Friday, October 3, 2014

Less Is More: How I Got Here


In the past 5 years I have been responsible for cleaning out the homes of elderly relatives 7 times. I have moved my mother four 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.

8 comments:

  1. Stopping by from 31 days. Very well written and thinking I may be sending this along to my in laws. They save everything and we try and tell them that clarity will have them more relaxed. Thank you :)

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  2. Sabrina, thanks so much for stopping by! I hope your in laws can take the message to heart if you choose to share it. They simply don't realize the back breaking work and crushing responsibility that will be left to you and your husband. My husband and I now regularly ask "Do we want to leave this for our kids?" We are empty nesters and becoming aware of how our stuff will effect them.

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  3. I think I need to take what you are saying to heart. My biggest frustration for the past two years has been trying to figure out how to live in a smaller house with the same amount of stuff. I need to start letting go. Some of it was accumulated from a family friend who passed away, some of it is family items, but much of it is just junk that is in the way. Thanks for sharing - you are giving me lots to think about! #write31days :)

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    1. I am so glad that this post was encouraging to you. And thank you SO much for giving my blog a mention on yours! I was thinking that people were hoping I'd move on to projects but I may spend another day or two on this topic. It seems to be resonating with folks. Thanks for taking the time to comment! :)

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  4. Visiting from 31 Days. I have had to deal with an estate. It is a tough task to say the least. I can't imagine repeatedly dealing with it.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. If you've done it, then you know. So overwhelming!

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  5. Yes! Yes! Yes! Is this our age and stage of life? I have a lot of stuff...still. Even though last Lent my spiritual discipline was 40 x 40---getting rid of 40 items a day for 40 days for a total of....drum roll...1600 items. It was tempting on some days to cheat a little and count, well, paper clips or something, but I resisted. My house was 1600 items lighter.

    I spent a lot of time gathering during a hard time in my life. I would visit thrift stores and antique malls and buy pretty little things. It kept me happier for a time.

    But now I don't need that anymore. And now...I am STILL this year getting rid of things...it feels great! It's a process and it's a good process, very cleansing.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Terri! I also think it's somewhat generational. Our parents lived through the Depression and war. Then they came home and the culture shifted to one revolving heavily around advertising and conspicuous consumption for the first time. That 40 X 40 challenge sounds killer! Good for you. Check out a blog called The Minimalists. You'll like them!

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