Dilemmas In Downsizing

October 18, 2022

“I don’t want my children to deal with this when I’m gone.”

I wonder how many times I’ve heard someone declare this as a reason for downsizing and decluttering.

On one level that is a noble idea, with which it is hard to disagree. Bravo, you! And yet at the same time, there is something inside me that isn’t 100% aboard that idea.

If you read my post on Thursday, October 13, 2022, https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/10/13/book-report-downsizing-my-books/ you know that I am not ignoring the challenge of my own stuff. That post focused on books, but I could have written about my “Dish Problem.” I inherited the problem, along with actual dishes, from my mother, and my sister has the same problem. We love setting a beautiful table with dishes appropriate to the season or the occasion. Perhaps the problem would have been more under control, if my husband didn’t also love dishes and if we hadn’t been antique collectors all our married life.

Even though I still have enough dishes to serve the neighborhood, I want you to know that I no longer have as many sets as I once did. I have pared back significantly, and am proud to say, all our dishes, other than a set of Christmas dishes, are easily assessable in cupboards and not packed away in bins. I know I will continue to evaluate what I really want to keep and use for now, and it’s certainly possible there will be more than two place settings of the white dishes we use everyday when I die or move into a care center.

Our children will have to deal with our stuff.

Is that so bad?

First of all, let me say I believe in the principle of “like with like, ” which means staying organized, and I also believe in knowing what one has, which also means staying organized and not storing “maybe I’ll use this one day” items in difficult to reach storage items. I also don’t believe in keeping things like 25 year old tax returns, and clothes that haven’t fit for 5 years and if they ever were to fit again will be out of style anyway, and stacks of jigsaw puzzles that were fun to put together once, but twice? Not so much.

All that being said, I think there is some value for our children in dealing with the stuff that remains.

A story about my mother.

My mother loved jewelry, and she was blessed with my father who loved giving her beautiful jewelry. Before she died she designated her major pieces, but that still left boxes and drawers full of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings.

One of the first days after she died, we opened up the dining room table as far as it could go and filled it with piles of her jewelry–the pearl pile, the turquoise pile, the silver pile, the costume jewelry pile. You get the idea. Then we all gathered and starting with the oldest, which was me, went around the table one by one selecting one item from one of the piles. We went round and round and round draping ourselves in the treasures until what was left was not wanted by anyone. My father in the meantime sat nearby beaming. He was so happy we were delighting in these bits and pieces of Betty Ann’s baubles.

I still fill with tears as I think about that day, which was almost 20 years ago. That day was part of our grieving process, and because my mother had not figured out what to do with all those boxes and drawers of jewelry, she gave that day to us. We told stories and laughed and honored her gypsy nature.

When my father died, there was less to do because he had moved into a senior living facility a few years before, but, trust me, there was still enough stuff. Strange as it may sound, I am grateful for the days my sister and brother and husband and brother-in-law spent together sorting and tossing and packing and moving. Because of COVID, the grands and greats were not able to be with us, and they missed our storytelling and the moments when each of us needed some comfort.

I hope when the time comes my family won’t resent the fact that somehow I never got around to creating beautiful family albums and instead left boxes of loose photos. I hope they will pass around pictures and tell stories and comfort each other. I hope when they pack up the dishes I only use in the fall they will remember how good my applesauce tasted and the baked spaghetti hot dish and the pork loin with wild rice and how I loved setting a pretty table even when dinner was only pizza.

I am not suggesting you avoid what must be done or use this post as a justification for holding on tightly to what is only cluttering your present life, but going through the stuff of our loved ones’ lives also can be a tool in the process of grieving. Just a thought.

An Invitation

What are your thoughts about stuff and grieving? I would love to know.

6 thoughts on “Dilemmas In Downsizing

  1. Resentment is the key word. A friend of mine died a few years ago, leaving a husband behind in a very large house with LOTS of stuff. There were multiple properties belonging to the couple, with warehouses and garages that also housed a lot of automotive and nautical equipment. This couple had always said that when they died, the kids would come and take care of it. Although the wife was gone, the widower continued on as if nothing had happened, and then when he fell and could no longer care for himself at almost 90 years of age, the son and daughter had to step in. They both lived across country, with careers and families and little time to fuss with the stuff. The son sold off much of the warehoused/garaged pieces for pennies on the dollar. The daughter cleared the house and brought in an estate agent to get rid of the big stuff. Both children were very resentful. All the properties, including the vehicles had to be sold to pay off debt and pay for a care facility for their father.

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  2. Thank You Nancy for your thoughts on downsizing! After my mother died we did a similar thing with my siblings and my mom’s “best” stuff. My husband and I put everything on our dining table and in our garage since the weather was warm. Each sibling (with or without their spouses) got a color-coded Post-It note (max of 25 each) and was instructed put it on whatever they wanted. There was only a little negotiation needed, since I really wanted my mom’s cookware. I spent many days in our kitchen assisting my mom with cooking & baking tasks. The next day, I received the cookware from my sister-in-law. This “picking and choosing” items was a healing experience for all of us. We shared a wonderful meal together, laughing and crying while eating! Afterwards my siblings loaded their cherished items into their cars and we packed up the stuff no one chose and donated it . It was a lovely day and I am grateful for all of the treasured memories. Someday our two children will be given this opportunity too.

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  3. This is a beautiful way of looking at passing along your stuff. As long as it’s not TOO much stuff!

    I worry about my mom and her situation. She’s 82 years old now and lives alone in a 3 bedroom townhome. Every room is filled with “stuff” including her garage, attic, and storage space under the stairs. She’s slowly weeding out but has barely made a dent. The thing is – my only sibling, my sister, who is mentally ill, estranged herself from our family 3-1/2 years ago. So either I’m going to be left alone to deal with all this stuff (my husband will help, but you know what I mean) or else my sister will come to help, but she will be near impossible to deal with.


  4. Such a challenge for you. I wonder if you and your mother together can begin, pile by pile, one drawer at a time, begin this process together–as a way to share memories and stories now and to support both her and you, instead of seeing it as something that has to be done. I am so sorry this is on your plate.

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