Dear Ann Cannon • My next-door neighbors REALLY love their yard. I mean, they work on it constantly. They were recently mowing their lawn in early March. You know, in between snowstorms. In the summer, they’re the type of folks who mow their lawn in nice little diamond patterns. For myself and my yard, I’m happy if the lawn is relatively dandelion-free and the dead leaves are mostly cleared out. I try to keep it a little better than I normally would, just because I don’t want to stress them out. But I also don’t want to spend a lot of time on something that is not important to me. So how do I get rid of the guilt every time we say hello, just because we don’t have the same priorities as far as yard work is concerned?
— Reluctant Gardener
Dear Reluctant • I want you to pretend for a minute that I’m your Father Confessor. Or Mother Confessor. Or whatever. Anyway, just pretend I’m someone who can officially absolve you of your completely unnecessary guilt, because it is, in fact, completely unnecessary. Are you ready? OK. Here goes. I ABSOLVE YOU OF YOUR GUILT. There. That should take care of things. You’ll feel better now. You’re welcome!
Dear Ann Cannon • My mom passed away and my brother and I are going through all her things. It’s a difficult time, emotionally and physically. My brother wants to keep everything. He’s having a really hard time parting with stuff. But neither of us really has space to keep it. What’s a good strategy for figuring out what to keep and what to let go so someone else can use it, while preserving the feelings of everyone involved?
Dear Grieving • Immediately after my grandmother’s funeral, my grandfather wanted to return to their home. Alone.
“Don’t you think it would be better if you were with us?” my mother asked him.
He shook his head. “I just want to be with Louise’s things right now.”
I’ve never forgotten that moment, because it taught me about the power and importance things can have in our lives. You’re wise to be considerate of your brother’s feelings in light of his and your loss. And yet possessions — especially in a materialistic culture like ours — can overwhelm us, which accounts for the popularity of books like “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.
When our family cleaned out my parents’ storage unit, we opted for the three-pile strategy. One pile was for stuff we wanted to keep. One pile was for stuff we either wanted to donate or toss. And one pile was for stuff we weren’t sure about. This process allowed us to considerably downsize while also giving us a little breathing room. Would a similar strategy work for your brother and you? It should be noted that this system isn’t perfect. It can be hard to get around to dealing with that third pile. But at least dividing up your mother’s possessions this way will give you and your brother a good start.
Oh! One last idea here. Let’s say your mother was an avid collector of something —books, tea towels, stamps. Unless you yourself collect the same item, select one thing that reminds you of her and let the rest go.
These are tender times for your family. Best of luck to you.
Dear Ask Ann Cannon Readers • Speaking of books (see above), I know lots of people who love to read. Knowing other people who love to read is my main superpower in this life. So if you want recommendations, why not tell me what you like. I’ll crowdsource my reading friends and print their suggestions here, much as Nicole Lamy does for her Match Book column in The New York Times. Who knows? This could be fun if you’re game!