Helping Your Parents Get Rid of “Stuff”
Because of a crisis, my sisters and I had to move our mother into an
assisted living which also meant emptying out her home. Unfortunately,
as almost always happens when there\’s a crisis, the timing couldn\’t
have been worse and, because of our work schedules, we had 1 week in
which to do it!! While my parents were the most organized people you
could imagine and my sister and I worked well together, one week wasn\’t
nearly enough time to sort through the “stuff” my parents had
accumulated throughout their 50 years of marriage and certainly not
enough to make good decisions about what to keep and what to get rid
of. That was almost 7 years ago and to this day, I wonder what family
“treasures” were lost in the rush.
How can you save yourself, your family, and your aging loved one the
hassle, stress, and years of regrets over your lost treasures? By
starting the process now!
Great . . . but how do you even begin such an overwhelming task? You
begin with what professional organizers call an “initial sort” – better
known to Vicky-D\’s (members of the Victorian/Depression-era generation)
as the old fashioned ritual of “Spring cleaning”!
1. Agree that everything will be sorted into 3 “classifications” – keep, sell/donate/give, or toss.
2. Agree that all decisions will be made by the owner – and only the
owner. As hard as this will probably be on you, allowing the owner to
make the decisions allows them to keep control over their possessions –
a key element to the overall success.
3. Agree to a time-frame – ideally 30 minutes, but no more than 60 minutes per room – and stick to the time.
4. Agree that an item may be touched only once before deciding whether
to keep, sell/donate/give, or toss. If they can\’t decide, then it
should go into the keep pile. Even if ultimately they only get rid of 1
item, it\’s a start!
5. Start with a relatively “easy” room – one where of the most stuff
has already sorted out of their daily life such as the garage, an extra
bedroom, or a “junk room” (the out-of-control version of the junk
6. Agree that their entire home won\’t be completed in one day. Even
though they\’re only allowed a maximum of one hour per room, it\’s a big
job to sort and dispose or put back. (Don\’t worry . . . there are,
after all, 3 months of Spring!)
Since the initial sort is done by the owner – and you have no say in their decisions – should you be there? YES!
This is a huge and, for most people, difficult, job. And as difficult
as it is for your parent, it can be even more difficult for you! I know
how frustrating it can be to be there and not have any say in what
stays and what goes but their sense of control over the process is of
utmost importance. However, having you there for moral support and to
cheer them on will keep them motivated, focused, and on track.
In addition, since “one man\’s trash is another man\’s treasure”, you\’ll
probably want to be there in case something about to be disposed of (in
the sell/donate or toss piles only!) that you would like to have.