If you’ve ever had a loved one die and had to sort through room after room of their life’s possessions, you know what a long, difficult process it can be. And if you’ve ever had to wade through your own living space because you’ve accumulated so much stuff, you know that’s hardly a pleasant experience either. Situations like these are what inspired Gail Rubin to write “Kicking the Bucket List: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die.”
Gail Rubin is a certified thanatologist, a professional who educates people about end-of-life issues. She is also a certified celebrant, a role in which she “helps with funeral planning for those who don’t plan to die.” Rubin also hosts the TV/DVD series “A Good Goodbye.” In 2008, she fought a battle with breast cancer which led her to an even deeper awareness of her own mortality.
“Kicking the Bucket List” offers 100 brief, actionable suggestions for downsizing your property and making your final wishes known. Each idea offers a concise explanation, a website you can consult to take action or find more information, and a tongue-in-cheek picture. Some of her ideas are light-hearted. For instance, Rubin suggests getting a couple of kittens or a large dog to help with decluttering. They will knock all of your things down and break them anyway.
Other suggestions, like evaluating items for value, are more serious. Rubin understands how families pass ugly items from generation to generation because “it might be worth something someday.” Her philosophy? If it’s not worth anything now and you don’t like it, it goes!
This passage in the book reminded me of being a child and bouncing a ball in the house, even though my mother forbade it. I knocked over a lamp that had been a wedding present to my parents and broke it. My mom yelled at me, and of course I felt terrible. Years later, she told me that, while she was scolding me, she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. It turned out she had hated that lamp from the moment she laid eyes on it, and was delighted to see it lying in pieces on the floor. So, don’t traumatize your kids. If you don’t like something, discreetly get rid of it.
After Rubin has led her readers through a thorough decluttering, she discusses spelling out wishes about end-of-life care. She encourages the reader to think about what kind of service they would like to have, and who they would want to handle their money and property. She recommends checking all of these documents regularly to ensure that your wishes have not changed. For instance, you probably don’t want the ex-spouse who ran off with your secretary making your end-of-life decisions for you.
My only complaints about “Kicking the Bucket List” are small ones. First, most of the information Rubin provides is, if not common knowledge, then at least readily available. It’s the way she provides the information that makes the book a winner. Second — and Rubin acknowledges this problem herself — any book that links to as many online resources as “Kicking the Bucket List” is bound to run into a problem with dead links in a few years. Hopefully Rubin will keep an eye out for this and update as needed.
Overall, I found “Kicking the Bucket List” to be a clear, clever and interesting read. If you can bring yourself to actually perform the tasks suggested, your clean home and well-laid-out plans will make your loved ones’ grief that much easier to bear when your day arrives.