My blog has frequently shared ideas on how to downsize and declutter. It specifically has focused on recommendations on how to get rid of the inherited possessions left behind and no longer wanted by family members. After seeing the trailer for My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes I thought I would discuss ways to preserve the legacy (or secret legacy) your loved ones may have left behind.
Although the typical mindset is to just get rid of everything when an elder passes, perhaps this is an opportune time to treasure hunt for the few gems amongst the junk. Soon after both my parents passed away (over the past 5 years) in Florida, my brother and I had to make many decisions. It was nearly impossible to hold onto everything they had collected over their combined 160 years. After months of cleaning out their condo, there were several relics that I could not bring myself to sell. (see my prior blog about Death Cleaning.) My Dad has a huge antiquities collection. I sorted through and kept the best of each item which I now display in my home. Although I am quite proud of this collection, its the little things that I kept and brought up North that help me preserve their memories. One such item is a wooden rolling pin. I believe I took my grandmother's years ago when she passed and now I have my mom's too. Looking at these bring back memories of the love of my grandmother's baking and the scent of her apple pie. (the best ever)
When I first lost my parents I was quite distraught. I found writing a log of special memories was a great way to remember them both. To this day everytime I see something that reminds me of them I like to reflect on how they would react and write it down. I now periodically look back on this word document I have saved and still add to occassionly. There are now companies that can help you scrapbook or do a video to commemorate a family legacy in a more formal manor but I chose a simple microsoft word doc.
My parents had a love for the arts. I inherited their season tickets to the NSMT when they relocated to Florida and my family kept it going for several years, always thinking of them. Whenever I see a movie or play I still ask myself how they would have liked it. Their memories have carried onto many of my personal interests as well as areas I have become engaged both civically and socially.
For the material things that we end up inheriting one must ask which items carry the most significance. I would recommend figuring out the items worth holding onto and perhaps donating the rest to a place that will also honor their memory. For example, my Dad had over 4 boxes of Holocaust books which I donated to the St. Petersberg Florida Holocaust Museum.
Of course the greatest way to preserve someone's memory is to share stories and the history of a loved one with the future generations of your family. Keeping a few small tokens you can talk about may be a good start. During family gatherings you may be able to share a story about why these items have been in the family. Family photos and old movies are also a way to visually share a history. I just coincidentally heard an advertisement for LegacyBox.com. This is a company that lets your digitalize old photos, film, videos, slides etc into a watchable archived format.
It may be adventurous to go through an old black book (most of our parents kept their own version with written down phone numbers of their social contacts). I went through my moms and reached out to older relatives to let them know she passed and have since tried to meet and keep in touch. . I have been trying to piece together family trees and meet relatives on both sides who I may not normally interact with. It has been rewarding for me to get to better know some of my second and third cousins, a few I have met since my parents both passed.
There is a great blog called Family Search that you can look at for a starting point on how to start learning more about your family legacy. The world is a small place and many of us have extended family we have never met. Before you begin to clean or declutter, keep in mind the items that may hold clues to your own history and could never be replaced. Set these aside as perhaps they will be useful tools in your family search efforts. These may become a part of the legacy you may be able to share with future generations. Maybe one day when your decendants find old family movies instead of their "Dead Dad's Porno Tapes" they can then share their heritage with their children. Perhaps this is the greatest way to memorialize the legacy of one's family.
Wendy is a realtor with Coldwell Banker Needham. She specializes in working with babyboomers and their loved ones to provide advice and guidance as they prepare for their next transitions. For more tips she can be visited at WendyBCB or on facebook @wendybcb.