Contrary to what Sheryl Crow sings, the first cut is not the deepest. The last cut is.
Cleaning out my parents' former home of almost 50 years involved a rough and ruthless week of letting go of a lifetime of home furnishings. What's left is a pyramid of family photos, letters, military memorabilia and other artifacts of my parents' lives.
Throughout the first cut of the clearing process, the words of declutter king and host of TLC's Clean Sweep Peter Walsh, were my mantra: When everything is important, nothing is important.
Thus, I kept keepsakes to a minimum: I tucked a few pieces of mom's jewelry into my carry-on, and shipped three boxes to my home. In them were an oil painting of French hens, a mainstay in our old kitchen; three handkerchiefs monogrammed with my mom's initial (one for each of my daughters and one for me), and the gold-edged stemware because it's beautiful and I will use it.
Now, I must face the pyramid. I call Walsh. I said, “What's wrong with me?”
And he told me. “This isn't about the stuff,” he said. “Going through a parent's belongings makes us confront our own mortality, the loss of parents and the fact that life is fleeting.”
“It's a rite of passage that is significant and traumatic,” said Walsh, who's going through this with his 90-year-old mother. “I don't think anyone is truly an adult until they lose both their parents.”
“Letting go of anything we've seen or used, or experienced as a child is hard because the memory embedded in the object has such power.”
“Do you think the person who brought you into this world, and loved you and nurtured you into adulthood would want you to despair over their possessions? No!”
Walsh's next piece of advice is to make the process a treasure hunt: “Imagine that your parents have deliberately left you five treasures. Your job is to find the items that have the strongest, happiest memories for you. Let the rest go.
I tell Walsh about my three boxes. “I can tell by the words you used — ‘I love it. She loved it. I will use it.'— that you chose exactly right,” he said. “You found the treasures.”
Contact syndicated columnist Marni Jameson at www.marnijameson.com.