In fact, it’s kind of mean to the folks left with the stuff if you don’t get lean. Do your elders have 60, 70, 80+ years of stuff? Have they ever trimmed down any of it? If you are a bit fuzzy …
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In fact, it’s kind of mean to the folks left with the stuff if you don’t get lean. Do your elders have 60, 70, 80+ years of stuff? Have they ever trimmed down any of it? If you are a bit fuzzy about the answer, now’s the time to get serious about helping them get lean!
We moved my mother-in-law to assisted living after she fell and couldn’t live independently any more. That meant that the house was left exactly as it had been when she fell — full of 87 years of treasures (and some not-quite-treasures too).
My mother-in-law often laughed when we’d suggest sorting through her things, deciding what to keep, what to gift and what to donate to charity. She’d say “No, I’ll just leave it for you kids to do when I’m pushing up daisies.” She’s not pushing up daisies but we are left with a huge task and it’s not fun.
It’s not malicious, but it’s not nice either, to leave all of the digging, sorting, evaluating, delivering, selling, gifting, boxing, storing, etc., etc. to the younger folks.
So, today’s message: Don’t accept no as an answer!
If your elders don’t want to start sorting, you start sorting and sit near them so they can’t help but be involved. Ask them to tell you the stories about items you find. Write down the story and attach it to the treasured item. The stories are the best part of this process. Without them, you don’t know if it is really a family treasure or just something they picked up at the latest estate sale in the neighborhood.
One of the best parts of “rightsizing” my mom’s house was discovering the stories behind the treasures. Who knew the salt & pepper set that had always been on our hutch was a souvenir that my parents got on their celebratory trip after my dad ended his tenure in the Army.
If it doesn’t have a story, ask your elder why they have it.
Have they used it in the last year? Will they use it before next year? Do they have someone special in mind in the family to gift it to? If the answers are “no,” it needs to become “special” to someone else, somewhere else.
Disperse this task among family members, if you can. It’s hard and the pain should be shared.
Send the items that are intended for various family members on to them now. Send the story along with the item(s). It doesn’t have to be family — it can be dear friends, long time colleagues or special neighbors too.
Decide who should keep the family photos, slides, albums, diplomas, keepsakes and files. Hint: this should not all go to the same person.
What do you do with Great, Great Grandpa’s certificate for finishing grade school? (I don’t have an answer for that one. Well, I have one but your elder won’t want to hear it.)
Decide now who will take the kitchen items, the furniture, the piano, the desk from Aunt Polly, the books, the china, the Corningware, the Christmas decorations and the Tommy Tippee cup.
If you do the “heavy lifting” now, your elder might think you’re mean but they will be giving you, your family and themselves a real gift – the gift of being lean!
Suzanne Asaff Blankenship is the award-winning author of How To Take Care of Old People Without Losing Your Marbles.
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