What Should I Leave Behind?

By Dianne Kemp BA, RN

Originally Published on August 14th, 2018.

Now that I am officially a senior citizen, I seem to be thinking more about cleaning out some of the clutter in my house and garage.


My mother, who passed about in 2013 at age 92, was an organized hoarder. She and my father (he died in 2010) lived in their home for the last 50 years of their lives. After mom passed, I visited her home to clean it out and get it ready for sale. The house had a tremendous amount of storage space, and thus always looked very neat and orderly. That is until I started to open cupboards, drawers, closets and investigated the attic.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Mom had calendars with every dinner she made for the family for the past 10 years
  • She had every birthday card my brother and I had ever received
  • She had every party invitation we had ever received
  • The clothing stored in the attic disintegrated into dust when I touched them
  • There were clothes from when I was a child
  • Sports equipment from my brother’s youth (he is 68)

And this list goes on and on.

It took me a month of going over there every other day and spending about 5 hours each time to get the house cleaned out. And I filled three dumpsters. In addition, I had a large garage sale.
I’m sure my mom would have been very upset if she could have seen what I threw away and how cheaply I sold her treasured belongings. I did find several items that had post-it notes with instructions from mom and who should receive the item. Of course, I distributed those accordingly.

But, it really started me thinking – what would happen to the “stuff” that I have – that I consider important enough to save?

About a year ago, I started to go through my “stuff” and I found that I had saved some of the same types of things mom did – cards, drawings that my children had done in school, pictures (some I could not even identify the people!), etc.

First, I went through pictures and saved the important ones. I then scanned them and put them on thumb drives and gave a copy to family members who I thought would want them. This included my parent’s home movies which I had transferred to thumb drives. The rest of the photos I threw away – difficult but necessary.

Then I just kept going –

  • Clothes I could never wear again – donated (hardest to get rid of – the scrubs I wore as a nurse!!)
  • Christmas decorations – I kept a few but I do not decorate for holidays anymore and my children have their own now
  • Books – donated some and threw away others (like old nursing textbooks)
  • Empty boxes – what did I think I was going to do with all those Amazon boxes

I did keep some things that I hope my children will want – but that will be their decision.

Through all of this, I realized something very important – it’s not the “stuff” that is important, it is the memories.

I spent some time last weekend with my son, daughter-in-law, my granddaughter (age 11), and grandson (age 8) who were visiting from Colorado. We spend a day in Lexington where I grew up.

They swam in the lake, walked the harbor, went to the General Store (penny candy that I bought there when I was their age is now 10 cents, at least), and the cemetery where my parents are buried. I smiled as I listened to my son share memories of his childhood with his children. And I shared some of my own memories. I also showed my grandchildren some sentimental items at my house and the history.

The word that kept coming to my mind is “legacy.” What legacy will I leave? Will people think kindly of me, remember good times, think I was a good person? Will my children remember me as a good mom, comforter?

Legacy is not the “stuff” – it is the memories you leave. As I continue to de-clutter, I find myself able to throw away more and more of my “stuff.”

I plan to be around for many more years and add to my legacy – but the last few years has taught me a lesson in stuff versus memories.


Dianne Kemp was born in Detroit and moved to Lexington at age 9. She received her Associate Degree in Nursing Science in 1972 from SC4, and a Bachelors in Healthcare Psychology from Graceland College (Iowa) in 1996.
Dianne’s career developed from her love of babies. She was a Maternal Child nurse for 45 years – developing and teaching childbirth and parenting education classes, working as an RN in Mother Baby Care and was the first lactation consultant in the county. She is now volunteering as a chaplain at River District Hospital since losing her vision in her left eye due to a retinal detachment in 2010.
Dianne is the proud mother of three children (one who was disabled and passed away in 2007) and two grandchildren.

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