PARENTS PLEASE LIGHTEN UP!
Written by Aziza founder, Laila Ghattas
This is a plea to all you aging parents out there, you empty nesters who are still active and lively, and perhaps even enjoying grandchildren and retirement.
Please get rid of your clutter now. Please.
Sporadically over a year, and very intensely over a final few months the contents of my childhood home have been sifted through, sorted, thrown out, packed and filed.
Hair has been proverbially pulled, tears shed, and expletives roared.
Many trucks have arrived to take away garbage, unwanted stuff, and countless broken things that were kept just in case they might one day become needed as back up or be fixed.
Charities have pulled up to the driveway time and again as more and more STUFF made its way into our makeshift distribution warehouse- the garage: Electronics, sports gear, furniture, house wares, linens, books, clothing, coats, nick knacks, decor, and endless streams of miscellaneous items that nearly drove me over the edge.
My parents were not hoarders. They simply lived a full and busy life. 43 years under one roof with three children and full time jobs made for little time to periodically sift through the household for outdated accumulations.
With retirement my mother spread her wings wider and planned one adventure after another for their newly found and hard earned liberty of time. My dad became the lucky recipient of her passion for beautiful places around the world.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer 12 years later there was even less initiative to spend remaining time cleaning out the stuff that would steal her precious opportunities to have fun and frolic for the last remaining summers and winters of her life.
Priorities are quickly redefined in the face of cancer.
Three years since her passing and with my dad’s readiness to downsize, it was time to sell their large 4 bedroom house.
With that decision came the enormous and frankly incalculable task of emptying a well loved house after a well lived family life:
Emptying of all the closets, all the bookshelves, all the drawers, all the filing cabinets, all the bins, all the hiding places, every surfaces, every wall, every basement nook and cranny, every corner of the garage. All and every bit of it.
Some things are easy to designate as charitable or trash, some things are frustratingly hard to find the right box for. Ruthlessness and sentimentality at odds over many familiar household articles.
Then there are the things rediscovered that unexpectedly trigger a wormhole back to a memory that reaches right into the heart and squeezes hard. This is not just a little inconveniently distracting. Grief renewed claims its uninvited moment.
Special bins began to fill with treasures, photos and important papers with the intention of sorting through in future when there will be more time, less stress, when we will enjoy the reminiscing.
Mostly we were on an intense schedule- days into months, weekends, evenings after work- a punishing timetable demanded and dictated by external circumstances and the real estate market cycle.
We had the multi faceted complication of renovating simultaneously as we needed to empty the house, which is not unusual in long term family dwellings. That level of multitasking turns into an involuntary full time job with serious financial implications until it’s done. All done.
Emotions and pressures constantly provoke explosive misunderstanding, brewing resentment and overwhelming stress between siblings, parents and friends trying to help.
From this experience I now firmly believe it takes very strong and mature relationships to endure this traumatic journey and successfully come out intact on the other side.
I now understand that deep and irreparable fissures can rupture families at times of loss, transition and change if individuals haven't nurtured strong bonds, generosity of spirit and insight to bind and pull them through.
Better to do this job in advance, leisurely, a day here, a weekend there, focusing on one bookshelf or closet at a time- one garbage bag or charity box at a time.
Please do this before you have to. Before you need to. Before it becomes your children’s problem to face while mourning a loss not yet on the horizon.
The immeasurable benefits of decluttering include living with less now, with lightness, with true freedom of motion that comes from an absence of stuff, the release of outmoded things from a life outgrown. Moving into retirement lightly and freely.
It is truly a bittersweet accomplishment to experience the fruits of labours of love for our family home, now sparkling with beautiful expansive space and lightness at this time of leaving it forever, of selling it to a new family.
I wish my mother and father could have lived like this. Alas, that is my regret. And yet I would not have wished one less delightful ski trip to the Dolomites during my mother's last winters in life.
Let your children's responsibility be simply to have the photos and family treasures to revisit, sort and divide when it’s time to shift out of your home. Let them have room and space to reminisce with you now as you lighten your load. Or more importantly, to only have that to go through afterwards, when you’ve moved on in spirit.
Start to take care of your business affairs, your papers, your stuff, your keepsakes.
It’s a profound gift of love that you give to yourself and each member of your family. An intangible yet profound inheritance of appropriate space and time to grieve, let go, and move on.
Please begin now. Right now.
There’s no down side to down sizing your stuff.
Written by Laila Ghattas