What is Your Legacy?

Dear FlyLady,

Two years ago today my Mom passed away at age 83.  Who would have  thought the cancer she fought so valiantly would come back with a vengeance 12 years later and travel to her brain. Who would have thought that so gracious and vibrant a lady would spend the final three weeks of her life (and her 83rd birthday) in a nursing home unable to speak or walk or take care of herself.  Who would have thought that only 60 days would pass from diagnosis to death. Two years later I am grieving a bit less but I do miss her
immensely. And I am coming out of the funk I slipped into –  I had been doing just enough to get by – but now I am starting to fly.

However, the point of this letter is to relate what I (and my brothers) were faced with when my Mom died after being a widow for 8 years. My parents bought our family home in 1948 and never moved.  They were raised during the Depression, and as we are shaped by our experiences, they never threw anything away.  My mother was a fastidious housekeeper and her home was lovely, filled with antiques and “near antiques” that she and my father spent time over the years choosing and incorporating into their home.  She did tole and country painting, beautiful theorems, and reverse paintings on glass. Beautiful stuff – she won awards and belonged to a prestigious group. She created  a lovely home and easily it could have graced the pages of Country Living magazine – she never lived in CHAOS (unlike her only daughter . . .)

However, the pristine and orderly visible home hid a “behind the scenes” that was another matter. Did I mention that my parents never threw anything away? So when they bought a new “whatever” the old one was put somewhere.  Stuff  accumulated in cupboards, desks, closets, the attic and in the workshop area (“the shed”) above the garage. Some items were carefully boxed and labeled, other stuff was just there. Some was just junk that they never got around to throwing (i.e. empty paint cans from 1968, three old adding machines from my Dad’s accounting office, etc.). Other stuff was curious – 50 or sixty black picture frames(?) plus the Skippy jars of unidentifiable screws, nuts, bolts, etc. Mom had also saved every report card, Iowa Test results (remember those), and miscellany from each of her three
children’s lives.

Besides the emotions involved in selling the only home I ever knew growing up, it was an overwhelming task to clear out the house when it was sold.  We hired an auctioneer to come and empty the house of the furniture and other stuff (lamps, mirrors, tin sconces, pewter, glassware, dishes, etc) that we weren’t keeping, but everything had to be touched and a decision made about it.  Once the auctioneer was gone with his two truckloads of items (he had to call for a second truck because even HE underestimated), it was up to us to deal with the rest.

My older brother was between jobs at the time, and he did a lot of flinging of stuff – the pantry was an adventure with its vintage canned goods (must be the bomb-shelter mentality) and the old cleaning products (put aside and taken to a hazardous waste collection event).  In a desk drawer we found a pile of original local newspapers printed during the several weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy. The shed had a cache of old lumber and moldings, lamp parts, and lots of other stuff alien to our lives today as well as some treasures. A true find (by the auctioneer’s crew in a corner of the unheated shed) was a box containing photographs and the photo albums from my Dad’s high school, college years, and World War II,  as well as my parent’s wedding photos. I wish these had been shared with us by Mom and Day when they were alive.

We rented a dumpster and filled it FOUR times. It got to the point that we just flung because time was running out.  I don’t even let myself think about any treasures we might have tossed because there was just SO MUCH stuff we just couldn’t give it all our attention.  We became numb to it all.

So now that the pain of loss is subsiding, I have started to fly around my own house. Besides decluttering for the peace of it all, my other objective is this: I don’t want my two sons to have to deal with anything like the situation I handled when I am no longer here. I have started to examine not only what I have and what I want to have visible everyday, but what I am choosing to store away. I am keeping just the stuff that means something to me. I am compiling a “Treasures” album with a picture and the story behind some significant items, so the boys will know why I kept certain things when I am no longer here to tell them. It’s a project, but a fun one, and using baby steps, I am taking one bite at a time.

Did I mention that my parents never threw anything away?

Thank you for your encouragement.
FlyBaby S in CT

FlyLady Here: We all will have to deal with this one day. You cannot organize clutter; you can only get rid of it. Are you going to be leaving your clutter for your children to have to deal with after you are gone. Why do we turn our homes into landfills just because we might need it one day.

Robert and his sister have been clearing out their mother’s home the last few weeks. They could have written this testimonial except the four dumpsters. Their mom had saved some of the same things. There were balls of rubber bands and the plastic bags that protect the newspaper from rain. Today we made a final push to clear out the house. We are all happy that this job has been finished.

Here is a testimonial that is amazing;

Less Stuff More Love To Give!

Dear FlyLady,

My elderly cousin died Wednesday night.  I went to her funeral today.  The church was packed.  Everyone from teenagers to old people were grieving.  The funeral singers couldn’t sing because of their grief.  The preacher got choked up talking about her and almost couldn’t go on.  Everyone was talking about her many kindnesses, how she helped so many people,  touched so many lives–in spite of various infirmities and having so little in the way of financial resources.  I kept remembering how I always felt so welcome when I visited her in the house she shared with her sister, and how much I was going to miss knowing that welcome and encouragement was always there.

Then, her nephew got up to speak about her, and he mentioned that when they’d gone into her little bedroom, you could pack up every worldly possession she owned, and it would fit into the trunk of a normal size car…with space left over.

And I thought–ahh, so that was part of her secret.  She lavished her time on all of us, instead of investing it in things.

Then I came home and read the Saturday FlyLady rant about our clutter sucking the life out of us, and agreed with all my heart.  I believe there is a direct correlation between the clutter (of all kinds) in our lives and the good, kind things we never have the time to do.

I have a goal now that reaches beyond the occasional 27 fling boogie (although that’s a good start.)  I’m wondering if it might be possible even for a packrat like me,  to come to the end of my life with only enough possessions to fill the trunk of a car…but with a church and community packed with people whose lives I’ve touched.

Limping along, in Ohio

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