We Are All Going to Die

grave stone

A few years ago, I faced my mortality head on. An unexpected allergic reaction nearly killed me. Up to that point I, like most people, hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about death. Sure, I’d done the unpleasant task of making a will and other estate arrangements, and I’d buried a few relatives. But my own death was still an abstract concept. I knew it would happen but I managed to convince myself that it was a long way in the future. And, like most people, a part of me secretly believed it would never happen at all. (Don’t laugh. Most people have a little piece of themselves that believes they will be the one to cheat death. Self-preservation at its finest, I guess.)

After the allergic reaction, I am wide awake to the fact that I’m going to die. I’d like to think it’s a long way off, but I know now that there is a very thin divide between being alive and having fun one minute and being dead the next. After I got over the shock of that reality, I found my relationships to money, people, and stuff changing. No, I didn’t become one of those people who started spending excessively on travel or other things because “I might not be here tomorrow.” In fact, I started to feel something of the opposite, especially when it came to material things.

I realized the saying, “You can’t take it with you,” is very true. None of the stuff that seems so important to me today will matter once I’m gone. It will just be junk that someone else has to dispose of. What I love and value will just end up in the landfill or in some estate sale. Or, it will be stuff that I have to deal with when I need to downsize or move into a nursing home. At some point, my stuff and I will part ways and there’s nothing that will go with me so there’s no point in getting attached to piles of stuff.

Once I had that liberating thought, I started thinking about stuff very differently. Once I realized that my stuff is really someone else’s junk to clean up, I found it started to matter less to me, too. It is, after all, just stuff. Sure, I like my collectibles, things I’ve carried from my childhood, family heirlooms, and other things, but what gives it value is all in my head. Someone else won’t feel the same way about it. They won’t know the stories behind the things, which is really where the value in stuff lies.

As a result, I started disposing of a lot of my stuff and being very cautious about what I bring into the house in the future. I’m making sure that the stuff that matters most to me is going to people that want it. Family heirlooms are going to cousins (since I have no siblings). Some things are going to charity. I’ve sold others and used the money to travel. By getting rid of it while I’m still alive, I’m able to control where it goes, to keep the stuff that others in the family may want out of the landfill, and to enjoy the proceeds from any sales.

I’m also buying way less. In order for something to come into this house these days, it either needs to be necessary or something that I’m going to enjoy and want for a long time. Things that are cute but have no purpose are no longer purchased. Things that I can borrow or rent are no longer purchased. Things that I can’t imagine wanting to deal with ten years from now are left on the shelf.

I don’t live to upgrade things like cabinets, counters, or appliances, either. That’s just surface appearance stuff and when I’m gone, no one is going to care that my counters weren’t granite. Least of all me. Give me stuff that does the job and I’m happy enough. Whoever buys my house after I’m dead can do what they want with it.

My goal isn’t to live a Spartan life, or to live with outdated, ugly furniture, but to live with the reality that stuff doesn’t matter in the long run. In the long run, it becomes garbage and I don’t want to surround myself with a bunch of junk. I don’t want to waste money on things that are only appearance related. I’d rather spend the money on things like travel, experiences, etc. Those are things I can enjoy now and that someone else won’t have to clean up or fight over. It’s also stuff that I won’t mourn the loss of when I’m on my death bed or when I have to go into a nursing home. Stuff is stuff and I’d rather not have a lot of it. I’d rather spend money and time on things that really matter to me and which make a difference in my life.

Once you face your own mortality, you’ll probably find that stuff matters less to you. You’ll likely value the people around you and your experiences more than stuff. And that’s probably as it should be. We spend so much of our lives fretting over what we own and how it all looks. And that’s a waste because, in the end, none of it matters.

(Photo courtesy of A.M. Kuchling)

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6 Responses to We Are All Going to Die

  1. honour says:

    Writer is dead on! Cancer survivors quickly learn about their mortality rating from their insurance company if they didn’t figure it out from hospital, surgery, ghastly follow-up treatment etc.

    The car you drive, the clothes you wear, the jewellery and commercials on TV become bumpf. What really matters is relationships with family, friends, colleagues and pets. Get your bucket list on paper and figure out what experiences are important to you and your loved ones. Take pictures. The pleasure you get reviewing happy memories is priceless. I had the photo of DH1’s first experience of success on a two wheeler blown up poster size for us all to enjoy for years.

  2. jay says:

    Excellent follow up to the article on purging!
    We faced the worst case scenario recently as we had to clean a hoard after a sibling suddenly passed. It was plain awful -and expensive; however, it taught everyone involved the importance of looking at your life and choosing not to burden others with what you will leave behind. I’ve been trying to pare down for years, saying I didn’t want my [adult] kids to have to deal with “it”, but this sparked major cooperation from my spouse as well as the “kids”.
    Deal with it TODAY.

  3. jim says:

    Well stated! Couldn’t agree with you more. Ha! I tell my DD and SIL that their children are going to be able to say, “you should see my grandparents house – it looks like a museum”.

  4. JoeP says:

    I feel the same way, but am perplexed about items of personal importance. I have known several who have passed away, leaving boxes filled with old photos and other items. It is a shame not knowing who those people are/were, or the importance they were to the owner. Nobody wants that stuff, making it hard to throw away. Keeping it only compounds the mystery for the person who will clean up after me!

  5. Gailete says:

    Weirdly enough, it was my getting ill that created a business which has brought so much stuff into our house (somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000+ sewing patterns). I thought I was dying I was so sick 11 years ago and so listed a lot of my sewing books on half.com to sell so my hubby wouldn’t have to deal with them ‘later’. Well one sold right away and I found I was pushing myself out of bed each day to go see if anything sold. And since things were selling, we found some more books to sell and soon we had a business going that gives me something to do and a reason everyday, no matter how lousy I feel, to get out of bed and deal with business. Books got too heavy for my hands and so we switched to selling sewing patterns on line. Since sewing is my hobby which I rarely feel good enough to do myself, I can sew vicariously with my customers. As I hobbled out to put some packages out in the mail today there were three older people talking next door. Realizing that they were all in their 70’s and 80’s and me in my late 50’s, I knew that I felt about 100 years older than them. I feel like I stare death in the face daily as I deal with a chronic disease. But it was my facing death in the eye that got me into a totally different place than I had been before.

  6. Karl says:

    Good, unique insights. I need to get going on some of this. A kick in the rear.

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