The Real Legacy You’ve Left Your Children Part II

Written by Karen Jessee. Posted in Organizing.

The Real Legacy You’ve Left Your Children Part IIEllen

Ellen had taken seriously my recommendation for a clean out company. Three bedrooms in her mother's house were strewn with garbage and trash as was the front porch which had become the designated dumping ground. Ellen didn't even want to discuss the basement.

I asked her to think about how many days and weeks, of tedious sorting, how many garbage bags; how many dumpsters, how many trips either up stairs or down stairs this cleaning out could take should she try this herself. I asked her to think about the possibility of becoming so weary that accidents...tripping, falling, failing to see a red light or stop sign... would become real and devastating. We were meeting a deadline. I gave her my resources and she called for help.

The clean out company hauled away all the garbage and trash from the entire house in one day, leaving Ellen with the clarity to claim what she loved and to hold a garage sale on a weekend. Down the line, a second clean out, a charity truck, a good cleaning crew, a lawyer, and a good realtor would end the drama.

Ellen heartily agreed that this was the best money she could have spent given the situation. She had to get that house on the market to begin to pay for her mother's nursing home. With so much more to pack and move, with two daughters to get off to boarding school, and with a new job waiting, Ellen didn't have the time for minutiae and she couldn't afford to get hurt.

My second suggestion for Ellen was this: for the next few days, she might concentrate on the tasks at hand in her own home and her own life, which where overwhelming enough, and stop the 

daily driving to Maryland to visit the nursing home. Her mother 
was warm, fed and under great medical care. No one was taking 
care of Ellen or her family. Things might go more smoothly if she could spend at least a few days organizing and packing her own life and less time on the road traveling to another state. 

Ellen, who was wearing herself out with trips to the facility, welcomed the compassionate dose of reality. In the first hour of one of our sessions together, she had burned things, lost things, and forgotten things: the toll of stress.
Ellen's epiphany came while we were in a sea of bubble wrap, boxes, labels and tape racing against time and fatigue. The voice was loud; the message was crisp and precise.

"That's it. I swear that's it. I'm never living again with any more than I need. I don't need to be a slave to things; I will never live with so much crap that I can't find what I'm looking for. I know what's important now...I got this. I'm going to wear what I have, use what I have, and buy what I need. I'm going to spend my money and my time having great experiences. I'm going to do things; not collect things. I am not wasting my money and accumulating stuff that takes up my breathing space. As God is my witness I am not going to become my mother."
The challenges had been overwhelming, packing was arduous, and when I last saw Ellen, she had already settled on her apartment, secured a nursing home, and even found a vet in California. Her daughters were in boarding school. She had yet to get her mother on the plane and across country. We're still in touch. Ellen is flying back. There is more work to do.


When I first entered Ethan's home, the first thing I noticed was the incredible work someone had done to renovate this tiny 1960s home and the remarkable colors that were on the walls. This renovation, beyond anything I had seen before, had been Ethan's own craftsmanship and an outstanding labor of love.

Sadly, the home was now filled with boxes piled high and extraneous furniture; things that had come from his parents' home when they had passed. Everything from one house had found its way into another, and Ethan was conflicted about his own things, his parents' things and the emotional enormity of the job. The basement was a story unto itself.

We talked about the beauty of the house along with his frustration of not being able to see anything or sit anywhere since so much of his parents' things had crossed his threshold. But we also needed to work through the belief that divesting himself of these things was letting go of his love for his parents. I gently led Ethan to see that many of these items could be loved by someone else, and once gone, he could begin to love his own home again.
While we spent many hours in dialogue and coaching, sorting and hauling away, we also spent time arranging and staging found treasures. In our last session, we finished hanging 40 pieces of art work; all had been painted by his father, an artist, and were a stunning addition. Suddenly eyes went up to the beauty of the home and the art and no longer rested upon any clutter on the floor. The transformation was remarkable.

With his home ready for its close up in any glossy magazine, Ethan broached the subject of his basement, a space in such desperate need of help that we had shoved it to the bottom of the list.

Suddenly the air was filled with caution. Ethan's expression and hesitation betrayed the hope that I would give him the answer he wanted to hear.

Here's what I knew: Ethan was making plans to begin his trek across the Appalachian Trail. He was going to start out in Georgia in March, work his way north, and live six months away from home. It would take some time to prepare for such a journey, and he was starting now.

Any man who is going to take on such a challenge doesn't need to concern himself with the basement. Ethan is going to come home from that trip a different man with great stories and new eyes. He's already learned the strategies. He's already let go. And after that trip – living with his wits and the weather - he'll know exactly what he needs and what he doesn't. And he knows it wouldn't be fair to expect his children, scattered across other states, to deal with any of it.

Downsizing is never easy; it just isn't. But those who begin with the vow that they will not leave their years of things and stuff for their children to deal with begin with a sense of purpose, duty and love. I hear from those who are in the midst of this journey that they're happier with less; they could have purged even more, but are relieved that this won't be a burden for their children.

Ellen, enjoy your new life. Ethan, enjoy the challenge you've set for yourself and come back to the beauty of your new home.

Your families thank both of you.

Karen Jessee is a professional organizer and founder of Simply Organized. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and the Philadelphia Chapter of Professional Organizers. She encourages people to simplify their lives and works with those who need to downsize and get organized. Karen helps clients make the decisions and create the systems that are best for them. She also teaches the strategies to help clients gain greater clarity, control, productivity and peace. Karen is a public speaker on these topics. Visit her website at:
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