Making Room for the Legacy You Leave CLEANING HOUSE
This may sound like a joke, but it’s the absolute truth: I keep a Tyvek coverall suit and respirator in the back of my car. While it may look like a “Breaking Bad” Halloween costume, this hazmat getup is actually an important part of my job. Every year on a handful of occasions, I will be asked to help a client retrieve important documents from homes, garages, and storage sheds that people may not have been through in years. So, with spring- cleaning on the mind, it’s time we talk about, well, stuff. But first, allow me to take a quick detour to ancient Rome. My mother was a Latin teacher, and from her I learned the origins of our modern perception of spring-cleaning. Believe it or not, long before the Colosseum was built, Romans celebrated a festival called Lupercalia. Its focus was on purging evil spirits before the spring began. Sounds a bit like our spring-cleaning today, only it happened in February and involved animal sacrifices. Obviously, there’s no need to sacrifice a goat just to clean out your storage unit, but delving into years of accumulated odds and ends can feel like a sacrificial act. When you’re going through so many
memories attached to such objects, it can be hard to let them go. But believe me, the difficulties you might face getting rid of this excess stuff will only be magnified if cleaning is left to your loved ones. Stuff I am still going through currently occupies half of my garage. And the thing is, these aren’t odds and ends I’ve picked up myself. They’re the belongings of loved ones: stuff from my grandmother, mother, and father. Between the stuff my mother left behind when she passed to the things my father couldn’t take with him after his stroke, I have quite the treasure trove to go through. But not every item is a precious heirloom or deeply sentimental object. But I still need to separate out those dearly beloved objects from the rest of the ephemera. It’s been years, and I’m still sorting through it all because of the physical labor involved and the emotional component. Sometimes holding on to objects can remind us more of what’s been lost than what we saved. During Lupercalia, revelers would whip themselves and others with februa, strips of animal skin made into a purification instrument. My mother taught me how
these whips would eventually give February its name when Julius Caesar organized the Roman calendar, but now I think I better understand the practice: Getting rid of things — even evil spirits — can sting. But cleaning out old, unused items and spaces can also be deeply liberating. It’s much harder to move, travel, or downsize when you have so many items tying you down. Donating clothes and furniture to Goodwill, selling used books online, or just having a good old-fashioned yard sale can all make the process easier than simply tossing things into the trash. Finally, it’s important to remember we can leave behind so much more for our loved ones than objects. Nothing in that pile in my garage could replace my memories of the lessons my mother taught me — her stories of strange Roman festivals and powerful emperors are something I hold dear to this day. When it comes to leaving behind a legacy, it’s all about quality, not necessarily quantity. Here’s to a fresh spring,
Do you have estate planning or elder law-related questions? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Asked and Answered” in the subject line. Your identity will be kept confidential. The opinions offered in this column are not intended to replace or substitute any financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice.
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