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Joanne Sherman’s column: Estate planning

The woman stares into the camera, tears glistening.

Mom and Dad had passed and left her their home. But that isn’t why she’s crying. No, it’s because before they passed, they neglected to clean out the house, and now poor her is stuck doing it. She’s even had to rent a small dumpster.

“I have a message to you boomer parents,” she says, “your treasures may be a burden to your kids.”   

Oh yeah? Well, here’s my message to you boomers’ kids: “Knock it off!”

I’ve prepared our sons so they won’t cry on camera when, after I’ve “passed,” they discover that every non-edible item I’ve ever purchased is in this house. When the time comes for them to empty it, I hope they marvel at what might be my greatest lifetime achievement — managing to cram 7,627 square feet of stuff into a 1,500-square-foot dwelling. 

It’s not that I haven’t tried to overcome my need to hang on to things, but applying the “if it doesn’t make your heart sing, it goes” rule doesn’t work. I guess I have pretty low standards because everything makes my heart sing.

Consequently, my home is a minimalist’s nightmare. Every wall, space and flat surface holds my “treasures.” But, the real treasure trove, the mother lode, is in our basement, and after I’m no longer living above it, my  kids will have the pleasure of going through the decades of my life, layer by layer. And I’ll tell you what, they’re gonna need a bigger dumpster.

The story of my adventures is down there. Start with the golf clubs. I never played a course, but I did take golf lessons 30 years ago when a pro taught beginners golf in the gym as part of adult education.

In those days I’d sign up for any activity that required special shoes, equipment and new clothes. And who doesn’t love golf clothes? Unfortunately, I wasn’t good at the game.

“Joanne,” the pro would say, “take a swing,” and I would, and then he’d turn to the other golfer wannabes and say, “See what she did? Don’t do that.”

So my clubs sit in the green bag beside the golf shorts and a collection of visors. The golf shoes are in a box beside special shoes purchased for another adult-education class, tap dancing.

I wasn’t good at that, either. I could shuffle right, but not left, which causes pandemonium when everyone is heading to Buffalo, while you’re stuck in one place, pawing like a horse with taps on its hooves.

There are bowling shoes down there and an assortment of bowling balls, a wood-burning kit and shattered remnants of my stained-glass phase — I applied so much solder my 60-pound lamp pulled itself out of the ceiling. It wrecked our dining room table, which is also down there next to  grandma’s 30-by-40 fake oriental rug that I keep because what if I need a rug that’s bigger than any room in our house?

There are tea pots down there, coffee pots, lobster pots and bed pans. Also, an easel from my water-color period and canvases of bucolic New England scenes. I did master covered bridges, then stopped after I’d painted about a dozen because my husband asked if I could paint something that wasn’t a covered bridge and I felt insulted. Artists are extremely sensitive, but the truth was, no, I couldn’t.

There are Christmas cards with pictures of little kids who already have grandkids, mis-matched Tupperware, tricycles, hockey skates, rocking chairs, cookie tins, a sewing machine and an electric oven roaster that I bought at a yard-sale, because hey, ya never know, someday I might want to roast something electrically. Every treasure from the different phases of my life is in that basement.

And speaking of treasures, when our boys left home did they clean out their treasures? No, they did not. They left behind the flotsam and jetsam accumulated during their teen years.

It took weeks of excavating through a dozen layers to clean their rooms of National Geographics and Playboys, record albums, eight-tracks, cassettes, stolen street signs, road-construction barriers, love letters, hate letters, milk crates filled with baseballs, ninja stars and petrified pizza, all my missing forks and signed report cards I never signed.

Like every good mother, I cleaned out those rooms and didn’t whine about it on national television.

I hope it’s years away, but when my kids have to sort through my layers of “treasures,” they’ll appreciate that I did it for them. I know they’ll recognize a lot of the stuff in the basement — the weights, the prom king crown, the Springsteen jacket, the stolen kerosene construction lamps and the petrified pizza, because that’s where I stashed it. All of it.

It’s called posthumous payback.