I often hear people say that they are dreading the task of going through their parents’ house after they pass away because of all the stuff tucked in the attic, basement and garage.
Likewise, older clients frequently mention that they wish their children would take the time now to look through old boxes and family keepsakes. They are concerned that their possessions will become a burden when they’re gone, and they don’t want a precious family heirloom to be overlooked because no one knows its importance or value.
The thought of spending a couple of hours looking through old photos, school papers and collectibles is not at the top of anyone’s list. However, there are some real advantages to sorting things out while everyone is still able:
▪ Knowing a thing’s background. We have all picked up an old black-and-white photo at some point and been unable to identify the people staring back at us. We’re left wishing we had asked someone who knew when we had the chance. The same goes for that piece of artwork, jewelry or furniture. Learning the history of items makes it easier to decide whether to keep or discard them.
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▪ Sharing history with younger family members. It can be disappointing when you find something that has been hidden away and realize it could have been really useful for a child’s school project or for your research into your family history. Being able to hold a picture of the grandmother they never met or read their grandfather’s account of his military service can be so interesting to young children and helps to create a special bond between generations. Storing old things in boxes where no one can see them is a missed opportunity.
▪ Paying expenses early. Some items may require money or upfront planning to move, ship or dispose of. Identifying those items without a tight deadline can save you money later. Research how to dispose of something properly, where to sell it or how to move a large piece of furniture well before it needs to be done, instead of when you’re pressured by a medical emergency or a real estate deadline.
▪ Taking your time. Going through a parent’s lifetime possessions does not have to be accomplished in one weekend. In fact, breaking the project up into manageable increments will make the work less taxing and also allow time for smart decision-making and for keeping the family peace. You don’t want to have to decide what to do with antique furniture, photo albums, dish collections and tax filings all at the same time. Conquer one category or space at a time.
▪ Crossing it off the list. Even when you’re not directly faced with a big organizing task, it can still weigh you down emotionally. Years of anticipating an unappealing project can increase stress levels significantly. It’s much better to stop thinking and actually do something. Additionally, you may find something that could be useful to you now, such as old children’s books that your 5-year-old would enjoy, family photos that you can display in your home, an old quilt that would look great in your spare bedroom or inspiration for a creative project. You won’t know until you look.
Don’t put off the inevitable. Dig in now. Get rid of all the stuff that no one needs and identify the things that you and your family members want to keep.
Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.