Recently, a friend shared on social media that she’s having a very hard time going through her recently deceased parents’ personal items. She feels an incredible amount of sadness having to go through their things, and essentially saying goodbye to her loved ones over and over again. My heart aches for her.
Seen It Before
Her post reminds me of another friend whose mother passed away a while ago. My friend has still not cleared her mom’s house and therefore cannot sell the old house. It sits there, year after year, while my buddy has to pay the property taxes on the place, money that she might use to enrich her own life and travel as she’s always said she wanted to do.
This has always been a fear of mine, that I’d feel so overwhelmed and sad going through my parents’ stuff that I’d be paralyzed to do anything and then pass the task onto someone else, say, my sibling. I think about whether I should take on all of this responsibility since my brother has taken on the lion’s share of our mother’s personal care. I live several states away from them.
I also feel anxious thinking that one day my children will have to cull through my things at great expense to themselves in terms of time, money, energy, and stress.
I know I don’t want that for them—sadness plus anxiety and the work of ridding their lives of what I tried to hold on to.
Horse to Water
While my dad died when I was only 20, and he had very few personal items, it’s another story with my mom.
Now 84, her health is beginning to fail. And while visiting her time after time, I have tried to de-clutter some of the things she obviously doesn’t need any longer. She objects loudly, and I get nowhere. I’ve tried to reason with her that she will likely not be returning to work full-time and therefore she doesn’t need dozens of 1980s pantsuits that are jammed into her closet. I’ve tried to convince her that there’s no need for her to have seven pieces of very ornate, very large furniture in the tiny spare bedroom. You can hardly walk in the room without bumping into the sides of something.
I’ve tried for years, and nothing changes.
I’ll Be the Change
So I’ve decided to just focus on me. Rather than looking around at my mom’s clutter, I have decided to address my own. And sure, I have accumulated far less than she has, but that’s no reason to get on any high horse.
And by downsizing my own possessions, I will master the strategies needed to go through my mother’s things when the time comes. I’ll have learned how to manage the emotions we often associate with material things.
I will have preserved my relationship with my mother now by placing value in it knowing that I can later handle what I so desperately want her to address now.
She cannot and will not, so that’s the first part of my “letting go.”
Getting Busy with It
Here are the things I’ve taken on this week to help stem the tide of junk here at Headquarters knowing that one day, my children won’t have to do it.
My Pre-Clutter and De-Clutter Strategies
- Edit everything that comes in
You know I love a thrift store bargain. But today, I decided to walk away from a few really choice bargains at Goodwill because a) sure, I could resell them for much more money after a little clean up but that takes time that I have chosen not to spend b) I didn’t need the item for myself. If and when I do need such a thing, I believe it’ll show up in my life again or that I may find I can do without. I am trying to practice a more thoughtful way of viewing thrift store bargains and even found items in this way.
- Take photos of the items that seem hard to part with
There are a few things in the garage that I think I’d like to hold onto, but honestly, until this weekend, they were things I’d forgotten I owned! So that means they probably didn’t mean much to me. So I’ll take photos of those things, and be done with them. I value the prospect of a clean and uncluttered home over retaining that thing I rarely use or think about.
I asked my oldest child if she wanted to keep my wedding gown. She was honest, and said, no. I’m okay with that. I didn’t even like my wedding gown! So I donated it to the thrift store. I have plenty of photos of me wearing it on our wedding day and on our 20th anniversary. I’m good. There might be others items around here that I can have my kids weigh in on. If yours are old enough, they can make sound decisions about what they’d like to hold onto when you’re gone.
As I’ve been going through these items, I’m telling my daughter a little story about them if there is one attached. For example, I have my dad’s shaving brush, and with that, I can recall how I’d watch him shave in the mornings. Then I got the bright idea to shave my own eyebrows off. I want to keep that brush for now, but my kids might not want to. They’ll know the story behind it, and that should be enough.
You could jot down those stories for them, and add a small photo of the item if it really means that much. Or record my recounting of the story using the audio recorder on your smartphone or computer. Save that recording, label it, and save it on a thumb drive for retrieval later…sort of like your own version of Storycorps. In fact, Storycorps has an app so you and your kids can record stories that will be stored in the Library of Congress.
I’m not saying any of this will be easy, but it is possible to do. And who knows what sweet memories will be stirred during the process. The stories—those are the bits worth keeping, worth sharing.