Inheritance

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Tomorrow it will be a month since my mother passed away. It was unexpected. Nearly a decade ago she had surgery to replace a heart valve. After that she had lots of energy and spunk but she would be on medicine for the rest of her life. It is that medication that is likely responsible for her death. “A catastrophic bleed.” A stroke, she simply laid down in bed one night really tired and never regained consciousness – it’s how she wanted to go, but probably not when.

I share this with you not to elicit sympathy or use her life as a cautionary tale, but by way of explanation for my absence from the interweb. And to share a little story about a lot of stuff.

In the weeks since she died I have been handling her “estate” and its contents. She had no money, was on social security and Medicaid, but her modest two-bedroom apartment told a different story.

My mother was not a hoarder, but she did have an affinity for all things crafty and written. She had three enormous bookshelves packed with books – floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall, sometimes two rows deep. She had one bedroom, the larger one, dedicated to crafts. She sewed, knitted, made jewelry, painted, drew, fantasized, dreamed and created all sorts of things in this space. She had 5 bookcases in this room filled with fabric, beads, yarn, paper and more books. Two desks for working. And when those filled up she opened a table.

Her closet and dresser were packed with clothes, good quality, known brands, yet she often complained that she needed new clothes. She had items stored in her kitchen that she never used. At least a dozen cups full of notepads and pens, crochet hooks and feathers, dotted the landscape of her home. She had multiples of personal care items like deodorant and soap – different brands, not like she bought them in bulk – just in case, I suppose.

Dealing with her home and its contents provided a welcome distraction from grief for a while, but in the larger picture it was full of life lessons on prosperity, abundance and stuff. It felt like a cruel joke at first: this is my year of letting go of stuff, of purging my home and now I have added a whole (almost) two bedroom apartment to the mix. It wasn’t about me of course, only it was.

It was a lesson for me. So many lessons, some still being revealed.

I brought a lot of her things home, but I was also able to off-load a ton of the fabric and craft supplies to a crafters guild she belonged to, I left some furniture behind for her neighbor and donated some clothes and kitchen items to the local charity thrift shop. But I still filled 6 car loads, an SUV and one of those super tall vans.

It overwhelms me, but it was very clear to me that I wanted to take my time with what I culled. And I’m glad that I am. There’s not much of monetary value, but a lot of memories and clues to the woman that was my mother.

I was completely prepared after this “year-long purging project” to chuck all my personal things and never look back. That could still happen, but as I paw through the personal effects of a life that spanned 75 years, and a handful of states from coast to coast, I’m starting to recognize value in things.

Not all things. I am not changing my tune completely.

But finding the book my mother read to me as a child stirred the sweetest of memories. All the bad artwork my brother and I created as children was saved, as were a tiny outfit or two, a blanket, locks of hair.

I uncovered a poem my grandmother wrote and some of her artwork. Tucked in a folder I found an autobiography my mother had written for admittance to ministerial school that revealed a few things I did not know. And a mountain of cards and letters from my mother’s friends showed her to be much loved.

While it’s true the memories do not live in these things, they do serve as a touchstone that creates a picture of the person who elected to hold onto them. These things convey what was important to her, what mattered. It’s a comfort.

I have already released many items. I just needed to touch them, to take my time with them, learn something from them, investigate. But now, they have served their purpose. I am slower in giving up photos and items she made and maybe I’ll always hold onto them. I have set aside a few items I know she particularly loved. But I have also been able to gift specific books and items to my friends who are a perfect match.

I have let go of the self-judgment that would have forced me to toss them before I was ready. My mission for my own home. Instead I am learning the value of a few items to bring comfort.

My mission for my home, even with her stuff in it, is still the same. I am going to go through everything and release that which does not serve me or bring me happiness. This was never about living in an empty home, but about lightening up, I just have more stuff to go through now.

It’s a process, a journey, and like all journey’s it’s made much sweeter by taking time and moving mindfully.

 

 

 

 

16 Tiny Buddhas

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I avoided my room like the plague when I was following the Japanese Art of Tidying protocal to declutter last year. It’s her fault, really, Marie Kondo’s. She recommended waiting until everything else was sorted and purged before beginning on sentimental items. I took that to mean craft supplies as well.

So I waited. And waited. Until this year.

My approach to this cataloging, decluttering, organizing task has me going room to room. I do like how Ms. Kondo had me group items last year and if it hadn’t been for that I would probably be in a heap at the back of my closet, murmuring, trying to rock myself back to reality.

I started on my room yesterday. When I say ‘my room’ I am referring to that space that is sometimes a jewelry studio, or a library, or an office, or most recently, a hole full of flat surfaces on which to put things to go through at a later date.

This is that later date.

I dreaded it. Knowing that there was so much stuff in there. So many little tiny things to go through and count. Craft stuff, jewelry making supplies, 2 filing cabinets, a large bookcase full of books and an altar on top hosting a meeting of the tiniest Buddhas and Hindu deities along with shells, crystals, candles and rocks. Always rocks.

But it has been liberating, as I think I knew it would be.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to count, how to count. Do I count every paperclip or just the container holding them? What about paper for the printer? Why count each piece? I decided, for now anyway, to count loose things. Pens, pencils, pads of paper, staplers, that sort of thing. I counted the containers that held pencils and binder clips and every empty file folder. I counted the furniture and artwork and the lamps. When I got to the bookcase I counted everything, down to the last tiny shell and wobbly bronze Ganesh the size of my pinky fingernail.

Altar items:

3 Elephants
6 Ganesh
16 Buddha
5 crystals
25 rocks – I really need to look into the rock obsession
1 rabbit – born in the year of
2 frogs
1 sealed container of Ganges water
1 Quan Yin
4 packages of flower petals – mostly from temples in India
1 dog
2 old Japanese guys – I’m pretty sure there’s a more eloquent term for these wise men
4 cards
2 oil difussers
1 owl – from Slovenia who always makes me smile. Get it? Who?
2 nuts – from a recent trip up north
2 fabric printing block – from India
2 Durgas – she’s my girl
4 shells
2 coral
3 feathers
1 Om tile
1 Ganesh tile
1 prayer for forgiveness
1 snake figurine
1 good fortune cat
1 angel
2 mala bead strands
1 peacock feather fan
1 framed Radha Krishna – painted by my yoga teacher
2 Balinese marriage dolls
1 strand of lampwork beads  – that I made in a class, rudimentary but pretty colors.

In all 101 items on top of the bookcase along with a lamp. Four equal sized shelves beneath it containing 120 books and myriad other trinkets and mementos. But I got to touch every one and consider its purpose, conjure its meaning and decide if it was necessary.

So often we set things where we want them then walk away. We may dust them or around them, but that can be a mindless chore – something to get through – and we don’t fully appreciate those things we chose to bring into our homes. Some of us don’t even dust our own things, some of us don’t even dust. Not naming any names.

While I was counting and cataloging I made some initial decisions and purges. I dumped quite a few magazines in the recycle bin, along with some papers I had been holding onto until I uncovered their importance. There was none. I filed papers that had been lingering in my in box that I had to rifle through on more than one occasion to look for something, which had it been filed in the proper place would have saved me lots of time. That’s part of the end game here – time. I filled a box with items to go to others and added to bags sitting in the garage intended for Good Will or some other thrift store.

I also made note of further culling that needed to take place: files that needed thinning, books that could be appreciated by others now that I’ve absorbed what I could from them. I made some decisions about making jewelry and crafts that surprised me and glanced at the boxes and envelopes of family photos – dating back to the 1800s – I have yet to further organize and scan.

This room has been so many things, so many colors and sometimes a complete design and organizational conundrum. I think I may have made some decisions about that too.

I will tackle the rest over the weekend. It will be completed, the first round of purging and cataloging. That will feel like an accomplishment.

Letting go of what I don’t need so someone who does need it can have it feels noble and sometimes scary. What if I need that someday?

Like a coloring book. Purged 11 of those. Still have 9. I think I’ll be okay.