How much death sort is really survivor choice?

Frankie_in_zone_7September 17, 2011

So many people have dealt with clearing out relatives' homes and describe the effort and time (sometimes counted in years) to do the job.

Both of my parents are dead (divorced, so 2 homes), so i didi go through it too.

It seems like most of the effort is related to separating the wheat from the chaff, i.e.,the survivor WANTS "the good stuff".

What if the deceased would be really surprised to know of all the angst and just figured her stuff would just be chucked when she's dead and can't use it anymore?

Several caveats: house- clearers sometime have a fiduciary as well as emotional bond and need to maximize the estate for the person(my mom went into assisted living and expected proceeds from house to help pay) or for the surviving spouse or whatever. So it can be extremely important not to lose the closet Rembrandt or the deed to the gold mine. Further, it costs money,but not so much time and personal misery, to have a house cleared or dumpsterized by someone else. And of course if it's a close relative, then we have huge ties to the " stuff" as part of our own lives.

So I'm being intentionally the devil' s advocate when I wonder , are we saying, Aunt Martha, you better develop a better relationship with your thing before you die so I won't have to resist my own compulsions to look for treasures and my own inability to let go? Are we saying , please just keep only good stuff and put the jewelry where I can find it?

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My brother is still doing the "death sort" of our late mother's house, she died in January. He's going thru carefully, won't accept any help from family members. I talk to him about once a week. He's going thru everything v e r y slowly. He figures the whole project will take somewhere between 2 and 5 years. I can't help, I have health issues and I'm 450 miles away. Besides, he refuses help. He did manage to have an "estate sale" last weekend, staged by professional appraisers. I'm interested in knowing what went and how much money he made. He's the sole Executor of the Estate, so, again, I'm in no position to object. He's thrown away tons of papers, including thousands of Christmas cards and all our (her 4 children) school records. He says the basement , currently full of furniture, is a horror show of mold and mice damage. He did manage to empty the attic. So it goes.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 8:54AM
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And I must mention Mom was an extreme clutterer/hoarder. She had saved ALL our school records (unorganized, in brown paper bags) and put lots of dolls in the attic, which had extreme heat in summer (100 and above) and a couple of roof leaks. Brother chucked all that stuff.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 9:01AM
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Jannie--that is sad to loose those records. Also the dolls It is too bad the grandkids just don't step in and claim their stuff. It does sound like he has a control issue.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 5:51PM
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Jannie, it is so kind of your brother to do all this. Disposing of stuff after it has been exposed to mold and mice (basement) or extreme heat and water (attic) is very depressing. That happened to my MIL's stuff. She was a complete packrat but did not take care of anything. My husband was crushed to see things he had given her just mixed haphazardly in with junk and moldy.

People who keep neat, organized houses make it easier on those who have to decide what to keep. My sister is going through my mother's two bedroom condo, and it is a mess. She keeps thinking my brother and I will want stuff, but we both have bad memories and small houses, so we don't want anything. We are trying to get rid of our stuff, not add more! The only thing I wouldn't mind taking is photos.

Frankie, I agree with you that it must be hard to decide on each item. Some people seem to become paralyzed with indecision. My sister has a basement full of furniture from her MIL because my BIL couldn't bear to sell it. I should introduce him to this forum!

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 10:52PM
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I wouldn't suggest that anyone should just keep the "good stuff" and put the jewelry on the table, but I do think it is wrong to expect the executor of your estate to slog through a bunch of stuff and take the time to dispose of it "properly" when you couldn't be bothered to do it yourself.

The only person's home I've had to sort out after death was my dad's. He had gotten rid of things he could no longer use as he aged, and kept what was of emotional significance. When he passed away, he had already worked out with recipients who was going to take what furniture, family photos, etc. and all the miscellaneous stuff that remained to be sorted out fit in one file box. It took less than a day to empty and clean out his apartment and get everything to where it was supposed to go. What a gift to us that was.

It was hard enough to go through the loss of a parent, I can't imagine having that loss overshadowed by fear or dread at having to slog through tons of the stuff they left behind.

My friend's house is filled to the brim with stuff she can't part with unless she knows the person she gives it to "will take care of it" and that it won't go into a landfill, etc., etc. I feel so sorry for her daughter who will be left to deal not only with the mountain of stuff, but with the guilt of knowing her parents would be very unhappy with how she gets rid of it. Or, she could dedicate hundreds of hours to disposing of it all "properly" (by their hoarder standards), but if that was so important to them, shouldn't they have done it themselves, rather than adding the burden to her grief?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 10:58PM
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I don't like the term "death sort". It seems to denigrade and demean the task that is so important to respectfully close a chapter of someone's life. Hoarders or millionaires, What does it matter. Yes, people should take care of their own affairs -- but that doesn't always happen. Would it be such a burdensome task if it wasn't all going into the landfill or charity?
leafy02: Your friend's parents REALLY don't give a fig how she gets rid of their stuff. It's all in your friend's head. Her parents are free of the responsibility. Your friend needs to detach herself or turn the task over to someone who can.
Been there more than once.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 11:16PM
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My in-laws were wonderful people who had a modest home with lots of "interesting" trinkets they had collected over the years (they loved garage sales). Since we are halfway across the country, BIL and his wife (the only close family in the area) took care of handling the disposition of the estate. They did a meticulous job; it took about 7 months to get everything ready for the estate sale. I went back about a week before the sale to help set it up. My dear FIL knew the house was filled with "stuff" but told me a month before he died (suddenly) that it would be up to the kids to sort through it--he just didn't want to deal with it (MIL had passed away several years before).

I'm an only child so when my mom passes it will be all up to me (dad passed away long ago). We've talked about this and have already taken steps legally and financially to make this process easier. My mom is also a very organized person and periodically (at least twice a year) goes through pretty much everything to see what can be donated. She realizes how hard it can be since she had to take care of disposing of my dad's parents' estate when they passed away within 2 weeks of each other 2 years after my dad passed away (dad was an only child). It was a mess. Mom is determined to make things as easy as possible for me because of that experience.

I'm so grateful that I can talk to my mom about questions and concerns I have about her estate. I can't imagine how desvastated I'll be, but I'll be much more able to deal with the estate thanks to steps being taken now. (Mom just turned 80 last month and is in excellent health, knock on wood.)

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 1:27AM
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The problem of cleaning out the house and trying to keep relatives happy who are not helping with the clean up is one of the most annoying parts of closing an estate. What's worse is when you have a trust and the trustee wants to live in the house rent free and spend 3 to 5 years cleaning it up. Flwrs is an only child who has been able to talk with her mother about all these personal items and her mom is in good health. Mom is lucky to have her. People without a nearby relative are at the mercy of caregivers. If those are good people its lucky.
The big problems are when the person has dementia. Also,the medication elderly people take often makes them tired and they lack the energy to clean up. I practice elder law and estate planning and hoarding is a big problem. When I visit a client at home the mess pets make is even worse-- birds and dogs.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 8:45AM
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I was sort of intentionally trying to show multiple sides, but it's very clear that every family, every "child" or survivor has a different story, and so one size does not fit all.

What I meant about survivor choice is, the deceased may not have really "expected" anything. The survivors may inherit, and while one could say, well, it's gravy, it's not the ancestors' responsibility to give you a nice,clean inheritance, it IS normal human nature not to throw away value, and it's hard if it takes enormous amounts of time to get to the real value. So if I were to say to my kids, " Well, after I die, I don't care what you do with all my stuff, and you can just throw it all away, I won't need it" is not really realistic as to how people's emotions and attachments work.

The best conversations are the ones, some noted above, in which families can talk about the kinds of things that help the loved ones, help the grief, help make handling the "estate" or "things" feel more respectful, help leave happy memories--in the sense that that's what most of us think we want, whichever side of the grave we're on. But not all!

The thread on anxiety at throwing stuff out is relevant. Throwing out your parents' stuff after they're gone can hit you at either end of a spectrum--one end, you really are okay, you know neither of you can use it; the other end, you throw something out, but later have a washover of attaching the thing to the person, and think, oh, now I'll never have Mom's whatsit again. Now, all of these things happen whether your loved ones were neat or not, because it's not directly linked to any sheer number of things, or mess, but can be random.

My dear MIL and FIL recently downsized and my DH and I helped them sort through an enormous amount of stuff. What is interesting is that DH, who has not much need for stuff and while he is a paper pack rat he is not a "collector" or a shopper, just had almost no problem saying, nope, no thanks, nope to most everything, whereas I, who like vintage things, and crafts, and decorative stuff, and sentimental stuff, was just pulled like a magnet to try to sort through boxes and make sure I didn't "want" something or turn something down that I would later regret. So our own relationship with things is a big part of how we experience all this.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 2:26PM
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Anxiety is unavoidable when disposing of an estate if you have any emotional connection whatsoever to the deceased. It doesn't matter how much you've planned or prepared. Sorting through everything brings back memories and the decision to keep or sell/donate can be very difficult and anxiety inducing. And no matter what you decide, you always end up second guessing yourself. And trying to please all involved is absolutely impossible. I'm convinced that the hard feelings in families related to the disposing of parents' or grandparents' stuff frequestly result in siblings/relatives holding long term grudges (best case) or even cutting off all contact (worse case). Sad, but too frequently true.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 11:31PM
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Frankie, I think you hit the nail on the head here:

"Well, after I die, I don't care what you do with all my stuff, and you can just throw it all away, I won't need it" is not really realistic as to how people's emotions and attachments work.

Even though it may be all in *our* minds that how things are disposed of matters, it still matters if the result is that you feel like you're letting down your loved ones or being the weak link that breaks the chain of your family "heirlooms".

Like most other emotion-laden topics, different families have different styles of dealing with that emotional reality--in my family, it would be fine to tell my parents "I don't want/have room for all your belongings, let's work on making a plan for them while we can do that together". In my dh's family, saying that would be heard as saying "You are about to die and I don't want to be bothered with your junk" and would cause shock and dismay.

Likewise, I know that above all else, my parents would want me to be at peace with my losses and not struggling to dispose of their stuff, and my friend's daughter knows that above all else, her parents would want her to continue acting as steward to the family "heirlooms" they have worshipped and maintained throughout their own lives--no one could think they put happiness first, since they've made their own lives less happy in many ways sacrificing on the altar of keeping all that stuff--they are "duty first" folks and no matter how she chooses to deal with their stuff, I am sure their daughter will be stressed out by thoughts that it would really upset them--even though she *knows* that it's okay to just let things go on to other homes or even the landfill.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 12:08AM
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I'm nearly 60, not ready for a nursing home. I do have a chronic illness (kidney failure) but I'm not terminal. I'm retired with a fairly decent income. Hubby's a little older and a little sicker (multiple sclerosis). My Mom died in January. leaving my brother in charge of her estate. I discussed his problems sorting through her belongings above. I won't detail it again. I've decided I must downsize as much as possible for my own 2 kids, so as not to burden them. Right now my attitide is, if you want something, speak up and take it NOW. Our younger daughter has moved to her own apartment, took all my extra pots and pans and stainless steel implements (good for her), as well as her TV and bedroom furniture. Our older daughter still lives with us. She knows when she moves out she can take anything she wants. I've been speaking at length with my older cousin. She agrees with me. If you want something, ask and take it NOW while the giver can see how pleased you are. There was a big problem in my family about 40 years ago when Grandma died. A cousin walked in and took her TV set and jewelry, saying it had been "promised" to her. My mother and this cousin did not speak for years. They made up just before my
Mother's death this past January.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 8:50AM
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One thing I struggle with ( a little) is whether to "save" some things for my DD's apartments/future apartments. Little stuff is not a problem--I could easily keep a "grab box" for utensils, office supplies, dishtowels. It could be easier when they both move out FULLY--in our current home there would be room in their bedrooms, for example, to redecorate with some furnishings I'd be willing to give away now, but could otherwise utilize. Though I would not want to intentionally run a hodge-podge decor just in case they might want something whenever. Several years ago I gave away a not-very-great table (painted unpainted furniture) and last month one DD was looking for it as it would have been the "perfect thing" for her apartment. Oh well! (We rustled up something else and there was no real angst over it.) But then I'll have other things I think would be perfect for them and they have no interest. Of course--to each his own.

So, I'm not really too bowed up about it, but I think I am sort of in the middle, as keepers go--I am way not like my MIL who kept everything, even if it meant some rooms were not well-utilized, nor am I totally ruthless about not storing a few things. But, I am having to make peace with the idea that because taste, and timing, are so important, I really have to let go of the idea that a DD will be able to reach back in time and retrieve a lamp, table, towel set, or whatever, that they did not need at the time I was ready to let it go. I'm not talking about family antiques and heirlooms--just more of the idea that I do, for better or worse, over the years buy some stuff and then replace it later with something else, for various reasons, including minor wear that would not be a problem for some young people starting out (I've learned that some do have exalted expectations, though!), or because I found something I like better, or we changed color schemes, or whatever. So I tend to feel as though I could have saved them some $$ (or--scarier--DH and I are still supporting younger DD in college and so we end up buying stuff for her). But I think you just have to look at it more philosophically.

Plus--and this may be too selfish on my part-- I'm not sure I want to feel like I should "announce" every time I'm giving something away, to be looked over. I think I feel that way because I've had some experiences in which someone said, ooh, maybe wait until..... so then I feel stuck (I know that is my problem). Then also, the DD who is in her own apt now, working and having graduated from college, has a strained relationship with us so that it is not a situation in which I can say, hey, stop by and look over this Goodwill pile on the weekend.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 12:00PM
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Jannie, I like your "come get it now" idea for all the stuff you're not still using yourself.

Frankie, I have the same problem with deciding what is worth holding onto for when the kids have their own places. I have a nice 1930's armoire I got at a yard sale in 1993 and my stepdad refinished for me for my daughter's nursery, so I'm pretty sentimental about it and couldn't begin to afford a piece of similar quality if I had to replace it.

Since we moved to this house it is stashed in the utility room because there really isn't any place for it in our actual living areas. But it's awkwardly placed even in there and really it's too nice for such a damage-prone area. Dd will be leaving for college next year...and I could use the armoire if I turned her room into a guest room/office, so I think "I'll keep it and use it in there when she moves out."

Then I read the stats that say 80% of college grads return home to live for at least a while, and....I go back and forth.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 1:01PM
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The other thing that I realized is how much I forget how different are "young people's" tastes--for the most part--and that I was there once! Meaning, at 21 I would not have had the same interest in certain items that I do now, so I actually have almost completely different "stuff" than I did in my 20's or even beyond. There are, however, some items of DH and my first "real furniture" that have survived the test of time. I try to look back and think, would I have had the remotest interest in this or that of my parents' or DH's parents at age 23, and I really am not sure! It's partly taste, and still being nomadic, and not too focused on nesting, but also, they just have not aged to the point where they would want certain things for sentimental reasons (not sentimental "junk", but useful things, or something like the refinished armoire). They're too invincible themselves, and fortunately don't yet see me and DH as being limited on the planet, so it's just different. So I would probably need to have "grandma's attic" to save things long enough to be available when they finally go, 10 or 20 years from now, wouldn't this be great! The good thing is that by then I will need to downsize more and let them cart off stuff directly out from under me!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 8:43PM
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Wow this thread is making me sooooooo happy I'm divorced! DH is a hoarder - his entire family has "stuff" issues. For years I've been dreading when my dear MIL passes, it will be a cage fight among he and his sisters over their folks' stuff. Now I'm OUT of that picture and they can fight to their hearts desire over that pile of stuff! When his dearest grandma passed they all fought tooth and nail for every little thing.

I only have one brother. My mom and dad are both very stuff-adverse. They have a very large home full of very nice things and not one bit of clutter. Their home - even basement and garage - is photo-shoot ready at all times.

I'm getting there! I've been on a year long continuous purge since DH left. Kitchen is 100% Clean Swept, as is the breezeway, attic & living room. I'm currently working on the office and will probably finish it this weekend. My bedroom is 80% Clean Swept! That leaves just the dining room, basement and 2 boys' bedrooms. There's very little in the basement due to damp issues.

I am litterally doing Clean Sweeps - removing everything from a room, scrubbing it top to bottom & only moving back stuff I use and love.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 9:43PM
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mommabird beware and prepare: My MIL kept absolutely nothing she didn't use or display. Perfectly good appliances and house goods went to the dump instead of going to the trouble of donating. She didn't even store a second set of sheets for any of the beds. Truly a "place for everything and everything in it's place" person. Until she died! Being the only remaining DIL, the task fell to me to clear out. Every piece of paper, every receipt, every picture, post card, letter, statement -- every every every thing was stashed away in those picture perfect dressers, cabinets, chests and drawers! Even silver flatware for 12 that nobody remembers using. Even the flag sent by the military for my FIL's funeral in 1959 -- never opened, nobody knew about it. This stuff just kept coming out of nowhere. Over 70 years worth!
Your "clean sweep" through your home is inspiring me to do the same to de-clutter my own stuff. Thanks for that.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 4:47PM
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I have always felt the same way about saving things for when the kids get their own places. Now they are in college and have their own places. We are lucky to have a garage (not at our house) to store some furniture. So they were able to take some of that. But it came to the point where I just couldn't store everything and finally decided 1) they might not even want/like the stuff and 2) who knows how long it will be before they need it. We have multiple universities here in town and have places that sell used furniture, dishes, etc. It works well because of all the students. So I figure if I donate my stuff, someone will appreciate it. And then if my kids need something in particular, we can shop for it in one of these types of places and get just what they need for not much $, goes to a good cause, and I don't have to store it. When I brought my daughter back to school last year, we found that we could not have fit one more piece of furniture in the van anyways, so it wouldn't have mattered. Anything else, she bought when she got down there. Much easier not to have to transport stuff!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 8:59PM
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Jannie here, checking in again, to tell you what's going on with my brother's sort thru our Mom's belongings (she passed in January). Good news is he got house sorted/cleaned enough to have an Estate Sale. He had professional appraisers come in and do it all. Done over a 4-day period. Brother says "everything good" is gone, all that's left are broken toys, books no one wants, and boxes of glassware. He hopes to donate the glasses (nothing special, the kind stores gave away with a purchase back in the sixties.) The first things to go were her wood furniture, a dining set and bedroom set. Not in good shape, unfortunately. He still hasn't received the money from the sale, it will be interesting to see what he got. Thanks for following the saga...

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 9:07AM
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"are we saying, Aunt Martha, you better develop a better relationship with your thing before you die so I won't have to resist my own compulsions to look for treasures and my own inability to let go?"

I think whenever some one dies there's always going to be a huge amount of that sorting and angst of what to do with it all. Even if the person is organised and has nice stuff, it's still a whole houseful of things to deal with and chances are you already have your own house full of stuff and you can't keep it all.

If the person is a hoarder, it just means they have a heck of lot more junk usually (like my FIL) when he passed. probably 80-90% of it was useless stuff that should have been tossed already, so you end up spending lots of time lugging things to the local dump and cleaning up what's left, relatives taking it, selling it etc.

I guess from my point of view, it's not up to us to tell a relative how they should live or what they should keep, but in the case of hoarders, I just think it's sad that they surround themselves with so much junk instead of enjoying their homes and what they have. After my FIL passed I really felt like it was him who had carried the burden for so long because no one can be happy living that way IMO, and it was such a waste of effort and space in his life because most of it got tossed anyway.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2011 at 5:28AM
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A Tale of Two Clean-Outs. My MIL was very clean and neat,died suddenly at age 82 of a heart attack. She had sorted everything and left behind a well-organized house. Except for one bedroom she used for storage, it was a piece of cake cleaning out. Oh, except her two daughters spent 6 months going thru her things, deciding what they wanted, what could be donated, what was to be thrown out. Along the way, her collection of Berta Hummel statues "disappeared". I would have liked one as a souvenir, keepsake, whatever. It took the family (3 children,spouses,4 grown grandchildren) just one day to totally empty the house. The house was put on the market and, incredibly, sold in one day. It was broom-clean and priced somewhat cheap for the neighborhood. On the other hand, there's My Mother the Hoarder who left behind a G*d-awful mess for her four children. My Brother, the executor, took over. He's now left with a mostly empty house with books, glassware, some broken toys and a lot of problems. The chimney is crumbling,the basement is full of mold (maybe toxic), the kitchen desperately needs updating,every room needs painting (she was a heavy smoker) and the driveway is all broken concrete and gravel. The only good thing is, it's in a good neighborhood in a good school district, in an expensive Zip code (location-location-location) I've seen it from both ways and "organized" is better. Best , in my opinion, is give things away NOW, while you are alive to see the receiver enjoy it.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2011 at 8:37AM
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Unfortunately, Jannie, the hoarder doesn't view it that way. Letting go of anything creates pain and anxiety for them, even if it is going to a beloved family member.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2011 at 10:18AM
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We are just middle aged, but childless and so we joke about what will become of our belongings when we die.
So now when I get a random gift, such as a serving platter, I ask "Do you think they will get more in the estate sale, if I leave this one in the box?"
I don't really care what becomes of my belongings, but I don't want my legacy to be the burden that disposing of my possessions put on my nieces either.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2011 at 6:16PM
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yep Jannie, it was the same with my FIL's house, don't get me wrong it took a very long time to clear out his house and his various storage sheds and the whole property of junk and the house was completely neglected. DH and his siblings had to drive over an hour out of the city at weekends to do it (no one would have wanted to live there).

But it was his life and his house to do what he wanted and he died in a tragic work accident so he couldn't have prepared for his death. After it's all done the house gets sold and the estate gets distributed but sometimes there's just a heck of a lot of work to be done to get the estate settled. I wouldn't expect a relative to have their estate all neatly organised because who wants to think about their death anyway? and as graywings said, for some people it's just not possible.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2011 at 9:31PM
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It's not even so easy if someone says to take things. As I wrote once before, when my MIL and FIL were starting to make plans for downsizing, they made statements like, " if there is anything you would like, please take it" . But, it was a very long time before they even started identifying what they most wanted to keep or use in their new place, and much of their stuff was not out in the open. So--and maybe it would have been different if they were my own mother or father, but I'm not sure--I had no intention of saying, I'd like this table, or whatever, thinking what an idiot I would feel like if that was one of their treasured items for the new place. Which, as it turned out, a few items I thought to myself would be most useful to me were things that they did want.

Once they started some semblance of a sorting process, it was so much more comfortable--"look, on this table are things we are not going to be able to use". In fairness to me and DH, we did not expect them to sort it all for us; we also made 2 big trips to sit beside MIL and sort with her--helping her reminisce and go over the history of items. So at that point they were also farther into their process and I felt it was okay to set up boxes and say, okay, we'll go through these drawers and you tell me what you want to keep, what you don't, "not sure", and I took various kitchen items or mementos or things when she identified that she did not plan to keep them. She would have been happy if we had taken everything! She is the typical person who sees all these things as gifts or inheritances from family members, so she can let go if it's going to another family member, but it was killing her to set stuff aside for an estate sale. But it took awhile for us to develop a process where we could communicate and I could figure out what would help her but not make me feel like I was taking a chair out from under her.Ultimately it worked out pretty well--I am one of 3 DIL's but am the most "domestic" in the sense that I cook the most, I use vintage linens and serving pieces, I get caught up in trying to do some creative decorating, and, unfortunately, am probably more cluttery as well. So while it may have driven other people mad, I had no problem spending hours on a Saturday sorting through and admiring old glassware and linen towels and saying, hey, this one fits in my collection, or nope, I'm sorry I can't use that. Even the stuff I did not want, I really could "appreciate," and that meant a lot to her--ooh,look this is one of those things people used to use for... however, I'm afraid I'll never use it.

So in that sense my MIL was kind of a hoarder, in that for years she basically kept everything even as their house got cluttered and crowded, but she really can let go, just has a great need for it to go somewhere meaningful to her.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2011 at 12:14PM
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About 5 years ago, my then blind and sick Mother , at 80 or so, decided to tell me "If you want something from this house before I die, just ask". she also offered me some things she had found- photos, a camp Fire Girls Handbook, a few drawings my sister and I had done as children. I was surprised at the art talent my sister had shown. My drawings were scribbles, nothing special, but hers were colorful sketches of huge birds. I took the Girl Scout book and a couple of photos, but nothing else. I asked Mom if I could have a pair of lamps from one of the bedrooms. "No, those are MINE." was her answer. Scared me so much I never asked for anything else. So she was touchy about her belongings. I promise I will not be like that with my kids. When they set up their own households, I will freely give them anything they want. And I promise to organize everything NOW, while I still have my strength and wits and vision. My friend Eve had both parents and her only brother die within a short period. She went thru Hell cleaning out their 2 homes. I vow that will not happen to my children. One has already announced, after we (her parents) are dead, "all those collectibles in the bookcase are going in the trash."

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 9:07AM
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I had to downsize a year ago after DH suddenly passed away. I ended up buying a 1,000 sq. ft. condo. I gave away and threw away tons of stuff, thinking I was keeping only the books, CD's,DVD's that were important to me. I have 5 grown children and the only things they really wanted was the music that I couldn't part with since this brought back good memories. Today, I had planned to try to sell 3 stereo systems and 12 speakers that are still in my living room. My kids won't take them. They keep telling me to get rid of all the books (3 bookcases full) that I kept although I gave away to Big Brother 3/4 of all that we had collected.

So, in my case, I know that the only things my kids may argue about is jewellery (I've already designated some of it) and the framed needlepoints that their father had done. I think I'm ready to let go of some of those now, however, since I don't have enough wall space to hang them all. Unfortunately, when I think of my kids going through papers of past projects that I worked so hard on but most likely (75%) I won't use anymore, I can just hear what they will say when they look at this stuff. At least it's not just thrown into boxes but I don't know that organized stuff will make it any easier.

My mother had gone through all of her stuff before she went to a studio apartment and threw out so many really good things due to lack of space. My minimalist sisters didn't want anything and I lived too far away. It still bothers me that the one thing I specifically asked them to keep for me was thrown out because they didnt want to store it until I could get it. Anyways, when my mom passed away, it was so easy to divide up the things she'd kept.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 2:33PM
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One thing I want to teach my kids is that they can pick what to be emotionally attached to. (I have succeeded, but they pick everything--sigh.)

So that if they end up having to get rid of stuff, they can say, 'This is the thing I want most to remind me of Mom and Dad,' and then they can let the rest just go.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2011 at 12:41AM
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I read this quote recently:

"You can either give your things away with a warm hand or a cold hand."

It was in a book about financial priorities in a section focused on living more generously.

Well-said, concise. This perspective helps me view "stuff" more realistically. Some day, I'll be gone and very little of what I have or want today will matter to anyone in the future. I spend too much emotional energy on things.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 1:32PM
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my Mom died three years ago and Dad moved to independent living; we (me, sister, brother) had to go through the entire house, attic, and garage in order to prepare the house for sale. Then DH died in Feb 2009 so I had to deal with his 'stuff' (including what he had inherited from his Father 20 years ago!).

I kept very little of Mom's stuff - my sister actually wanted us to pay Dad for what we wanted! I ended up with her wedding set (not terribly expensive) and her turquoise necklace but both of those Mom had decided were to go to me (and I didn't have to pay for them).

When DH died, I offered almost everything that was 'his' to my two daughters (his step daughters) and our four grandchildren. There were some specific items I knew he wanted to go to certain folks and I did offer those folks those items.

Having been through this, I have already given a number of pieces of my jewelry to my daughters, and I am preparing a list of the jewelry items I kept, along with 'family' furniture to go to certain folks (I have two chairs and a 3-drawer chest that are nearly 100 years old and have been in our family for 80 years).

If you want certain items to go to specific folks, then a list needs to be prepared and given to the executor of your estate; if you can 'bear' to part with stuff, then do so while you are able/capable.

I did not want my kids to have to 'deal with' what we had to do with Mom's stuff; she knew she wanted certain folks to get specific items but she just couldn't bear to part with stuff even thought she didn't need/use it.


    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 9:09PM
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Ive helped a few times I enjoyed it kinda like a hunt had no idea what youll find.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 9:21AM
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My husband and his 4 siblings spent months and filled 2 dumpsters cleaning their parent's 2 bedroom bungalow in preparation for sale. It was draining on all of them, especially my SIL (oldest/only girl). My in-laws kept everything--DH was 50 at the time and he found brittle leather leiderhosen he had worn before Kindergarten.

I vowed not to burden my son and DIL with such a task and keep my own possessions to a bare minimum. I've told them, "It's all just stuff. Keep what you want and get rid of the rest as you see fit."

My mother, in preparation for moving to a smaller home from the house we grew up in, handed my 3 siblings and me pads and pens after a family dinner. She said to go through the house and write down what we would like to inherit one day. The lists surprised us all in the end-- not one of us put down anything of much monetary value. She looked them over, laughed a little and said there was nothing on any of the 4 lists she needed and we should take our items with us then and there. She has always said she prefers to be alive to see us enjoy her gifts than wait until she is gone.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 6:31AM
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Your mother sounds a wise and caring lady dian57.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2012 at 4:59AM
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Yesterday I spoke on the phone with my brother, who is handling the clean up of our Mom's house and the estate. He sounded seriously depressed, momosyllabic and down. I tried to draw him out and kept asking questions. How are you? Awful. How was Christmas? Terrible. The one year anniversary of her death must have been hard? Yes. And so on. I got off the phone and I'm worried about him. He does have a girlfriend but he's obviously very lonely. I'm worried about him. Heck, he can keep everything if he wants.I know it's not an "act". He was in a mental hospital in Florida many years ago. He got discharge from the Army based on mental unfitness.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2012 at 8:23AM
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I have been thinking about going through things too because I had a milestone BD this year. Now I can see that I am never going to need anything I have stashed in my closets that are left over decorating items from other homes we have owned. I guess it's time to admit we are never going to have a beach house or lake house ..the stuff of dreams of my younger self.....

I recently bought a coupon on Angie's List for a "home organizing" person to come to the house for 4 hours of organizing. Ninety nine dollars! I am hoping this will kick start me to do better about the purge. I am clutter free in my living area but as another poster said my closets, drawers, attic and basement are pretty stuffed. We don't have children so it's time to get started. It won't get any easier the older I get! Time goes by so very fast! Sometimes I want to grab hold of the hands on the clock and say please slow down!!!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 10:22PM
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There's a Professional Organizer in my town who charges $75 per hour. So I feel, if I do my own organizing, I'm literally "paying myself" $75 for evry hour. Now I know I won't organize for 8 hours in a day, but I could do 30 or 60 minutes a day. And I attended a lecture by the PO that lasted 2 hours, so I figure I got $150 worth of advice. I love saving money. I also know a woman who cleans houses for $100 each. She does 1 or 2 homes a day.She gets jobs by word of mouth and her customers love her, she has a "waiting" list.So if I clean my own house, I made another $100.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 10:34AM
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My mom,who was pretty organized, pulled together a "list" of her valuable dishes,silverware and china collection probably 10 yrs prior to her death. 3 kids, 30-40 things on the list. We each took turns choosing what we wanted, one thing at a time. We all received a copy of the list and the list was with her important papers when she died. It was a great idea w/out any arguements between us kids.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 6:54PM
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I enjoyed cleaning out hubbys parents home,you have no idea what youll find,I really enjoyed it,you see what they were like,like his father made do ,he took a dresser made little tables with drawers he used them.I wouldnt mind doing that,cleaning up homes.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 10:32PM
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My mom had hired a professional organizer to help her with something a few months ago. Among the condolence cards was a card from this organizer, telling that she'd enjoyed the project with my mom and offering (I think) 2 hours of organizing work for free in terms of organizing stuff after the funeral and during the "transition," and mentioning that she could help beyond that.

I thought that was a nice gesture, and a smart business move.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:18AM
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I haven't read all the replies, and I can't now because I have to go grocery shop for my dad before I pick up my son from school. My dad has been clearing out things both in the last couple of moves they made and since my mom went into memory care. He may be moving into assisted living soon and he talks like he has to get everything appraised and sold before he goes. He has the resources to pay for their care for the years we expect to need it, but he doesn't want to leave "a mess" for us to have to deal with. What he doesn't realize is that he's not just keeping things organized and getting rid of trash and junk (though I do appreciate that part even though we might differ on what is junk), he is getting rid of the things that I and my siblings cared about having one day and our memories. I'm afraid all I will have is his instruction to be immediately cremated and interred. There are two extremes and we'd probably all like a happy middle ground.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 3:41PM
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I had a tub with all kis pictures,drawings,awards,my one son was first baby born in our town,lots pictures,gifts etc etc We moved here I went through put all things to son all things of daughters,gave to them they really enjoyed going thru the box seeing old report cards,drawings ,pictures I never had that I think I have 1 photo of me so I didnt want them to get misplaced.its a mess I dont have now lol

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:53AM
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Wow! This is really where we're at now, too. Both of my parents were hoarders and my mom passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2004. She was only 70. Since late 2010 or early 2011 my dad has been in Assisted Living, although it wasn't certain he wouldn't go home after some time like he had before. I had tried, for years, to get them to deal with some of their stuff -- even trying to tell them that they'd never even KNOW what they had, otherwise, to no avail.

We've put the 1906 beauty (that needs a TON of TLC) up for sale in a very small town. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for us it hasn't sold so we still have time to deal with it. My husband has hauled out 22 loads of junk so far. I know my dad would still like to get back there to see things, which he wouldn't like if he got the chance.

My bigger concern, though, is all the stuff that came from Grandma's house, Great-Uncle's house (that was Great-Grandparents' before that -- he never married), etc. This is mostly in the form of letters and pictures and other paper stuff. My mom was the oldest of five (three of them are still living) and my twin brother and I are also the oldest of 5, although this seems to come down to my husband and me. We live 2-1/2 hours away.

There's always the 'You saved those letters, didn't you?' or 'You kept all the pictures, didn't you?' I have a lot of stuff I've saved and I feel terrible about throwing away quite a few letters from my Grandma (mom to some still alive) to them or other people. Of course, the relatives live in WA and IL, this is in MN, and we live in MN, almost ND.

Then there are people who aren't shy about asking for things or wanting tours through the house. My dad managed to give away the few nice visible things some of us wanted. I guess the only way they were still available was to be in 40 years of piles.

Thanks for giving me a place to spout off! I think my aunt and uncles are harder to deal with than my own sister and brothers. Of course, this is their history, too, that my mom got because she was closest geographically, mainly, but also the oldest. (My grandma was the oldest of several kids, too.)

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 11:09AM
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If you have letters and things from several generations back and don't know what to do with them, think about donating them to the local historical society. You could even scan them before you donate them in case future generations might want them. Remember, these are your family's history. Your great-grandchildren might treasure letters written 5 or 6 generations back.

My mother inherited personal property from a long time friend. Included in the items were the woman's grandfather's immigration papers. Baptismal papers and other family historical items were included. My mom's friend was an only child who married late in life. These things actually should have gone to one of her cousins, but we didn't know who they were. These are the items that I donated to the historical society. I told them if they didn't want them, they could throw them away. (I even felt badly about that because someone out there is a descendant of these people, and their heritage is lost to them).

When talking to someone at the historical society, she said that they received some letters from a woman whose grandfather was an attorney. Some of the letters were mundane, but a few were of some historical value. The society was sick to find out that the woman had thrown out tons of other things. While they might have had no value, they also might have been significant -- or at least a window into the world 100 years ago.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 7:54PM
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Years ago when my DM moved into assisted living,I found all those newspaper clippings, birth and death announcements, and postcards....her memorabilia and photos while doing that dreaded job of clearing out her house. I boxed them up and took them home where I photo copied, cataloged, transcribed most of into a geneology program and folders. Originals are still in photo boxes. I think I did photo albums for 7 family members, trying to share photos of themselves and their history. Computers and copy machines are magic wonders. Now, our history is spread around in the hope that someone else will continue to save and share those things. It took, at least, one whole year, with my dinning room table ebbing and flowing with such a multitude of 'stuff'. I have not looked at it again for the last 10 years, but it is done.

And now a new phase is about to begin. Yesterday I sold my long cherished Sterling Silver flatware. I can't remember when we last used it, but it did represent a time in my life when I was young and expecting to live that "Leave it to Beaver" life of pearl necklaces, elegant dining, dressing for dinner, etc.etc. ....long gone days that were quickly replaced by being a mother in 1955 when we did not have washing machines, dishwashers, disposable diapers and being a military wife was very foreign to me.

My DD tells me that I have had a 'charmed life' and I do not deny that at all. Married 58 years to my high school sweetheart; 24 of them with the USMC and luckily traveled to foreign places with him. Twenty 24 years with the State of California...again, living in many diverse locations in the state where he was born. We never had an abundance money; our children knew that if they wanted and needed something we would do our best to provide it. They began working as soon as they could and their lives have not been as blessed as ours. DH and I are in our 77th year and struggle to do the stuff we did so easily just a few years ago, so it is time to start re-evaluating what we have and what we do with our "stuff". We have so many memories attached to so many items that are cluttering up our lives. Those memories have caused some sleepless nights but the best thing for me has been a new insight of my mother. She would be 100 years old this October and in releasing that silver, I was taken back to the day we picked it out to put into my 'hope chest'. I didn't think of it then or since, but how proud she must have been to see her little girl attaining some of the dream that she never dreamed could happen to her. The sad thing is that I don't think that she even thought just was. But, as a poor farm girl in Ohio, she and my Dad and two little girls DID set out on a cross country gamble, looking for a better life in 1938. They really did succeed in launching me out into a world they could have never imagined.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 1:39PM
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That was a lovely story. The thing is that you still have that story, even if you don't have the stuff that goes along with it.

How is your brother?


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 8:47PM
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