They Left Us Everything, by Plum Johnson [Book Review]

They Left Us Everything, a memoir by Plum JohnsonI recently read They Left Us Everything, and it appealed to me on many levels.

  • It takes place in Oakville, Ontario, which is located between Etobicoke, where I grew up, and Hamilton, where I live now, so it’s familiar territory.
  • The author’s description of her relationship with her late mother was compelling. It was different than the relationship I had with my own mother, but there were parts that really hit home. And even though it’s been over 20 years since my mom passed away, the book drew out emotions I’d forgotten about, and even brought tears to my eyes from time to time.
  • I found myself looking forward to getting back into the book, days after I’d already finished it.

You may be thinking, “That’s very nice, Janet, but why are you talking about it here on Your Organizing Business?”

In a nutshell, They Left Us Everything is a memoir of the author’s experience packing up her parents’ home after their deaths. They’d lived in the 4000 square-foot, 23-room house for over 50 years and, as you can imagine, they accumulated a lot of stuff, ranging from shopping receipts to valuable antiques.

As she and her siblings emptied out boxes, drawers, cupboards and closets, they learned many facts about their parents and relatives through the many artefacts they discovered, experiencing a wide range of emotions along the way. Hundreds of decisions had to be made, and most of them weren’t easy.

If you work with downsizing and estates, you’ll probably find the story interesting, because it reflects what you face with your clients on a regular basis.

But if this is an area you’d like to get into, I especially encourage you to read this book. It opened my eyes to how complex it can be! Here are a few of the issues it raises:

  • Are you equipped to help your clients make decisions while dealing with powerful emotions?
  • Considering the amount of work involved, how can you best assist your client in a cost-effective way?
  • How can you make the process easier for your client – or can you?

Have you read They Left Us Everything? I’d love to know your thoughts!

    A former professional organizer, I’m now a web designer and DIY marketing facilitator. I love helping others succeed by sharing the knowledge and insight I’ve gained through marketing my own business for over 15 years. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

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    Comments

    1. I read this during a vacation this year and found it fascinating. It really is an insightful read on relationships with our families and our stuff. I didn’t realize it was set in Oakville until I opened it up on the plane but I loved that fact also!

      • I’ve discovered that quite a few people I know have read it and that it has won some major awards too. I’m glad my friend suggested it for our book group or I might have missed out altogether! I’m looking forward to discussing it with them this weekend.

    2. My sister gave me this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It really makes one think about all those past life experiences, the possessions and the dreams of the people left behind. It makes you think about what it would be like for those who are left behind and have to go through everything and make decisions about the items. The author was fortunate that she was able to spend this time in her childhood/parents home and go through the emotions over the year. It is so interesting to think about the energies in a home and all of that past history. It was pretty cool that it was set so close to home too. I love that you have a picture of the home Janet.

      • Interesting perspective, Kim – you’re right! She was fortunate that she had the flexibility and the time to devote herself to the process.

        I was hoping to find a photo of the house I could use in my post, but the only ones I found were copyrighted (which I expected). Then I thought of Google Street View! I found the address in an article about the house from 2012 and was able to find it that way. I could have just driven down the highway and taken one myself, but it never even crossed my mind! I like this interactive one, because it allows you to see the incredible view from the property – even better than I imagined from reading about it!

    3. This looks like a great book. Like Seana, I’m adding it to my books to read list. It feels particularly relevant because at some point in the not to distant future, I will be responsible for doing this for my parents’ home (and my childhood home) of 55+ years. I have helped clients in this situation. It is very emotional. I’m expecting that too when it’s time for my siblings and me to do this.

      • I discussed it with my book group this past weekend, and it was interesting to hear my friends’ reactions to it. One friend did this with her parents’ home of 50 years in about 6 weeks, at the same time she was preparing to move her own family. Another has done it with parents, grandparents, in-laws, and others. And a third is currently living in the house she grew up in, which still has some old stuff tucked away.

        You are lucky in that you have skills and experience doing this, and know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park, so hopefully you won’t be caught off guard. Losing parents is such an emotional roller coaster that it can be hard to focus on the practical matters that must be dealt with.

    4. This book sounds wonderful. I will check it out. It is a handy book to give to people who are starting the process of going through stuff. Thanks for sharing.

      I was the executor of both my parent’s’ estates, and while it was a stressful time, I am glad I was able to share it with my brother and family. I found that people look for these types of books after a person has passed because they get lost in the process of the stuff and forget to enjoy their life. We put aside few cherished items and updated others which made us create a new found love for the items.

      • It’s definitely not a “how to” book, but it did provide a lot of insight into many aspects of the process. I’m happy to hear that you and your family were able to create new found love for some of your parents’ belongings.

    5. Looks like a great read–thanks for passing along the recommendation! I will be meeting with an older couple tomorrow who have 38 years of stuff that is keeping them from moving on to the next season of their life in Florida.

      • That’s quite a challenge!

        I was always a bit jealous of friends who lived in the same house the whole time they were growing up, because we moved several times. My father has moved a few more times since my mother passed away, so there’s been lots of downsizing along the way. Now I’m thankful that I don’t have to go through that – even though weeks later, I still find myself going back to “Point O’ View” in my mind!

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