Loving and Leaving the Past
Have you ever had an idea take hold of you and suddenly you had to
follow through on the impulse to take action? Well, that\’s what
happened to me last Fall. I want to share some of my journey with you.
Let me ask you a few questions before we begin:
1. Do you intend to leave all of your worldly possessions to your children?
2. Are you the child who has been left the possessions of a lifetime by your parents?
3. Perhaps you know someone who hasn\’t changed their décor in 20 years? Is that someone you?
If you can relate to any of these scenarios, you are going to understand what happened to me.
I am an only child. By definition that means that all of my parents
hopes and dreams were centered on me. There wasn\’t another sibling who
could have taken the role of ‘the good girl\’ while I became ‘the wild
child.\’ Nope, I was ‘the good girl.\’
Shortly after I graduated from college, my father died. His death was
followed almost immediately by a diagnosis of terminal cancer for my
mom. I chose to spend the last months of my mother\’s life taking care
of her and enjoying her company. One day I walked into the living room
and found my mom dissolved in tears. I think I stopped breathing. I was
so afraid she was in terrible pain. When I asked what was wrong, my
mother\’s answer took me off guard, took my breath away and literally
changed the course of my life.
She told me she was afraid that after her death I would throw all of
her things away. She asked me to promise I would keep ‘everything.\’
Gulp. I did promise. Over time, I kept her collection of antiques,
appreciating them for the objects of incredible beauty they are. I kept
the furniture we had in my childhood home. The newly acquired pieces
went to a charity upon her death. Over the years, I moved ‘that stuff\’
back to New York to my apartment and then across country to California.
The money I spent on movers could have furnished several apartments…I
do however keep my word. Remember: I was raised to be ‘a good girl.\’
Over the years I often lamented that my choice in furniture wasn\’t my
mom\’s. She loved the look of Colonial America while, if left to my own
devices, I would have lived with bold colors and exotic furniture.
Think Morocco, India and China…not exactly Colonial America. This past
fall I suddenly knew deep in my heart that it was time to sell or give
this furniture away. I needed to express my self in my environment.
People should know you the minute they cross your threshold. My true
identity in many ways was hidden.
I decided to enjoy the process of shall we say ‘off loading\’ my
mother\’s things and make this a creative journey. I read magazines and
pulled images that represented a style of decorating I would enjoy
living with. I drew diagrams of my rooms and decided which pieces of
furniture could stay…partly as representatives of a past I cherished
and partly as items that logically enhanced the decorative picture I
I tell my clients that circumstances will move to support them when
they are working for change that is in concert with their highest good.
Much to my surprise things began to happen that helped me. A dear
friend got a divorce and needed furniture. I had her covered! A special
assignment presented itself that allowed me to paint my apartment and
buy some new things. And the management company gave me new carpet and
linoleum. If you come over now for a visit, you will indeed see the
vibrant colors of Morocco!
You may be wondering why I chose to share this story at this time.
Well, it seemed to me to be a story about true love. If you are a
parent who has presumed that everything you own will pass lock, stock
and barrel to a child, you might want to stop and ask yourself…not to
mention your child…if he or she wants what you have!
If you are a child like me who got caught up in a promise made to a
dieing parent, relative or friend, I think it\’s wise to remember that
once we leave this earth whatever happens to our stuff is no longer the
big concern it is while we\’re here in a body. I don\’t advocate treating
anyone\’s things without respect. I do however advocate finding the best
home you can for cherished possessions if you have no place for them.
In The Zen of Organizing, I tell a story about my father\’s brand new
winter coat. I kept it for a year after he died. I had always been
taught to give the clothing of the dead away right after the funeral.
So why did I make an exception? I found my father\’s tissues in the
pockets. He had wiped his tears away as he realized he was going to
die. It took me a year to realize that I was not honoring my father\’s
memory with this choice. Here is what I wrote in “Zen:”
‘My father had given me many beautiful pieces of jewelry. I will always
have some of the furniture he bought for our home. As a human being, I
am his representative in the world: the physical marker he passed this
way. I am sure wherever he was, my father was relieved. Would you want
your used tissues enshrined after your death? If you are faced with
decisions about the clothing and possessions of someone close to you
who has now passed away, ask yourself if your choices bring honor to
In closing, let me say again that dealing with physical possessions is
always difficult. When the items are those of a loved one, another
emotional layer is added to the process. Be gentle with yourself and
know that it\’s OK to make decisions over time. Just be sure you make