Declutter and downsize. Better now than later

On Life and Love after 50 e-Newsletter – January 25, 2019

by Tom P Blake

Downsize and Declutter. Better now than later

Toward the end of last week’s newsletter, I included this paragraph:

“Greta and I are in a major downsizing and decluttering this New Year’s; I moved my unsold cases of books to a self-storage space. While grunting and groaning doing that, I said to myself, “I need to move out some of these books. I’m going to offer Champs a major price incentive on books.”

From that paragraph, this comment came from a woman Champ, who requested to remain anonymous: “Tom, please write about decluttering. A lot has been written about this already. For example, a short but sweet article in the NYTimes science section, on Tuesday, January 9, 2019.

“Suddenly I can’t get enough reading on this topic. I’m convinced I would feel better if I got a handle on my surroundings, instead of them being in charge. Like you, I have too many books. Due to recent travels, I also have more souvenirs with no way to display them all. And the incoming mail has piled up; with two people in the house and the other person not agreeing with me on where to put this ….. well, you have the picture.”

I got to thinking about what Anonymous said. In the last two weeks, a good part of my days have been spent helping Greta not only declutter her house, but empty it out entirely. Why? She has decided to put it up for rent and her realtor said almost all potential renters want to rent a place unfurnished. And that is what has happened.

Greta and I live together in my home, which is already adequately furnished, and less than 1/2 the size of her home. Translation: not much room to move stuff from her home to my home.

The realtor found a great tenant who required an unfurnished house. Initially, the tenant was going to move in February 1. That deadline made us crazy, less than a month to make it happen.

Greta had that home built 35 years ago and it’s in excess of 3,500 square feet. You can imagine the accumulation of furniture and things in drawers. And books, books, books. The task is overwhelming. And really heavy furniture, is on the second floor, so steep steps are involved.

And then, the new tenants, who are being transferred by the wife’s employer from New York State, said they needed to revise the move-in date to February 22. Halleluiah! That gave us three extra weeks.

                                Getting rid of clutter is a blessing in disguise

But, turns out, this downsizing, decluttering, call it what you like, has been a blessing in disguise. Yup, we grunt and groan and have weightlifter’s belts on, and it’s physical and mental work. But, our mantra is “Better now than later,” meaning, of course, we should do this now, so that her offspring won’t have to deal with it later.

A wonderful thing has happened. Her family has jumped in to help. Last weekend, three of her children, along with grandchildren, and great grandchildren arrived in three pickup trucks towing trailers and two SUVs. Greta was thrilled that her offspring wanted some of her furniture and belongings in their homes.

Soon, one dining room set was moved down a flight of steps and taken away. And then a couch. And then a bedroom set. And on and on. By the end of the week-end, we had cleaned out a lot of stuff.

Decluttering is a blessing in disguise
Declutter items in garage ready to be hauled away

We aren’t out of the woods yet. Everyday this week, we’ve spent hours packing boxes of books and going through cabinets. A dry wall guy came. Greta’s son Tony started painting in his spare time. A plumber installed a new toilet. A carpet repair man did his work. Charities have been scheduled to pick up stuff. And some documents, bearing social security and credit card numbers need to shredded.

Of course, my Dana Point home has taken on a new look. It looks like a cross between a furniture store and an art gallery. More pictures on the walls, kitchen cabinets filled and furniture that is squeezed in a bit. Greta keeps saying, “I like the way my stuff looks here.”

We did need to rent a couple of short-term (hopefully) self-storage units. We will tackle those in due time. Lots of people say that’s a waste of money. But, in our case, it was essential. We will be down to one unit by June.

But it’s all good. We keep repeating, “Better now than later. Don’t wait.”

So, Champs, decluttering and downsizing is something almost all of us will have to face. It’s never too early to start planning.

Champ Toni recently emailed, “Can’t wait for this next year. I’m planning on selling the home my late husband and I had planned to retire in. But I’m still working and don’t have time to keep up the acre and 1/2 property and pool. For me, moving into a newer home, closer to town and my office just makes sense.”

Last August, Champ Laurie Jo wrote, “Tell Champs to clear out clutter, even if some is important. Hire students to sort. Put in boxes.

“My Mother, 88, died more than a year ago. My brother and I are STILL dealing with her stuff. She never filed things, she did not cash checks (to the tune of $20,000). Vast hours of my life are sucked away as I plod through the morass of papers that she left in boxes, bowls and baskets with no rhyme or reason.


Today’s Message: Declutter: “Better now than later. Don’t wait.”

Time to declutter and downsize. Better now than later
Donation items waiting for the truck to pick them up.


Cheryl in the red dress and (in part 2) getting rid of clutter

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – January 18, 2019

by Tom Blake Columnist

Editor’s note: There are two parts to today’s “On Life and Love after 50 e-newsletter: 

Part 1- Cheryl in the red dress

Part 2- Getting rid of clutter, that is, decluttering

Part 1 – Cheryl in the red dress

In the November 30, 2018, e-Newsletter, I quoted Champ Jacquelyn, who had sent me this email: “I know this is not a dating site, but it would be so good to allow us to connect with someone here or post a profile of a Champ once a month. I’m 55 and active, but single and very lonesome.”

In that e-Newsletter, I responded to Jacquelyn: We’ve done that from time-to-time. Last week, we posted Larry’s email address with his comments. “Why not send me some of your information for posting?”

When Champ Cheryl saw my comment to Jacquelyn, she responded: “I see you’re not opposed to publishing a person’s information and photo, I’m going to take advantage of your kindness and ‘put myself out there.’  Please consider the following:

“I’ve been widowed for 15 years.  I’m 72, with red hair and blue eyes. I am retired but active in fun social activities, and like to travel, especially on cruises.

“I’m seeking a man with integrity, protective instinct, kindness, intelligent enough to converse, still has enthusiasm and curiosity, and is authentic.

“I lead with my femininity, have a sharp wit, and am spiritual and traditional, with attributes of having respect, loyalty, and devotion; being non-materialistic; and being real.  Attached is a recent photo of me.”

   Cheryl in the red dress

I responded to Cheryl (at least I thought I had) saying I needed to know in what part of the States or Canada she lived because a potential mate would want to know that.

But I didn’t hear back from her. I did a follow up e-Newsletter wondering why some people don’t respond. When Cheryl read that newsletter, she wrote:

“I am the ‘Cheryl’ you wrote about in your newsletter, saying that I never responded to you. I didn’t receive any email from you! I don’t know why, but rest assured that I’m eager to meet someone and would have responded immediately. So sorry for whatever happened.

“I live in Los Angeles, just south of LAX.  And there’s something else I’d like to add – my preference is for a Jewish man.

“Thanks so much; I really appreciate that you took the time to follow up!  You are very conscientious – I will invite you to my wedding!!”

During the time of this exchange, I was writing from the cruise ship where the Internet was iffy. I thought I had responded to Cheryl, but in checking after getting home, much to my horror, I saw my message to her never went. I apologized to her.

She wrote, “Thank you, Tom.  I have no ties here and am willing to relocate, if there are men who are willing to date long-distance for a while, and, use Skype. I also continue to hope that some of your Champs may ‘know someone’ appropriate for me.  As you said, it’s worth a try.  I appreciate your help.”

If anyone would like to email Cheryl, email me and I will forward your email to her.

Lesson learned: As Cheryl said, it’s worth a try. Stay with it because as illustrated in this example, the mistake was mine. You may communicate with someone and not hear back. Don’t assume he or she received your message, whether by email or text. Anything can happen so always follow up until you’re sure.

A perfect example of that: On the ship, I met a couple from Washington state. They told me about a widow friend of theirs, nicknamed “Sam.” I said, let me send her a couple of my dating books. He provided me with Sam’s address, a p.o. box. I shipped the books January 2; they arrived back in my mailbox on January 12, marked: “Return to Sender. Unable to Forward.”

I notified the couple what happened. They found out that Sam had opened a p.o. box when she was first widowed, not wanting to reveal her actual street address. But, two years later, Sam decided to close the p.o. box, perhaps feeling she could safely resume using her home address.

When I found that out, the books were resent this week to her snail mail address. Hopefully, Sam will become a new Champ.

Part 2 –  Declutter project brings Tom’s book offer

Speaking of my printed books, may I seize this moment to talk about them? Greta and I are in a major downsizing and decluttering this New Year’s; I moved my unsold cases of books to a self-storage space. While grunting and groaning doing that, I said to myself, “I need to move out some of these books. I’m going to offer Champs a major price incentive on books.”

Here’s the offer: I will ship autographed and personally endorsed copies of any two books (I have four), including postage and sales tax, to Champs with an address in the USA for $15. That’s like five bucks a book. Check out my bookstore at

If you want this offer, email me at and let me know what books. I will invoice you by email via my PayPal account where you can pay by credit card. I will need your snail mail address, which the PayPal order requires.

I will be happy to ship the printed books (these are not ebooks) to anyone you wish (as gifts, get-even ploys with ex mates—for whatever reason), providing they have a USA address. Shipping books out of the country is too expensive.

Three books would be $20 and all four would be $25, including postage and sales tax. I will need to know how you want me to endorse them. Something like this: “To Jerry, thanks for ghosting me, you ***”

So that’s it for this week. Downsizing and getting rid of clutter are exhausting, but so important!

The McStay Family Deserves Closure

The McStay Family Deserves Closure

by Columnist Tom Blake – Orange County California

“On Life and Love after 50” e-Newsletter – January 11, 2019

In 1986, I met Susan McStay in Texas while on a business trip. A long-distance relationship between Dallas and San Rafael, California, where I lived, began.

She had two teenage boys: Mikey, who lived with her, and Joey, who lived with his stepdad in Houston. I called her Spunky, because that’s what she was.

About a year later, Susan and Mikey moved to San Rafael to live with me. I had not met Joey McStay. A few months later, Joey and Susan were talking on the phone. I got on the line, and said to Joey, “Someday, I hope to meet you,” having no idea when that would be.

Less than 24 hours later, Joey McStay called his mom. “I’m at San Francisco Airport, can you pick me up?” He had come to California without notice, entirely on his own. We now had a family of four.

Susan didn’t like living in Marin County; she felt people there weren’t as friendly as in Texas. Her boys wanted to live in “So-Cal,” where they could surf. I was ready for a location change as well.

In my business travels, I checked out Orange County, California. One day, I found a new home in Laguna Niguel, and decided to buy it. I called Susan and said: “Pack your bags. I bought a home a mile from the ocean. I’m putting the San Rafael home on the market.”

We moved our belongings in a U-Haul truck, with Joey and Susan following behind, driving a car. A few weeks later, Susan and I married at the Courthouse in Santa Ana.

Joey and Mikey graduated from Dana Hills High School. In 1988, I opened Tutor and Spunky’s Deli in Dana Point. Mikey worked there briefly. Joey part-timed at Costco.

We moved again, this time to Monarch Beach, even closer to the ocean so the boys could walk to Salt Creek Beach to surf. In 1994, Susan and I divorced. She was close to her boys. She once said to me, “Blood is thicker than water.” She and the boys moved to San Clemente.

In 1998, I met Greta. In 2001, I leased my Dana Point home and moved to San Clemente to live with Greta. From time to time, I’d see one or more of the McStays around town. I recall Greta and I seeing Joey and his family at Sonny’s Pizza.

On February 4, 2010, Joey, his wife Summer McStay, and their sons Gianni McStay, age 4, and Joseph Jr McStay, age 3, went missing from their Fallbrook, California home. Five days later, their car was found in a parking lot adjacent to the Mexican border, giving an impression that their disappearance may have been voluntary. People and authorities were baffled; I sure was. That wasn’t the Joey that I had helped raise, albeit for just five years.

Things didn’t sort. Food had been left on the table, their beloved dogs were left outside with no food or water, and there was $80,000 in a bank account. Their situation received national news coverage: People MagazineDateline, you name it.

I recall naively thinking perhaps Joey would call me one day and say, “Hey Tom, can you come down to the border to pick us up? We want to come home.”

The mystery of the family’s whereabouts lasted nearly four years. On November 11, 2013, an off-road motorcyclist noticed human bones in the desert near Victorville, California, and notified authorities. The four McStay bodies were found buried in two graves.

Michael called me: “They’re all gone,” he said. It was surreal. I couldn’t grasp it.

A year later, on November 5, 2014, Chase Merritt, a business partner of Joey’s, was arrested on suspicion of murdering the family.

On Saturday, January 5, 2019, I received a phone call from Mikey. We hadn’t talked in a year. We chatted for 40 minutes. He told me the trial was finally beginning on Monday, January 7 and early on, he and Susan would both be called to testify.

Other than that, he could not or did not want to discuss the trial, which I understood. He said the ordeal had been tough on Susan. I think he wanted to talk to someone who knew Joey well, such as his former step dad. Mikey and I have always had a nice relationship.

Mikey said he and his new wife Gaylan McStay live in the North Beach area of San Clemente, near the McStay Memorial Bench, which is on a bluff overlooking the ocean. I was pleased he called.

On Wednesday, January 9, 2019, I took this picture of the McStay Memorial Bench.

McStay Memorial Bench in San Clemente California – Photo by Tom Blake

And now, the McStay family case is back in the news. I’ve heard it mentioned on KNX radio and KFI (San Diego). I’ve read about it in the LA Times and it’s even on YouTube. I’ve seen it on the evening news. Each time I hear about it, it’s like a bad dream.

I keep thinking, “This can’t be the same Joey McStay who called 24 years ago from the San Francisco Airport to have us pick him up, so he could come live with us.”

But it is. And now, we can only wait to see how the trial turns out. There are so many unanswered questions about the McStay Family. Mikey, Susan and Summer’s family deserve closure. They’ve waited nine years.

Photo of Summer, the boys, and Joey. Still impossible to believe it’s for real.
Photo credit: Personal McStay Family photo

5 Incredible Men Champs

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – January 4, 2019
by Columnist Tom Blake
Our Incredible Men Champs
For our first “On Life and Love After 50” e-Newsletter of 2019, we feature five of our men Champs. 
David Southworth lives five miles north of Clare, Michigan, has been a Champ for more than 10 years. He emailed:

“For me, this Christmas was the best Christmas in 17 years. However, one of my Christmas gifts was delivered by my new Internal doctor and I quote, “The results of your blood test tells me you have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), albeit minor, early stages. CLL usually grows slowly…you should outgrow it.

“I advised the doctor I had been planning to live to 103. God and I have taken charge.

“In October, I started story boarding a book I have wanted to write for several years, tied into my book, “A Lifetime In Seven Years.” The title of my new book is “A Journey To Me.”

“Now I have several new chapters to write for my book.

“I cherish our friendship and your endless counsel. Let’s make 2019 the best year possible.”

Tom’s Comment: I asked David for permission to use his very personal information. He responded:

“I talked with my children, several grandchildren and, my significant lady. They all agreed if it would provide a more meaningful impact to use my name, we all agreed the information and subject of CLL is so important.

“If it helps just one ‘On Love and Love after 50’ eNewsletter Champ, it would be OK to provide the CLL process, progress, and treatment status.

“I met Marjorie through friends. She is 70 years old, widowed with 4 children, lots of grandchildren. She is a thoughtful, giving, loving woman. She is an antique nut like me. She is always happy and laughing.”

Note from Tom: Dave’s poem, The Sands of Time, is on the Finding Love After 50 website:

Larry Leach, Ann Arbor, Michigan – Larry and I graduated from Jackson High School,

Jackson, Michigan. He graduated two years ahead of me, in my brother’s class. I didn’t know him well, other than he was a heck of a golfer. Later, he won a varsity letter at UM for golf. He is one of the most avid University of Michigan sports fans on earth.

Here is a photo of Tom, Larry and Greta at a Michigan tailgate party in 2017.

Tom, Larry Leach, and Greta at a UM tailgate party before Air Force Academy game in 2017 

Larry emailed: “My hat is off to Champs, Chris and Tina, whom you mentioned last week, for their trip to Africa. With love all things are possible.

“I have three friends who are about 94.  One goes to UM basketball and football games and acts like an 18-year-old.  Another has been to Paris, Las Vegas, Chicago and much more this year. The third is a real live-wire now in Scottsdale, Arizona.  If they can do it, the two champs (Chris and Tina) you mentioned have many more trips in store for them.

“Congratulations to them and to you for your super thinking that goes into your weekly newsletter. I know it is Friday morning when I see an email from Tom Blake.”

MARK FLANNERY – Fullerton, California

You will recall that three weeks ago Greta and I visited Mark’s parents’ grave sites in Pago Pago, American Samoa. He had never been to the cemetery, and I had only met Mark and Donna, his significant other, once in Tutor and Spunky’s deli years ago.

On New Year’s Eve. Mark and Donna, came to Dana Point and spent time with Greta and me. They met on Donna still teaches.

Front: Mark and Donna. Back: Tom and Greta at Harpoon Henry’s in Dana Point on New Year’s Eve

There was one other aspect of our American Samoa story that I hadn’t shared with Mark. When Greta and I arrived at the grave sites, there was a lava rock perched on his father’s grave. I carried it back from Pago Pago and gave it to him Monday.

TED EVERINGHAM, Attorney at law, Grosse Point Park, Michigan

Note from Tom: Ted and I graduated from Jackson High School, Jackson, Michigan, in the class of 1957. At our 2017 class reunion, we got to chat face-to-face at dinner.

Ted emailed a story titled: A CHRISTMAS MEMORY:

“My Christmas Eve was cold and snowy in 1960. It was a Saturday evening, and I was working at the local radio station in Albion, Michigan, reading top-of-the-hour newscasts and running the control board for Late Date, a popular weekly radio show targeting teenage listeners.

“The program ran from 10 p.m. until Midnight. The show’s host—a senior at the high school in nearby Marshall named Marcia, chose to close her program that Christmas Eve with a bit of verse. It didn’t rise to the dignity of a ‘poem,’ but it expressed in rhyme an important idea, in simple, homespun language appropriate to the time and place.

“I heard the first line or two through my headset, and then for a reason that I have forgotten (if I ever knew), I turned to look at the host through the glass that separated the control room from the studio where she sat. I discovered, to my surprise, that she was not reading the verse, but reciting it from memory, and she was speaking directly to me through that glass.

“Here is her Christmas wish to me that long-ago evening:

If I could do whate’er I want to do,
To make complete your gladsome Christmas Day,
I would not bring a single thing to you,
But I would come and take some things away:
I’d take away all trouble from your heart,
Each pain and sorrow I would have relieved;
And every pain that caused a single smart,
And every hour through which you sorely grieved.
I’d have them all be gone — forever gone —
Forgotten, like the things that cannot be;
And then each hour would be a joyful one,
For only good things would be left you see.
“Eight months later, the host and I were married, and the rest (59 years) is history. Merry Christmas!”Note from Tom: Ted and Marcia wanted Champs to know that her words to Ted on Christmas Eve 1960 were not written by her. She had seen them and memorized them. Research by them has not revealed the original writer. So, we have to say anonymous. This fact does not lessen the beauty of that moment when Marcia spoke to him through the glass at an Albion, Michigan, radio station in 1960.

John Johnson – Hagerstown, Maryland (80 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.). John commutes about an hour toward Baltimore and works for Northrop Grumman; he has been a Champ for longer than I can remember and has contributed often to newsletters.

On December 23, John posted a wonderful message on the Finding Love After 50 Facebook page. It is too long to include in the newsletter, but the topic is: dragging old baggage into a new, fresh relationship. His words demonstrate that the men in our group are very introspective, warm and giving.

His wrap-up words: “How 2019 plays out is up to you and this is a chance for a new transition within you even when everything else remains the same. Make it a good one and start with an inner smile that flows to your lips to share with others.”

Happy New Year. I feel blessed to have you all as friends.