Over the years I have often worked with clients who are trying to reclaim their homes after the death of one or both parents. Almost always it is at least a couple of years after the deaths that they look around and see their homes so overloaded and finally feel the need to deal with all the stuff they have kept and added to their home. There is a lot of emotional attachment to everything, and they want guidance.
The stuff usually falls into one or more of the following categories:
I have gone into homes where the furniture is crowded into rooms with no sense of usage. The couch in front of the couch or the table stacked on top of the table are examples. These items were placed there because the person had no idea where else to put them.
Now is the time to talk about the vision of the room and the “why’s”. Start with deciding the purpose of the room and how ideally you would want it to look and feel. Then look at what is in the room that keeps it from matching up to your vision. If there are two couches and multiple chairs, decide first on how many are needed for that space. Then decide on what ones stay and what ones need to go somewhere else.
Then comes the hard part. How do you respectfully let go of furniture from your parents’ home that don’t fit your vision? Finding the right donation destination takes some time but in this case is probably worth it. It is easier to let go if it is going to someone special.
Many times, there are collections or multiple collections of items. It might be seashells from every beach they have visited, or teacups from every country, or collectable Norman Rockwell plates. These items are not personal to the person who now has them but did hold value to their parents. The feeling that they are disrespecting the parent if they get rid of them is strong.
The first conversation is “the item is not the person”. Getting rid of collections of the parents is not disrespectful. However, if the seashell motif reminds the person of good times they had with their parents on the beach then by all means keep some of them. Perhaps one bathroom could have a seaside motif.
Another conversation is that the collectables usually do not have the monetary value that they think. Doing a bit of research can make letting go to a donation facility easier.
Again, it comes down to how many books can you house? Keep as many books as you want if they are all in bookshelves and off the floor and other surfaces. Take the time to look at each book. Why would you keep it? Would you buy it now if you were at a bookshop? Is the book moldy and a health hazard?
I have a few of my mother’s flower books, an old Audubon book, and an old book about operas. These are housed on my bookshelf and I look at them from time to time. They are reminders of my mother’s interests. However, I did not keep novels, travel books, or coffee table books. So, keep the meaningful ones but not everything.
Perhaps your mother loved to wear hats and had one for every outfit. You don’t wear hats at all. Other people do love hats so this is one area that should be easy to donate. Look for some pictures of your mom wearing some of those hats and make a collage to hang in your home. Then donate the hats.
The same goes for clothing. If you were the same size and there are a couple of shirts or dresses you would love to keep, do so. But if your closet is already crowded, decide what of your current outfits you would donate to make room for what you want to keep. Keeping a sweater that brings back memories and wearing it from time to time is wonderful. Just don’t crowd your space.
Does the jewelry have a history? Is it valuable? Would you wear it? These are all questions to ask when deciding what to keep and what to donate. I personally have kept a blue glass bead necklace that belonged to my grandmother. I had it reworked as the string was old and fragile. I added to the beads a pale pink glass pendant that also belonged to her. I wear it. I kept the valuable pieces for a while before I realized I never wore them. I gave them to my daughter-in-law with the understanding that now they were hers and she could have the pieces remade to suit her or sell them at some point.
If you keep some jewelry that is valuable or has a history, make a note of it so that your family knows what to look for if they end up looking through your jewelry when you die.
By paper in this blog, I mean letters, diaries, cards, postcards, etc. This may be the hardest category, especially when things are written by the hand of the parent who died. Take your time with this one category. You are going to want to read and look at everything. As you read you may find some items tell you things you never knew about your family. You may also come across a bunch of cards with nothing on them but a signature. Those can usually be tossed.
Some clients plan on writing a book or story based on what they find. Others find items that they would like to donate to a school or library.
After a first sort, put the keepers away in a labeled container. Revisit them at least once a year. Think about what you want saved for future generations. Take your time.
If you keep personal historically important letters or papers, put them in a file with some background information for whoever finds them after your death.
The same is true for pictures. If you have no idea who these people are, why keep them? If there are multiple pictures that are the same or similar, why keep them? When you are keeping pictures, label who the people are, and any other information people would enjoy. Revisit the container of pictures at least once a year for good memories and for reconsideration.
The bottom line here is that your parents would not want you to keep things that do not fit your lifestyle or that keep your home from being your place of refuge. If you have items stashed in a basement, attic, or storage unit you are not honoring the items or the memory.
Take time now and make those challenging decisions. If you want help or just some accountability in working your organizational plan join Diane Quintana and me on our Clear Space For You clutter support group.
Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, award-winning author, as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing and virtual organizing. For more of Jonda’s tips connect with her on Facebook.