Stuff, Your Kids Stuff, Your Parents Stuff
Once upon a time, two Baby Boomers moved out of their parents
houses and established a home. In the beginning they had nothing,
but then they began to collect Stuff. After awhile they had children
of their own, and the children started to accumulate their own
personal Stuff. The Baby Boomers parents then decided to
downsize and gave a lot of their Stuff to the Baby Boomers. The
Baby Boomers children proceeded to grow up and go to college
and find a place of their own to live, which was too small to
hold all of their Stuff. They asked the Baby Boomers if they would
store their Stuff for them until they could afford a larger place
in which to keep the Stuff. So the Baby Boomers now live in their
house happily surrounded by their own Stuff, their parents
Stuff, and their kids Stuff. The End.
As any professional organizer will tell you, the revelation is
coming. Or maybe its the revolution. There simply is not
room enough for all that Stuff!
In Organizing for the Spirit, I talk about the nature of stuff
and the importance of continually making the decisions that will
help to manage it. Unfortunately, too many people wait until its
too late until theyre too elderly or sick or tired
or rushed to make the best kinds of decisions; the kinds
of decisions that may shape a legacy for generations to come.
A legacy is anything handed down from the past, and
while we hopefully think of the word in terms of something enriching
or noble, a legacy can also be a mess. Thats right.
You can be left with a meticulously organized scrapbook of memories,
or an overwhelming scrap heap, or something in-between. The quality
of your decisions will determine the contributions you make and
the way you are remembered.
While it can be meaningful to preserve and pass on the things
in your life that are treasures, the hard fact is not everything
youve accumulated in your lifetime is a treasure. Your responsibility
is to identify what has value to you and treat those items accordingly.
Leaving it all for someone else to deal with is unfair and deprives
your family of the opportunity to understand and appreciate your
Unfortunately, Ive seen a lot of once upon a time
scenarios lately generations of Stuff that has become a
burden to the people who have to live with it and the people who
will have to dispose of it in the future. In one case, two daughters
have been left with a garage packed with boxes that have to be
picked through meticulously, because priceless heirlooms were
tossed in with junk. Its not because their parents didnt
care about the burden they were leaving behind; it was because
they didnt know how to organize and discriminate as they
went along, and by the time action needed to be taken, it was
Organizing is not just about getting rid of Stuff.
And its not really about making room to collect more Stuff.
Its about developing a lifestyle that encourages you to
keep only what has usefulness or meaning and significance. Its
about enjoying what you have, and passing on an inheritance of
If you feel overwhelmed with everyones Stuff and not sure
where to start, try having a conversation with a family member
about their own Stuff. Not a critical, blaming conversation (Why
are you keeping all of this **** Stuff?!) but an open, honest
one about whats important to him/her, and why. See if you
can discover what 10 items are the most precious. Ask about associated
memories and recollections of related events.
It can be difficult to let things go; it can feel like youre
losing a piece of yourself or someone else. But encouraging family
members to be part of a continuing evaluation process allows for
more closeness and understanding. Plus it ensures that something
can be appreciated for what it means to a person, as opposed to
becoming part of an overpowering sense of clutter.
Its never too early to begin the process. Even young children
can learn how to assess the changing value of their possessions,
and when its time to pack up or pass on the cherished items
of earlier days. This skill will become more valuable over time
as they move from one place to another, and will become an absolute
necessity in their later years.
Stuff can be a blessing or a burden. Make those decisions before
someone else has to make them for you.
Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they
are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift.
Memory is our guide.
-- Hope Edelman