My mother passed away about 3 years ago now, and I’m still spending time working through all of her records and memorabilia. First, let me help you understand the enormity of the situation. My mother was a prolific record-keeper! She kept every single bill, receipt, note, and piece of paper she received in the mail for the last 40 years. She was not a hoarder. She organized it all in boxes and file cabinets, but due to the sheer volume of material, we had to rent a storage unit, and it is still not empty 3 years later! The only saving grace of this process is that we have done it in stages.
Where to Start
The first stage happened when we moved my mother out of her home and into an assisted living facility. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, we cleaned out her house in one weekend to prepare it for sale. Here is how we organized that process. We made three big piles in the garage. #1. What we kids wanted to keep. #2. Those things we could give to Goodwill. #3. Things that needed to go into a storage unit for later sorting. We also had a large dumpster in the driveway for the things that needed to go. The remaining furniture was sold to a local company that handles that sort of thing. It was a long tough day, but all three of us kids were committed to making all the decisions on the spot.
Piece by Piece
After that initial work, we agreed that at each family gathering we would work through a few boxes of memorabilia. In addition, we each had our own separate projects. While my brother was busy with being executor of the estate, I started working through the thousands of pictures and slides (remember those?). The whole idea was to save the most precious pictures of our family history. We eventually converted those slides and photos into digital photos (thanks Costco) and made printed photobooks for each child (thanks Shutterfly). We even took pictures of awards and other memorabilia so we could remember it, but not have to keep it.
The Gift of Memories
From a sentimental view, doing this work was meaningful and therapeutic. Sorting all my parents’ pictures was truly a gift. It is a mysterious and amazing thing to see the arc of your parents’ lives displayed in pictures. One night while I was doing this, I had ‘a moment.’ Here were pictures of my grandparents raising my parents… Then pictures of my parents raising me… Then pictures of me raising my kids... 4 generations, all in one room, one moment. My parents had their lives, and now they are done with them, and it is good. I looked over at my wife with a tear in my eye and said, “We are having our life right now dear, and some day, we will be done with ours too. And that will be good too.” We aren’t directly confronted with our own mortality very often, but when we are, it leads us to something meaningful.
Reflecting on it all
Now that I am wrapping up my mother’s things, my wife and I have been sorting through our old memorabilia and pictures to keep it slimmed down. I am quicker to shred last year’s bills and paperwork. I am ruthless in my sorting. In the end, any work we can do now is really a gift for our kids someday. Through this experience, I’ve also learned the nature of memorabilia is changing through the generations. Most of my parent’s items were on paper, and my wife and I are choosing to pass along most of our memorabilia in a mix between paper and digital. No doubt that the future is digital, so I am excited to see what technologies emerge to keep the family stories alive.
At Compass Financial Services, our advisors have helped many clients over the years work through both financial planning and estate planning. When questions pop up about your parents’ old life insurance policy nobody knew about, or you need help investigating legal paperwork that you come across, please give us a call or contact us. Our passion here at Compass is to walk the path of life with our Clients, Family, and Friends. Thank you for inviting us along. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes.
“We’ve had good times and tough times, but never bad times.” -Steve Jobs
Guy Leman, CFP® & Compass Owner
Compass Financial Services and LPL Financial do not provide legal advice or services. Please consult your legal advisor regarding your specific situation.