This post is not about contraception or family planning, but it is about reflecting upon life and its perceived value. We each place value on our own lives and others, including the lives of family members as they age. Anyone at a crossroads in life facing the prospect of estate planning knows how stressful it can be. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting to face your legacy and the perceived value of your life. Maybe you’ve been a collector or have family heirlooms that have been passed down to you. The process of legacy planning can trigger loads of personal and family distress. I encourage you and my clients to take on the task of legacy and estate planning a little at a time. The sooner, the better.
It’s never too early to consider personal and family legacy planning. Whether the time to downsize comes when family members are alive or after a death, please start talking about this subject.
I hate to bring it up because it’s culturally taboo, but the fact is that we will all die.
What you will leave behind, you’ve probably grown attached to, or you wouldn’t have kept it around. But honestly, we often keep things for sentimental, practical reasons or because it’s a habit to have them around. For some people, legacy may include a lot of physical stuff; for others, that isn’t what matters. Either way, if we can start thinking about what is important for us to leave behind, it makes the process less overwhelming.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is an excellent resource for anyone downsizing. It’s become a popular book, partially because of its darkly humorous title but mainly because there is currently a large generation of people in the process of downsizing (baby boomers). The author, Margareta Magnusson, recently published a new book, The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly: Life Wisdom from Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You, which I haven’t read yet. This book addresses more about the aging process from the author’s perspective. Since I’m aging (and we all are), I am looking forward to her perspective (both culturally and experientially).
One of the big challenges facing us when legacy planning is what to do with our stuff.
We can’t take our stuff with us…what we leave behind is part of our legacy.
Have you ever thought about what your legacy is? What have you enjoyed or done throughout your life that others might remember of you? This might be something you want to sit down and take notes on. Quickly journaling or taking a mental inventory of your life journey might include memorable moments, special people, collections and objects, and more. Here are some questions that will help you consider not just the stuff but what’s been most valuable to you over your lifetime.
Did you write, keep scrapbooks or take photos?
Do you collect something special (I collect things with a “Bee theme” but try not to overdo it)?
Are you a maker or artist (quilt, knit, or paint)?
Have you been a Gardener or Cook with records of these hobbies?
Were you recognized for significant accomplishments in your career?
Did you invent something?
Were you an avid reader?
You might ask yourself and your family members some of these questions before it comes time to decide what to keep or get rid of. It may not be an easy conversation. Not talking about it could cause more pain in the long run. Keep it lighthearted and take it a little bit at a time.
Honor your loved one’s legacy by talking with your family members about what they are passionate about and how they want to be remembered.
Record your family stories to share with future generations. These conversations will help with future decision-making.
We all want our loved ones to remember us, and for some people, things are beautiful tributes. Keeping a handful of meaningful items can help you remember and honor their legacy.
Of course, there will be family and friends who will choose to honor and remember their loved ones without the stuff! Maybe they have vivid or photographic memories of events and connect to that person through other means (spiritual, oral, or written history). Sharing your story (via a letter, video, voice recording, or conversation) may be enough!
If your loved ones don’t want your things, don’t feel hurt!
Locate groups or organizations with similar interests where you can donate part of your estate. Be prepared to release your attachment to the outcome. Your family and some organizations will not want everything you’re leaving behind. That’s not a reflection of how they feel about you or the value of your life.
Others cannot fully understand the perceived value of your life; it’s your unique human experience, after all! How you communicate your life experiences is inherent in what you leave behind through the people you touch, the lessons you’ve shared, your human connections, and your creations. Coming to peace with your legacy is an inside job. Your inner peace can help you adjust your expectations about how others will pay tribute to your life.