Storied possessions : post-household disbandment older adult placemaking through meaningful belongings
If older adults do not age-in-place, one of their last residential moves involves significant downsizing referred to as household disbandment. During this process, older adults divest themselves of possessions, change lifestyles, and move into smaller spaces. There is increased social and anthropological research on household disbandment. Less is known from environment and behavior and interior design theoretical perspectives about the subsequent process of reestablishing a meaningful place for post-disbandment older adults. Focusing on belongings brought from disbanded residences, a goal of this study is to understand how older people make place through their personal possessions to answer the research questions: “What identity meanings, related in life span stories, are embedded in the possessions older people move to their new residences?” and “How do post-disbandment older people embed the meaning of family when making place?” Participants are post-disbandment retirees (70 +) whose moves occurred within three years of initial researcher contact and five of their adult-children. A variety of residential housing types are included. Multiple-case holistic case study research methods are used to analyze sixteen household cases that include twenty-three older adult participants. Within-case findings suggest post-disbandment older adults, in their new residential environments, incorporate possessions embedded with personal, social, and collective identity meanings related to events in their life stories. Multiple layers and diversity of embedded meanings exist within solitary possessions. Cross-case findings suggest participants integrate family into their new residences by engaging with possessions connected to storied points in their lives and embedded with their meanings of family. The incorporation into their residences of storied possessions embedded with ordinary, low, high, and turning point family meanings suggests these older adults actively engage with their authentic perspectives of current reality and either willfully make or willfully do not make the place of home. Implications suggest disbandment and the subsequent placemaking process need to be considered as a holistic event rather than two distinct episodes, and older adult agency needs to be privileged for placemaking to be successful. Contributions of this study to existing knowledge include an analytic tool to evaluate granular level meanings within possessions and a conceptual Model of Storied Possessions depicting symbolic interactions of self-identity, others, narrativity, life events, and storied possessions that lead to meaningful place.