Parting with what parents leave behind
Your folks weren’t crazy for keeping all that stuff, even if it’s driving you crazy trying to figure out what to do with it. Believe it or not, you’re going to have just as hard a time getting rid of all that stuff as your parents had.
In the days and weeks following the loss of your last surviving parent, everything your mom or dad touched will carry with it a reminder and become an extension of his or her life.
I recall a gentleman who ran across a box of his father’s old cuff links. They were in bad condition, with gold plating worn off and stones missing, but he wanted to keep them.
“Dad always wore these cuff links to work and on Sunday to church,” he explained. “I can remember it so clearly, just like when I was a boy. I just can’t let them go.”
You don’t need things to remember your mom or dad or another loved one. Just close your eyes and check in with your heart. It is there you will find that loved one.
When it comes to generational differences, it has been my experience that the older baby boomer, for example, is far more sentimental than the younger baby boomer.
And the younger generations — X, Y, Millennials and beyond — seem to want very little or nothing but the cash proceeds from the real property. They really don’t care much for Grandma’s stuff.
Sad but true, most grandmas who are clients of mine are well aware of this fact, and it does trouble them. They realize there is nothing they can do about it and eventually accept it because they are so gracious.
Younger generations are often accustomed to a life of change and luxury. The furniture and décor in our homes change frequently just because our tastes have changed. Not so in our parents’ generation. They bought a sofa to last 65 years. Today that thought would never occur to most of us.
While it is important to keep one or two items that have only sentimental value, you should resist the temptation to keep your parents’ memories alive by keeping all of their stuff. After all, the memories will always be there, ready to recall at any moment.
What if it’s valuable?
There’s another reason that it’s hard to part with the variety of items your parents leave behind, and that’s the possibility that there might be something valuable in that collection.
You don’t want to donate something that is worth thousands of dollars. So, your initial thought will be to put everything in storage until you can go through it piece by piece and salvage those valuables.
Here’s the sobering reality: While it is true that treasure might be hiding in attics and basements all over America and some estates do produce higher-end items, more often than not, the average estate is filled with good usable items, not necessarily priceless treasures.
Rather than cart everything off to your own basement, hire a professional appraiser to go through the house and identify anything of value. It’s worth the extra cost and will save unnecessary “holding on to” on your part. Plus, it is the only way to know for sure that you’ve identified any valuables, granting you peace of mind.
Guide to quick decision making
- Everything plastic and paper gets recycled. There’s absolutely no reason to keep plastic bags, margarine or Cool Whip containers, or anything made out of plastic.
- Dress the less fortunate. Empty everything in the wardrobe and donate to homeless shelters or charity.
- No serious treasure in the kitchen. Pots and pans, casserole dishes, utensils, toasters, Dutch ovens, even dishes and glassware — you don’t need them, so don’t waste any time in getting rid of them.
- If it’s been opened, it goes. Food items, cans of paint, cleaning products, medicine bottles, cosmetics — if they’ve been opened, toss them. For anything toxic or chemical, check with a refuse company on how to dispose safely. Look for a community “drug drop-off” event to make sure prescription and over-the-counter drugs are appropriately discarded.
- Old news is bad news. There is little demand for old newspapers and magazines like National Geographic or Woman’s Day. Today, most of these can be found online. Consider recycling.
- Old Spice, no dice. All personal toiletries or products can go straight to the trash unless the products are still unused and can be donated.
- Banish the books. Books generally sell for a dollar or two apiece. Paperbacks are most difficult to sell, so just donate them. Another option may be to call your local library to ask if they accept book donations. Many antique books are not valuable; however, an appraiser should look through them to make sure. Collectors often want antique leather-bound books.
This is an excerpt from Inheriting Clutter: How to Calm the Chaos Your Parents Leave Behind, by Julie Hall. Published in July 2020, the book is available at Walmart and Amazon.com.