I am the Keeper of the Family Keepsakes

I sit on a folding chair in my garage surrounded by the leftovers of several people’s lives. This weekend I am holding a garage sale, where I hope to finally get rid of these things and make a little cash. The wares include 200 vinyl records, four cases of CDs, several piles of books, an electric typewriter, two FAX machines, darkroom equipment, Christmas decorations, wine glasses, mugs, and more. I have a basket of refrigerator magnets and knickknacks to give away. Where did it all come from? Some of it was mine, some my late husband’s, but a lot comes from his mother, father and brother, all deceased. All of the things that weren’t taken in the initial rush after they died have ended up with me.
There’s lots more in the house. I’m not ready to sell it, at least not yet, not my mother’s sheet music, my mother-in-law’s china, my grandmother’s tea cups and her rocking chair, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides and movies, more crocheted afghans than I have beds, and some of my husband’s clothing that I can’t let go. I seem to be the inheritor of everything. I give away or sell as much as I can. I distribute things to other family members, but I am still the keeper, the curator, the guardian of what’s left that is too precious to sell or give away.
I’m sentimental. I admit it. I can attach significance to the most seemingly insignificant things. The adorable little copper cup in which I keep my paper clips was part of my husband’s shot glass collection. I look at it and remember our antique store expeditions, so many happy days. Reminders of Fred are everywhere in this house, blended with my own cluttered collection of keepsakes.
I know people who would toss it all in a dumpster and forget it about it. Every sign of the lost loved one would disappear. I fear that’s what will happen to my own stuff when I die.
I have written a will and allotted the house, car, money and other big things to my stepchildren, my niece and nephew, and a couple favorite charities, but what will happen to the little things like pictures and jewelry? I suppose it will be thrown away or put out in a yard sale like I’m doing this weekend. I’m the end of my branch of the family tree. As a childless woman, why do I bother keeping photos and souvenirs? Who am I saving it for?
I’m saving it for me. Seeing these things, having these things makes me happy. It would be wonderful to have grown children to step in and take care of things when I’m incapacitated or dead, but I don’t. Still, I don’t see it being much different from what happened to my grandfather’s house and everything in it: dumpster, yard sale, relatives taking home what they wanted. He had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Parent or not, the process ends up being the same. The only difference is who’s doing it and whether it’s a chore or a labor of love.
People who have children always tell me you can’t count on your kids to step in, so make yourself a will, choose an executor (my brother is mine), and make your wishes known as much as you can. Meanwhile, go ahead and save what makes you happy, just for you. Why not?
Have you inherited your loved one’s things? What did you do with them? Do you worry about what will happen to your things if you don’t have children? Let’s talk in the comments.Meanwhile, if you’re near South Beach, Oregon on Friday or Saturday, come see me.

Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick


No Heirs?

A childless Washington couple recently left 1.1 million to the children’s hospital in Portland, OR. They had lived a frugal life and managed to save enough to give $5,000 each to a nephew, three nieces and four non-relatives. The money from their house and everything else went to the hospital. Hospital officials told the Columbian newspaper it’s not unusual to receive bequests from childless donors. It’s certainly a worthy cause.

If you don’t have children—or you do and you don’t like them–you’re free to leave your worldly goods to whomever you choose. In my case, there probably won’t be much money. I have already named libraries for the books and needy music students for the instruments and sheet music. But it’s fun to think about where you might spread your life savings. Favorite relatives or friends? The humane society? The Friday-night-beer-and-Pizza-Group? I made that one up.

Think about it. Nobody wants to ponder their inevitable death, but if you’ve got to go and you can’t take it with you, who should have it? It’s your money. You can be as generous or as selfish as you choose. Maybe you want to blow it all on the grandest funeral the world has ever seen. Go for it. Or maybe you want to help the homeless, victims of abuse, or folks with incurable illnesses. It’s your choice.

Whatever you decide, just make sure you put it in writing or the government will dole it out to the closest relatives they can find.