Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ When the Worst Happens

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


First of all, this story has a happy ending, although it sure didn’t look like it would when it all began.

A few months ago, a dear friend of mine was in a very dark place and disappeared. Literally gone. You can image what my husband and I feared. My friend has no close relatives and no spouse; I am the executor of his estate. I felt a lot of emotions during this time, and one of them was outrage: “How DARE you go off and leave me with all this sh*t to take care of! How dare you not clean up your own mess before you dumped it in my lap!” You see, my friend is a bit of a collector (perhaps even a bit of a hoarder) and his mother, who hung onto to everything she ever purchased, large and small, had died the previous year. He had all of his stuff and all of hers too, all undealt with. I couldn’t believe that in addition to dumping a giant emotional burden on me and my family, he’d also left me with a huge mess: a house that couldn’t be sold because of unfinished remodeling projects; an oversized garage was full of his and his mother’s stuff; a bedrooms serving as a storage room. I was furious (and heartbroken, and scared, and determined to find him, and a mash of every other emotion you can image).

The best news is: We found him and in the subsequent several months, he’s doing so much better. It’s truly a gift from God.

What lessons did I learn from this dreadful experience, and how does it relate to decluttering?

1. Organize your personal papers. What if, God forbid, the worst occurs and you die unexpectedly? Do your loved ones, who are already shaken by your death, know how to access your accounts? Do they even know where you bank? Can they access your email account? Could they cancel your movie rental subscription, magazines, and price club membership? Or are they going to be stuck guessing?

2. Make sure the you have a current will, power of attorney, and medical directive. (At least in the U.S.) I am not kin to my friend, and it clearly could have created a problem for me. This is so important for everyone, but especially, especially important to those who are single. There are will maker programs available, which I cannot endorse, but the power of attorney and medical directive are simply fill-in forms. They vary slightly from state to state, so search for them on the computer.

3. Finish one project before you start two more. People aren’t nearly as good as multitasking as they thing they are, and multitasking your life – in a big way – isn’t any more successful. Finish one project before you begin another. Don’t start painting the living room and removing the trim in the bedroom at the same time. Don’t have two quilting projects going at once. Finish one thing then move onto the next, or you may leave behind a troublesome trail of partially completed projects.

4. Clean up your own mess. We’ve all read comments on this site about people who were thrown into a giant mess left behind at the death of a relative. Sometimes no one knew Aunt Bessie was a hoarder, and the family has one weekend to clean out the house and put it up for sale. One of my employees told me about leaving her mothers’ dishes boxed up and in the trash pile because she wasn’t able to cart them away during the mad cleaning weekend. If you don’t want to deal with your junk, just think how much someone else doesn’t want to deal with it either. If you’re keeping your belongings because you really want to make sure they go to just the right owner, let me tell you, when you’re gone, they’re going wherever they land, so if it’s really important to you, take care of it now, while you can. Don’t feel overwhelmed. You can do this, one day at a time, 365 days a year.

5. If you’re struggling with poor mental health, don’t be afraid to tell others. God put us here to help one other.

Today’s Mini Mission

Perhaps what is stuck on the front of your fridge also spills over to the sides. Time to clear that off as well.

Today’s Declutter Item

We have no use for these chains, not that I can remember a time that we did. They have been loitering in the garage since out return from America and we in storage for 7 years while we were there. If we haven’t used them yet I dare say we never will so they will be donated like so many other things.

A little garage clutter

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. Hi Cindy.
    I am so glad your friend has turned up safe, it must have been a very anxious and worrying time for you.
    You make some very good points on getting your house in order and everything where it should be for easy access.
    I think when people are traumatised they don’t know how to ask for help or are too embarrassed to. They get lost and things just start piling up until they don’t know which way to turn.
    Your friend is very lucky to have someone like you to care, we all need a good friend who accepts us just the way we are, who helps and supports us when the going gets tough.


  2. I’m so glad to hear that your friend turned up safely, Cindy, it must have been a devastating experience not to know if he was alive. He is very lucky to have someone like you in his life.

    My own family has been left to cope with the muddle and mayhem left behind by relatives in their eighties who passed away from entirely natural causes between one breath and another. Whilst stating (within what turned out to be an hour of her death in one case) intentions to get their houses in order at some future point, of course. One had a coronary and another an anyeurism and both went to meet their maker without even an minute’s warning to scribble some instructions. It’s nightmarish to have to organise a funeral, clear and clean a home and its outbuildings and handle bank accounts, against the clock and with grief bearing down on you. Neither of my elderly relatives had a will, although both had owned houses for decades, had no living spouse and no offspring. Lawyers love these people………..

    I once worked for a community advice charity and was dealing with a succession of elderly ladies who had suddenly been bereaved of their husbands. Although most men will pre-decease their wives, there had been no thought given to this strong probability, never mind preparation. My ladies were stuck with their pensions going into joint bank accounts (joint accounts are locked down here in the UK on the death of one of the holders). They didn’t even have access to money for groceries until they could open sole accounts and re-direct the pension providers to pay into those. This easily took 2-3 weeks.

    The financial affairs were invariably the husband’s sole name and the widows mostly knew nothing about handling such matters. With a lot of them having no passport nor driver’s license, nor even utility bills or bank accounts in their own name, these ladies were not even able to prove their names and addresses in ways acceptable to various branches of the government or to the banks to open the much-needed new account.

    I’m determined not to be a burden on whomever has to clear up my life and have my documents all in one place and in files, and am working to make sure that the physical belongings are always orderly, stored sensibly and can be removed and handled once I’m gone in a way which makes it as easy as possible for those who will have to deal with it. I figure it’s the least I can do.

    As the proverb says; “Shrouds have no pockets.”

    • Great commment GreyQueen! I particulary likek the proverb. Actually when I see someone (or even me) holding on too tight to some suttf I remember that in all the funerals I have been, never have I seen a coffin with drawers. It barely fits the deceased. So, no, there’s not a shred of espace to take anything with you :-). But to prepare would mean facing death, acknowledge that it will happen no matter what. When people stop thinking they are imortals, maybe they will prepare better what they leave behind.

      • Fantastic comment GreyQueen. It went straight to Friday’s Favorites. I remember when my elderly gentleman neighbor passed away. One of the other neighbors had to show his widow how to fill out a check. She wasn’t stupid, just as your ladies aren’t stupid, but that level of sheltering does not benefit anyone.

  3. Cindy, I’m glad your friend is safe and doing better now.

    Great post – right on. Life can change in a moment.

  4. Best. Post. Ever.

    Thank goodness it turned out OK and I hope your friend is now well enough to start addressing the need to make some changes.

    I am in the process of clearing out my mum’s house in NZ and bringing her over to Australia to live with me. Dealing with many of the issues raised above over two legal and banking systems is a nightmare, even with my mum alive!

    It has been the most stressful time for both of us and it would have been so much harder without the lessons learned by me from you and Colleen and the other wonderful members of this community.

    And GreyQueen, you are so right about women needing to be vigilant about their own affairs, and not just widows! When I separated I had to do four years of tax returns before I could establish my income to receive child support payments. I was lucky the tax office accepted my pathetic excuse of “my husband always used to do this for us” and didn’t fine me!

  5. Wow! This has been an awesome post! First off Cindy I am so glad your friend was found. Another side consideration in all this perhaps, is when someone outside of the family ask us to be executor or guardian to children, and if we are seriously considering it, take the opportunity to ask some pertinent questions.

    Years ago when my kids were young I had this folder which had a summary of bank accounts, insurance policies, brokers, accountants, lawyers etc. I also signed a form so my kids medical records could be accessed by guardian if they needed them before the wheels of beauracacy turned. All my friends told me that was soooooo morbid. My sis-in-law who would have been the kids guardian was sooooo grateful. I stumbled across it recently and it is very very out of date, and it is on my to-do list. I believe you can download fill-in space documents so I will look into that too.

    However, early next year my eldest will turn 18 and wants to become co-guardian to his younger sisters, so I should prioritise getting my folder up to date again.

    • We spend so much time thinking about and worrying about our children and their future. How is it morbid to not prepare – as best we can – a life for them if we are gone? I cannot image a time when they would need us more than when we’re not around to care for them.

      As you wisely know, everyone only leaves this life in one way….

  6. What a great post. I’m so glad your friend is found and doing better. I can so relate to having things dumped on you with no idea what to do. When my father died my mother turned to me and said, “I don’t want anything to do with the finances or any of the other stuff. You do it. I know you will do it better.” It was horrible because not only was he gone but there was a mess to clean up as far as their financial situation and also their being packrats. It took two very long years to get things to where we had a ghost of a chance of coming out of it half-way in good shape. It took 10 years to pay off their bills. he has been gone 19 years and I am still trying to get my mother to get rid of some of the craft supplies and plethera of cooking items that she has had all this time.

  7. Moni, I think that’s an excellent approach to take. None of us wants to think of our own passing, yet alone that of our loved ones, but we all have to go sometime. Thinking it through in detail ahead of the event is an act of love and compassion to those we leave behind.

    Based on acturial tables and familial history, I can reasonably expect another 35-40 years of life. Assuming I’m not murdered and don’t die of an accident or a disease, of course. However, I have a life-threatening disorder already which might swing the odds towards a shorter lifespan and have already had one brush with the Grim Reaper. Needless to say, I won! And I’m very happy about that.

    It’s a life-changing experience in a positive way; I take a lot less for granted than I once did. I’m also fairly laconic and once shocked a man I’d considered unshockable by remarking that once I was dead they could cut me up for spares and compost the rest.

    That reminds me; must double-check that I’m still on the organ-donor register and put the info about the green burial site with my copy of my will. The original is tucked up with the family solicitor for safe-keeping and my nearest and dearest know it. I’d like a tree to be planted on top of me; I like trees. 🙂

    • Hi GreyQueen – one of my brothers died unexpectedly in a car accident, no drink drug or speed involved, 10 years ago at age 19. On Xmas eve to boot. Aside from the gut wrenching-ness from it, he’d put himself on the organ donor register and this went ahead on Boxing Day. None of us were surprised by that as he was a giving person. What did surprise us was that he had a will and a life insurance policy to cover his expenses and the balance he gifted to one of our other sisters to fulfil a goal/dream. It was a very dark time for us, but that he’d dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s and had all his wishes spelt out clearly, meant that we didn’t have any decisions or complications hanging over us, and I am very grateful to his thoughtfulness.

  8. Getting a will in on my to do list, now that I own a place. I want to make sure that my brothers ‘benefit’ should I die. I just feel like they’d be the ones to benefit most (my parents are doing fine… and let’s face it, my brothers will live longer than my parents…) Must call my solicitor.

    • It’s smart of you to make sure your wishes are known. I think your parents would probably be your first-line beneficiaries or maybe split evenly between your siblings and your parents.

  9. what a post. very good. although this subject has been up several times on this blog already, I find it so important.

    my dad died quite young, heartattack at the age of 53, while my grandmother had severe chronic pain and an outspoken deathwish but had to live until she turned 94. life is not fair sometimes. anyhow.
    Because it was such a shock and we didnt really understand what was happening to us, we oversaw some things, I learned for example that orphan rent for me required the undergraduate report/certification (!), but its actually not that big of a deal if you dont have it anymore. My dad left a in his way organized mess and it took us years to finally work our way through those folders and papers. Because he knew everthing requires everything, he kept everything – but in an order that wasnt helpful for us at all.
    My dad was on the other hand also a very pragmatic and sometimes direct person. He told us more than just once: “put me up into the cheapest fruitbox you can find, burn it and dont let those mean undertaker rip you off”. He made a point: millions of people pay overpriced coffins because they are in a situation that is too painful for financial fights, or its considered a no-go to even just mention money in this situation. He learned this lesson when his mother died. with those clear instructions of my dad, we went to the undertaker (biggest a****** on this planet btw) and bought the cheapest coffin he had, the cheapest blanket, the cheapest urn, etc. We were straight with our wishes (he tried to convince us that with the position of a teacher, my father would for sure deserve a shiny pretty coffin….) and we got what we (or my father) wanted. In my family we are pretty clear about those things. Especially since my father is gone. My mum signed a small funeral-life-insurance that will give us a certain amount of money to pay for the funeral and the other costs (I was shocked at the amount we spent overall for his death) so whatever happens we would be able to get it done without further complications. I am glad she did that.
    each family member has the full power on the bank account of the other members. and we all know where the important documents are in the house. When my mother dies dies, we will still have complicated stuff to sort out (note to myself: google “inheriting for dummies”) but the most important questions are answered.
    I learned my lesson at a young age and I try to make people aware of this, whenever I get the chance. Death should be about the person and not the persons left-overs.

    • Lena, I love your dad’s cheap funeral ideas. There’s a place in town that specifically advertises cheap deaths. It’s amazing how much money can be saved, because I know sales is the primary job of folks who work at funeral homes. And who easier to squeeze money from then the heartsick?

      I’m also delighted that you and your siblings have access to each other’s accounts. Good thinking, good planning.

      • My dad was a special person in that. He had no problems with buying a bottle of really good italian wine for 100 Euro, but would shout at us, if we got petrol at the station that was a cent more expensive. He was always getting us good and expensive equipment for skiing but if we wanted to go out, we had to work for that. it took me some time to understand his thinking behind that. but its really simple: Food is for you, so spend as much money as you want, petrol is for the petrol company, so be super frugal about it. I am sure he was glad we spent the money we saved at the undertaker on really nice food at his favourite restaurant at the funeral…

        My to do list contains now: “remember mum to make a patients declaration for life extending measurements”. besides the money troubles, I also dont want to be forced to make a decision over my mothers life and death.

  10. Hi Moni, I’m so sorry that you lost your brother when he had all his life before him. I always feel sad when I read of people dying in car smashes especially when they are so young. But what an unexpected blessing that he had thought about things ahead of time.

    I initially joined the organ-donation register in response to knowing a woman who was waiting for a kidney. She’d already had one transplant and the new kidney had failed after a decade and she was back on dialysis three times a week. Every time her mobile rang there was the flare of hope that it might be THAT call……….seeing what she went thru made me very aware of the need for donors. It’s also very in tune with my beliefs about re-using and recycling, anyway.

    Here in the UK, what appear to be family-owned funeral parlours which have been in neighbourhoods for generations have mostly been bought-out by US-based multinationals and the costs of funerals have sky-rocketted. £6000 isn’t unusual and that’s more than some people have to live on for a year. Some poor souls have no relatives capable of picking up the tab, and no estate, so the local council has to arrange a funeral. In the olden days, these were done first thing in the morning and called “the nine o’clock trot” and were the source of shame to relatives and dread to the aging person themselves.

    I’m the executor of my parents’ estate and have standing instructions to not waste any money on fancy stuff. If some oily coffin salesman should be unwise enough to imply that interring someone in a cardboard coffin is disrespectful or unloving, they will have it pointed out to them that Mum is a woodworker in life who thoroughly-disapproves of wasting fine woods by putting them into the ground or the incinerator. She’s all for cardboard; we’ve discussed this already.

    As to her clutter………well, I’d be months at that job, but hopefully the need won’t arise for long years yet, and she is easing a few things off her premises. I encourage when I can but one mustn’t be too pushy or you can achieve the opposite of helpful intentions and cause rows, to boot.

    • Hi GreyQueen – my husband’s great-grandmother died at 101, hadn’t had a sick day in her life up until then. She didn’t want a fussy funeral, so her instructions were to have a tea party. We hired a party size marquee – not the kind weddings are held in – it was about the size of two car garage which was lined up with the car port, to provide a bit of shade. Everyone brought a plate of something to eat like sandwiches or cake. Someone said a few words to acknowledge her life, the the offer was there for anyone to say have a moment to speak, and basically the family spent an afternoon together, gossiping, laughing, kids running around. And honestly, it is one of the more memorable services I have been to. In case you’re wondering, no the coffin wasn’t there, I understand she wanted the cardboard because she didn’t want to waste money.

  11. Thank goodness your friend is ok Cindy, he is blessed in so many ways to have you in his life. Let’s hope he can move forward happily.

    God Awful subject but so neccesary to discuss with all and sundry I might add.

    Having lost my FIL in 2008 then my Dad in 2010 you would of thought I’d be a full book on all the precedings and aftermath. My FIL was totally organised but that didn’t mean we got off scott free, no Sir, turned out they had a joint plan which meant only half for my FIL, that was ok but still meant a lot of messing about. My FIL always said he wanted to be buried standing up in a cardboard box so when the ‘Call’ came he’d be the first one out!!! I loved his humour and thank goodness they had planned as much as they could. My Dad on the other hand caused a lot of trauma that was unexpected due to other things that he considered important at the time, very sad but made me very mindful of the whole ‘Merry-Go-Round’ that is dying.

    It’s ok to go ahead and die! That’s what we do, we birth, we live, we die, but in the midst of all that have the conversation with your loved ones or go about it yourself and organise what you want BUT DO IT!!! Believe me the cheapest of funerals are not CHEAP and by cheap I do not mean to lessen or demean the situation but it is horrible to be grieving over your loved ones and stressing about what people will think if you choose the cheaper option due to no guidelines being set, financial problems, whatever!

    Another thing to consider is getting in early and being organised CAN and WILL upset some. After losing my beloved Dads so close, I told my family and loved ones that I’m organising my photos to use and they should all wear a ‘Froggie PJ top’ and play ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and have a good ole knees up! They were mortified that I’d actually suggested the format, my answer was ‘Cheap Funeral, have fun! Why spend so much at such a harrowing time only to be still paying for it. Death is final but the bills may not be.

    Truely a timely reminder to be organised. Note to self, go back through everything and double check the lot!!

    P.S Do they actually have the ‘cardboard’ not trying to be awful but is it really an option? I’ve seen the plywood mdf type option.

    • Hi Dizzy – they definately do have cardboard coffins. Also known as eco-coffins.

      • Thanks for that Moni, I had heard about them but I thought I was having my leg yanked! Departing is such a touchy subject but I’m definitely bringing this one up again and again.

        I’ve lost so many loved ones in a short space of time and the fall out is still ever present, and so many of my family members are still paying in so many ways. It’s sad but I am determined to get everyone on board.

        Have a beautiful day 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Dizzy, I know what you mean. I have also a song that I want to have played on my funeral. 😉 I know that people get upset sometimes when I talk about my own death. But I am sure, if I wouldnt tell them to go and have an excellent party together and celebrate my life and death with a lot of raised glasses, they wouldnt do it in the end. And I really want all of my friends and my family to celebrate my life together. Arm in arm, singing and dancing in memory of me.
      and my mum or brother will be in charge of 3 little boxes that contain my remaining things. 😉

      • Well planned and thought out Lena, good for you, I find so many get upset at the expression of ‘Here for a good time, maybe not a long time’, if I live to be 90 or more I’d rather be in tip top health and still swinging, failing that I have made my wishes heard, I won’t be here at some stage so I definitely want a celebration of life with no further expenses. If we are present in the ‘Afterlife’ I don’t want to hear anyone whinging that they are still paying an account for me or worse yet, ‘What are we gonna do with this stuff’!!!???!!!

        • ah Dizzy, that is so very true. In my afterlife I want to see people smile when they think of me, and not feel annoyed by the amount of work I gave them.

  12. Hi everyone,

    Love the posts here!!! I’ve learnt so much here today and have also been reminded to take care of things, seriously this time.

    Let’s have that ‘365 less things’ world conference before we all “kark it” !!!

    I’m in….anyone else? ….Sue D 🙂

    • I think I mentioned it before somewhere but wouldn’t it be great to work out a meeting point somewhere in the world and have a get together ‘The Multi-National Stuff Storm (or lack of) Convention’ 365’ers UNITED!

      Have a great day Sue D 🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. I am a liver transplant recipient (15 years and going strong). I have told my family that I do not want a funeral. Instead, when I am really ill, rent a hall and invite all my friends, family and acquaintances so I can say good-bye. I don’t want them to party after I am gone. What fun would that be for me. I want to enjoy them and express my thanks for their friendship and love.
    When my MIL passed away last year, some friends of ours were disappointed that we did not have a funeral service and invited everyone to a dinner or reception after. Instead, we asked the priest to say a few words at the funeral home and then at the cemetary. My husband, son, a cousin and I went to the Hospice where they had a nice gazebo (and where my MIL spent her last few days) and had some fruit and cheese and drinks (soft) and talked about her life. It was quiet, meaningful to my husband who was an only child and to my son. It was the perfect ending to her life.
    Now, cleaning out her things was difficult. She was not a packrat like me yet she had many things that needed to be dealt with. It took almost 3 months to clean out her condo. I joined this website so that I will have a lot of this “decluttering” done before it is necessary for my kids to do it. Already, reading some of the posts, I am seeing things I can toss things without guilt or new ways to look at my clutter. Looking forward to having a emptier house.

    • I agree fully about having a party WITH your loved ones! I hope we have the chance to do that and be able to enjoy it.

      I hope you continue to have good health for many years to come.


  1. […] GreyQueen’s comments about making sure one is prepared for death may have been better than the post that inspired them. […]