When my grandmother passed away unexpectedly, the lamp she’d promised would one day be mine was given to a favorite niece. According to my grandmother, I’d fallen in love with the lamp at four years old when we’d found it out shopping. I grew up admiring the lamp and never doubting it would one day be mine.
Whenever I commented on something I liked of hers, she’d jokingly say “I’ll put your name on the bottom of it.” I wish she had because when she died, I did not get the lamp. As a mom for the first time only three months before, this was now more significant because I wanted to create memories and pass down belongings.
After my grandmother's sudden death, family traveled for her funeral and to coordinate the logistics of clearing out her home.
During a time we should have been comforting one another and grieving, we were quibbling over her belongings and making “disposal” and logistical arrangements for a lifetime of belongings.
A couple of years later, my aunt passed away and my four cousins fought so much, police had to be called in.
While speaking to groups about the downsizing process, it’s not uncommon to hear from someone in the crowd they’ll just leave it for their kids to deal with. Here is why this is NOT a good solution and what you can do to avoid World War III in your own family.
Now the solutions:
At the very least, write down the items of value/sentiment and make sure your wishes are known and recorded. A great program you can use is www.FairSplit.com
Try a version of Swedish Death Cleaning which is really just proactive purging. To make it more meaningful, make it an event. Invite family members to visit and provide all the packing supplies they will need to take away what they’d like to have . Share stories about sentimental items and times in your life you want them to know about you. Photograph items that are not wanted. Arrange for the sale and donations of things you are no longer using and are not wanted. Don’t take it personally if they don’t want most of your “treasures”. I loved my grandmother but when I was offered her china, I didn’t want her because I wasn’t even using my own. Remember, mindsets and lifestyles have changed and younger generations are influenced by social media and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). They prefer to spend money on experiences rather than things.
For items that are private, mark a special box asking family members to “Discard Upon Death”. Recognize that some may go against your wishes. In that case, I recommend putting a bottle of tequila in there with a funny note about the laughs being on you ;).
For me not getting the lamp felt like a betrayal of what I knew my grandmother would have wanted. I was also disappointed that my grandmother may have shared her wishes with me but hadn’t thought to let others know.
I am happy to say the lamp now rests on my nightstand. I was very lucky my cousin recognized its significance and gave it to me. The story is one I now share when I speak to groups about downsizing.
Our society in general doesn't like to talk about the fact that we are all going to die one day. If we aren't talking about our deaths, we aren't talking about what we want to happen to our belongings when we pass. This denial, is doing a disservice to our loved ones.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’d like a little help downsizing/rightsizing or you are faced with what to do after a loved one’s death, Silver Linings Transitions and other senior move management companies can help.
Jami Shapiro is President of Silver Linings Transitions. As a cancer survivor, she embraces aging and the challenges it presents.