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Canadian Woodworking

Giving permission to let go

Author: James Jackson
Illustration: mike Del Rizzo
Published: February March 2023

We all love our well-equipped workshops, but that may pose challenges to our loved ones in the future.

A few months ago I came across a newspaper article that changed the way I look at my workshop. The story was about the enormous burden that can sometimes come with the death of a loved one when their middle-aged kids or widow must begin the task of sorting through a lifetime of accumulated belongings.

I think the photo that stood out most in my mind was a man, maybe 10 years older than I am, looking totally overwhelmed as he stood in his father’s workshop that was packed to the rafters with old tools, piles of wood and jars of old nails. Not only had he just lost his father, but he now had to sift and sort through his stuff and decide what to keep and what to throw away.

It made me think about the legacy I’ll leave behind when I’m gone and my loved ones have to sort through my increasingly untidy workshop. Will they resent me for it? Will it tarnish their memory of their dad? If they enjoy woodworking, they might be able to use the tools, but what if they don’t take it up?

We don’t like to think about it, but the time will come when you no longer need those tools that are hanging in your shop. And that pile of beautiful hardwood you meant to turn into a coffee table or jewelry box will possibly just become firewood.

To avoid some of that resentment I’ve started to change the way I deal with my workshop and the piles of things that inevitably get left sitting around or stuffed in a drawer. What should they sell? What should they throw away?

First, I’m going to make a list of my tools and determine which ones would be worth the effort to sell, which ones can be given away or are worth donating to a local high school woodshop pro­gram, and which ones aren’t worth the effort and can probably just be thrown in a dumpster.

Let’s face it – if someone isn’t deep into the craft, they might see a wall covered in a thousand dollars’ worth of clamps and think they’re worthless. Or they’ll post a used table saw online for twice what it’s worth and wonder why no one is inquiring about it.
Knowledge is key, so pass it along in the form of a list, and update that list whenever new tools are added to (or subtracted from) the shop.

Another tip that’s somewhat connected to the first would be to try to keep the workspace clean. This will serve multiple purposes. First, you’ll be more efficient in your daily woodworking tasks if your work­bench isn’t always covered in clutter and if you’re not always tripping over power cords and wood cutoffs laying at your feet.

The second benefit, though, is it’s easier for an outsider to come in and make sense of the space if it’s somewhat tidy and well orga­nized every time you leave.

The final tip – and this one is probably the most important and the inspiration for this article – is to give your spouse or other fam­ily members permission to just let it all go.

What do I mean by letting it go? Well, let’s put it this way – the overwhelming burden of having to sort through a drawer full of tools and other knickknacks can be compounded by the worry of how the departed would respond to knowing their favourite ham­mer was bound for the dumpster.

You, the woodworker, should write a letter or leave some other note relieving your loved ones of that pressure. Tell them it’s ok. They can get rid of whatever they want in whatever way they want. There is no pressure to keep something just because they worry you might be upset.

Give them permission to just let it all go.

I hope these tidbits of advice were as helpful to you as they were to me. It gave me a new perspec­tive on what really matters, and what little gifts we can leave behind for our loved ones after we’re gone.


James Jackson - [email protected]

James is a woodworker, a freelance writer, a former newspaper reporter and father to two amazing girls.

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