by Lisa M. Wolfson
When my mother was in the final stages of her life, she gathered all her children together and let us each pick the jewelry we wanted from the family collection.
This gave extra meaning to the treasures we chose and allowed my mother to share in the transfer and to see our joy. It also helped us face the reality that she would be leaving us, even as she struggled to face the reality herself.
When we consider the items we’ve inherited or collected from loved ones who’ve passed on, we are often prompted to ask ourselves questions of a similar nature. What would I take with me if I had to leave my home today? What should I pass down to the next generation? What parts of my life and my possessions should I declutter so that the people I love and will one day leave behind are not responsible for doing it instead?
It has been found that the items elders take with them from private homes to communal residences are essential in providing them support and security. They are reminders of love, life, purpose and achievements. Their new dwellings are thus filled with memories that comfort and ground them, helping them to feel empowered at a most vulnerable time in their lives.
As a breast cancer survivor, I have begun to see the decluttering of my personal stuff as hugely important. Not in any urgent, morbid sense but, rather, in a empowering way. I am making choices regarding my legacy and my possessions so that it falls to no one else. I have a keepsake box — actually a few boxes — of things I have kept over the years since my son’s birth that show all the milestones in his life, as well as other moments I would want him to be able to look back on. One simple step I have recently taken was to move the boxes into my son’s closet. I did this for two reasons: First, we can go through them together one day, so I can provide the background information on the things he was too young to remember. Second, should anything happen to me, he will recognize the significance of those keepsakes, as well as the joy we experienced in sharing them.
Here are some suggestions for decluttering your life — deciding what to keep, pass down or get rid of:
- Get rid of objects that you’ve collected but don’t know what to do with, including papers and mail that you are not required to keep. One rule of thumb is, if you are not sure whether you should keep something, put it aside and come back to it later on or in a few days. At that point, if you’re still not sure, toss it. Scale down to necessary papers and items of sentimental value. Keep this thought in your mind: if my children were left with the task of going through my belongings tomorrow, what would I want that experience to be like for them?
- Choose 10-20 items you know you’d take with you if you had to downsize your residence. List those items and indicate why you would want to take them. This will help you and your family if/when that time comes. It can also help your loved ones understand the significance of these items in case they have to make decisions on your behalf later on.
- If there are items you know you want other family members or friends to have, make a list of them and jot down the significance of each, as well as why you’ve chosen that recipient. This may also come in handy later on if you’re not able to see your choices all the way through.
- Ask family members or friends if any of your personal belongings have significant meaning to them, and why. This may have an impact on your decisions.
All of these tips can be helpful in accessing our own “stuff” and in helping others under our care. It’s comforting to know that our precious possessions will be with us at our time of transition and then bestowed upon someone who will respect them as we did.
Lisa Wolfson lives in Rockville Centre, New York. She’s the Program Director at You Can Thrive!, an organization that provides free and low-cost support services for breast cancer survivors.