What would you do if...

mommabirdSeptember 30, 2008

What would you do if you found out you have 2 years left to live? How would that change your view of the clutter, organizing, STUFF, etc?

I had a health scare recently with an incorrect initial diagnosis - thought I had 2 years left (I'm 44). I'm going through a lot of additional medical tests to determine exactly what's going on, but it looks like I can expect to be around for quite a few more years.

Anyway, I started getting really maudlin between first and second round of tests, thinking I'd not get to see my kids grow up, my DH grow old, etc. It REALLY motivated me to start a M-A-J-O-R purge. I kept thinking, do I want my kids to remember me as a messy housekeeper, as the mom who did laundry constantly but left it clean in baskets for weeks while they had to dig for socks, the mom whose car was always full of crumbs & food wrappers, as the mom who couldn't keep their house clean. Basically as a mom-slob.

I'm back on the FLY wagon again - swish and swipe, shiny sink, etc. I'll do good for a while then fall off the wagon.

Thinking that I'd basically get weaker and weaker until I couldn't care for myself also made me want to get a handle on my house NOW. I woudn't want someone else to have to come and clean it up when I was too week to do it.

It's also gotten me onto a bunch of minor home repairs that I'd left to accumulate. I'm trying to get a handyman to come over next week.

I guess the point of all the rambling is - the old saying is "without your health you don't have anything" and it's not until you think you're losing it that that you realize how indescribibly true that is! And it can be gone in an instant, so don't put things off. I'm purging NOW!

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I'm so glad that it was only a scare but I can't even begin to imagine what you've been going through mentally.

I could have written your post minus the scare part. You've given an incentive to get this house in order. In my case it's a rental I really don't like. But we're not moving immediately from here and if we should move in 1 1/2 years, it's best to go through all this stuff again. I'd done it all in my last house but I had more than enough cupboard space to store it all so the only thing I really did purge extremely well were papers. I guess it's time to get on with my clothes and all my kitchen stuff. My state of mind has always been "What if I need it someday even if I've never used it?". That works when there's enough room to store it but not when you hardly have any cupboards. I think I'm going to have to start putting a price tag on some of these items and decide if it's cheaper to rebuy it or store it.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 10:01PM
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oh, Paige--i'm sorry to hear about your scare. But glad to hear it was ONLY a scare.

My DH lost his best friend last weekend--he just is now saying "death is like moving without moving. you go one place; your stuff goes someplace else."

His friend was a major packrat in terms of books & videos. There's a huge amount of stuff in his home that now just doesn't matter. His wife is left behind, but she doesn't want all those books; they were *his*.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 11:24PM
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My 16 year old daughter looks at most of the stuff I like to collect as future garage sale material. I became aware of this a few years ago.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 4:23AM
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Paige, What a terrible experience, I'm sure it was life changing even though the news was reversed. I hope that further tests will be more settling for you.

Like Barnmom, a driving force for me is my daughter's rolling eyes when I told her that my 600+ cookbooks would be hers one day as well as the sterling silver flatware that I budgeted for so long to acquire. I now look at everything through her eyes and have been Freecycling/CListing like crazy.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 7:43AM
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mommabird, I'm so glad it was a misdiagnosis. Really makes you think about things...I remember all the things my Dad did when he found out he had terminal cancer.

I like stuff organized and clean and all that, but if I found out I only had a limited time left, and I was still able I'd travel...visit family, do and see as many things as I could. Ever see the movie Bucket List? That's just how I feel about it...

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 8:46AM
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My friend Chrystal lost her husband, only brother, and both parents within a few years. Besides her grief, she had to "clean up" after all of them, going through their belongings and purging. It was such hard work, I vowed I would never dump that burden on my loved ones. I have a "chronic" ilness which will not necessarily kill me, so I now have some strength. I vow to keep up with ridding my house of my junk. In addition, I am paying off all my credit card debt. I spend a little time each day paying bills and purging my home of clutter. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 9:24AM
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Mommabird, I am SO glad to hear that the initial diagnosis was incorrect!

I had my own wake-up call recently. Breast cancer, but it's not spreading, and I don't have to do chemo -- only radiation, followed by Tamoxifen.

It feels good to know that I have successfully decluttered that tumor out of my body. I can still look forward to a long life, and I see no reason to change what I'm doing -- using FlyLady's methods to get my house (and my life) in order. I've only been doing this for a little over one year, and let me tell you -- it was a HUGE help to be able to get everything in order before the lumpectomy, so that I could sit around like a queen and receive visitors.

No need to cook when I could just warm up leftovers from the refrigerator and the freezer. I made a list of everything available, so we wouldn't forget anything. We would have been OK even if the ladies at church hadn't insisted on bringing us a pre-cooked meal.

I got the house very, very clean before my surgery. I got away with not cleaning at all (except for laundry and the kitchen) for about three weeks.

I admit, after my vacation from cleaning, it has been a little difficult to get back into the habit of a little bit of cleaning every single day. Because of doctor appointments and biopsies and support groups and what not, I have to devote quite a bit of time to this new aspect of my life, at least for the near future.

I am bummed because it takes time away from making charity quilts. But at least I can complain. My situation is not bad at all. I expect to get through this just fine.

I think the only difference between a person who has a reason to be concerned about their health and a person who is still "perfectly healthy" is that we are more aware of our precious gift of life. All of our lives are as fragile as moonbeams and thistledown; some of us just haven't realized it yet. So when they say, "seize the day," they really mean it.

Seize the day, everybody. Do it now.


MaryLiz in Michigan

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 2:01PM
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So glad your scare was "just" a scare...that had to be horribly distressing to even consider. And MaryLiz, glad you're getting back on your feet too.

Honestly, I'm not sure what I'd do if I knew I only had a couple years left. I'd want to get things in order, of course, so my husband and parents didn't have to worry about that, but I wouldn't want to spend all my time organizing/decluttering either - I think I'd want to focus more on spending time with the special people in my life, and just trying to enjoy what was left of my days. I'd want to make those days special for those I was leaving behind, so they'd have good memories when I was gone.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 4:13PM
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Glad it was misdiagnosed but doesn't that put stuff into perspective. It is only stuff and someone has to clean it up. Every time an elder dies that belonged to our church I usually go and help clean up and after I go home I clean out some of my stuff because I don't want people saying what was she thinking keeping this ______.

MaryLiz glad you are doing OK and you have a real good attitude about it but that is the only way to go. GL with the radiation.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 5:05PM
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MaryLiz - hope all goes well with the treatment!

I've had 3 major clean-outs. DH's two grandmothers, both while still living but both had Alzheimer's/dementia so the family had to clean out their homes when they went into nursing homes. It was like cleaning out after someone dies, but they were still alive. One grandma became a horder when the dementia set in, which made it all the more sad to clean out her house. She had 5 of the same pair of pants - she'd forget she'd ever bought it, go to Macy's and say "aren't these cute" and buy them again. The other was very lite on the possessions and it was easy to clean out her house.

My best friend died 3 years ago. She was a semi-packrat, and her DH is Mr. No Clutter. Her DH asked her sister, cousin and I to help clean out the house. We boxed up soooo much stuff and took to Goodwill. All the just clutter stuff like cookbooks (sorry Mustangs!), kitch gadgets, cutsey-dishes, old bill receipts, etc. She loved gadgets and had tons of them throughout the house - her DH hates them and wanted to get rid of all of them. Same wtih Xmas decorations - he said get rid of it! It was so sad to go through so much stuff that someone I loved so much had accumulated!

Talley Sue - be very kind to your husband. You can't imagine what it's like to loose your best friend. I have almost no memory of the first 2 years, I was so tied up in grief that I hardly even remember my kids during those 2 years. My DH was overall kind, but it did start to "wear" on him after a while. You can't hurry grieving! Sometimes it still hits me out of nowhere like a punch in the stomach!

I'm duing "7 to 21" flings. Sometimes I'll just set 7 as my goal, other times 21. 21 -a la FLY Lady - sometimes is just too much for me.

I have a whole day of tests Friday - hopefully I'll have good news to report!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 9:11PM
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"What would you do if you found out you have 2 years left to live? How would that change your view of the clutter, organizing, STUFF, etc? "

I would do nothing different.
But I already am decluttered and highly organized.... no unloved or unused STUFF here!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 9:46PM
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First, to all who have shared their scares and their current battles, hugs.

To the question: I guess I'm with Jamie on this. I would not want to throw myself into cleaning and purging. If the house was really filthy (ok, so i am not a gold medal winner in dusting!), I'd call a maid service pronto and get it spit-shined top to bottom. Then I'd take a day or two and wander the house with a clipboard: "This charm bracelet reminds me of the glimmer in XXX"s eyes, so I'd like her to have that when I pass"; "the painting on the living room wall was done by your great aunt yaddayadda, which I know I've mentioned but I'm sure you have forgotten by now; "please divide the blown-glass pieces in the dining room sideboard amongst yourselves; "the framed artwork in the hallway was picked up at yard sales so if you want to give them to goodwill, don't feel guilty"; etc etc. [And if I expected any bickering over things, I'd make sure that I had that stuff mentioned in my will! Altho I won't be here to hear the arguments!]

Any time a surviving family member is left with the task of cleaning out the house, it's a massive physical and emotional undertaking. I'd just want to make sure they know that they shouldn't sweat it--"What would mom think of us taking all of her books to the library for their annual sale? It's the easiest, fastest thing"--well, I don't want them worrying about that stuff.

And then I'd spend my time doing the things they will really remember me for, whether that be for a special recipe they loved (and I'd set aside times to make it WITH them), or perhaps making an oral family history or sharing stories of their childhood with them so their children can know about them, or just spending time with them.

Because in the end, will the memory of how the house looked be on top of their list? It's certainly something you can throw yourself into physically when you're faced with an ungraspable (is that a word?) situation, and it gives you power over something, and I understand that clearing/cleaning your space can put you in a better mind-set to focus on your recovery. But it just doesn't resonate with me.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 10:14PM
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Pammyfay, I was very moved by your post. I'm not sure I would be in a frame of mind to think as clearly as you but what you wrote made so much sense.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 11:28PM
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I think I'd throw some stuff out wholesale.

But since 2/3 of the stuff in my house isn't mine, I don't think I'd want my kids' memories of my last years to be that I threw their stuff out.

And lots of the stuff I *do* have, I think I'd leave so my kids could decide what they wanted to remember me by.

But I would be quicker to face up to the fact that I'm not going to sew, not going to mend, etc.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 2:16PM
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While I've never had a scare like yours--and you're mighty brave to be even thinking about organizing!--I did ask my kids what they really like, what they sort of like, and what they would throw away. They were in their middle teens, and their answers surprised me.

So, I made a list, put stickers on the back of pictures, etc. I ask about once a year, and note any changes. Thus far, there's only one item that they both feel passionately about. They're 17 and 21.

And I got rid of the stuff no one likes. I was my father's sole heir, and he was his mother's sole heir, so I had scads of stuff that I kinda liked and mountains that I had no interest in (rock hound supplies? home book binding? Hand embroidered tea towels both unused and used to bits?)

And I tell my family that I want consumables for presents for the rest of my life--perfume, wine, chocolates, soap, jam, books. No more stuff.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 4:12PM
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Marie: I sure know that if I was suddenly told by the doctor that my time was limited, I certainly wouldn't be thinking that straight! Kind of like the question that comes around often on this forums: If you had 20 minutes to evacuate, what would you grab. We can all think clearly now when we're posting our answers, but truthfully, I'd be running around the house like a chicken with its head cut off. I'm just hoping I'd remember to take the dog. And make sure I put her leash on first!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 10:56PM
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I've never been faced with the situation you've been in, mommabird, but I wish you well, and I thank you for posting.

Perhaps the purging at a time of crisis helps in a way no one has mentioned. Cleaning and organizing are empowering. When you feel like your life is out of control, what better remedy than creating simplicity and order all around you?

I've recently retired, so I finally have the time to do some deep cleaning and closet re-organizing. And what I notice more than how attractive and handy things are, is how clear-headed it makes me feel.

I've been reminded of one time when I had a serious argument with my teenage son and he stormed out of the house. I was very distressed, and what did I do to settle my mind? I walked through the house emptying wastebaskets, dusting, and sorting laundry until I stopped crying.

I guess what I'm saying is that getting organized is therapeutic.

I have an older neighbor who told me that the older she gets the cleaner her house gets because, "you never know when you'll leave and not come back." It's a little sad, but we can laugh at it, too.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 12:55AM
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I WAS in that position ten years ago, and I spent a year in HELL going through every nasty medical test there is. In spite of what they told me, I am still here but never sure for how long. and I can tell you then that organizing and getting rid of clutter was absolutely the LAST thing on my mind.
I was not of a mind set to get things nice an clean for the next wife.

We just moved although I have a whole house of clutter that is still left behind, this is a temporary 2 year or so move, but I still had a complete truck load of stuff for this place. but I am able to organize it and start fresh as it were. I will have to get rid of most of what I have at home before I move back with this stuff though IF I am still around to move back at all. if not then not my problem is it.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 4:26PM
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One more thing I'd like to tell y'all:

On the day I received my cancer diagnosis via a telephone call from the doctor who did the biopsy, I suddenly found myself straightening up the room. It was very comforting. It did more good for me than a glass of wine and a good cry.

I actually haven't cried much after being told that cancer had been found in my body. I am the kind of person who is comforted by taking action.

Now that they have removed everything they could find, I still find it very comforting to turn to my new routines. Making my house look nice makes me happy all over. I admit that it's harder to find the time to clean, now that so much of my energy is directed at getting through the cancer treatments, but at least there is the desire to do the cleaning, and a strategy for maximizing the results of my time spent cleaning.

I find it very interesting that without even thinking about it, and certainly without planning it, I had gotten up and started to clean. Who cleans when they are stressed out? It must be the FlyWashing.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2008 at 6:36PM
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I had a similar scare in the spring. Colon cancer. They took out a piece and I am good but it was an eye opener. I hadn't kept up the house like I like because I had been having terrible trouble sleeping for months and a drug reaction, so I was worn out. The time in the hospital was like going to a spa. I came home with what seemed like energy poring out of me so I got into cleaning and organizing. My house is usually pretty neat but I would like immaculate, if I had my way. I clean because I like a pretty house and I want my loved ones to look around and see what I created. especially if I am not here. In the meantime, I get to enjoy it.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 1:15AM
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Birdtalker, I am so glad to hear that life is better after your "stay in the spa." It is very reassuring to me, and I think others, to hear stories of people who are dealing with a dread disease, yet still able to live a rich life. Whether the crisis is hearing bad news about our health, or having our homes washed away by a hurricane, or some other tragedy ... after the initial period of feeling the loss, we move past that experience, somehow stronger because of it. And we realize how unimportant other aspects of our lives have become (including our "stuff") relative to what really matters: Life and our Family and our Friends. Funny how tragedy can lead to greater happiness and appreciation for life.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2008 at 6:16PM
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I think I'd come straight onto this forum and say, "Help, please, I've just been told..........". Especially after reading what you've just shared on here.
About 6 years ago I was told I had ovarian cancer, and in the 3 weeks it took to sort out the misdiagnosis, I went through all sorts of emotions, good and bad. The clearest memory I have though, is of standing on our back verandah looking at a swag of cobwebs, and wondering why I'd wasted so much of my life being miserable while I cleaned. I looked at the cobwebs and decided that if I survived, I would ENJOY every moment of cleaning cobwebs and dusting, because ordinary mundane everyday life suddenly looked very very precious. A month after getting out of hospital knowing everything was fine, and it wasn't cancer after all, I was back to whinging about the cobwebs and dust. But I often remember the feelings I had that day of how privileged and blessed I'd feel if I could still grab a broom and de-cobweb the beams, and hopefully
some of that has remained.
My Dad was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and told he had 3 to 6 months, so while he was still feeling well, he and Mum downsized their home, their stuff, and their car, and moved into a small unit with only what they absolutely needed and loved. Amazingly, since then, his cancer has gone into remission, but they have absolutely no regrets about living a simpler life with much less.
He always used to joke about the laughs his sons, sons in law, and grandsons would have, cleaning out his workshop of all his junk, after he had died. Instead, he got them to help him clean it out while he was still alive, and he still talks about it being one of the best days of his life... instead of waiting till after he'd died, he says he gave them the privilege of joking and cheeking him about his "junk" to his face, and he got to laugh with them. They really all did have a fun day together.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 6:02AM
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I helped my mother downsize before she moved into a room at a residence. When the opportunity is there, it was really helpful to hear her thoughts on the items that we got rid of and the ones she kept. I know I would have kept so much more had we not had the chance to go through this together.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 7:36PM
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Paige, I'm so happy to hear this was just a scare. Sometimes I wish doctor's would keep things to themselves until they know for sure. I throw a heck of a scare into you and maybe that's not so bad in the long run. I do hope you find out soon what's wrong. May it be something easily resolved.
I too have sorry for the loss of your dear friend and having the chore of going through her things. I know how rough a job that is.

Talley Sue, I'm sorry for your dh's loss.

Jannie, how terrible for you friend Chrystal. That's too much loss in such a short time.

Mary Liz, it sounds as though you caught your cancer early. Good for you. I'm terrible about remembering to check for lumps anymore. I'm sure it's because I've so often had scares since I have a tendency to have fibrious non-cancerous lumps. Even knowing that, each time I found one gave me such a scare.
I wish you all the best during your radiation and so happy for you that chemo won't be involved in your recovery. I've heard it's worse than the cancer itself.

I have to agree with PammyFay on going through the house and deciding who get's what a making a list of things that aren't important. Though I think I'd do like my hubby's Gramma Effie did and make sure those were given to their recipients before I passed. I'm sure it's joyfull for the giver since I saw the pleasure in Gram's eyes when she gave me her three lady head planters. I'd mentioned years before that I had given one to my Mom when I was a little girl and always was fond of them because of that. She remembered that so made a precious gift of them to me a couple decades later. She was 75 the year we married and passed away shortly after she turned 99, still sharp as a whip. I miss her so, so much. I loved her as if she were my own Gram.

Our daughter (just 24) has asked if she can moved back home the end of next year when she leaves the Air Force. She'd planned on retiring after 20 years of service, but fell in love with her nephew who was born last December, and can't stand missing that much of his life. She really didn't have to ask. We built this home with three master suites with the intention of her and her brother living her while they went to college. While she's living here and looking for a home to purchase I'll ask her to help me go through things. I have what's left of my folks things stored in our basement. After our immediate family members picked what they wanted I gave much of it to extended family members. My folks were very close to so many of my cousins that I knew they'd want something special that belonged to them.

Pink, my Mom passed away suddenly in 95 in the emergency room of a near by hospital with a massive heart attach. She been teated for the last five month so her life for gastritis. I remember her telling me that night that she made sure their home was clean so Dad wouldn't have to go home to a dirty home at least. Not that her home was ever a mess. She'd seen her family doctor that morning, but I believe she knew more than that quack did.

McCall, you are too funny. "I was not of a mind set to get things nice an clean for the next wife." What a perfect stand up comedy line! I love it. My hubby has always told me he would never remarry if I passed away. Since he never explained his reasoning I took it upon myself to decide it was because I was the love of his life and no one else could take my place. Of course he never said he wouldn't live with someone. HA! 8^P

Birdwalker, I'm so glad that they were able to find and care for your colon in time. What a scare though!

LilyDilly, what wonderful news about your Dad! And how wise of him to bring in the guys and have such a great day! My Dad and brother were always joking between each other about Dad's tools. Whenever my brother would visit he's always head to the garage and the storage room behind it and bring up a tool or two that was covered with dust and tell my Dad he was taking it home with him since it was obvious my Dad didn't use it anymore. My Dad would give him "heck" about it, but let the tool leave the house with my big brother.

I had a cancer scare in 94, but it turned out to be just precancerous cells on my cervix. It's amazing how something like that can even change the outlook of someone, like me, that always took life as be a most precious gift from the Lord. I believe my having what some would call an "old soul" was because of coming close to loosing my life as both an infant and toddler from pneumonia and the loss of so many family members when I was still quite young. I knew at such an early age that life is very fragile.
Because of this my favorite non-Biblical saying is "Everyday is a gift from God". And I try to live it that way. Often I fail in using my time wisely, but still take the time to show and tell my loved ones how much I truly love them.

Great thread Paige. Please keep us informed on your test results. I'll be praying for you.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 5:04PM
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Hello friends, thanks for asking about my tests! It was good news. Dr. has ruled out heart problems, but ordered pulmonary (sp?) tests for next week. Then, after about 15 mintues of discussing my problems, she said "You know, I had a guy patient a few years ago with the same problems, he had all the heart and pulmonary tests and they all came back fine. Then he had a heart attack - it turns out he had a blockage that the echocardiogram missed." I got pretty upset and told her that it is no comfort to me to tell me that. She was very sheepish - but I was pi$$ed! First she tells me everything is fine, then she says the tests might have missed something! SHESH! So I am still having trouble sleeping for all the worry.

So I'm still in a cleaning frenzy because it helps calm me down...

    Bookmark   October 18, 2008 at 5:51PM
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What the heck was wrong with that doc!? Is she nuts or what? Have you had a stress test for you heart? I've heard that's the way to go to find if anything is wrong. Ask to be recommended to see a cardiologist. This one *sounds* like a duck if you know what I mean.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2008 at 12:36PM
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