Minimalism has allowed me to loosen my grip on possessions, relationships, and behaviors that no longer serve me and embrace a life that supports my values and bring me joy. Each time I let go, it makes it easier to do next time.
The continual practice of letting go has made me think more about the fleeting nature of life and what I will leave behind when I eventually leave this earth. While I feel confident that my two sons won’t have to sift through piles of my physical possessions, I’ve been thinking more about my legacy.
The primary definition of legacy includes property or money that is left as a gift. My definition, however, focuses on the intangible things that are handed down from one generation to the next, such as values, traditions, and memories. As a writer, I also want to pass down poems and writings that help my sons understand the joys and struggles I have experienced through my life.
One of the definitions of legacy that really struck me was “something that is the result of events in the past.” In other words, the legacy that I leave to my children in the future is a result of the events and activities happening now. These events and activities are a direct result of how I spend my time.
I imagine a future conversation with my almost 3-year old son. In this scenario he’s 10 or 11 years old, still very inquisitive but also still interested in talking to his mom (I hope.)
“When I was little, what did you do?”
“What do you mean, what did I do?”
“Did you have a job?”
“Well yes, I did. I stayed home with you and your brother. I didn’t go to an office like Daddy did. But I took care of you guys, cooked meals, and took care of the house.”
“Did you like doing that?”
“Most of the time. When you guys were really little it was hard but it got easier.”
“What else did you do?”
(Laughing) “That took up most of my time, honey.”
“Well, yeah, but what did you do when you were by yourself?”
“Hmmm…well, I watched Netflix. Oh, and YouTube videos of people singing in competitions. And I scrolled.”
“You know, scrolled on my phone. Scrolling up and down.”
“What were you looking for?”
“When you scrolled up and down. What were you looking for?”
(Pause) “I don’t know, honey. Something that would make me feel something.”
“Happier. More inspired. Less stressed.”
“Did it work?”
(Pause) “Sometimes. But most of the time I didn’t feel any happier than I did before. Most of the time I felt the same, or worse.”
“Did you stop?”
“No. I just kept watching and scrolling, thinking something would change. But it never did.”
“So if that didn’t work, what actually made you happy?”
“Writing. Dancing. Spending time with you boys and your dad. Going on walks. Being kind to other people and finding ways to help or inspire them.”
“Why didn’t you do more of that?”
“I was tired. Worried that people wouldn’t like what I wrote, or that I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Scared to try new things. But mostly just tired.”
I imagine the look on his face when I tell him that I was too tired or scared to live my truth, to utilize my gifts and talents for their greatest good. Perhaps you don’t have children, but this conversation could be with your 10-year old self. What dreams did you have? What lit you up? What if you told your 10-year old self that you spend most of your time watching a screen and scrolling on your phone?
It’s important to note that I’m very extrinsically motivated. Living intentionally is important not just because it positively impacts my physical, mental, and emotional health. If it were enough just to do it for myself, my daily habits and actions would reflect this. But thinking about how my actions affect those around me, especially my children, gives me motivation to change.
Living my legacy every day is how I leave a legacy that makes me proud. It’s not a piece of paper that tells my children what they get when I die. It’s how I spend my time. It’s how I treat myself and others. It’s the values I demonstrate through my actions. It’s how I fulfill my unique purpose in this world.
I don’t want my legacy to be built on the foundation of my regrets. Regrets about how I spent my time, about how I squandered my creative calling by only consuming the ideas of others. How I shrank away in the shadows of comparison rather than stepping into the light of my uniqueness. How I looked for something or someone else to help me “feel something” when the world needed me to share who I was to help them feel less alone.
When I feel stuck in the exhaustion that has been my constant companion since becoming a mother almost three years ago, it’s easy to distract, numb, and procrastinate when I have precious moments to myself. Remembering to live the legacy I want to leave helps me to refocus and move forward with courage and without apology.
About the author: Emily McDermott is a wife, mother, and simplicity seeker, chronicling her journey at Simple by Emmy.