One of the most common experiences we boomers are facing is the death of our parents. For many of us this has already happened and for the rest, it is on the horizon as Mom or Dad is in the 80s or 90s. This writer personally went through this in 2013 and was not really prepared for the fallout. Specifically, the reality of all the things my folks had accumulated over the years and of course, all that furniture.
The emotional impact of both one’s parents being gone is hard enough. What many of us are not prepared for is the lingering effect of this impact in the form of dealing with the stuff your parents left behind. Try to imagine the feeling of loss being repeated over and over again as one sifts through cupboards, closets, boxes, and drawers. The fact is that every single item in your parents’ home will pass through your hands at some point in the clean out process and be accompanied by the memories and emotions such items provoke.
The reason you will have to deal with every item and deal with its associated memories, emotions etc. is that a decision needs to be made about it. Keep it, toss it, donate it, sell it….whatever. A decision must be made. This is easily the toughest part of the process. Should you really throw out that photograph you at age 10 on your new bike? It was after all, the best bike you ever had! The anguish of this decision will be repeated over and over as you go through all the stuff.
So here are some tips from an article about parent’s stuff. (click here to read it) These are some ways you can start to prepare for this inevitable emotional ride by being somewhat organized ahead of time.
Label photographs: While a parent is still alive, go through family photos together, jotting down pertinent dates or names on the back. Enlist a grandchild or friend to help, sorting loose photographs by date. Toss duplicates or send them to relatives.
Pretend you’re moving: Downsizing takes practice. Every few years, go room by room, sorting through clothes, books, kitchen cupboards, even the garage, as though you were weeding out in preparation for a move.
Designate: Some families put sticky notes or masking tape with their names on furniture or belongings. Others keep a list of items that family members have “claimed.” It can speed up the sorting process and ease arguments after you or your parents are gone.
Slim down: If you love Grandpa’s flannel shirts, choose a favorite or two and donate the rest. Same for sets of dishes, books, artwork and clothing.
Donate: Help yourself declutter by giving to those who need it more. Whether it’s books, clothing, linens, furniture or bric-a-brac, pick a favorite charity and donate. If there are valuables or items with possible historic significance, contact a local historical society, museum, fraternal organization, school/college or group with a specific interest.
The bottom line is to start the process now and do it in small chunks rather than having to deal with everything at a time when you are emotionally drained.