Carefully Curating My Legacy

I’m 65 now and that’s a lot of years! I have certainly lived a very full and amazing life, and I’m grateful for all of it. I’m not ready to die yet, but no one ever is…

That’s the curious thing about human beings – we think we want to stay in this world forever. We live as if the earths’ resources are unlimited, and we collect stuff as if we need it all to be happy. We are ambitious to have it all, to create the ultimate lifestyle – and then we die.

Now that I have been through the death of my parents, my husband, and my brother, as well as several friends and acquaintances, I’m considering my own mortality. I’ve always had a keen awareness of the afterlife and my ancestors, but I’ve gained a new perspective on the limits of physical life. As I’m cleaning out my parents’ home that holds four generations of stuff, I’m seriously considering the benefits of living minimally.

What do we really need?

I long for the freedom to walk barefoot in the sand without a care in the world. But living minimally is a much bigger idea than that! To me, it’s about appreciating the abundance that exists naturally for everyone. It’s about not overusing or over consuming because we recognise how that mindset negatively impacts the planet and humanity. As I wrestle with all the unwanted things I have to get rid of just to sell my parents house, I know I don’t want to leave that kind of burden for my children or for the planet.

For me, physical things have mostly served a practical purpose. I do appreciate beauty and art, but I have less of a need to collect stuff than others. I prefer to appreciate nature and enjoy luxury without the need to own everything I like. The excessive stuff I’ve collected has mostly been related to creative projects I didn’t have time to finish, or photos and special mementos from past experiences. But now I’m reassessing all of that along with the things that my parents and grandparents left behind. 

My parents and grandparents collected things like china, crystal, silver and silver-plate, art, decorative objects and furnishings. All the stuff you find in antique shops. I don’t really feel the need for a house full of antiques and collectables. I’m happy with a simple uncluttered space and less attachments. What was valuable to past generations doesn’t hold the same value today, so why keep it in a closet? Even the jewelry they left behind is not worth as much as they paid for it!

And old photos… don’t get me started… I’m so grateful we can store photos in a cloud now!

A different view of ownership

I enjoy museums, art galleries and shows, but I don’t buy a lot of art. I love to stay in fancy hotels more than I like to decorate my own home. I would totally enjoy visiting many beautiful gardens far more than owning and working in my own garden. A few potted plants on my balcony are enough to care for. I realize that for me to enjoy a lot of art, luxurous hotels and beautiful gardens, someone has to own and care for those things and allow the public to enjoy it. Some people are better suited for ownership than others, and it’s wonderful that we’re able to create public venues for sharing. 

I am quite happy to live in a fairly simple way from day to day, while enjoying the great outdoors and the people I love, as well as the people I encounter along the way. I love animals, but I no longer want to own one because they would limit my freedom to travel. It’s quite liberating to not own a lot of things that take time and money and energy to care for.

In the past I wanted a house, mostly because I wanted my children to have space and feel secure. After my children were on their own, I rented rooms out in my house because we needed the extra income. When I no longer needed the house I sold it. To me, only having what I need is important because it’s far less stressful than having to manage all the things I’m not using. 

Now I’ve inherited a house that’s far bigger than I need, and way too expensive to look after. It would have been nice when our kids were young maybe, but even then it would have been a lot of work and way too expensive for our income. It’s sad to let go of it because we spent so many family holidays here with my parents. It was like our vacation home, Grammy & Gramps house. It was always cozy and full of love, so those memories make it hard to put the house up for sale. But our hearts have plenty of space to keep the memories and love even though our lives don’t have room for all the physical things. 

What kind of legacy has lasting value?

So that’s what I’ve been preoccupied with these past six months, dealing with wonderful family memories and lots of stuff we can’t use, don’t need, or don’t want. I’ve had more than 10 yard sales so far. I’ve donated more than I’ve sold, and I’ve thrown away tons (literally, I’ve hired dumpsters and clean out helpers). But I still have a house full of fine furniture and collectables that just aren’t in fashion anymore, or people aren’t even willing to pay 3% of the original cost.

I’m not ungrateful, I’m just overwhelmed with the seemingly endless tasks, demands, financial costs, time and energy costs, and stress this situation has brought to my life. Is owning and leaving behind a lot of physical things worth that? Or, is it possible that we’ve created a tradition of misplacing value on owning pretty things?

Beauty is appealing and comforting, so sometimes it’s tempting to want to keep more than I need. But then I ask myself if it’s worth storing it somewhere, and the answer is usually no. My children want to keep things for both sentimental and practical reasons, but they don’t have space or the lifestyle for what they want. Renting a storage unit is just money out the window when there’s no end in sight.

Everyone knows the saying, “You can’t take it with you.” But in addition to that I would add, “Be careful about what you leave behind because your children may not want it.” You might even overwhelm or burden your children with what you leave behind. Everything changes – time, money, politics, fashion, attitudes, values, lifestyles, needs – and we can’t live in the past. But we can live more wisely in the present by not accumulating more than we need. And maybe by sharing more of what we don’t need, we might find that we’re happier with less. We might realize that happiness doesn’t come from owning, collecting, building, buying, selling or living in luxury; it comes from caring for each other. 

I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to experience beauty, comfort and wealth as well as hardship, discomfort and poverty. I’ve seen how money and power can do both good and evil, so it’s not the whole answer to life’s problems. I’ve lived an adventurous and curious life, always asking questions and seeking to contribute to a better world for all. These physical things that my parents and grandparents have left behind are a reminder that we only live for a time, and our time will be different from our children’s time. So, I’m thinking seriously about what kind of legacy I want to leave, not just for my children but for the planet and humanity as well.

The words that come to mind are clean, tidy, uncluttered, meaningful, and minimal.

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