It may sound odd, but I feel that I was abundantly blessed in that both of my parents left this world with very few possessions.
What Dad left behind could fit in a small crate, and when Mom passed away, it took just one day to empty her small apartment and move her things to our garage. While it may have appeared as something to be pitied by others, it was a great relief to me. Over the years since Mom’s death, I have, as I could emotionally handle it, reduced those possessions to what will fit in one crate. The things that reside in that crate are of little to no monetary value, but they are beyond precious to me, and they take up very little space. Though I doubt they were at all familiar with the modern terminology, and they were by no means the type to care about or succumb to what is popular or trendy, my parents were, by sheer lifestyle necessity, ahead of their time minimalists.
Fast forward to the situation in which my husband, son, and I now find ourselves immersed. My 92-year-old father-in-law passed away last year, leaving the family home and all of its contents to my now 87-year-old mother-in-law. The era in which they were raised required saving, penny-pinching, and zero waste in order to merely survive. As years passed and their financial situation improved to the point of not needing to be so careful, they never ditched that Great Depression, rationing mindset.
While I dearly love and respect my mother-in-law, she is one of the most ardent hoarders I know. After meals, she often asks me to save and store one or two bites of remaining food on her plate. Nearly all the time, I end up throwing it out a few days later, because we are abundantly blessed, there is a steady supply of food, and I am continually cooking new meals. What she felt guilty about “wasting” becomes buried in the bountiful flow of home-cooked leftovers that consistently fills her refrigerator.
Having reached an advanced point in our own minimizing journey, my family and I find it hard to understand why her home is filled with so much excess. We must continually restrain ourselves from trying to impart minimizing “wisdom” to someone who feels it is extremely important to cling to every
Here are a few lessons that we are learning and doing our utmost to implement in a situation where someone in close proximity is completely averse to the idea of minimalism.
1. Give time and grace. Always remember that each person is, in large part, a product of their individual life experiences. Emotional scars are sometimes covered by an abundance of stuff, and physical possessions are often purchased and kept as a security blanket source of comfort. Forcing the issue and wrenching those things from someone before they are ready can do irreparable relational damage. Think about your own minimizing journey and how it would have felt if someone else were controlling the pace. Each one of us operates on a unique timetable, and this is not a race. Allow those in your living space to come to their own terms with excess and respect the fact that their decisions are their own. They may eventually come on board, but then again, they may never see the need. Consider the thought that they may be doing all they are humanly capable of, and just as you need grace from others, they need the same from you.
2. Refuse the temptation to nag. I know it is not easy but choose to take the high road with humility and lead by quiet example. Nagging tends to encourage the opposite of a hoped-for result. In the case of caring for elderly parents, roles truly do reverse, and lifetime caregivers become dependent children again. Sometimes it is best to let unassuming action do all the talking.
3. Respect personal space. The same atmosphere that vexes your spirit and induces anxiety may be someone else’s comfort zone. What you see as a mess and entirely unnecessary, chaotic clutter may calm someone else’s nerves. I find it hard to understand how a basement filled with stuff that never sees the light of day brings a sense of solace to my mother-in-law, but at the end of the day, it is her basement and her stuff, and I really have no right to interfere with that. Granted, I will more than likely be involved in the mix of sorting through and allocating it all one day, but If it brings her peace and helps her cope through whatever amount of time she has left on this earth, it is hers to steward in the way she wishes.
4. Kindness really does matter. Feelings are real and should always be acknowledged and validated. Conflicting mindsets should be respected even when they are not understood. Empathy goes a long way in melting the human heart and building a bridge between opposing opinions. As simple as it may sound, looking someone in the eye when frustrated can do wonders in preventing the utterance of hurtful words. Eyes really are the windows to the soul, and I find it difficult to tell my mother-in-law it is not necessary to hold onto the many bags of clothing in her attic while looking into her well-meaning, scared-to-let-go eyes. Yes, there are many who could use those clothes, and one day, they will have the opportunity. For now, preserving her dignity is more important.
At the end of the day, on board or overboard, relationships are what matter most.