Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve helped a newly-widowed parent pack up and sell their home.
You’ve spent days (maybe even weeks) going through drawers and closets and boxes full of stuff, deciding what to do with old books, papers, paintings, furniture, towels, knickknacks, DVDs (or even VHS tapes), dishes, mementos, small appliances, tools, and more.
You’ve had to decide what to give away, what to sell, what to throw away, and what to remove to a new dwelling that is half or a quarter of the size of the home your parent is leaving.
And you’ve had to do all of this while your grieving parent turned their focus from the lost spouse to the often dusty and unused possessions they’re losing. Instead of using their time and energy to begin to recover and move on to what is left of their own life, they’re worrying about the loss of their belongings. My mother said she felt like she was losing everything.
And then a few years later, when that parent dies, perhaps you go through the process all over again. This time you’re dealing with your own feelings as a newly-orphaned adult, and you have a bit more understanding of how your parent felt. All of those tangible reminders, those physical possessions, seem so poignant.
Can you part with them, or does it feel like you’re losing everything?
Fortunately, by the time my mother passed away, I had a lot of minimalist habits in place, and I wasn’t very tempted to keep her stuff.
After all, Mama and Daddy had already given me a great legacy: happy memories, life lessons, and plenty of love.
Decluttering has become a global trend in affluent countries, led by advocates like Marie Kondo, Peter Walsh, and Joshua Becker. There’s also the “gentle art” of Swedish death cleaning, which is the process of mindfully clearing out one’s own possessions before others have to do it for you.
Many of us live in homes that hold far too much, and we might find it hard to declutter unless and until something forces us to do so. But downsizing in distress, because of illness, financial difficulty, natural disaster, or death, is even more difficult.
To me, it makes better sense to remove the excess and live in something smaller long before the inevitable happens. That’s why my husband and I moved into an 800-square-foot apartment a few years ago. I don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of useless stuff when I die.
There are some things I need because I use them every day, week, or month. I have to bathe and dress, after all. I have to cook and eat. I need a bed, a table and a comfortable chair. There are a few books, photos, and pieces of art that make me happy. I have a couple of hobbies.
But I can live comfortably, lightly, enjoyably without a huge number of possessions. And it’s likely that you can too. No matter what your age, especially in this era of Covid-19, it might be time to consider death cleaning.
And it’s never too soon to consider your legacy. Contrary to popular belief, the most important legacy any of us will leave is not a house, land, cars, jewels, furniture, or collections. It’s not a storage unit full of dusty boxes.
Who we are and what we can contribute to the world has nothing to do with what we own. In fact, I might contribute more to future generations by reading to my grandchildren and planting a tree than by anything else. My legacy might be my humor, my stories, my generosity, and all of my hugs.
We know this, but we don’t always live like we know this. Maybe now is the time to remember it.
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother who has been choosing a simpler life for over 20 years. She is the author of Minimalism A to Z, and blogs at MaximumGratitudeMinimalStuff.