Long-time readers know how I've ranted about an important part of the legacy we leave our children. That is, besides the assets and the sense of our values we leave our children, we should clean out the mess of papers and junk stored in our closets, basements, attics and crannies of our house. I have friends who don't want to touch the many storage places in their basement: "Let the kids take care of it," is what they tell me. For them, that's 45 years of accumulated stuff they're asking their kids to sort through and disburse.
I won't rant on. I'll leave it to Carolyn Hax to back me up. A reader--the daughter of a "widowed, healthy, vibrant mom"--says her mom refuses to go through her belongings and pare down the massive amount of stuff and old furniture in her house. "She says that 'someone else' can take care of it," the reader writes. The 'someone else' is the daughter who feels saddled with the enormous chore that lies ahead. "I feel trapped, and I can't enjoy the present with my mom without feeling anger over the future."
Here's Hax's answer:
As long as you’re okay with handing over control of where the stuff ends up, you can hire a company to clean out the house: all the paper, all the clothes, all the toxic cleaning solutions, every stick of furniture. It’s not cheap but can be cheaper than you’d expect, especially if the projected sale of some contents can offset the final price. Get a few estimates — ask real estate agents for names — pull those treasured photos and letters out for yourself, then drop the proverbial match.
The practical answer may help the daughter. But is this what we want to happen to our stuff? Are there treasures buried in a closet or photo album or old letters that should be kept ase part of family history? A lot of meaning can seep into small kindergarten drawings or a large old sofa. Do we really want it all dumped? And if we do, why not start dumping some of it--a bag a day--into the trash now. I have to admit I might not have gotten started on my "'piles of papers" and assorted belongings (from our parents as well as us) if I hadn't sold my house and moved to a smaller apartment with no storage space. That was an incentive to get the job done.
Hax notes that, for our kids, sorting through our stuff after we've left this world--stuff that's suffused with memories of us--and "sending it on a dumpster ride is not for the faint of heart." It is, she writes, "a heavy emotional saddle." We can spare them that.
painting: Picasso, Still Life