‘They Left Us EVERYTHING’, by Plum Johnson

“…thinking about all the things we’ve inherited, all the carefully saved fragments from another time…each generation preserving them in turn, wanting future generations to know of this long, braided chain of genes, habits, and attitudes that binds us together as a family: our history and stories.” 

This is a memoir about a woman who takes on the task of clearing out her parents’ house after they have passed on. When we die we don’t take anything with us, and everyone else gets to go through what we have left behind! Johnson grew up in this house in Oakville, Ontario, and as she handles objects from the past, she reflects on her life, her relationship with her parents and siblings, and the life her parents had before they moved into this house. She had a disciplined British father, an exuberant Southern mother, and four siblings, all living together in this 23-room house. Johnson has a warmly candid writing style that is at once funny and poignant, but also delves into serious issues of managing loss and grief.

What I didn’t notice about the title when I first came into contact with this book was that the word EVERYTHING in the title is capitalized. Yes, the house was FULL of STUFF and for anyone who has done it, removing it all and making decisions about what to throw and what to keep, is a colossal task that does take one on an emotional journey. I’m glad Johnson shares hers. She also raises some interesting questions about whether it’s better to clear out your own mess before you die, if possible, or if it’s somehow therapeutic for your children to do it. Despite the fact that it can be frustrating if story-less objects are left without the ability to ask questions about them, there is value in reliving the memories and there may even be some surprises!

One response to “‘They Left Us EVERYTHING’, by Plum Johnson

  1. Thanks, Joanne, for reminding me of this book I read a while ago. Very helpful, with some humorous and touching moments. And so great to hear Plum Johnson speak about the experience.
    I’m currently reading Peter Walsh’s “Let it Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life”” and looking forward to “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” that will be published in January, in an effort to deal with all our stuff. I prefer to not leave everything for our kids to grapple with.
    I do really appreciate some recent advice that we should be sure to record the story of why we treasure some items to include as part of the legacy. That exercise can be revealing to ourselves as well as our children.
    Again, thank you, and keep up the good work.

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