One of the most challenging clients Lynn Fraser ever had was her own mother-in-law. Fraser is a professional organizer and member of the Professional Organizers in Canada, all of whom have different specialties and areas of expertise. It was working with her mother-in-law that made her realize how important her work is for seniors.

“My mother-in-law was 94 years old and still living in her own apartment,” says Fraser. “When we finally convinced her to move into something more appropriate for her, we had a small window of time to get her ready to transition from a two-bedroom apartment to a 300 square foot lodge room.”

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Fraser’s mother-in-law moved to Queen Alexandra Place three months after she was placed on the waiting list. Like many of the other seniors she has worked with in her practice, Fraser noticed that her mother-in-law kept a lot of things from over the years. She attributes this partially to the generation her mother-in-law was a part of, one who lived through the Great Depression, and also as a sign that the next, and often scary, part of life is coming up quick.

“For my mother-in-law, moving into a lodge was putting one foot in the grave,” says Fraser. “I remember that first day she was living in Queen Alexandra Place, I walked with her around the neighbourhood and it took a lot of convincing to really demonstrate that this wasn’t the end for her. In fact, it was opening a lot of possibilities.”

Decluttering as a general practice for anyone is reported to have a multitude of benefits ranging from clearer thinking, more time and improved energy to alleviating anxiety. For seniors in particular, Fraser points out that the benefits revolve around living more in the moment. She explains that older adults who hold on to objects tend to either attribute memories to them or plan to give them to family members eventually.

“They’re either living in the past or in the future and they’re missing being fully present now,” says Fraser. “Once the decluttering process begins, there’s a huge shift in people’s happiness. They can see more possibilities, it allows for more dreaming, and for seniors especially it’s the understanding that family and friends can come to visit and have a place to sit and eat. Especially as they’re looking to move into a smaller space, alleviating the pressure of where they will put all of their stuff suddenly opens up possibilities of all the things they can do when their grandchildren visit.”

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Beginning the process of decluttering can be the most daunting part of the whole process. Fraser suggests that as soon as someone is on the list for a seniors lodge or apartment, the downsizing needs to begin right away. By beginning the process sooner, it becomes a set of smaller decluttering goals, as opposed to one large one that needs immediate and drastic action. Keeping up the conversation about all the benefits to their new space to keep it top of mind is important throughout the process. Fraser was able to practice some of the more practical tactics in downsizing with her mother-in-law.

“My mother-in-law was an artist, so she had this incredible collection of paintings,” Fraser recollects. “As a family, we worked with her to pick out her favourites and determined where each painting would go once she moved.”

Paring down collections is an important step in the downsizing process and Fraser stresses that it’s of the utmost importance that the person downsizing be the one making the decisions on what stays and what goes, if she is cognitively able to. Even with her mother-in-law’s clothes, Fraser was able to lean on her mother-in-law’s favourite colours (pink and purple) as a means of reducing the amount of clothing she had. Fraser explains that it’s being able to give options within reason that makes for a successful downsizing.

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“The person downsizing has to be the one who chooses,” says Fraser. “You need to be respectful and work as a team. Keep reminding them of all they have to look forward to and talk about the things they love to do and how decluttering will help them be able to do those things. For my mother-in-law, I was able to talk about how many interesting people she would have to draw again. That really resonated with her and helped her along.”

Fraser recommends at times even using games to help with the decluttering process. One game she utilizes is identifying your clutter hot spot in the space and challenging the person to beat the clock in sorting and purging the pile. Another effective game can be found on the Minimalists website called the 30-Day Minimalism Game where a person gets rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two, three things on day three, and so on. Fraser also cites the Marie Kondo book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as an effective text with practical and motivating advice. The most practical piece of advice in the text comes from a single question: “Does this bring me joy?”

For Fraser, there are actually eleven effective questions when deciding on what to do with an item:

  1. Does this bring me joy?
  2. Do I really need this?
  3. Do I need this many?
  4. Does it work?
  5. Am I using it?
  6. Will I ever use it or go back to it?
  7. Do I really care about it?
  8. Where am I keeping it?
  9. Can I quickly find it when I need it? (change to ‘find it quickly’)
  10. Is it worth storing or filing?
  11. Who am I keeping it for?

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The last piece of advice that Fraser would give anyone looking to downsize or declutter is to envision the space that they want. How do they want it to look? How do they want it to feel? By creating that clear idea of what they want this space to be, it will continue helping that drive to continue the decluttering process.

“Staying focused is the hardest part of an already difficult process,” says Fraser. “Having another person there can both offer a lot of support and add some accountability. If they can stick with that vision, all the amazing benefits, the self-esteem, the happiness, the possibilities, all will fall into place no matter the size of space you’re living in.”

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On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, members of the GEF Seniors Housing Board of Directors and Senior Management team are setting up displays of the current conceptual drawings for the new building project on Edmonton’s west end in the Elmwood neighbourhood. Starting at 7:00 p.m. at the Elmwood Community Hall (16415 83 Ave.), the community consultation meeting will ask three very important questions to people currently living in the neighbourhood and surrounding areas: What should this new addition to your community be named? What do you like about the building drawings? What would you change with what you see in the building drawings?

“One of the most important processes we always go through with any new building project is to have at least three community consultations,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “This will be the second meeting we hold with the Elmwood community and surrounding areas, who have shown a lot of support for this new building project.”

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The conceptual drawings were done by Jonathan Rockliff of RPK Architects, the architectural firm behind previous GEF Seniors Housing buildings such as Sakaw Terrace and Ottewell Terrace. Swonek explains that showing the drawings will help spur conversations from the community members attending the meeting, which will then in turn help give some direction to GEF Seniors Housing as to how the building will add value to the community.

“Some of the most interesting concepts we’ve integrated into our buildings have come from the conversations we’ve had with community members,” says Swonek. “Ottewell Terrace including Primrose Place Family Centre daycare into the building was a direct result of conversations we had with the Ottewell community. The ingenuity that came from the community members was invaluable to us and helped create one of the first seniors housing buildings with a permanent daycare centre in Alberta. It also spurred intergenerational programming that has been highly beneficial to both the seniors living in the building and the children at the daycare centre. We know that this level of collaboration will bring about creative innovations for Elmwood.”

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Once this second community consultation is complete, a third meeting will be scheduled to display the final details around the future building plus give some details for the construction work plan. Though Swonek is always looking ahead to the next steps in any project, he remains enthusiastic over the next community meeting with the Elmwood area and is excited to see what ideas the people from the neighbourhoods bring.

“Last time we held a community consultation for Elmwood, we were expecting maybe 30 people to attend and more than 100 came and was part of one of the liveliest community conversations I ever got to be a part of,” says Swonek. “We know the need on the west end is great and it’s only growing. We’re taking all the lessons learned from previous projects like Ottewell Terrace and Sakaw Terrace and applying them to the Elmwood project, ensuring that the building we construct in the area is a welcome addition to the community.”

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November is Housing Month, a reminder of how important an issue housing is for everyone and how many challenges a lot of people face when trying to find somewhere affordable and accessible to call home. Young adults, families, and seniors are all affected by the rising housing costs in Edmonton. Government at all levels have realized that housing is a growing issue for many people and are committing new funds and programs to help address these issues. Despite the growing efforts, many people still struggle with simple necessities that so many take for granted.

“If you spend more than 30 per cent of your gross monthly income on housing, you’re considered below the poverty line,” say GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. GEF Seniors Housing is just one organization participating in Housing Month efforts and activities to promote the need for more affordable housing in Edmonton.

“For many Edmontonians, spending only 30 per cent of their income on housing seems like an impossible dream. We serve low-income seniors and offer them affordable housing options. We know the need in Edmonton is great, so we take part in Housing Month to help make sure no one ever has to worry about where they will call home.”

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Housing Month started in Toronto with National Housing Day back in 1998. The City of Toronto called out to other municipalities to join them in recognizing the need for affordable housing options in their cities. The City of Edmonton decided to expand on the idea of National Housing Day into a whole month of events, promotions, and publications to educate and inform what affordable and social housing is, how affordable and social housing programs benefit neighbourhoods, and how individuals and communities can help housing organizations serve the people who need the help most.

GEF Seniors Housing is working with the City of Edmonton and other housing organizations such as Homeward Trust, Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative, and Capital Region Housing Corporation on a campaign to spur discussions around affordable housing in Edmonton, how to bring more affordable housing to different Edmonton communities, and what steps should be taken to help see more affordable housing projects break ground. Housing Month’s campaign also includes the National Housing Day Luncheon, hosted by Homeward Trust, on Wednesday, November 22, 2017, at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel.

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“The partnerships we have with the other housing organizations for Housing Month is part of what makes this campaign so strong,” says Swonek. “Every one of these groups does amazing work in this city and is committed to seeing more affordable housing options available to Edmontonians who are in need. I’m so proud to be part of a city and a community that takes housing so seriously.”

Housing Month seeks to highlight current affordable housing projects being built around Edmonton, showcase current affordable housing buildings already established in the city, and to exhibit much of the progress made from the support of all levels of governments. Though Housing Month is driven by the City of Edmonton, the Provincial Government and the Federal Government both have worked on major housing strategies that have benefited Edmonton greatly and even started releasing funds already so that housing organizations can begin work on creating new homes.

“I’m optimistic about the future of housing when I see how much all these different organizations and different governmental bodies are all collaborating with this common goal,” says Swonek. “Housing Month displays so much of the progress we’ve made over the years. I’m excited for more communities to become invested in affordable housing and Housing Month is the perfect way to make those connections and build that support.”

Doug Kitlar stands on the main floor of the Sakaw Terrace construction site, looking out to the Bobcat skid flattening the wet soil where the first asphalt for the building’s main parking lot will be laid. He explains that this first layer may not last through the end of the construction but is being installed to help with the rest of the construction project by covering up the mud.

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“The soil’s been so wet all summer, it’s been hard to move anything,” Kitlar explains. “The asphalt is going to be damaged by the end of the project as we keep moving materials and equipment across it, but it’s going to make our lives a lot easier as we move forward on the project. It will of course have the finished layer laid toward the end of the project.”

Kitlar’s role as GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management has seen him work on his fair share of new building projects. Sakaw Terrace has seen Kitlar and the rest of the teams with GEF Seniors Housing and Chandos (Sakaw Terrace’s general construction contractor) branch out into trying new approaches while completing the building project. It’s been close to one year since shovels first broke ground on Sakaw Terrace and the project is moving fast.

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All four above ground floors and the underground parking garage have all had concrete poured for the flooring to the north wings and central core, making it possible to walk through every floor of the building (with the right safety gear, of course). The structural steel frame is nearing completion, giving the building its familiar shape. The remaining concrete will be poured over the next month.

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With progress moving so smoothly on Sakaw Terrace, Kitlar already has his mind on developing show suites. He explains that the main floor will display one lodge room and one apartment room that will first be used for weather and pressure testing, to ensure that no matter the weather outside the inside of the building and the suites will stay dry. Once the suites meet all the demands for weather and pressure testing, they will be an established standard for the finishes in all suites in the building and ultimately become the show suites for prospective tenants.

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“In about a month or so, we’ll start putting together the show suites to be pressure tested,” says Kitlar. “If things keep moving as they are now, we should be able to show our future residents and tenants the show suites by spring 2018.”

The next steps for the construction crew that will take the project into the New Year include paving the west side parking lot, finishing the ramp down to the underground parkade, securing the last of the structural steel walls, and installing the last of the roofing.

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Standing on Sakaw Terrace’s roof, there is a great view of the city’s south side and of downtown Edmonton’s skyline. The roof is sturdy and secure and the ventilation system vents are already being installed. Kitlar smiles as he looks out to the Edmonton skyline and reminisces about his affinity for going on buildings’ roofs.

“When I first started with GEF Seniors Housing, I went out on to every building’s roof to get to know everything with all the buildings,” Kitlar explains. “I took a photo from each rooftop and displayed them to the managers and had them guess where each photo was taken. With this unique view, no one will have problems guessing any photo taken from here.”

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Every year, Sage Edmonton holds a free event to help seniors navigate all the different housing options available to them as their needs and necessities change with aging. The Seniors Housing Forum features presentations from housing organization experts, information sessions from public figures, and a tradeshow displaying the wide array of different supports and services that allows seniors to have an excellent quality of life.

“The Seniors Housing Forum aims to provide a wide range of information and resources for older adults to age well in their existing home, and to better understand the variety of options for seniors’ housing,” says Karen McDonald, Executive Director with Sage Edmonton. “All sessions at the Forum will be closed captioned to ensure they are accessible and participants will also enjoy a free lunch, coffee and tea, and door prizes.”

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This year’s Seniors Housing Forum will be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017, at the Central Lions Recreation Centre (11113 113 St., Edmonton) with the tradeshow opening up at 9:00 a.m. and presentations beginning at 10:00 a.m. Presentations at the event include information on financial literacy, new home technologies that help seniors age in their community, and a panel discussion on alternative housing options that will feature GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek.

“GEF Seniors Housing is involved with the Seniors Housing Forum because we believe the event serves a huge need for Edmonton’s senior population,” says Swonek. “There’s a lot of information and choices seniors need to make as they age. The Seniors Housing Forum helps ensure that seniors are getting the best information right from the source and making sure their changing needs are going to be met while maintaining their quality of life.”

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The information presented is relevant not just to seniors themselves but also their families, friends, caregivers, and anyone else interested in the ever-evolving landscape of seniors housing options. Last year’s event brought in around 1,200 people to explore the tradeshow and take in the presentations, looking for information on what housing options will best serve their own or their loved ones’ lifestyles.

“I always love presenting at the Seniors Housing Forum,” says Swonek. “Last year, presented on new housing models and introduce many of the new concepts we’re building into Sakaw Terrace to an audience that was interested and engaged. I always look forward to the seniors Housing Forum and am excited I was once again asked to present.”

Registration for the Seniors Housing Forum is now open and anyone interested is encouraged to contact Sage Edmonton directly at 780-809-8604 to register.

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