For those who don’t know, Doug and I (and daughter Carina several times) have been flying back to VA right after press each month to clean out my parents’ house and ready it for sale since their passing. This is my childhood home, so needless to say, it has been physically and emotionally exhausting. But this column isn’t about that. This is a cautionary tale.

Like many people my age, our parents were raised during the Depression, and that generation had a completely different viewpoint on how they handled “things,” and by things, I mean material things. In a nutshell, in my parents’ case, they never threw anything away. And some of the things they seemed to value and “keep for a rainy day” were quite baffling. Many of the things Dad held onto were things he could save and potentially use in the remodeling of the house—except that they were often things from the ’60s, and the technology 20-30 years later would obviously have made these things obsolete! Many of Mom’s items were also obsolete, but were domestic things like 11 different heating pads, some of which I was afraid to even plug in! (Mom, why did you keep the iron you used when I was a kid, when you also had two fancy late-model irons in the same cabinet?!) Then, of course, some things were so deeply buried at the back of closets, I’m sure they had just been forgotten about, so they just bought replacements for those “missing” items. 

This may sound familiar to many who have gone through this journey or who may be seeing it now with their aging parents still living. This is all very common, I’m sure. But I think, by virtue of the fact that my parents had a fairly large house with lots of storage areas, the amount of stuff that collected in that house over 55 years was possibly more than what some people have to deal with. 

However, it’s the general concept I want to share here so that I can explain what we have learned and how we intend to adjust things at our own residence to avoid leaving the same chaotic mess to my child. Even if you are childless, someone will have to go through your things when you die and it’s the courteous thing to do to live every day with the thought in the back of your mind: “If I die today, what kind of mess am I leaving behind for someone else to have to sort through?”

With that in mind, once we are done with all the work at my parents’ house, we plan to turn our attention to our own abode and be as ruthless with ourselves as we have had to be with their stuff. We have filled two 20-yard dumpsters and given away about 25 giant bags to Am Vets so far at their house, and we’re probably only halfway done. As I look around our own home once we return from VA each month, I see a whole lot of stuff that needs to go away in the same manner as we have dispensed with my parents’ stuff. 

My personal takeaway: There is so much to be said for living minimalist! Having attachments to “things” is really not helpful to you or those you leave behind when you depart this earth. You can’t take it with you!