When my mother had a heart attack, she was taken to the hospital. She did not make it back. It was left to my sister and me to clean out her apartment.
During our childhood, mom was a figure of rigid neatness and cleanliness. Saturdays were always clean up days; we spent hours thoroughly dusting, sweeping, and, cleaning the house.
As adults, my sister and I each lived clear across the country. Mom visited us frequently. We still came back to visit at her home, but we hadn't been there for years at the time of her death.
That was why the state of her apartment was a shock to us. We saw closets packed with clothing and shoes that hadn't been worn in decades. Every surface was covered with knickknacks and mementos. Did my mother ever look at this clutter and pick something up to let it evoke memories? She loved to travel and did so often, filling many, many scrapbooks with pictures of what she had seen. The people shown in the scrapbooks were strangers to us, her photos of sites like the Great Wall of China didn't interest us. She left no indication of anyone who might have liked to receive these scrapbooks.
My mother's apartment building had an incinerator. After we went through the albums and selected pictures we wanted to keep, the rest went down the incinerator. Piles of items that were decades old were taken by hired handymen to garbage bins at street level. Furniture and still-good items were donated to mom's friends or the Salvation Army. My sister and I both lived out of state and far away. We had jobs and family to return to; there was no time to sell anything. That entire time is still a nightmare.
I returned home determined I would not leave the burden of clearing out my worldly goods to others. If you are 50 or 60 years of age, you may want to start a 'Death Cleanup' for yourself_it will benefit you while you're still alive. Here are tips on how to do it:
Start with the oldest clutter first. When was the last time you cleared out junk drawers in various rooms? Which kitchen tools do you no longer use? Toss or donate them. Are there boxes of stuff in the garage or basement or spare room that have gone unopened for many years? Can you even remember what's in them? If a box has been around for more than four years, you'll probably never miss the stuff inside it. Do a quick look-through for stuff which needs to be shredded and dispose of the rest.
You don't need ten-year-old bank statements. Shred and toss them. The same with collections of old medical bills or other unimportant papers. Donate stacks of paperback books you likely will never read again, as well as sports equipment you probably won't use again. Don't keep clothing or shoes you haven't worn in years, let someone else enjoy them.
For items of sentimental value, like photo albums or various certificates, make a list of who you would like them to go to after you're gone. Put that list with your will.
Getting rid of unwanted items you've kept only out of habit will lighten up the space you live in. In addition, scientific research shows that decluttering your home may lessen or even end depression. Plan to work on your 'Death Cleanup' half an hour a day or every other day. Within a surprisingly short time, you'll have more space and more peace of mind. Best of all, you make it easy for those who have to clean up afterward.
Wina Sturgeon is an active 55+ based in Salt Lake City, who offers news on the science of anti-aging and staying youthful at: adventuresportsweekly.com. She skates, bikes and lifts weights to stay in shape.
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