They Left Us Everything is a memoir by Canadian Plum Johnson about caring for her senior parents and the 16-month project of sorting and clearing their home. This contemporary story is set in her parents’ rambling 22-room house filled with decades of accumulation and memories. In sharp contrast to The Swedish Art of Death Clearing (my recent blog posting), Johnson finds real value in waiting until after someone’s death to sort their stuff.

How many of us have faced the experience of setting out on an excavation to clear an elderly relative or friend’s home? Without knowing what we will discover, we can enter with resentment and weariness or anticipation and curiosity! 

Plum Johnson had her own trepidations about the gigantic task she faced. However, with her good humour and insightful reflection, we are invited to accompany her on the adventure!  Johnson unearths over four decades of a home’s history.  She is committed to taking the time to do this well. Many of us are not able to make a commitment of this magnitude. If we are able to do so, the gifts are profound.

This excavation helps Johnson develop a deeper understanding of her parents and appreciation for her siblings. Old letters and photos, shopping lists and business transactions, and clothes and household objects from other eras help her resolve long-standing family issues. Upon reading this tribute, one could argue: Why not leave everything for our families or executors to sort? Preserving family history and resolving old issues is important! Let someone else decide what to keep! 

Perhaps there is a ‘sweet-spot’ between the radical clearing of The Swedish Art of Death-Cleaning and They Left Us Everything.  I believe we can find great meaning if we take time now to have older family members tell their stories of connections with special objects. Acting now could help all of us know what items in the homes of our elders have historical significance. Perhaps then, it would be easier for everyone to let other items go at whatever time that may be. 

They Left Us Everything is a wonderful read full of wisdom and humour and the history of one Canadian family from World War ll until the present day. I highly recommend borrowing it from your public library.