I have gone most of my life without ever going to a funeral, until about ten years ago. Since then I seem to have been to lots of them. The size and style of the ceremonies vary, but the outcome is always the same. Somebody has to sort stuff out.
After someone dies, they leave behind all their possessions, and someone—usually a close relative—has to sort it all and dispose of it. If they have lots of storage space, much of it can be left for a while, but if they don’t then they have a million micro-decisions to make.
What do you do with old but still usable tools? Does anyone have a use for a collection of National Geographic magazines? Where can you find a home for old picture frames? Does anyone want seven different versions of the Bible? On a related note, is it a sin to throw out Bibles? Who wants a drawer full of snapshots? Can you sell a spoon collection?
I recently read a story about a woman who said she had not been able to grieve the loss of her father because he had been a collector of rabbits, and she had to find homes for over fifty of them! It was taking up all her time, energy, and money getting these creatures to the vet, getting them spayed or neutered, and finding families who would adopt them. But, she had to do it. There was no one else.
After my husband died, one of my sons helped me to take some of his medical equipment to the local lending cupboard and clothes to the thrift store. I had no urgent need to dispose of tools that I thought I might use, or memorabilia that I was too sentimental to part with, so I kept a lot of things. I kept them through two house moves, though, and that was just not smart.
Now I have lots of containers of well-organized miscellany that hasn’t been used in donkey’s years. I know where most of it is, though, just in case I need it.
One of my friends wisely chose to move from the family home to a one-bedroom apartment after her husband died. That meant she had to rapidly downsize, so she hired a professional organizer. The organizer worked with my friend over about three days, and they filled a dumpster. They also took a lot of things to the appropriate reuse and recycling places, and it was all done quickly and efficiently. My friend says the only thing she wished she hadn’t thrown out was a cheese grater, so she went out and bought another one. Simple.
In my DNA there seems to be a strain of peasant-thinking that says nothing should be wasted, everything might be needed one day, and saving is a virtue. As my life has evolved, however, I have found that this kind of saving has turned into a sort of dignified hoarding. I don’t have to clamber over piles of old newspapers to get to my couch, but in my garage I have lots of plastic boxes full of items that might come in handy, if I ever need them again. What I should have done instead was hire a complete stranger to force me to make rational choices about what, and how much, to actually keep. She could have told me quite clearly that I don’t need receipts from ten years ago, or a router, or Geoff’s old mechanical design drawings. I probably would have agreed.
As it is, though, I look at these things and think that so long as I have room for them, they might as well stay. But then I’m reminded of the woman with the rabbits. At some point I’m going to die and one of my children is going to have to sort out my stuff. Neither of them has any interest in woodworking, and they probably wouldn’t know why anyone would want to keep umpteen boxes of screws when you can easily get them from the hardware store.
So, little by little I am going to take more and more things out of my garage. They will leave me in stages, though. First step is to take a box off the shelf, then I’ll check to see if anyone in the family wants whatever it is. Then I’ll find out which city drop-off place is suitable. Then, they’ll go into the trunk of my car, ready for the trip to their final resting place. It won’t be as dramatic as having a dumpster in the driveway, and it won’t be nearly as quick as hiring a professional organizer, but little by little I can get the job done.
And then, when I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, my kids can simply enjoy spending whatever is left of my money and buying more stuff.
Image source: http://rosalinestock.deviantart.com/art/Spoon-Collection-44155437