Make it easy for loved ones

Reader Mary wrote in to share here experience with inherited clutter and how her mom made it easy for her. Her advice is too good not to share.

My mom was the ultimate minimalist and she constantly told us not to worry about getting rid of any of her things after her death. It was a precious gift to me (who has tendencies to be a sentimental packrat.) I had no idea that I would feel like I was burying her all over again every time I came upon something that had been hers (and it can be the strangest stuff – one time it was some old gift wrap paper I had bought from a yard sale she held.) I’d hold up the old, now useless item and hear her words – “it’s okay to throw out anything of mine that you can’t use.” I’d feel terrible for a minute, but the weight of the world was gone as soon as that stuff hit the trash can. So give your kids that gift … start telling them now. Her memories live on without all that baggage and weight.

15 Comments for “Make it easy for loved ones”

  1. posted by Zee on

    That is a lovely little little story Jerry, thanks for sharing.

  2. posted by beth on

    The summer preceding my Mother’s death (in the fall) she reorganized all the family photos. Before that our photos were scattered all over the house.

    I can’t begin to explain how comforting it was to be able to flip through those albums. Additionally, we needed photos for her memorial service and because of her organization we had an easy time choosing them.

  3. posted by Tara on

    My Grandmother basically gave away most of her things before she passed on. In her will, she had listed who was to get what in great detail. Her first step was when she moved from her house to an apartment. She saw that as the perfect opportunity to pass things on. Personally, that’s when I received an antique dresser. A few years after this, she had to move again from her apartment to a nursing home. That was truly when the few remaining items were distributed. This time I recieved her box of photo albums. When she died last summer, all that the family had to deal with was one closet and one dresser full of belongings.

    I’ll offer a precurser. Ten years before she died, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good. The doctors didn’t even want to TRY any form of treatment. I distinctly remember her telling the doctor to do whatever it takes ’cause she wasn’t done yet – at 75! Obviously, she recovered and with a special gift. A gift where things just didn’t matter that much anymore. If you admired something of hers or she know you did, in a blink it was in your car to take home.

  4. posted by Karen (Pediascribe) on

    My brother and I both struggle with pack rat behavior. I’m getting better at letting it go, but my brother saves everything. It’s really starting to eat away at him. Recently I told him, “Listen, if there is anything that i *ever* gave you that you don’t absolutely love or use, PLEASE feel free to get rid of it!!!” His jaw dropped, he hugged me, and said a sincere, “Thank you!” :)

  5. posted by Debbie M on

    My mother said, “If you spend a lot of money on my funeral, I will come back to haunt you.” That will be an excellent defense against any unscrupulous funeral directors trying to imply that the amount we’re spending equates to how much we love her or that she would want us to spend more.

  6. posted by Aimee on

    Funny that you posted this now. My family and I have just been trying to get wills in order because of changes that need to be made. It’s funny how important stuff is to some, and not to others. Personally, I want to leave behind only really big stuff, hopefully nothing that is clutter, but things that will either be useful to the people left behind, or that can make them some good money at a yard sale.

    That’s why I love to spend my money on memory making instead of stuff buying. No one has to fight over memories, but they sure do fight over stuff when people die (sad really).

  7. posted by Karen on

    My mom is the opposite. She’s a packrat (as am I) and she is very worried that we’ll throw away or give away something she’s collected that’s valuable. Of course, that doesn’t mean that she’ll sort the stuff out now, or make any record of what is “valuable.” “Make sure you hire an appraiser before you throw anything away.” I look at her basement packed floor-to-ceiling with “treasures” and hope she outlives me!

  8. posted by Andamom on

    That’s quite lovely. My mother-in-law looked at me frankly recently and said ‘I know you’ll do what you want with my stuff when I am gone, but for now, I like it.’ Yeah – I think that pretty much sums it up for me — I am definitely not going to retain the junk.

  9. posted by kerr-writer on

    My mother in law refuses to use some items because they are too nice, including a cutting board we gave her last year for Christmas. I told her this week, you’d better start using it because when you pass away, we will definitely put it to use. :) I think she may have been offended but why “save” things when this is the only life you’ve got in which to use them?

  10. posted by Sarah on

    Thank you for this series. Helping my parents clean out my grandparents’ house has inspired me to choose what is truly important in my home.

    It’s not just people clutter, either. The guilt associated with throwing away the collar, bedding, food dish for a beloved family pet can be overwhelming. It’s been a year since our dog was hit by a car.

    Her things have been stored in a bag, but the time has come to throw them away. We’ve decided a better way to remember her is with a patch of daisies in the garden. Her name was Daisy. We’re replacing emotional clutter with the beauty of memories.

  11. posted by Jen on

    Sarah,
    I’m very sorry to hear of the loss of your dog. We also went through that with one of our dogs years ago and it still hurts to think about it. What a beautiful way to remember your beloved pet.

  12. posted by Anne on

    I wish my mother had given me the gift of freedom to get rid of things I didn’t want or need. Instead, I heard, right at the very end of my mother’s life, “you’d never get rid of that chest, would you?” or “your father made that, you can never get rid of that table.” And so I had a basement, and garage, completely crammed full of things I didn’t particularly like and definitely didn’t have room for. In the haze of first grief, I gave away and threw away dishes and odds and ends that belonged to my mother, but once the rest of her belongings were moved to my home, I was completely Stuck. This past month, three years since cleaning out her apartment (and she didn’t have any trouble moving to the apartment from a house, because she passed it all to me to “hold onto”) we had a basement flood, and that precipitated a great Clearing Out. It’s a process that’s ongoing, but I’ve gotten rid of at least a dozen huge contractor bags full of Stuff, given at least ten boxes to Goodwill and Purple Heart, passed on three tubs full of my mother and father’s clothes…. and finally have space in my basement to create a rec room for my teenage girls. And having having become free from this burden, I can’t believe the hold it had on me for three years. I will make sure that my children know they can burn EVERYTHING I have with my blessings, once I’m gone!

  13. posted by lola meyer on

    Making it easy for loved ones is the perfect legacy. My husband’s grandmother did this and I am reminded by this article how her actions were so incredibly thoughtful of others. A great example to follow!

  14. posted by Patti on

    The guilt associated with throwing away the collar, bedding, food dish for a beloved family pet can be overwhelming

    The local animal shelter would most likely love to have these things, as well as any unfinished bags or cans of food…in memory of your beloved pet, who no doubt would approve. Bingo, no guilt.

  15. posted by Mary C. on

    My mother (still living) has given me the gift of uncluttering her life before she passes. There is very little for the family to have to deal with at that time. I am so appreciative, because my MIL has done the opposite. She has just gone into assisted living, and I have had to deal with everything, and she has a lot of it. So, I am busy doing estate sales, craigslist, and ebay.

    Not making us feel guilty about getting rid of something is great, but when they get rid of it ahead of time, that’s awesome!

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