Decluttering: Cleaning Out Your Parent’s Home

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Yes, I am an estate planning lawyer, but with this post I can absolutely tell you from my personal experience and the very bottom of my heart, if you love your children, please do not leave them with 20, 30, 40, 50+ years of “stuff” you have accumulated.

Last week, I traveled to Texas to begin the process of cleaning out my dad’s home. He had lived there for 20 years. For the last 8-1/2 years he lived there by himself, my stepmom having died in January of 2008. When they moved in 20 years ago, they brought every home they ever lived in with them.

In today’s day of easy come and easy go, new car every 3 years, new clothes every season, new TV just because you can even though the old one is in perfect working order, and in which everyone wants a new kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops, my dad and stepmom were outliers. Both were Depression babies and saved everything.

Unfortunately, that also meant that cleaning up after Dad’s death was quite an ordeal.

I cleaned up not less than 6 file drawers and 6 more file boxes of papers. These papers included some things I was grateful for having for tax purposes (like information about the house and the improvements to it) but I also cursed every receipt I found that was more than 3 years old. There were many. Some were 10 years old. I even found one from a pharmacy that supplied my brother’s asthma medication. He was 4 at the time. He’s now 51. I’m here to tell you that you do not need to keep 10 years’ worth of paid electric bills.

My dad saved lots of glass jars, an entire cabinet of jelly and spaghetti sauce jars. I must have gotten that habit from him. This weekend my plane had barely touched down and I was already throwing things like that away.

We threw away threadbare towels, which they kept despite having purchased new towels to replace them.

All tolled, we threw away no less than 25 lawn-sized bags of trash. That did not include items being given to children or grandchildren or items being donated to charities he designated.

I’m not telling you this so as to air dirty laundry. Like I said, I collect “stuff” also. I also hear this from my clients who are tasked with this daunting job when mom or dad (or uncle or cousin) pass away. What I’m saying is that all those organizational gurus who say if you bring something in to your home, let something else go, are absolutely right. If you can’t throw it away or give it to charity, maybe give it to your children or grandchildren now instead of waiting until sometime later. I will always remember when my grandma gave me some of her possessions while she was alive. Her viewpoint was that instead of saving an item for me when she died, she’d get to watch me enjoy it. It gave her pleasure to see me using those items. It gave me pleasure to use them and to see her smile.

Please, I beg you, if you love your children, declutter while you can. If you haven’t used something in 15 years, get rid of it. Save your children from having to cull through all of those items, all of that “stuff”.  I can attest that it is not only time consuming, it is emotionally draining. Trust me, you will be doing your children a great service.