Friday, July 11, 2014
How Dealing With Other People's Stuff is Making a Minimalist of Me
In the past 5 years I have been responsible for cleaning out the homes of elderly relatives 6 times. I have moved my mother three times, a cousin with dementia once and then single handedly managed her estate sale, and am about to tackle the mother in law wing of our house after her passing in May. This is in addition to delivering and retrieving things from hospital rooms and rehab facilities on countless occasions.
I am over things. Everyone's things, even mine. Of course if you are a regular reader you know that.
Here are the 3 personality types that I've dealt with in this process:
Child of the Depression: This mind set is really common among people who grew up during the Depression when there wasn't enough of anything. You'll often hear them say "But you might need it someday." The problem is that when they need it they can't find it amid the clutter.
The Collector: They have 3 complete 12 place settings of china and every serving piece ever made. Everything is in a set. Everything matches. Everything is really dated. They can't get rid of anything because they remember how hard it was to find it all.
The Materialist: The opposite of the Minimalist, this person seeks self worth and identity in material things. They spend lots of money on brands and labels. If this person is homebound QVC is their crack.
It is depressing to see how it all ends. Perhaps not a big deal if you have to do it once, liquidating other people's things repeatedly however makes the lesson stick. It is all too much. We often hear older people say that they don't want to be a burden to their children but few imagine the weight that cleaning out a lifetime of possessions will be. And it all comes with guilt. That's the real burden. However you choose to do it, discarding another person's treasures feels wrong. You agonize over every thing you touch-- Should I save it?
While cleaning out drawers, closets, and attics I've become immune to shopping. Going to stores and browsing as entertainment isn't the fun it once was. That thing you are so excited about taking home must be cleaned, cared for, moved, and eventually gotten rid of, if not by you then by someone else. I wish I had all the money back I've ever spent on items that a few years later ended up in my driveway for sale at a fraction of the price I paid. I've become much more interested in taking care of what I do have, or updating it instead of replacing it.
The other big shift in thinking came from traveling to Scandinavia, where minimalism is a way of life. Homes are uncluttered. Experiences and relationships are valued above things. The environment is treasured. Far from being stark and cold interior design feels well planned and orderly. Serene. Less is more is more than a catch phrase. It's an attitude. And it's true.
Having sold or given away entire households of things has also revealed something else: The things you are keeping in a back room or attic are actually needed by someone else. I've given things away that were clutter to me, and had people literally jump up and down because for them it was a need. We all need to be practicing better stewardship of what we own. That means that when it is no longer useful to us we pass it along to someone who needs it. Even if we have need of something we ought to be more realistic about how much of it is necessary. I found 4 funnels in my mother's kitchen and could not imagine why she needed even one.
If you haven't had the first hand experience of dealing with someone's estate then I would advise you to stop by a few estate sales this weekend. Walking through homes and watching strangers going through someone else's linen closet and kitchen drawers is sobering.
Here's the take away:
No one gets out alive and you can't take it with you. Plan now to leave your children a few things that are actually valuable or hold some real meaning (to them, not you). Beyond that leave them with wonderful memories, stories, and life lessons.
You might want one of those lessons to be living simply.