By, Devora Farrell
Okay, here’s a quiz question (not a joke, at least not this time) — What gives you great pleasure from your children? If you’re like me, it’s when they’re behaving lovingly toward each other. Whether it’s sharing a treat, or comforting a sibling for their skinned knee, or engaging in deep conversation as young adults, my eyes fill with happy tears when I witness them being there for each other.
Time really does go so quickly. One night, I’m tucking them in, the next, they’re turning out the lights downstairs before heading up to bed. Sunrise, sunset…did you grow up with Fiddler on the Roof, too?
So, what does this have to do with organizing?
I have had the misfortune of watching siblings’ relationships dissolve into anger and wounded feelings. From what? From having to deal with their parents’ belongings after they’ve downsized or passed away. Lots of old (not antique – antique is defined as more than 75 years old and not mass-produced, and also, only if there’s a demand for it) furniture, endless tchotchkes (yes, that little chip can make it valueless), used china, clothes (even with the tags still on, clothes purchased more than two years ago are rarely worth anything), unlabeled photos (some blurry, multiples taken at the same occasion), non-first edition books, boxes taped closed from previous relocations, even if there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with “it,” just that “it’s” not your taste. Rarely do I see the adult children fight over things they want to have – although it certainly does happen. More often, I see adult children seething with resentment over being saddled with going through their parents’ belongings. Too much time, too many decisions, too much guilt, too much grief. It feels bad to discard things the parents may have held dear. It’s aggravating to be responsible for getting the house ready for sale. It seems wasteful to not use what seems to still have use left in it. But, do we really want it? Will it add to our lives? Will it just be one more thing to put away?
Sometimes, the arguments are about more than one adult child wanting a particular item. If the parents have not indicated their wishes in advance, the fight begins. A Will should not contain surprises to the offspring. Any item earmarked for a particular child should be clearly expressed while the parents are there to express it. What if that heirloom is not beloved to the indicated child? What if it’s more meaningful to a sibling? Why make things complicated?
Often, I’m called after the parents are gone to help the adult children divide up the belongings. Thankfully, most of it is donated or discarded. I am grateful when the decision-making goes smoothly, but I have to be honest. It rarely does. The children feel burdened. I encourage them to take pictures of the meaningful items, letting go of all but the most meaningful. The photos can be used in a photobook, with the stories of the objects accompanying their pictures. In this way, the family lore is preserved without more “stuff” coming with it.
So, what’s your takeaway? Here ‘tis: Why wait? We are all busy living our lives. As much as we know that our corporeal existence is temporary, it’s not something we typically think about. Nobody can predict the length of their lives. Each day, I try to address another shelf or drawer or closet or attic space. I ask myself, “Do I need it?” “Do I want it?” “What’s worth more to me – the object or the space it takes up and the effort for its upkeep?” “Do I want my children to be stuck making a decision about it?” “Can I let it go?” “Why not now?”
I’m giving my children a present. I’m working on not leaving them to clean up my mess.
I realize this article could be seen as a tad morbid. Spin it differently – take a good look at your stuff so that you can embrace your life more fully.
Mrs. Devora Farrell is eager to go through it all with you. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. One step at a time. Mrs. Farrell can be reached at ThisOrganized. at (973) 919-7761 or AsktheOrganizer@JewishLocalPages.com.