Monday, May 22, 2017

Planning for a Future in Place

I'm not getting younger. 

I know right?  I was surprised, too! 

If the average lifespan of an American woman is 77, I'm well beyond middle-aged, and pushing hard against retirement.  I'm still "young", relatively, but this years birthday is a milestone one.  I've been around for a while, and I still have some time to go, but ... I'm not getting any younger.

I actually love that there's a real job called Certified Aging in Place Specialist.  Specifically, the job of a CAPS is to assist older people with remodeling their homes to accommodate their changing needs - like making the space wheelchair/walker-friendly and making bathrooms more easily accessible to people with limited mobility. 

A few years ago, a friend of mine was remodeling her kitchen.  Like me, she's already planned that her home is where she will live until she dies.  She's cautioned her children that putting her in an Assisted Living Facility should be done so at their peril.  She's told them that the child who takes care of her in her twilight years will be the ONE who reaps the benefits of her estate.

I've told my children something similar. 

This friend designed her new kitchen keeping in mind the possibility that she may be in a wheelchair later in life.  I thought her plan was a stroke of genius.

And as often happens to me, in one of those serendipitous moments, I recently read an article regarding staying put rather than purchasing a new home.  This article was geared toward people much younger than I am and was from the standpoint of pointing out the cost savings of staying in one's home rather than purchasing something new. 

Different audience - same message ... ish ... that I've been preaching with my bug-out in place mantra. 

I completely agree with the advice to stay where one is, especially for financial reasons.  Moving is expensive, always.  With the exception of people who are moving long distances for whatever reason, the only time one financially benefits from selling one's house and buying another is if one is in a too big, too expensive house, and one does some serious downsizing.  Unless one's circumstances make it impossible to stay, staying put is always a better idea.  Moving because one is tired of one's old house is just silly and frivolous ... and seriously, are there really people who do that? 

Over the years, Deus Ex Machina and I have looked at a lot of houses with the goal of moving.  Our reasons to move have included: the desire to be closer to those places we spent most of our time to cut back on driving (I hate driving); the wish for more land so that we could be more self-sufficient; the need to have a house with an apartment addition and more land so that we could have a place for our older children. 

Always, after a frenzied search for this better place, we realized that what we have is just exactly what we need, and while those other things would be nice, we find more and more that our current home is where we should be.  Like, if we had moved closer to those activities our daughters were doing back in those days to cut back on how much I was driving, we would be further away from some of the activities/opportunities they are enjoying today - including further away from Deus Ex Machina's job.   

More land is more work.  It would have been nice to have had five or more acres when my children were younger and to have raised all of our own meat and vegetables, but as they've gotten older and moved out, I'm realizing that the smaller space will be perfect for me and Deus Ex Machina in those years when our daughters are off on their adventures and it's just the two of us. 

One 4'x4' garden bed can feed an adult two vegetables per day through the entire growing season.  We have lots of 4'x4' garden beds.  Six chickens is more than enough to give the two of us all of the eggs we'll need.  One whole meat chicken will feed just the two of us for a week.  We have plenty of land for just the two of us to raise all of our own vegetables for the spring, summer and fall (with some extra for storage), and to get an adequate supply of protein.

If we'd had been able to find the more perfect house ten years ago, when our children were young, then it might have been a good move.  But now ... it just wouldn't make a lot of sense.

Both articles made me start thinking about some of the things that I would change about my current house to make it more future-friendly - both in terms of my aging body, but also, in making it more eco-friendly in a world that will more likely than not be experiencing resource depletion.  Those articles also reminded me that, perhaps subconsciously, Deus Ex Machina and I have been making some pretty wise upgrades to our home. 

My remodeling plans are not, necessarily, just for me, though.  My goal is actually to build a legacy for my children (or the child who takes me up on my offer of caring for me in exchange for this house) to inherit when I pass - a place they can live that is low-energy and comfortable.

In the second article, one of the reasons cited that people will move is for a "newer, shinier home."  I love new and shiny.  Getting something new actually does make me feel a little happy, at least while that new thing is still new.  But as the article points out (and as most of us already know, intuitively), those feelings of euphoria are very short-lived, and it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend thousands of dollars moving to a new place when there are some quick and easy fixes that will give one that happy-boost, while at the same time begin the process of transitioning one's home to accommodate an elderly resident.

One of the expenses listed in the second article for making a home more old-folk friendly is door handles.  The estimated expense for a new door handle is around $60.  From my experience, that's pretty accurate, but WOW!  what a difference it can make!  Plus, there are lots and lots of options for creating a super-special and unique look.  Twist handles are tough to use for someone who has achy hands ... or hands full of groceries.  When Deus Ex Machina and I changed our front door handles, we bought the lever ones, rather than the twisty ones.  I love the new handles.  They change the whole look of our door.  Seriously.  It's pretty incredible what a difference that one, little thing can make.

Another issue inside the house has to do with doors.  Regular doors that swing into a room can be tough for someone in a wheelchair, which makes the fact that the current barn-style sliding door fad all the more interesting ... and wonderful for those who are looking to adapt their home to make it more age-friendly.  A sliding door takes up a lot less space than a door that must swing open.  Plus, a sliding door is a fun place for chalkboards or hanging that collection of signed posters from all of the plays we've been in/to.

I'm a little in love with this sliding shutter window-dressing.  In addition to the cool aesthetic, it's also pretty brilliant for adding insulative properties AND privacy.  So, as a quick aside, sliding shutters inside a room (as in the picture) provides an extra surface hanging pictures, looks really cool, and would help insulate older windows, which means saving money on the cost of heating/cooling AND there would be no need to replace those old windows!  Cost savings is a huge concern for seniors on a fixed income.  This design would be a perfect solution for the window on the north-facing side of my house. 

Of course, as the linked article points out, many of these modifications are also beneficial to other people.  When I'm taking the laundry outside to hang on the line, and I'm holding a basket of clothes, opening the door to get out is awkward and cumbersome.  Plus, it allows my dogs to sneak outside, which can turn into a wild chase around the neighborhood if our big male chow is feeling particularly feisty.  A sliding door is a little easier to open and close when I have full hands. 

We've also looked into changing our refrigerator from the standard upright with doors to a drawer model, which would be more easily accessible for someone in a wheelchair, but is also more eco-friendly than a standard refrigerator. 

There's another bonus to using an under-the-counter refrigerator - for us.  It would allow us to expand our counter space, because the refrigerator would be under a counter, instead of this free-standing hulk.  We have an upright freezer already, and so we don't need both a refrigerator/freezer AND our upright freezer.  A smaller refrigerator unit under a counter would work so much better in our tiny, galley-style kitchen, and it would give us some much needed added work space. 

Even better, for us, would be a cold closet (which uses no electricity). 

In addition to those concerns above, there are other design choices that have been made in our modern housing that make those homes less friendly for our aging populations.  Wall-to-wall carpeting, which was all the rage following World War II and is still the most popular flooring choice (probably because of the cost involved - carpet is so much cheaper than the longer-lasting, more eco-friendly, and healthier wood and tile options), is difficult for people who shuffle with a walker or cane, or need to move a wheeled vehicle. 

Deus Ex Machina and I have been in our house for two decades.  Most carpeting has a fifteen year lifespan.  So, as you can imagine, we've had to replace the flooring in a few rooms.  We have always chosen wood or tile for the new floors.  Both options have a much longer lifespan than carpeting AND are easier for those with limited mobility.

An estimated 80% of older people own their own homes.  The statistic is much smaller for young people, who are more likely to be renters.  Traditionally, our elderly lived with younger people, usually relatives, and mostly, it was a mutually beneficial relationship. 

As we get deeper into resource depletion, it will start to make more sense for young people to live with their older relatives for so many reasons, the least of which being that we won't be able to afford to not share - for environmental and economic reasons. 

It makes sense to start designing newer homes to be more old-age friendly, and for those of us in older homes from which we aren't likely to move, to transition those homes so that everyone can live more comfortably.

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to see some pics of your garden beds? Lots of good ideas although I was thrilled when our kids moved out, haha! More privacy, etc. Good ideas. Being older with tough/ arthritic hands I like the idea of swapping handles. What is a vold cold closet? Like a root cellar? Nancy