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September 14, 2011

A Legacy of "Stuff" (Part 4)

Posted in: Clutter Control Products,Clutter Hacks,It's That Time,Must-read articles

rusty screwsIn the previous 3 blog posts (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3), I wrote about what to do with the stuff of loved ones who have passed away, and how important it is to communicate with your friends and family about the stuff that YOU might leave behind.

So the questions to start with is: what you are leaving behind and why the heck are you hanging on to that?

Do you understand that for centuries, a family would buy a well built table or chair, or a beautiful lamp or set of dishes, and pass it on to their grown children who happily used it in their house. BUT their house was fairly bare, even the well-to-do didn't have a LOT, and so the new item was a wonderful welcomed addition to their home.

But this is the 21st Century. No generation in the history of the world has ever had as much "stuff" as we have. Think about days of yore when people put all their earthly possessions in a covered wagon to travel out west. Think of the end of the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, where the whole household fit into a cart that they could push like a wheelbarrow to the next town.

In this century, we cannot save all our stuff to pass on to the next generation. There is TOO MUCH of it, and they probably don't want it anyway. It used to be an honor to receive the crib, highchair or bassinet that once belonged to a parent or grandparent. Today, it might be declared "unsafe" and something you would not want to pass on.

We don't even realize how we are so swamped with more stuff than any other generation. While on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Oak Park, IL, we saw that the master bedroom closet was no more than 3 feet wide. There was not enough space in the room to fit an additional closet such as a portable wardrobe. I asked the tour guide about where did Mrs. Wright put all her clothes, and she explained that ninety years ago, women had only a few dresses. No need for a big closet.

My cousin Mike died at a young age, leaving no family except me. His house was neat and clean, he was not a Pack Rat, but as his best friend, Harry, and I went through his garage, basement, workshop and attic, we constantly asked, "What was he thinking?"

As we came across 8 coffee cans filled with rusty, bent nails that could not possibly be used, we said, "What was he thinking?"
As we came across TWELVE YEARS WORTH of National Geographics, we said, "What was he thinking?"
As we came across 42 coffee mugs (a whole cabinet full) and a drawer overflowing with those little packets of soy sauce that comes with take-out, we said, "What was he thinking?"
Then Harry looked at me and said, "I've got to start asking myself, WHAT AM I THINKING? when I see some of the weird stuff that I am saving….. and will never ever use."

There's the question of the day: Look at what is cluttering up your house, your office, your life, and ask "What the heck am I thinking by saving this?"

Now, many of you wrote that after reading last month's Tip Sheet, you want to tell your family and friends what you would like each of them to have, but you think it would be very weird or awkward to do. Here are some very creative ideas from two of our Outrageously Perceptive Readers:

Thank you for your “Legacy of Stuff” Tip Sheet today. We recently brought up-to-date our trust, wills, power of attorney, etc. We have it in a 3-ring binder with a Table of Contents.
In the front pocket of the notebook we have placed a sheet titled “Suggested Distribution of Items Upon Death of Both Parties.” We have included a selection of items for our family members. We feel very good about having done this and especially since it is only a suggestion.

And another:

My mother had the three of us kids and a couple of cousins come over to the house and gave each of us a sheet of a different color dot. We were to mark anything in the house that we wanted with our color dot – even if someone else had already marked it.

If there was more than one color dot on an item then she knew there was a potential problem and had all of the claimees work out a solution at that time while she was there to act as arbitrator. That was twenty plus years ago and she is still here and there is so much additional stuff that we should probably have another "dot party".

Well, all of you Perceptive Readers out there, that's it for "Legacy of Stuff" and thinking about death.

Rita Emmett
Author of The Procrastinator's Handbook,
The Clutter-Busting Handbook and
Manage Your Time to Reduce Your Stress: A Handbook for the Overworked, Overscheduled, and Overwhelmed


Return to: A Legacy of "Stuff" (Part 4)