Asking the right questions

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Six years ago, my mother's husband's sister died. Really, though, it's easier to just say, "An aunt of mine died."

An aunt of mine died. There. I said it that way.

She died.

One of the things that annoyed me most about her death, I mean, aside from the whole death thing itself, was the callous nature of the dissemination of her death. Look, I understand that her death was "unnatural," and I understand that sugar coating what happened doesn't change what happened, but it's still hard when a loved one passes away and people are callous about the whole thing.

(Wow, my site is all about death recently. Maybe a "Kitt, better to embrace life going forward than mourn its loss looking backward" is in order.)

I think the hardest part of Karen's death, wait... here, let me cease sugar coating it, if only for myself. She killed herself. She committed suicide and not in the Japanese honor sort of way. The took her own life, and left her family to clean up afterward.

And that, I believe, was the hardest part of her death: the cleaning up afterward.

I watched my mom and Eric and his parents touch every object Karen owned and decide what to do with it. Their grief altered between well-hidden and overwhelming. I didn't stick around long enough to measure the relationship between what stuff they were going through and the grief, did something particular bring back a strong memory, or just thinking of the loss? It was hard going through someone else's belongings and being asked, "Do you want this? How about this?" or being told, "Take anything you want."

It's hard to wear a dead woman's hat.

Three years ago, Beth Liebert, a teammate of mine, did the same for her grandmother. Her family went through her stuff, picked out the meaningful items, then had a garage sale to divest themselves of the rest of her things. Anything left over at the end of the garage sale was thrown away.

This past week, I've watched my neighbor's sons do the same with her belongings. She died when I was in New York at Brooklyn Beta. The moving truck was next to the house for most of the week, with one of the four sons, Dennis, Daniel, Jim or Jerry, waving to me as I passed by, going about my life, because even after death, the rest of things continue, somewhat oblivious to the pain your death may have caused for your loved ones.

I'm not quite sure how old you have to be, or how many people need to die around you, or how many times you have to clean out a house or help clean out a house or go through a dead woman's belongings, before you realize that when you die, someone else is going to be going through your shit, and just how mortifying such a thought can be. Sure, you'll be dead, how much will you care? Probably not much, but, well, do you really want to leave that giant pile of crap you call your stuff to someone else to go through? Are they going to appreciate all of the nuances of those things? Are they going to know the history?

Nope.

They are just going to throw it out.

Garbage.

Dump.

Land fill.

Maybe reused somewhere else, but probably not. More likely ground into little pieces and burned or buried or some such.

Right.

It is a well known fact that I have one of everything.

Okay, not really, but close enough that the joke has been made many times over the years about how I seem to have one of everything and anything you may need. And that is way too much stuff.

I've tried over the years to purge, but I've never managed very well. I tended to do what most people do, which is ask myself, "Will I ever use this?" The answer is invariably, "Maybe," at which point the item goes back into the garage or closet or box or whatever, and isn't discarded or purged. These items are like comfort food, they make me feel more secure, I've already invested time and money into it, why would I want to be rid of it?

And that's exactly why I still have a closet full of crap, a garage full of garbage and a house full of unfinished projects and forgotten dreams.

I've been asking the wrong question.

Instead of asking, "Do I want to keep this?" (of course I do) or "Will I ever use this?" (of course I will) or "Is this worth keeping?" (of course it is), I started asking myself, "Do I want to move this to Phoenix?"

The answer is suddenly much much different. Suddenly, and remarkably often, the answer is "No."

Flat out, "No."

No well-maybe's. No I-might's. It's a straight No, followed by, "Okay, then how do I get rid of this?"

Some items are easy. They go straight into the trash.

Some other items are also easy. They go to a donation pile. Or to the crafts supplies pile to be donated to Liza's school. Or to the electronics recycling pile to be picked up next Wednesday from my curb. Or to the Freecycle pile that is fast becoming the "post on Craigslist and just let people come take stuff away pile instead of trying to give away this stuff one piece at a time" pile.

Some items are harder. Sunglasses from years ago that still look good on me? The expensive paper I bought and still use for writing letters (yeah, I write letters and mail them to people, how's that for archaic?). Items from around the house that I meant to deal with but haven't yet dealt with (those are being dealt with, though).

So, each item gets the question, "Do I want to move this to a new place?"

The other rule I've put in place is that each item is asked this question only once, then dealt with immediately. There are no surprises in dealing with this stuff, or lingering doubts. The pictures that have been in the garage for ten years are scanned then shredded. The electronics are disassembled, the harddrive copied then crushed, the rest donated. The clothes are donated, I haven't worn them in years, why do I think I'll wear them in the future? Emails to various people for larger items are sent.

I can see the garage floor for the first time in a long long time. I feel less weighed down, lighter in spirit as well as footprint. It's a good feeling.

Once the first pass is done, I plan on repeating the process a second time, asking myself, "Do I want to move this to Chicago?" Items that seem movable now may seem less movable the second time through, given they'll be going a longer distance away.

The upside of the box processing is that I've found a number of items that had "gone missing" in the blackhole of the garage. I now have my 1000fps camera back. I also have my favorite backpack back.

Whether they make it to Chicago, however, is a different question.