Moms of the world,
You are loved. We cannot imagine a day when we won’t have you on the other side of the phone to celebrate the wins and commiserate on the hard days. Who will share our joy at our children’s successes like you? We can’t even handle the thought of holidays without your recipes and joyful presence. You have spent the majority of your life making your house a warm and inviting home.
But it’s time to talk about your stuff.
If you haven’t heard of Swedish Death Cleaning, it’s a philosophy of paring down your things in recognition of the fact that you won’t live forever and don’t want to leave your loved ones to try to figure out what to do with your stuff. While we aren’t ready to deal with the thought of not having you in our life, we do want to start a dialogue about how we can best honor you and your story by how we handle your things.
We know you have prized possessions, full of meaning and value. We just don’t know what they are or why they should matter to us after you’re gone. If you want us to love your stuff the way YOU love your stuff, please write down what it is you want us to know about that vase that was a gift from your mom on your wedding day. Let us know which Christmas ornament Dad bought you, even though we would never picture him as the sentimental, ornament-giving type. That serving platter that’s been in the family for generations? We need to know who it came from and I promise as many times as you’ve mentioned it in passing during Thanksgiving dinner, we were thinking about making sure our kids didn’t get gravy on the tablecloth and may not remember. Take the time to write down the stories around the items you care about. Take pictures of them. Put it all together in the safe or a shoebox or email it to the kids so we know what you want us to know.
Or here’s an idea—you could just give us some of those things now. You know that necklace Dad gave you that we used to admire in your jewelry box when we were little? The one you let us wear on a special Sunday to church? You can either wait until you’re gone for us to have it, or you can have the joy of letting us have it now. You can gift it to us and see our delight. We can create memories with it for the next few decades and then pass it along to our own daughter and get the joy of seeing her delight in it, too.
If you aren’t sure what things we have our own sentimental attachment to, you could always ask us. We may feel morbid expressing those things to you unasked, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to talk about it. It could be we’ve always dreamed of carrying on the tradition and hosting Christmas dinner on your special plates, or we’d love to have that original framed photo of you and Dad on your first date. You could have each of your kids write a little list of the things that matter to them and you could file those lists away or go ahead and pass along some of those treasured things now.
You know that after you’re gone, your children will be forced to guess at what you would have wanted us to have or place value on. There may even be conflict over who gets what. Wouldn’t you like to avoid that? What if you could pass along those prized possessions now and then we wouldn’t have to wonder what you intended. We wouldn’t have any reason to have conflict over your things if there weren’t so many things to have conflict over and if your wishes were more explicit.
Mother-in-law, this is even more important for you to consider when it comes to your daughter-in-law. She may not know about those special traditions and your son may not have told her. If you don’t tell her what matters to you and what you’d like her to have, she may not feel comfortable talking to you about that or asserting her desires when it comes to your things. Once you’re gone, it will be too late to pass the stories down along with the items that have so much meaning to you. Allow her to carry on your legacy as you express your acceptance and love of her by including her in your family stories.
The painful truth may be that there are things you have that don’t have value to us, but that we will have to figure out how to deal with after you’re gone. It’s an awkward conversation to have, but could allow us to be sure we’re all on the same page about how to handle the things that are special to you. We need you to give us the freedom to be honest about what things of yours are meaningful to us and what we may not be able to use. Let us know if there’s a place you want us to donate those things or a collector you know would be interested.
If we could choose between having our mother with us or having her things, we would pick you. Every day. All the time. We would love for you to live forever, but we know that’s not an option. So we’d love to help pass on your traditions, stories, and legacy by incorporating your things into our homes. We’d love to have these conversations, even when they’re hard. We want to know what you hope will happen so we aren’t left guessing. We’re happy to help you clean out and pare down now, while we can do it together instead of having to do it without you.
Mom, you can do what you want. We’ll love you and value you and your things no matter how you decide to handle this aspect of your life. Just know that we’re here to help if you’re ready.
Your Daughters and Daughters-in-Law