Jim and Mary B. Lynch had a problem: How to fit a houseful of belongings into a modest, two-bedroom apartment.
Like many senior couples, they recently made the difficult, but ultimately practical, decision to move from Lookout Mountain and join the ranks of downtown downsizers.
The move has made them minor celebrities at their church on Lookout Mountain, they say, where friends sometimes huddle around for updates. Some of the friends say they wish they could move downtown, too, and would if it weren't for inertia, balky spouses, you fill in the blank. Who needs all those big yards to keep mowed? And climbing all those tall staircases? Sheesh.
The Lynches traded a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home on Wood Nymph Trail on Lookout for an apartment at Walnut Commons, a complex at 212 Walnut St. with expansive views of the Tennessee River and the iconic Walnut Street Bridge. In more concrete terms, they traded floor-to-ceiling windows, large furniture and communion with wrens and woodpeckers for downtown convenience and a jolt of late-life adrenalin.
The Lynches, who have been married 58 years, were among the 60 percent of American seniors who believe they have more things than they need. By age 80, 30 percent of Americans will rent their primary residences, versus only 10 percent who rent at age 60, according to the website seniorlifestyle.com. Many seniors have come to see it as a gift to their children to downsize their possessions while they still are able to manage the process.
Jim, a retired medical equipment sales representative, and Mary B., a well-known local artist and teacher, had grown weary of walking up the 17 steps to the second floor of their Lookout Mountain home. And Jim has a heart condition that required trips to a rehabilitation facility off the mountain three times a week.
"It's not easy driving up and down the mountain," he says.
At the gentle urging of their daughter - an only child - the Lynches said they began plotting their descent from the mountaintop several years ago. In retrospect, they say it would have been easier to do five or 10 years ago when they had fewer belongings and stronger backs.
But leaving a house you've lived in for 42 years is never easy. There are emotional attachments, for sure. But there is also the plain hard work of dividing a lifetime's worth of personal belongings in to piles labeled keep, give away, sell or trash. It's like editing your life story with a dull pencil.
Fortunately, the Lynches found an estate-sale company that specializes in helping people sort through their belongings and emerge with only the essentials. Most of their household goods were sold on consignment, and they rent storage space for some things that wouldn't fit in the new apartment.
Going from an idyllic mountain neighborhood to the hustle and bustle of downtown took some getting used to, the Lynches say.
"The hardest thing to leave was the quiet of the (mountain) neighborhood," Mary B. says. "We miss the simplicity of calling over to the neighbors."
At their new apartment, part of an $11 million, 100-unit complex, the Lynches can sit on their deck and people-watch. They had a ringside seat for this summer's Riverbend festival, and they often can hear live music wafting down from the Hunter Museum of American Art. They have favorite downtown restaurants and plenty of places to walk. Mary B. has fashioned the spare bedroom into a sun-splashed art studio.
There's something invigorating about living in an apartment complex where the renter mix ranges from millennials to members of the Greatest Generation. Almost every weekend there are parties on the roof. Pets are everywhere, including the Lynches' cat, Sweet Thing.
In six months, Jim, Mary B., and Sweet Thing seem to have settled into a comfortable life downtown - with no more stairs to climb, no more big house to maintain. Mary B. has even found some rosebushes outside the apartment building to tend. All in all, the move seems to have been a success.
As the saying goes, home is where the heart is.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.