Decision Making, Part 1

by teresalaynebennett

photo of outdoor garage sale

Debris exposing decisions that were NOT made

  • Bags and bags of costume-jewelry beads
  • Worn out workshop tools
  • Boxes and boxes of crochet thread
  • Sacks and sacks of knitting yarn
  • Leather worker’s lacing in every imaginable color
  • Multiple tubes of gaudy glitter
  • Men’s rubber – yes, rubber – rain boots
  • Dress pattern packets in jumbled piles.
  • Instruction booklets for what no one wants to know these days
  • A 1924 algebra textbook
  • Heavily battered pots and pans
  • Mismatched cracked and chipped pottery
  • Women’s undergarments no woman under 40 would recognize
  • Threadbare towels and sheets
  • Piles of faded postcards from travel-smart friends

All this was there – and much more – at an estate sale in an elderly neighbor’s house. It immediately made me unexpectedly and unexplainably sad. I said as much to the young woman helping with the sale and asked about the owner’s circumstances. “Oh, she isn’t dead. She just went into assisted living,” she chirped brightly and reassuringly.

This is your mother’s stand-in talking, now: Never, ever say that. (I’m quite sure I did when I was her age, and equally sure the more mature around me would’ve liked to smack me.) DO NOT make blithe statements about the last stages of life, about which you know nothing. FYI: moving into assisted living is dying-in-slow-motion for most elderly people, as they watch their peers up and down the hall die off and as they await their turn or – worse – the dreaded move to a nursing home.

Whew. That just slipped out. We’ve digressed, haven’t we? Let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Ever been to a sale
like the one I’ve just described?

Then you know the drill. Some flea-market-type person agrees to handle the sale of all the house’s contents (after family members have fought over the good stuff). Enterprising flea-marketers figure this saves the family additional heartache and stress, while providing themselves with legitimate income.

The entrepreneurs set up shop at the front-door or garage-front with the ubiquitous card table, complete with a “sales clerk” like the chirpy young woman above. They’ve culled what’s left of the valuable stuff, priced it at antique-shop prices, and have it displayed safely under their noses on that card table. They’ve pulled the rest of the house’s contents from every drawer, cupboard, closet, and cubby, organized it, and laid it all out – room by room or table by table in the driveway – for prospective buyers to paw over.

In short, the entire detritus of a person’s life, as well as every room of their home, is there for total strangers to sift through. The plan is that visitors will offer a buck for the privilege of carting stuff from the estate-sale house to their house. Furthermore, the family is desperately hoping a yard-saler (or Realtor in disguise) will make an offer on the house, and they can be done with the whole miserable business.

In most of the cases I’ve seen, the homeowner has been on the slow, downhill slide of poor health. In fact, they left for the assisted living center or nursing home much later than they should have. The result is a grungy house (the ”fixer-upper” you’ve seen in Realtor ads), unpainted and unmaintained, filled with items like the ones listed above which should have been given away or disposed of a very long time ago.

They long ago reached a point where the physical activity of running a vacuum and the mental activity of sorting through a lifetime of material accumulations (for the grandkids, favorite charities, younger friends, etc.) were simply too much for them. I’ve often heard stories of elderly people who, having reached this point, would not permit family members to take over these chores. They could no longer perform them, but neither would they let anyone else perform them. They simply sat in their beloved homes, with those homes falling down around their ears, and decided not to decide.

What have these people done?

They’ve abdicated their decision-making responsibilities, with rather unpleasant, awkward results – for all concerned.

Did they suddenly do this at age 82, just weeks before the long-term-care facility move? They did not. The elderly people I know about who ended up in the very situation I’ve just described had spent most of their adult lives avoiding decision-making whenever possible. What most of these people seemed to have in common was a deep-seated aversion to looking ahead, planning for the future, and making the necessary decisions, however disagreeable or uncomfortable they might be.

What happens if you don’t do something very often? You’re not very good at it. If you’re not good at something, what do you tend to do? You avoid it. Do we have a vicious circle going on here? You betcha.

Here’s the pay-attention lesson
for this post.

Make decisions. Now. Lots of ’em. Every day. All day.

  • Don’t live your life by proxy.
  • Don’t abdicate your right to decide.
  • Don’t let others keep doing your deciding for you.
  • And most importantly, don’t dump your decision-making onto others.

Part 2 of Decision Making is ready. Warning: if you thought this Part 1 was harsh, you haven’t seen anything yet. Sticking doggedly to my ever-so-endearing, in-your-face style, I’ll be asking some rather disagreeable questions. (Just thought you’d want to know.)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.” – Edward de Bono

An English psychologist–creative-thinking fella