You will leave a legacy. Everyone does. “She volunteered for so many worthy causes.” “He was a great guy and will be missed.” “People will enjoy seeing her fine art collection at the museum.” Of all the legacies you can leave, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to hear, “I’m really ticked because she left a lot of stuff for me to sort through” or “I can’t believe he kept all this stuff, now I have to get rid of it!”
So how can you avoid leaving clutter as your lasting legacy?
1. Leave a functional environment. Whether you leave this earth from a house, apartment or efficiency, make sure that you can walk around the space and access everything easily. You see, if your space and stuff are accessible, then you’ve set real boundaries, i.e., only kept the number of books that fit into your bookshelf. You’ve also developed meaningful habits, i.e., for every acquisition you’ve made a corresponding deletion. (Delete means leaving the space via donation, selling, recycling or tossing.)
2. Ask yourself the tough questions. It’s tough to whittle down possessions. Here are some questions that might be helpful:
- Where will this go? Be specific.
- How will this be used?
- Between thing A and thing B (because you only have space for one of them), which has more significance?
- Who might want this? Maybe someone could use it now!
- What’s the worst thing that would happen if I deleted this? While I can’t think of anything catastrophic that could happen, maybe you can. But short of that, it can probably be deleted.
3. Invite others to share their desires. Don’t assume that people want your stuff. While you might love the chair carved by great-uncle Ben, it doesn’t mean that anyone else in the family wants it. Yes, I understand that you feel it’s an heirloom but you don’t want it gathering dust in someone’s attic. Check with family in advance to find out what stuff they are interested in. If there are items that no one wants, find an alternative home for it.
Just recently my parents downsized. (For the second time; for stories about the first time, see Cluttered or Clutter-less Legacy?) This time they had to make some really tough decisions. But I worked with them to not only check with me and my sister about what we did and didn’t want but also to find homes for anything that they couldn’t use and that we didn’t want. This meant that all involved had to minimize inside clutter. For me, with items that had been in the family a long time but which I didn’t want, I had to counteract the brain chatter that said, “But it’s been in the family a long time. It means a lot to mom. How can I be so cruel?” So my response to myself was, “I know that we can find a home for this item where it will be enjoyed and used.”
4. Give permission. Just because someone accepts it now doesn’t mean they want to keep it forever, so give them permission to delete it when they no longer have a use for it. For instance, I make scrapbooks of my travels. My nephews are interested in my travels. When they get old enough, I will ask them if they are interested in having them when I’m gone or no longer have room for them. Even if they say “yes” I will tell them that at such a time as they are no longer interested in them, they have my permission to delete them. In this case, it probably means throwing them in the trash. I don’t want them to feel guilty about deleting them.
5. Request help. Downsizing (whether it’s for a move to a smaller home or just because you have too much stuff for your space) isn’t easy. Select the success tool of support to boost progress. A friend or family member might be happy to help out. There are organizing professionals who specialize in downsizing. Consider people outside the immediate situation who can both ask the tough questions and provide gentle encouragement.
So what kind of legacy will you leave?