I have long since discovered that the most difficult part of leaving a legacy is sorting out who will inherit our stuff. Certainly, items that can be converted to cash will be easily divided among family, friends, and the charities of our choice. Well, “easily” might be a bit of an overstatement.

Sorting through our stuff—that is the monumental task. What do you do with 2.86 TVs, which the average household is reported* to have? They are often outdated long before they are worn out. In the process of downsizing, I discovered that no child wanted my TV or my collection of LPs from the ’60s and ’70s. BUT that stupid hutch was deemed a prized possession and desired by all our children—even the one now living on a sailboat in Jamaica.

Will we manage to reduce our accumulated wealth of stuff down to a couple of boxes, small enough to pass on to the next generation efficiently? Currently the baby boom generation is trying to downsize. We sold the house, had three garage sales, and gave away all of my lawn and garden stuff when we moved into a condo. Then, after eight years of condo living, we bought a new house, our retirement home. Within two months, all of the lawn and garden tools I had given away reappeared. I accumulated a full complement of well-used hoses, mowers, blowers, and shrub trimmers as gifts from friends and relatives who were condo bound and thought I could use them.

Perhaps the learning here is don’t be the last to try and get rid of your stuff. Perhaps the learning is that paring down enough to make the journey to a condo, an apartment, or a small sitting room in an assisted living residence is a lot harder than it seems.

Back in the day, people didn’t downsize. Many items were crowned as heirlooms and designated to a specific relative or friend. After the death of one farm couple who lived a long, rich, and happy life, the eight adult children, without spouses, gathered in the farmhouse and held a family auction. Special heirlooms had long since been parcelled out, but the task remained: what to do with the rest?

In this case, money was allocated from the estate equally to each child to bid for the stuff. Beds, tables, and chairs—necessities went for a pittance to those in need. But some of the items that all remembered with fondness were lovingly haggled over, and the winning bidder paid a hefty price to take home the item filled with memories. My friend paid an exorbitant price for an old coffee grinder with a worn handle that was clamped to the kitchen counter. He could’ve bought a dozen new grinders for the price he paid for that old one.

In the bidding, each item evoked story after story that began with, “I remember when . . .” Each thing and the stories that surrounded it allowed the family to grieve. Retelling the memories allowed the individuals to begin to heal. The family came away from that long afternoon feeling that part of the great weight of grief had been lifted. They had laughed, cried, and left knowing the value of the stuff was in the memories and stories.

I fear I will have great difficulty in separating the memories I cherish from the stuff that surrounds me. I have learned some items have little meaning for me but hold great memories for my children—a fact I could never have imagined until I was told. Currently I am looking for an assisted living complex that allows each resident 15 parking stalls.

The foot rug

One more item that I have carried with me for a long time, its value only sentimental.

*American households in 2009, but I expect we’re close.

Do you have an item from each decade you have lived? I do. Have you talked about the meaning that surrounds the one item you wish to leave your child or friend? Have you asked them what item they see as most valuable to them and why?

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