Yesterday, as I washed two coffee mugs that my aunt gave me, I said unexpectedly to myself, “These will be among my final things.” An image flashed before me. I saw myself, old and shrunken, seated at a little table surrounded by the few belongings worth keeping through the years; a lifetime of journals, my favorite books, a handful of photos, a watch my husband gave me and these two mugs, one for him, and one for me.
You see, these mugs have been with me since I was 10 years old, given to me because they have horses running around them on a ribbon of ivory backdrop with brown scribbles of grass beneath their delicately painted hooves. They maintain hot chocolate at the perfect temperature until the last sip and they rest perfectly in the palm of my hand, providing warmth just like my aunt’s long hugs.
Look around your house, your office, your garage, your storage unit and ask yourself, “Which of these items is worthy of being among my final things?” How much of the stuff that you spend time maintaining, storing, moving around, dusting, or repairing is worth carrying along to the final leg of your journey?
If you have ever helped an older relative navigate their final years, then you know the number of things that get thrown away in the down-size moves that lead to the final destination; a retirement home, or a couple of rooms in a relative’s home. It’s sad to see a lifetime of carefully collected items placed on the corner for garbage pick up or dropped off at a local thrift shop. Overwhelmed caretakers usually don’t have the time or energy to disperse the elderly person’s belongings in a way that that person would have wanted, much less to sell them for a decent price. Here are a few steps to help manage your belongings and to lighten your load.
Write a Will: Record your wishes in a will so that your cherished belongings end up with those who you feel will most appreciate them. Be specific and include photographs of the items to eliminate confusion and/or manipulation of the facts. In the few estate settlements I’ve observed, I was surprised and disgusted by the predators that descended like vultures landing on a fresh carcass. Protect your family from themselves by writing a will.
Give Away Items Now: You don’t have to wait until you are old and/or ill to disperse your belongings. If you have your great grandmother’s full set of china in your attic and one day want your niece to have it, what’s wrong with now? Invite her over and show it to her. Tell her all of the stories you know about it and those who had it before you. Make a day of packing the dishes for the move and plan to share a meal on them once a year to pay tribute to the memories they hold and to make new ones.
Sell Them: If you collect items as an investment, maintain the collection so that it can be liquidated easily, not only by you, but by whoever may be left to do so in the event of your death or disability. Keep meticulous records of purchases and appraised values. Also, develop a relationship with a dealer who you trust and who would help your family liquidate the collection if the need arose. The last thing a grieving family needs is the stress of educating themselves about rare coins so that they don’t get fleeced when they try to sell them in order to pay hospital bills.
No matter how full, a life that spans decades will come down to a handful of precious memories distilled in a photo, a pocket watch, a doll. Look around and decide what will make the cut. Then ask yourself, “Do I really need the rest of the stuff that I’m dragging along?”
Image courtesy of David Zellaby