Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
I think on paper. That means I have a To Do list. I have this for two reasons: 1. it’s a visible reminder of things I must complete, and 2. I see proof that I have actually done them when I cross them off. It’s old fashioned, but it works for me.
Keeping a To Do list has been a recurring theme in my personal and professional life. In a home with five children coming and going (and coming and going and…) it was essential to keep track of deadlines and deliverables. It is no different at my office; the work I do hinges on time-sensitive details and there are no do-overs.
My list never ends. When one item gets crossed off, three more are added. I’m a little OCD about these lists and update them all the time—first thing in the morning, before I leave the office, just before bed and then, what do you know, it’s time to do it all over again. If you’re like me, let’s agree not to judge each other. We’re in it for the organization!
This summer I created a different kind of list – separate from the daily ones. This list is for the serious stuff that somehow gets overlooked because it’s hard and requires an investment of time. It happened because I realized we’re in a big house with lots of stuff and in the second half of our lives. I made a list that specifically named the undone things piling up and demanding our attention. I spent the summer crossing them off. Here are a few of the big ones.
The Hard Stuff
- Where did all this Stuff come from and what are we going to do with it?
We spend our lives in pursuit of stuff. We covet it, save for it, acquire it and then…we can’t even give it away. When you decide it’s time to get rid of your stuff, nobody wants it. Our kids roll their eyeballs when I mention Grandma’s china, and nobody is interested in nostalgia—especially if it’s large, did not come from Ikea, and requires help moving it.
The kitchen was the easiest. I simply transferred items to children entering or exiting college. A college dorm is still thanking me for the blender. I convinced myself it was for smoothies.
The same is true for linens—sheets and towels quickly found new homes along with a lamp, a rug, and even a bookcase. I see it as off-loading the excess; they see it as something they don’t have to pay for. It’s a win-win.
A new apartment welcomed a set of dishes, cooking utensils, pots and pans and a bedroom set. The old clunker TVs, air conditioners and computer monitors were laid to rest at the recycling station. I now understand why there are so many Christmas decorations at yard sales and flea markets.
The emotional aspect of downsizing can be rough—we are from an era that treasures items from past generations and it’s hard to part with them. Perhaps it’s our military upbringing. There are memories attached to just about everything because we had nothing else to anchor ourselves. This will be my biggest challenge, and I will struggle with it. Things belonging to my Mom have special significance simply because they keep me connected to her.
Downsizing can also be creative. I have incorporated a practice into the Lenten season called Forty Bags in Forty Days. Each day during Lent I fill a bag destined for other places. It can be a charity, recycle, a food pantry or the trash. It doesn’t matter where the bags go, but it must be a one-way trip. Sock drawers, the pantry, bathroom cabinets, the attic and basement—nothing escapes scrutiny and each day a bag gets filled. I was amazed and empowered.
Downsizing is a work in progress and we still have a long way to go. In the interest of full disclosure, this item is not crossed off my list.
- Put the FUN in Funeral
Joan Rivers got it right—make your funeral a celebration of a life well lived and invite your friends. We talked about what our last hurrah should be but never committed it to paper. It was a conversation full of humor—dark humor—but funny. Give me a full Egyptian and bury me with my jewelry, a pair of classic Christian Louboutins and my Kitchen Aid. I am certain I will be baking in the hereafter. I need to look good and I need to be wearing my bling.
We don’t like the idea of a traditional funeral; we want ours to be a celebration. We’ve enjoyed a wonderful life and want to be remembered in a room full of friends who shared that life with us. We will also be dead. We’re throwing the party; we’ll just be there in spirit—literally.
If we go sooner rather than later, everyone will gather at the tequila bar and tell stories that start with “remember when…” If we live to a nice old age there’s a chance our friends may not remember much but they can still enjoy the party and we’ll serve Metamucil Jell-O shots.
The rest was easy. Tell a funny story, play our favorite songs, share pictures and laugh out loud. Remember the good times because there are so many. Remind each other that no one gets out alive and make each day count. We hope someone comes dressed as the Grim Reaper (just walk in and stand there) and we promise to have Wi-Fi.
We’re serious about this one. We wrote it all down and made sure our kids understood every word.
My Dad is the inspiration for this one. I am his executor and he’s made my job easy by putting all his paperwork into a binder. We call it Sam’s Big Red Book, and everything I need is in one place. It has accounts, names, phone numbers, policies, a power of attorney and a DNR. All questions have been asked and answered. To me, this is a gift and I wanted to do the same thing for our family.
Let’s face it, I have dominion over the paperwork. That doesn’t mean it’s up to date, it just means I know where it is. I spent the summer consolidating accounts, reviewing insurance (how much do you really need?) updating medical directives, health care proxies and guardianship. I bought a binder and began putting everything in it. I was surprised at the information I needed to locate, update and consolidate. Put this one on your list.
Like funerals, medical directives are not easy conversations to have with your children. They are a reminder that you are mortal, getting older, and will not always be there. It had to be done; I filled out the documents; had them notarized, gave copies to physicians and made sure everyone understands our definition of quality of life.
Once the paperwork and accounts were squared away, I wrote letters to our children sharing our joy in each of them—they are our finest accomplishments. Of course, they won’t read them until I am gone, which fulfills my promise to haunt them from beyond and have the last word.
- Suze’s Closet – The Farewell Tour
My previous job involved a lot of public appearances: executive meetings, customer briefings, conferences and presentations. There was more formality to it and I had a wardrobe that reflected the environment I worked in. I spent a lot of time in the no-fly zone of the building and looking professional was important to me.
My current job has similar responsibilities but we are a more casual company. The business suits and stiletto heels are out of place here and I know I will never wear them again. It is time to send them forth to a new destination. I have loved them, there are a lot of them, and now it’s someone else’s turn.
There is a wonderful organization here that helps women get back on their feet by assisting with employment opportunities and providing interview wardrobes. Nothing says hire me like a good interview suit and I am thrilled to be passing mine along to such a worthy cause.
My love affair with Ralph and Calvin has come to an end, but Ann Taylor and I are now besties and getting it done right. Paying it forward is one of the best kinds of recycle I know.
- Where Should We Live Next?
This is a big question and it’s not in the cross-off club. My husband researches the 3Cs — community, climate and cost of living—important details that reflect the kind of move we want to make. We don’t want a mortgage or winter. We want to be reasonably close to family and friends. I want a three-season porch, he wants a workshop. We both want a house with a yard and garden. We’re dog people.
There is a lot more work to be done on this one and we’re having fun with it. We’ve explored a few locations and look forward to finding the place that says ‘welcome home.’ We also look forward to going there with much less stuff.
A To Do List is not for everyone but to me it’s an old fashioned productivity tool and a good friend. I’m sure there’s an app for that, but we’ve spent a lifetime developing this relationship and it still works for me.