Household disbandment in later life

David J. Ekerdt, Julie F. Sergeant, Molly Dingel, Mary Elizabeth Bowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Objectives. This study described activities that older people undertake to reduce the volume of their possessions in the course of a residential move to smaller quarters, a process with practical, cognitive, emotional, and social dimensions. Methods. Qualitative interviews were conducted with members of 30 households who had moved in the prior year. The disbandment period, typically lasting about 2 months, was a particular focus of the interview. Results. The interviews suggested nine reasons why people had accumulated and kept things, which now became problematic for the impending move. The initial steps of disbandment entailed decisions about major furniture and meaningful gifts to family and friends, followed by evaluation of the remaining belongings for retention, sale, further gifts, donation, or discard. Things not divested by one means were reassigned to another strategy. People took pleasure in dispositions that saw their things used, cared for, and valued as they had done, thus fulfilling a responsibility to their belongings. Discussion. Disbandment is an acute episode of a more general, lifelong process of possession management. It is an encounter with things that are meaningful to the self, but as it unfolds, it also makes new meaning for things.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S265-S273
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes


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