Collecting Memories, not Things

I just returned from a wonderful weekend away. My good friend K’s mom passed away recently after a hard-fought battle against cancer. Another friend, A, and I flew down to Florida to help K clean out her mom’s house and prepare for it to be sold. Now you are likely re-reading my first sentence and wondering what was so “wonderful” about that weekend.

It’s emotional to “clean out” someone’s life and decide what is worth keeping, or not. It’s heart-wrenching to realize that boxes of photos that were someone else’s memories don’t necessarily mean as much to those left behind. It’s difficult to make a determination in a matter of minutes about whether an item is worth donating to the thrift shop when you know the decision to purchase that item was well-thought out back in it’s day.

Thankfully, K’s mom was neat and organized and her house reflected that same semblance of order. There was no clutter. There weren’t stacks of things everywhere, but nonetheless, there was still a tremendous amount of stuff to go through. Every item in each bedroom closet, bathroom cabinet, linen closet, curio cabinet, dining room hutch, and kitchen drawer sat waiting to be reviewed … waiting for it’s future to be decided. Keep. Donate. Toss.

Our friend K handled this like the champ she is. I learned so much from watching her go through this. I am undoubtedly more prepared for the day when I inevitably find myself having to do the same thing after my mom passes away. K showed emotion, and love, and connection and laughter. Lots of laughter! And her mom would have loved that.

I left with several realizations that I wanted to share with you.

Collections: So many of us love to collect things, and it’s fun as you seek, find, and gather, but remember, what you collect is likely only a turn-on to you (unless it’s a collection of very valuable things, like old gold coins, which can ultimately be sold). Collecting chocolate molds was fun and games for years until someone had to figure out what to do with 92 of them. I realized that my collection of elephants serves no meaning. I’ve had fun buying them on various trips, but it’s really the trips that have been so memorable - not having another wood-carved elephant sitting on a display shelf. It’s time to review which ones are meaningful and which ones are simply taking up space.

Obsessions: Different than collections, obsessions are things that we end up having more than an average amount of for some unknown reason. For K’s mom, there appeared to have been an obsession with placemats. I think we stopped counting when we got to 32 sets (a set being 4-8 placemats each). We had a great time laughing and pondering what our kids will name as our obsessions. In full disclosure, I realized that if my kids were to clean out my bedroom right now, they would find about 19 pairs of flannel and fleece pajama bottoms. I’m going to do something about that this weekend. I promise to pare it down to no more than 7 (at least, I will try to).

Valuables: There are items that have a real financial value, and items that have an emotional value. Sometimes, it can be tough to determine what falls into each category. No wonder so many shows on HGTV feature people discovering great finds at thrift shops that are worth lots of money. The man at the thrift shop literally started rolling his eyes at us when we pulled up with yet another truckload of items to be donated, and the odds are in some treasure-seeker’s favor that we donated at least one valuable piece of blue and white willow pottery, depression-era glass or sterling silver. It’s sitting in that thrift shop just waiting to be found. I realized that the things I own that may not look like much, but that do carry some financial value, need to be itemized and noted for those who eventually clean out my house. It will make things so much easier for them.

Friendships: The most important take-away from the weekend was that friendship ranks at the top of the “value” list. True friendships are absolutely priceless. Life is tough. We all endure our fair share of trials and tribulations. Having deep relationships and people by your side to cry with you and celebrate with you (and even to clean out with you and move on with you) is really what is most valuable in life. K’s mom was a role model for how to be a good friend to others as was evident by how many people we ran into who spoke so lovingly about her (neighbors, the postal carrier, people at the grocery store…). I realized, yet again, the importance of making time for and truly investing in friendships.

So, you see, it really was a wonderful weekend. We laughed and cried together. We supported each other. We contemplated our own mortality. We talked about our moms, and we talked about what we are like as moms ourselves. I think K’s mom was there with us in spirit and we hope she was laughing and smiling with us, even when we were making fun of some of her stuff (seriously, who needs 53 cloth napkins, 24 sets of sheets, and 8 sets of measuring cups?). The three of us friends made more memories together, and, in the end, collecting memories means so much more than collecting things.

Things go away. Memories last forever.
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