Housing was the first item to audit and improve in preparation for my old age. I do own my apartment which makes me very privileged and grateful. I love my home and try to treat it well. But was it sufficiently safe, shareable, and shipshape for the very old person that I would one day be?
How to make a safe home for old age?
Safety is what other people worry about most. They worry that their elderly relatives might slip, trip, or fall. Falling down can have an immediate impact on your quality of life, perhaps short term, perhaps forever.
I was inflicting horrible dangers on my visitors. My tiny guest bedroom was upstairs. The only bathroom was down a narrow staircase without a handrail. As I get older, so do my guests. If you’ve got a sore hip or prostate trouble, this night-time scenario could ruin your stay.
I changed the environment with a tiny new bathroom and a handrail. At my 75th birthday party in February, the renovations went on show. My guests barely noticed the bathroom. But they loved that handrail. And you know what? So do I. The handrail makes me feel safe.
Preparing to share my home
The changes I made to my environment certainly made my home safer. But they also accidentally made it shareable. Good, that was on my agenda because I imagined myself in the future, needing somebody else in my home to keep an eye on me and help with little things..
On impulse I moved into the tiny upstairs bedroom. This suits me perfectly.
I began to use the big bedroom and bathroom downstairs as an AirBnB space, just for 2 or 3 days at a time. Baby steps! I enjoy these brief encounters with total strangers very much.
My third criterion was a shipshape home
Have you noticed that older people tend to stop dusting and cleaning and fixing up their homes? Dirt and dilapidation can easily creep in when you’re very old. You need good eyesight and mobility and energy, and you often need help or money to keep things clean and tidy.
Actually, going AirBnB was a good start. If people are paying to stay here, the place must be spotless. Otherwise the whole world will find out. So I do clean that half of the apartment meticulously.
I rely on some tiny habits to keep the whole place clean and tidy. Clutter is the main barrier to cleanliness and it also threatens safety. If horizontal surfaces are clear, cleaning is pretty easy, and trip hazards are reduced. So I started these tiny habits:
• Put nothing on the floor except furniture
• Clear the coffee table every morning
• Clear the dining room table every evening
Those three habits were enough to make me more aware of clutter, and stop me worrying about it too. It’s under control now. You cannot trust clutter: it sneaks up on you! Clothes, books, kitchen things, documents and digital stuff: eternal vigilance is required. Decluttering (like cleaning) is an everyday, ongoing task.
So, by changing the environment and taking a baby step into AirBnB hosting and applying some simple decluttering habits I have managed to turn my apartment into a safe home for old age. Not only safe but easy to share, and fairly clean and tidy. The first task had taken two months, not one, but for me, it was a great start to my boot camp for the bonus years.
Two poems about housing in old age
A safe home
An ideal home for oldies
from your wobbly self.
Safety is sly and scary like blancmange
Safety says it’s all right dear.
A banister will save your life
day after day year after year
(until one day it won’t).
My old apartment wasn’t safe
for those who hesitate and totter
who need the loo in the night
with hips that creak and knees that bite.
Something was wrong.
My visitors stayed less long
they trod my pointy stairs with care
the bathroom was always up or down
and far away.
So John the odd-job man installed
a handrail that should always
always have been there.
Everyone raves about the handrail
rave as if that thing were made of gold.
And behold from that day forth, who holds
the handrail when she’s going up
and when she’s going down?
Of course it’s me. I’m old you see.
Over and over again you’ve had to let go
and as you get old you have to do it
more often, more shocking and more.
You’ve done it before.
You let go of your favourite toy
when it lost its shine.
You let go of houses and friends
and after all, that turned out fine.
You let your children fly the nest
you passed the test. But now
you must let go of beauty
and habits galore, you’re losing score.
And yes, it’s hard.
It breaks your heart.
Something is clinging and it is you
and you know what you have to do.
Links to other poems about housing in old age
You’ll find most of these poems in a new collection to be published in 2020 by The Cuba Press (thecubapress.nz). It’s called How To Be Old, like this podcast.