move south. It took a tearful call from me explaining that no matter how carefully he planned for his changing needs, it would ultimately fall to me and my husband (Saint Bill) to make sure things were right; and as he would want them. If he really cared about not being a burden, he would move near us and share his life. He is moving to a lovely apartment near us next week. It took eight years and a lot of testy conversations.

 

There is a lesson in all of this. Everyone says they won’t be like their parents when it comes to aging and decision making; but when the time comes to decide, it can be really is hard to admit that your needs have changed. There is a primal urge to hold on to the way things were, even though that is no longer the way things are.

 

My grandmother put my mother through the wringer; she was one tough cookie about getting out of her multi-level home and giving up her car. One lovely Sunday afternoon, my grandmother decided to go for a drive; just like she and my grandfather used to do. Somewhere along the Taconic State Parkway, she completely forgot where she was going. At ninety years old, suddenly nothing looked familiar, and she couldn't remember how to get home. Little Grammy didn't think it was a problem. It was a problem.

 

My mother was greatly challenged by her own mother’s stubbornness, and swore she would never do the same to her children. When her own health failed, however, she wouldn't let any of us help her make decisions or share responsibilities. She literally became her mother.

 

Being on the precipice of my 60th birthday has me thinking that the best time to make a plan for how I want to age, is before I actually need it.

 

My company, The Culinary Cure, is about helping individuals and corporations create the most optimized conditions for health, happiness and productivity. Basically, living younger, longer and better. I start with what is on the end of the fork, because we all have to eat. The learning leads straight into the kitchen, because change won't stick without creating the right kitchen environment to support the eating plan.  

 

The same holds true for how we live. Now is the best time to think about creating the conditions of life that will let you continue to do what you love and live vibrantly.

 

Life by design is about embracing inevitable change to take control of the outcome. 

 

Chances are good there will come a day when continuing to drive is no longer a good idea. We are all fortunate to have ride services such as Uber to solve that dilemma. Many of today’s young people don't even have cars because of all the new transportation options. Driving, however, is just one part of the equation. It is important to consider all the things that cumulatively add up to creating the “right” set of circumstances for optimized longevity.

 

 Want to become a super-ager? Start now.

 

If you have never heard of the Blue Zones, they are places where people have traditionally lived longer than any other place on earth. The Blue Zones study was a collaboration between Dan Buettener and National Geographic. What I find most compelling about the people in the original Blue Zones is that they share nine healthy lifestyle habits that are central to their longevity and happiness. Best of all, they are free to make your own.

 

Community, Socially Active, Purpose, Exercise, Family First, Mindfulness, Plant-Based Diet, Eat Less and Moderate Alcohol Consumption.

 

Like transportation options, we have more choices about where and how we want to age. It used to be that retirement communities were for old people. At least that was the mindset. But now there are communities designed to please even the pickiest of super-agers.

 

The new breed of “Over Fifty-Five” communities understands that tapping into the nine lifestyle habits of the Blue Zones is the name of the game. It is important to be part of a community and that makes it easier to stay socially active and have purpose. Exercise becomes a way of life — bike and walking paths, community gyms, recreation features and activities. Having things to walk to encourages more walking! Living in a home and location your family enjoys visiting means they visit more, because it is fun. 

 

The other lifestyle components can easily be introduced and turned into new life supporting habits. Manage your stress. Stress causes inflammation in the body and inflammation is associated with every lifestyle disease you don't want to have. Mindfulness is a practice, so start practicing now. Less stress means better sleep and sleep is the only time your body can produce HGH, human growth hormone, and we all want more of that good stuff.

 

Eating a plant-based diet is associated with longevity. As omnivores, we are designed to be eating mostly plants; not processed and chemically altered foods. You don't have to be vegetarian or vegan, but you can make sure 75% of whats on your plate is fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you stop eating when you think you are 80% full, guess what? You are actually 100% full — your body just doesn't know it yet. This will help you maintain a healthy weight and help you eat less. Have a glass of organic wine with your zoodles and shrimp with mint, basil pesto —  it’s all good.

 

I recently gave a seminar at a gorgeous Miller & Smith home in Walhaven at Kingstowne, in Northern Virginia. I was impressed with how thoughtfully the homes were designed for super-agers who want a lifestyle that embraces quality living and community amenities. They obviously did their homework, and understand what living younger, longer and better means. This is not about downsizing, it is about resizing. Pivot now with tomorrow in mind. There was a virtual smorgasbord of living options designed to enhance today and simplify tomorrow, all the work done for you.

 

We have already resized once. After the drama of losing both my parents and dealing with epic amounts of accumulated stuff, I literally began to yard sale like I was sponsored. It took two years! Thats right, it took us two years from the time we decided to resize out of the 5 bedroom house with garage, pool, cabana, packed to the gills attic and basement, to put the house on the market. Believe me when I tell you there is way more stuff in your home than you think. So start now.

 

My stepdad is excited for his move. He seems relaxed to have finally made a decision. I can tell he is a little anxious, but I also know he is looking forward to having some help for which he won’t have to ask. I am actually a little envious of his new apartment; with an elevator from the garage, doorman, cool community spaces and gym. He has a grocery store, pharmacy, coffee shop and several restaurants right on his block. I, in fact, have two friends who have already moved to his building. They will probably all be having cocktail parties on the roof deck by this time next month.

 

I have no intention of waiting until I am eighty-five for my next resize. I fantasize about how great it will be to move our kids boxes of childhood stuff out of the garage; it is their turn to acquire, and mine to divest. I am ready curate my life, and surround myself with the things and the people who really matter to me. I plan to spend my time doing things I love. I am continuing to build my Blue Zone —  now I need to meditate!

 

Visit me at The Culinary Cure and get my FREE Live Like You Mean It Guide filled with tips and inspiration to help you live your best life.

For daily motivation follow me on Instagram @kristencoffield

1 Comment For This Article

Constance

Great article, thank you!