Simplicana 12 non-things I inherited from my mom - Simplicana

12 non-things I inherited from my mom


Patty Cantlay

When I was 16 my mom passed away, and being her only daughter, I inherited most of her belongings: clothing, jewelry, knick knacks, her old school papers, letters and cards, journals, photos, recipes, kitchen utensils, and her elephant figurine collection. For the first few years after her death I felt comforted to have so many of her things. They felt like pieces of her left behind to buffer me in and take the edge off the loss.

Eight years after my mother died I became a professional organizer. After endless hours of helping clients make endless decisions on endless items, I became utterly disenchanted with possessions, including most of my own.

Suddenly, I was looking at most of my inherited items and asking myself…

  • Do I really want all forty-some elephant knick knacks from her collection? That’s a lot to dust.
  • Do I really want to keep any or all of the macrobiotic and vegan recipes that my mom had to make when she was battling cancer? My mother lived to eat. Her post-cancer diagnosis diet plan probably bummed her out a lot. Am I seriously honoring her by keeping those recipes?
  • Do I really want my mom’s slip dresses? They are beautiful, but I was probably conceived in one of them. Ew. That is not sexy energy to have in my closet.

After years of helping my clients release things that no longer resonate with them, I’ve been able to turn the process on myself and give away most of my mom’s belongings, to family members or charity.

There are some amazing things of my mother’s that I cherish and embrace in my life, including:

  • Her wedding ring and other special jewelry pieces
  • Five of my favorites from her elephant figurine collection
  • Her colorful Shanghai Tang purse (I never use it, I just display it because it’s bright and pretty)
  • Her tortoise shell sunglasses
  • A cookbook that my aunt and cousin and I made of all of her favorite, pre-cancer recipes
  • Ten thousand digital photos that I had scanned from negatives, that I love to peruse with my brother during the holidays
  • Her travel journals
  • My baby book with all of her notes… Including this little gem, from when I was three years old:


I keep only the items that resonate with me, but life happens: theft, fire, flood… There is no guarantee that these items will stay in my life forever. If they were to be lost or damaged I would be sad, but I would be okay. Here is a list of my favorite things that I inherited from my mom that can’t be stolen, dusted, broken or lost: 

    1. My “Dog Voice”. You know how some people have a bizarre little voice that they reserve for animals? I copied my mom’s.
    2. An obsession with food. Some eat to live. My mom lived to eat. Our family friend Angela told me once that the two of them talked about food so graphically and hedonistically that people thought  that she and my mom were off in the corner giggling about sex. My best friends and I are the same way- our lives revolve around our next meal.
    3. A fondness for order. When I found my mom’s (ten thousand) photo negatives in the attic two years ago, they were already organized by date, labeled, and ready for scanning. She took a year of work away from that project for me, just by having the discipline in the moment to label.
    4. The unnecessary dot I put in my last name when I write my signature. “Why do you do that?” I asked my mom one day. “Just ‘cause,” she grinned. She did it just to give it her own flair. Now I do it too, as a little tribute to her.
    5. A love of composing silly poems, raps and parody songs. Long before I busted out rhymes at networking meetings, my mom was writing raps to perform at her sibling’s rehearsal dinners. I even found some raps of hers recorded on cassette tapes, which are now digitized- I can play them right from my iPod and laugh.
    6. A love of travel. Our parents were awesome about taking us on trips. We were not wealthy, yet Mom and Dad prioritized accordingly so that we could all do our Out West trip and a 3 month sabbatical in Europe when we were kids. My brother and I were even enrolled in a little school in the English countryside when we were 11 and 6. These memories are far more precious to me than if I had had tons of toys.
    7. The ability to hold long term conversations with my brothers that are entirely in movie quotes. When we’re all home together on holidays, and especially on family trips, it can get absurd. My mom and her little brother did just this, and funnily enough, from many of the same movies we now quote (big Mel Brooks fans in our family).
    8. An unfortunate tendency to giggle at the least appropriate time. Even at funerals sometimes. Mortifying.
    9. A deep love for The Beatles, The Band, The Eagles, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and all things classic rock. Seriously, who needs any other genre? Classic rock is clearly the best ever, and our mother made sure that we knew this.
    10. The freedom to choose my beliefs. My parents were Episcopalian. We went to church as a family on Christmas Eve and Easter, but when my mom asked me to attend church with her on a regular Sunday, I was allowed to decline. I went through a “witch” phase in middle school (what can I say, The Craft was and still is a great movie, even though it is a terrible representation of what Wicca is all about) and my parents encouraged my exploration by taking me into New Hope, PA to buy herbs, oils and spell books. It was a short lived phase, and my parents probably knew that it would be, but the fact that they let me experiment with unconventional interests has given my natural curiosity validation.
    11. A positive outlook and a belief that I can do anything I want to in life. My mom and dad attended every play I was in, even when I went to a boarding school three hours north of them. They supported my dream to be an actress- never tried to talk me down- never guilted me with what they could or couldn’t afford. Before that, I wanted to be an ornithologist- they took me bird watching and got kind of into birds themselves. Neither of these career choices panned out, but I can honestly say that I arrived at this career with no stress that I needed approval from my parents.
    12. A feeling of self worth in low times. I was constantly in trouble for my grades. A lot of this was because mom had breast cancer, and was in and out of remission or the hospital for eleven years, and it was stressful; when I got home I skipped the homework to escape into my forts, my toy horse ranch, or AOL Instant Messenger, depending on what phase of life I was in. When I got a rejection letter from a high school that I had applied to, my mom told me, “Forget them. I don’t want a school who doesn’t want my daughter.” I was floored. My mom made me feel like I was enough, even if I didn’t fit into the grid of what was expected.


These are the things that will never expire.

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Showing 17 Comments

  1. Linda Massimo

    Although I can’t take credit for this idea, I will pass it along.When de cluttering and finally get rid of “things” you inherited from a loved one,Take a picture of it.Then donate or sell the items to be reloved again.Put the pictures into an album and whenever the urge strikes you,look at the pictures to rekindle your memories.Its the memories they envoke,not the items themselves.However I do keep some special items so I can pass them onto my children.As I also feel it’s important to pass along the importance of rememberance and family history.Also as a side note,wait to clean out when you’re are emotionally ready.Its too hard to do this task if you’re still mourning.After time if it’s still too hard,ask a friend to come help you as their emotional clarity will be very helpful.

  2. Lisa Setos

    What a marvelous list of all things that you’ll have forever. I too have my “favorite things” of your Mom’s that I carry to this day:
    1. Laughing at antics on The Tonight Show. Patty and I shared many a Dr. Pepper in the Senior Room at Purnell laughing at Johnny Carson. Even though it’s Jimmy Fallon hosting, I still love the late night humor he brings to the show.
    2. Dr. Pepper, I occasionally enjoy a bottle but it was your Mom who introduced me to it. We loved that no one wanted to share in our favorite soft drink.
    3. Any song that the Briardoons sang. She had a marvelous tone.
    4. Sharing lines from the movies is something we did with alacrity. Patty and I would often just feed the other a line and it would get us giggling to no end.
    5. I also have the hilarious joke entitled “Juan Benito,” that Patty used to share with Matthew. I memorized it. It still cracks me up even tho’ I know the punch line.
    6. A love of crab rangoon at Trader Vic’s. No substitute.
    7. Singing the Columbia fight song with Patty and your Grand Dad in the NY apartment. At the top of our lungs. While the Christmas train ran around the base of the tree.
    8. The White House – When Andy and I came down to Washington DC to celebrate our first anniversary we spent it with your folks. After dinner in town we drove back and forth in front of the White House, like four times. Something you aren’t allowed to do anymore. We were laughing and having a ball as usual.
    9. Al Green – Love & Happiness. Your Mom used to put that LP on and she adored the opening guitar riff (B-da-da-da-DA-da-da-da-dah-dah-dah) and we would listen to that song over and over. Soooo good.

    Thank you for sharing this homage. Thanks to these memories there’s plenty of Patty to go around!! xox

  3. herb sculnick

    beautiful thoughts about your life with your mom and dad.i remember pat and liz from the day they were born and its unfortunate you never knew their mom barbara who was of coarse my sister.thats where liz and pat got their initial start in
    life from a wonderful,warm,smart,loving human seems like all those traits passed on to liz and pat and now you.glad to know you
    with love from uncle herb

  4. Janet

    Beautiful!!!! I love this so much. Thank you 🙂

  5. Ardys

    Beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  6. Molly Creviston


  7. Liza this was a wonderful piece about your wonderful mother

    Liza this was a wonderful piece about your wonderful mother

  8. Leita Hamill

    Beautiful, Eliza. Your mother was a truly great woman and you are following right behind her as I’ve watched you grow.

  9. Lorraine Goodrich

    This is brilliant! I lost my father to suicide when I was 17…very difficult. I still have his bright green Hawaiian shirt which Ive worn every St Patricks Day since he died.
    Its my fav clothing item of his and he was kindof a party guy, so it just feels right!

  10. With love, Auntie Jen


    You continue to make me so proud of the depth you have at such a young age. Your Mom not only created you with your Dad, but lives on in you with some of the BEST CHARACTERISTICS of a human being. I love you and am so proud of all you are and will continue to be, A WOMEN OF SUBSTANCE, peace and happiness with yourself, breathing for YOU AND YOUR LIFE CHOICES and no one else’s. You are impressive, my dear Eliza.

  11. Karen

    You write so beautifully the memories of your mother. You encapsulated her very essence so magically I could see every detail, feel every emotion, and learn from her to be a better mother.

    Thank you for sharing what will never expire. ❤️

  12. Dawn Oxnard

    This is a wonderful post, Liza ♡ I am so happy that I got to meet your Mom & blessed that I got to know her over the 2 Summers spent at FI.

    I have a very hard time dealing with declutterting all the “little memories” that have gathered in my storage over the years. Reading your series has put a new perspective on it & I plan on using those tools to just keep what means most to me.

    Thank you!

  13. Irene amsbary

    I went to Briarcliff college – I knew your mother there as “Patty King”.

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