#757: Aging, grief, and STUFF: A f*load of feelings

Ahoy, Captain!

My mother died suddenly earlier this year. She and my father lived in a kinda remote area, 600 miles from my current residence. Pops is now getting ready to maybe think about moving to a zip code that has more humans than cows.
Here’s the problem: Mama and Pops spent most of their 45 years together collecting. We’re talking decorative spoons, commemorative display plates, a pewter powder horn engraved with scenes from the Battle of Valley Forge… Most of it was admired when it arrived and then put away for safekeeping. I have probably laid eyes on only 10% of the tchotchkie iceberg in my lifetime. The majority of the collection is currently tightly packed (Pops loves Tetris) in a 40 foot shipping container parked out back of Pop’s house, the kind more commonly seen on trucks or trains.

Whenever we talk lately he reels off a list of dozens of items, and he starts getting overwhelmed with emotion and memories of Mama. He then demands my siblings and I come and take what we want as soon as possible. I’ve told him the first step is that he has to choose what he wants to hold on to, but he is adamant my siblings and I get first pick because this stuff is ‘valuable’ and they bought it for us to have ‘eventually’. This evening I went on eBay looking for comparable items to the ones I knew were in the shipping container– they have not appreciated in value.

I try to keep collectibles in my own home to functional and useful items since I have a distinct lack of storage, and I have original and commissioned comic art covering most of the walls. Even if I picked out a huge pile of things I wanted, even if I somehow got them 600 miles to my home, I have nowhere to put them.
How do I tell my Pops that I don’t want any of his treasures? Are there scripts? And do you have any suggestions on the best way to support him as he starts downsizing, particularly as I’m so far away?

Thanks,

What Do You Do With An Engraved Pewter Powder Horn

Dear Engraved Pewter Powder Horn,

I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. All sympathies to you and yours.

I think there are some ways to deal with the Storage Container of Precious Things with maximum compassion and efficiency and in a way that does not involve you renting a second wing of your home to spare your dad’s feelings. None of these ways are easy, and all require at least some money and some degree of united front with your siblings (which may be the hardest part for some people).

Strategy #1: Bite the (Antique) Bullet

Get together with your siblings and schedule a long-weekend to go see your dad and clean out the trailer with him. Your dad wants you to come and go through the stuff, and you’re panicking at the amount of stuff and the pressure to take the stuff, but what if you focused on the first part of the sentence: Your dad wants you all to come and help him.

You’ll need: a digital still camera, a camera with video capabilities, the makings of some childhood favorite recipes, and a list of ground rules that you and your siblings agree to ahead of time. You may also want the services of a professional who can value stuff and auction or sell it off in exchange for a cut of whatever proceeds are to be had. (I don’t know about this from a consumer perspective so am linking resources that might help you in your research, not necessarily endorsements of any specific organization or method).

Plan for the weekend:

  • Together with Dad, you will all go through the trailer.
  • You will photograph at least some of the things and listen to his stories about purchasing them with your mom.
  • Maybe you will videotape some of the stories about the things.
  • You will take turns being “the child who truly gets it” and “the mean child who doesn’t value memories or gifts and only sees them as stuff” and tap out/spell each other as needed.
  • You will be very nice to your dad, each other, and yourselves. You will eat favorite childhood foods and tell stories about your mom.
  • If this sounds like having a second funeral for your mom, it kinda is. Your dad has a fuckload of feelings about your mom, leaving his home, the trailer, and the decades of accumulated stuff. That’s not a Pewter Horn that he spent too much money on, that’s one bright day with your mom that he wants to hold onto.
  • You will need the following scripts. “Thank you Dad, but no.” “I don’t need any more things to help me remember Mom.” “This one chosen thing will be very special to me, but since I can’t take it all, let’s get the rest into the hands of people who will value it like Mom did.” “Dad, I’m glad we could be here to help you go through all this. I know this is really hard.” Repeat as necessary.
  • Remember that this is hard. My grandmother was a compulsive saver of “useful” things, which stood her in good stead when she survived the Depression and life as a military wife during and after WWII and Korea, so I and my aunts & uncles & parents are very familiar with “But this might be useful someday!” and having to say “Grandma, it’s amazing that you were so resourceful/thoughtful/thrifty/organized as to save it all this time! But it’s not useful to me right now, so let’s make sure we give it to someone who can really use it!” 1100 times in a row. There is a very real and crushing anxiety, a sense-memory of desperation and the terror of wolf at the door that makes letting certain things go so hard for elderly and grieving people. The more you can see and honor the love and the history, the more you can navigate around the anxiety. Just remember, it really is panic-inducing for them to think about letting certain things go, and you can’t talk someone out of panic, you can just validate the feelings. “This must feel awful, like losing her all over again. We really want to honor her memory by putting her lovely things where they can be used and appreciated. Can you help us do that? It would make me so sad to think of this Civil War Chess Set hanging out in my basement for another 40 years instead of being loved by someone.
  • If you start to feel guilty, remember that your dad didn’t use all this stuff or look at it daily. It was waaaaay too much for him and he shoved it in a trailer so it wouldn’t clutter up his house, and the whole “it was for you kids” thing is kind of bullshit. It was for your mom’s love of acquisition/his accommodating of her. I wouldn’t necessarily make this point out loud to him, just, store it in your brain for if things get contentious.
  • You can put the videos and photos online to make it easy for your Dad to look at the things any time he wants to remember them.
  • Bonus: Each sibling could select one small object, and one object only, that you each will make much of as your very favorite thing that your parents could have picked out for you. You will keep this thing and display it somewhere next to photos of your parents in your house (or keep it in the cabinet or box where you keep photos of your parents and other mementos).
  • Don’t bring young nieces and nephews if at all possible. “Look, Grampa gave me this terrifying nutcracker and 9 cuckoo clocks and all of Grandma’s spoons!

Nothing about that weekend will be easy, but it might be what your dad needs to move onto the next stage in his life and it might be the fastest and best way to do this in one fell swoop.

Strategy #2: Divide and Conquer

You’ll still need a united front with siblings, a professional “stuff manager,” & a camera or two. One of you can host Dad for a weekend visit while the others go clean out the trailer. The clearing out will go much faster if it’s just people who see everything as stuff and not a trip through your dad’s feelingsvault.

Your dad might not give permission for this, and he might panic at the thought of losing everything without seeing it one last time, or he might be extremely grateful and relieved. I think he wants the first scenario, but run this second one by him if that’s what’s best for you.

Strategy #3: Throw Money At The Problem

Team up with your siblings to send a professional stuff disposer-of-er to your dad and let them handle it all. “We hired this person….FOR YOU!!!!” and don’t go near the problem yourselves until the trailer has been dealt with.

Strategy #4: Postpone and Avoid

Sorry, Dad, we just can’t do that. Let us know when you’ve made a decision about what you want to do with it all.

#3 and #4 are perfectly legitimate self-care and Dad-care strategies, btw, don’t let the lack of text fool you. Though #4 might mean that he stays where he is forever and you just postpone the problem of the trailer until after his death.

I wish this weren’t on your shoulders. Best of luck figuring out a way to take care of yourself and help your dad and each other.

The Civil War Chess Set is yours to keep and enjoy. ❤

 

 

 

 

 

157 comments
  1. I love option #1 because it honors the dad’s feelings.

    An option I did not see – a subpart of option #1 – would be to take a lot of the stuff and then donate it to charity. Unless dad will be visiting, he would never know. (And if he visits, then that really isn’t an option.)

    My husband’s mother always sent us stuff we did not want. It all went straight to the Goodwill box after I wrote a nice thank-you note. She never knew.

    • Smithy said:

      Option #1 is great. But in my recent experience, if it doesn’t happen in conjunction with 2 or 3, it will take years. Just this summer, my dad and his siblings finished figuring out what to do with everything from my grandparents. And their last parent passed in 2005. Everything needed documented, discussed, catalogued, etc. to a point that was cripplingly slow.

      So while I advocate having some kind of memorial experience going through things, at some point that needs to be coupled with efficiency. I recently discovered that my mother has kept nearly every card ever given to her since I was born. Even ones from ex-partners/in-laws that have long since exited the picture. In a recent spring cleaning process after seeing her tear up and get emotional after so many cards and struggle to make a decision, we finally agreed I would “read” every card and make the decision whether it should be kept or not. And it was understood that if I ever had the impulse to show her a card, it likely would not get trashed.

      Ultimately, I advocate for seeing Option #1 as a way to responding with the emotional side of this – but at some point a plan for 2 or 3 needs to step in, or else this is an activity that will never end and just result in the OP or a sibling getting a new storage container and absorbing every family holiday for years.

      • Aurora_Belle said:

        Perhaps making it a quarterly trip? That way it can be done in a reasonable amount of time that is still feasible and allows for the documentation/reminiscing.

        • Smithy said:

          To be fair to the notion of all families functioning differently – it may be that Option #1, after the first weekend it can be decided how many other trips will be needed to get through the whole container. However, that also impacts how many weekends all siblings can afford (time and money) and how quickly the OP’s father is looking to relocate.

          My father and his siblings are all scatted, and even with conference calls twice a month – it took them ten years. And my grandparents had already gone through 3-4 moves in their later years of downsizing, moving to a nursing home, etc. And I would not have guessed either my father or his sisters were such to make things take that long. If it whole process can be done with that level of emotional sensitivity – fantastic! But from my experience that is far easier said than done.

          I only bring this up in the sense that if the father is presented that all items will be gone through and documented with that degree of care and sensitivity – then the time commitment (and subsequent financial commitment) and the emotional lift may easily balloon. To some of us, a box of spoons can all be done at once. But if the father sees this as giving the story of every commemorative spoon…..that’s 20? 75? 150? commemorative spoons that each need their own story, photo, video, etc.

          I say do not pen yourself into the idea of committing that to every item. Give it a solid weekend but be prepared to alter course if that is just not going to work for the whole unit.

          • Flash said:

            Sure, but it is possible to say “oh, the spoons! Which one is your favourite?” and then after the story “That was great! Spoons are done. Now what’s in this next box…”

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        Possibly, if it works for Dad, they could do a long weekend of option 1 for however much gets done in that time… and then move to option 2 to get it finished. That would at least allow for the valid emotional/catharsis stuff.

    • Beth B said:

      My grandmother, who lived through the Depression (in a notoriously thrifty subculture, no less), had a terrible time throwing things out. She always wanted to give them to somebody so they’d be useful. Trinkets, books, old newspaper clippings, presents she was given but didn’t like — whatever it was, it didn’t get thrown out, it went to someone.

      What this meant in practice with a certain number of things was that she would give something to one of her children so that they could “find a use for it,” and then they would keep it if they wanted, or give it to Goodwill, or throw it out. The trash bin is a great use for this! Okay, Mom! I have found it that destination because it doesn’t hurt my heart to do so! She never asked; it was out of her hands and into somebody else’s, and that was all Grandmom cared about.

      And then of course there were plenty of things that were also legitimately beloved items — childhood keepsakes, family heirlooms, beautiful trinkets, etc, and those got kept or given to a sibling. (It helps ENORMOUSLY that all Mom’s siblings get along well, even though they’re geographically scattered.) When Grandmom died her children and then her grandchildren got pick of her stuff and the rest went to charity. Fortunately, she was in a nursing home where the staff were also helpful with this process, and she had already winnowed down her possessions a lot by giving them away when she moved from a house to an apartment to a nursing home. I have no desire for a basement full of Grandmom’s stuff, but I have some necklaces that make me think of her every time I wear them.

      tl;dr I think the narrative of remembering your mother and then finding someone who will love and care for and find a use for these things rather than letting them molder in your basement (unsaid: because you don’t even want them) is a very wise and compassionate one, and something that your father can hold in his heart, regardless of which option you take for actually sorting through the stuff. And that, if you do decide you want to pick out one talismanic thing that is your very favorite thing they could have given you, that may be something you find is valuable to you to have after all, as a reminder of your parents’ joy in collecting all this stuff you don’t want to inherit wholesale.

      • Mary said:

        Yes, I used to do that with my grandma. She had lived through rationing and austerity and her version of it was that you don’t hoard or keep things you aren’t going to use, because that would be wasteful. She was utterly ruthless about not keeping hold of things she wouldn’t use (good for her!) and equally ruthless about making sure they went to friends or family who would “use” them. Eventually I worked out that the best thing to do was to say thank you and take them away, and she never knew or cared what happened to them after that.

        (Grrrr at the lovely family who semi-“adopted” her and decided that as her family – who knew that she didn’t use much, and didn’t keep things she didn’t use! And also that she was allergic to chocolate! – obviously didn’t give her enough presents, and bought her tons of smelly bath stuff and chocolate and things “so she’d have plenty to open on Christmas Day”. So we braced ourselves for plenty of “would you use…” I mean, they were being lovely and she had fun opening all her presents and being teased by us about how she had more presents than anyone, but I still feel a bit, “ACTUALLY we were not a mean family! We just knew what she liked!”)

      • Flash said:

        Yes. When my dad died, I asked for a specific pair of his favourite cufflinks; a paperweight made from the piston of an F1 car; and something with his signature on it from before his illness affected his writing.

        With my grandmother, I asked for her (small!) metal bell collection, that I played with as a child.

        I got those things. I don’t need any more. I treasure those things. And that is enough.

        Just chose something that means a lot to you to have – and don’t feel guilt about rejecting the rest.

    • emmers said:

      Your last paragraph is my life. 10% of the stuff fits/suits our life, but shopping makes her happy, so we thank her for it and donate it. It works out well for everyone.

  2. Penny said:

    My grandparents were semi-similar to LW’s parents in that they died after running a successful sheep farm (Grandpa had sold off the sheep several years ago, though).

    About two to three weeks (although it could’ve been a month, I was fourteen and suck at keeping track of dates) my mom, and her sister and brother, hired a real life auctioneer to sell off some of the equipment. The fast-talky guy got set up right in the front yard by the field, and it was advertised in the community paper & everything. Now, to be honest this was after both had passed so it turned into a 2nd funeral, complete with well-wishers and neighbors who wanted a cheap thresher (I’m flippant here, it was actually very nice.)

    My mom and her family ended up making a little money, which was nice, with the added knowledge that the equipment was sold to a single person who wanted to re-purpose and use it. Otherwise, it would’ve been sold for scrap or salvage. It wasn’t all great, my uncle is a bit of a missing stair, but it relieved a lot of the “What are we gonna do with this stuff?” tension from my mom and aunt.

    If there’s enough of it, and it sounds like there is, I really recommend looking into hiring a professional service to help you with this. It’s actually kinda common for giant farm estates.

    • Loren said:

      I live in a part of the world where auctioning off a dead relative’s possessions is fairly common. Especially if the relative had a lot of possession but very few that are valuable, or if there is an extended family who might argue over who gets what. It might not garner much money but it gets everything take care of very quickly, allows family member to purchase keepsakes for themselves, and gets everything else in homes that will ‘appreciate’ them.

      • Yep, I’ve been to many an estate sale in my time. My dad bid on the farm equipment and I bid on the books and sewing machines. By the end of the day the auctioneer would start bundling to strange effect, so that horse trailer came with three live Auracana laying hens and the crate of books came with a chandelier.

        • Myrtle said:

          Reading this, I now feel not going to Estate sales has crippled my life. I’d love a good hen.

          • Rural auctions are the secret, really. It’s amazing what can be bought for very small amounts of money. Hens that lay green and blue eggs (that’s the Auracanas), perverted pygmy goats, irritable miniature horses, ducks, peacocks,,,

          • Rosr said:

            Oh, man, rural auctions when trying to furnish a house for cheap… brilliant. Gorgeous antique barrister bookcases for 1/5 the price I’ve seen them in the city? Antique oak dining room sets? huge boxes of kids board games and toys for a few dollars? DONE.

            Also, little-known secret – somehow, an auctioneer`s patter puts most babies I know right to sleep. Weird, but true. 🙂

          • Erika said:

            I adore rural auctions. The auctioneer will load up a box of junk and put one decent thing on the top, so if you want that barely-used Sawzall, you’ll have to take the box of random pieces of metal as well.

            And people will try to surreptitiously salt the boxes so some boxes have more “good” things, so if you’re bidding on it, too you go after them and re-rearrange things… good times.

          • It’s really the only way to find a good old anvil that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

            And man, I just know my great grand niblings are going to love sorting Crazy Old Uncle Ogre’s anvil collection!

    • Yes, if they are both dead, then you have an estate sale and give whatever isn’t sold to charity. You would be amazed at what people will buy.

      You would also be amazed (maybe) at what some parents keep in their file cabinet in a manila folder. I would suggest to everyone that if you have any materials that you would rather your children or anyone else see upon your demise, then take care of that now. I don’t want to be too detailed, but nobody I know wants to read his father’s sex diary or see naked photos of his parents with – equipment.

      • I enjoy my foster dad’s custom of the “burn box”, a holdover from his military days. He has a wooden box with his Sensitive Papers and Items in it, and a person whose job immediately on his demise is to pitch it into the hottest fire they can find and rake the ashes into small small bits.

        • Ashes From a Supernova said:

          My mom was Air Force (medical discharge) and she has her own sort of metal footlocker “burn box”, except that she burns everything in it every few years when she gets really drunk. She’s had the fire department called on her twice while doing it, so not recommended, but it makes me laugh that other military people also have burn boxes.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        Good lord, yes. My parents cleaned out my grandma’s cottage and found a huge wooden penis. Nobody has any idea where it came from or why she had it (I mean, I guess it could be a toy but…it’s enormous. And wood. And also I don’t want to think about that.).

        • Tanzenlicht said:

          I, like I suspect your grandmother did, would absolutely buy a giant wooden penis because it was funny in and of itself and also because thinking about people finding it after I died would bring me great joy. What was that even for, Aunt Tanzy?

          Though enormous and wood doesn’t actually rule out the thing we are not thinking about.

    • fir3dragon said:

      Yes to the estate sale. Yes to going through the meaningful stuff with your family, and *also* to get professionals to help you have an estate sale. Whatever is left over from the sale, the pros know what to do with it! My siblings and I did it all ourselves, out at my Dad’s place, over the past year. I’m so glad we went through everything personally, but knowing where and how to get rid of all the stuff was a long and tiring process, for which I wish we had enlisted a pro.

  3. Swistle said:

    Strategy #1 made me weep, it was so kind and understanding and perceptive.

    • Anna Sthetic said:

      Me too.

      LW, I wish you long life. Whatever strategy you choose, I hope that you can all be kind to yourselves and each other.

    • Elf Krystal said:

      Strategy #1 is beautiful and compassionate. Perhaps Ebay and Goodwill is in the future of a lot of that stuff in the trailer. That he keep it contained and out of the house is a good sign that he can probably let it go without too much anxiety.

  4. gmg said:

    This is a topic of extreme interest for me because I am the daughter of a clutterbug. I will not call her a hoarder, because when pressed to get rid of things, she is not necessarily unwilling to do so (we even had a yard sale last year!). Her issues are more ADD/time-management-focused. But when I put two and two together and realized that my mom needed to hang onto family “heirlooms” of questionable value because they are her physical respositories for memories she’s otherwise afraid of losing, I was able to feel a lot more understanding.

    Option #1 for the LW and family sounds pretty fantastic if everyone can swing it. I think having the whole family together to undertake this task will a)please Dad no end and b)help the kids so no one person has to take the brunt of the emotions involved.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      I think the creation of a memory book, on low-acid paper even, full of pictures of memory-laden objects with the stories that go with them printed below would be a lovely memorial to the LW’s parents’ life together. “The pewter chess set in which everyone is an Arthurian character has gone to someone who will cherish it and play with it all the time, and we have the story of how you found it as our family treasure.”

    • Cassandra said:

      I’m a little hoardy around the edges, and the whole “memories invested in inanimate, dust-attracting objects” phenomenon is horribly, viscerally true for me. It always makes me feel bad when folks talk contemptuously about people who hold onto stuff—because I know they’re right, and the Thing is just a Thing, and my memories exist independently of the Thing, but it very often doesn’t FEEL that way. It really is a panic-inducing situation, contemplating getting rid of a Thing. It’s nice to read the Cap’n’s response, and the comments, that are so understanding and kind. It makes me feel optimistic about living less of my life as the thrall of the various Things.

  5. Charmed.Omega said:

    One last thing I think LW should check is if complete collections are more valuable than individual items. It is possible she and siblings could sell some of them, depending on how much time they want to expend on this.

    • Important in any “selling stuff” strategy is having provisions to IMMEDIATELY list things or else to IMMEDIATELY hand things over to a reseller for commission or IMMEDIATELY sell things to a reseller for cash in hand. Do not assume that you can flag things for later sale and then get around to it later, because the second time you touch it it will be just as emotionally difficult. The ideal thing to do with this stuff is, what you don’t want to keep yourself, touch once and never again. The emotional labour involved in repeatedly unpacking, looking at/photographing, repacking it is immense.

      • fir3dragon said:

        “what you don’t want to keep yourself, touch once and never again.”
        This is soooo smart!

  6. I am the relict of a hoarder spouse. I cannot, cannot, cannot stress enough the value of the participation of emotionally-uninvolved adults in any cleaning-out effort. I relied, RELIED, on my uninvolved friends when cleaning out the house. “Should I keep this?” “No, Novel, not only should you not, you MAY NOT, I forbid it.” “Thank you.”

    Be prepared for the probability that any emotionally-uninvolved professional help is likely to tell you to immediately and without prejudice pitch 85% of whatever your parents collected. It sounds like this won’t be difficult for you, LW, but it’s likely to be VERY HARD for your dad to hear. The plus: if you get a professional, the professional is by definition a heartless commercially-minded bastard; that’s their job, and your dad has to respect that.

    Be prepared that this will be more emotional for you than you think it will. Be kind to yourself and to your family members.

    • Smithy said:

      This has been my experience. That it ends up being very emotional for family members in different times and different ways. I’m a big fan of teasing out 2 different approaches. Do the Option 1 emotional response, but then be prepared with either an Option 2 or 3 secondary response/weekend. Both in terms of efficiency, but also in terms of having an eye to different things.

      My mother is definitely the type that keeps everything. And while we’re not talking old newspapers stacked to the ceiling, it definitely does include every greeting card she, myself, my brother, and my father had received for the past 30-odd years. At least she’s open to major cleaning purges every now and then, but it’s always tough. That being said, while my mom struggles to toss a Valentine’s Day grocery store card given to her fifteen years ago – she’ll blissfully see old banking or medical information as the “easy” stuff to toss. So it becomes a dual case of “remember this needs to be shredded!!!” along with the emotional sorting, archiving, etc. If in the storage unit, old receipts of various purchases contain credit card information and the like….it may not just be an emotional sorting, but also making sure that information ends up properly disposed of.

      While it’d be awesome if it’s possible to do both the technical steps alongside the emotional steps for everything (and if the OP’s family can manage that – that’s truly wonderful) – I think it’s best to see this as something to approach with two minds. The first is how to emotionally recognize the process, but then unless you really want to commit the time, money, and energy to truly documenting everything – a second step needs to involve a more professional and clinical process.

  7. Clarry said:

    Yes to taking digital photos of everything. Then follow-up: When you visit your father, bring out the laptop and go over memories while looking at the pics of the stuff. This has surprised me, but it works. I always thought that people rolled their eyes at being forced to look at old vacation photos, but as I’ve been visiting my elderly parents, my boyfriend’s elderly parents, and all these elderly folks’ elderly friends in hospitals and social gathering places, I’ve been overwhelmed by how much everyone seems to adore looking at strangers’ pictures of almost anything. It’s like if I walk in with a photo album, people I don’t know will ask to see pics and will delight in anything I describe about them. Bonus if smallish snapshots can be blown up to oversize. I’d have thought they’d be bored with “and here’s a picture of a mountain in California,” but they love it, and they equally love “this must be the kitchen in the old house” and “I’m not sure whose baby that is, maybe a friend from college we’ve lost track of.” This method of entertainment doesn’t require much thought or effort and is pleasant all round.

    • moss said:

      I actually love looking at people’s vacation pictures. I am your vacation-picture-looker!

  8. Vicki said:

    As an addendum to suggestion 1, OP and/or one of their siblings might say something like “Dad, Those collectibles should go to another collector, who will really appreciate them. What I’d really like, if you’re not going to be using it, is…” and then ask for a cast iron frying pan, or a tea pot, or a picture from the living room, that will remind you of your parents whenever you see/use it.

    That’s motivated in part by the fact that I am often happily reminded of my mother (who is still alive and well) when I cook, because she gave us her set of Pyrex mixing bowls. Those weren’t bought as collectors’ or display items (though people do collect mid-20th-century Pyrex), but I suspect your father would understand that you would like to be reminded of him and your mother when you make an omelet, or serve tea to guests.

    • VioletEMT said:

      Second. I have a pair of over-sized coffee mugs that my dad used to drink out of. Every one of my memories of my dad’s office features one of those mugs perched on the desk. Husband asked me whether it was okay for him to use the mugs, or whether I wanted to “keep them nice.” I said to please use the heck out of them, because every time I see them, I think of my dad guzzling coffee out of them, and fondly remember him and smile a bit inside.

      • basketcasenz said:

        thats beautiful. Made me smile.
        Sadly, my grandfather (who I loved dearly as a child) was massively split from the family in the last years before he died due to interpersonal things. When he moved into a home the *shething* that was his partner (and the cause of the ructions) just binned so much of his stuff. I have some first day cover stamps and his second wifes spoon set – neither have any relevance to me, and are taking up valuable space in our very small house.

    • slfisher said:

      Yep. My dad (and I’ll tell my whole story when I finish reading the comments thus far) didn’t understand why my sister and I didn’t care about my mom’s engagement ring and such, but were nuts over things like the measuring cups.

    • LA said:

      Yes, this. My grandmother(still alive and well) gave me a candy dish that my father won at a carnival as a teenager and then gave to her; it reminds me of both my father and her, since she always has candy dishes out, and I have so few physical links to my father (who died when I was young). Similarly, my husband has a staple gun that belonged to his grandfather.

      • NorahMancer said:

        My mother is occasionally baffled that I adore a ring that used to be my grandmother’s but don’t especially want/need a set of Royal Doulton figurines. I wear rings every day; I hate dusting shit, and while the figurines do remind me of Gran, they’re decidedly less portable.

      • M Dubz said:

        I have a vegetable peeler that belonged to my great-grandfather. It still does shockingly well at peeling vegetables!

        • msethyl said:

          I have my grandmother’s wooden spoon and it means so much more to me than anything “fancy,” plus it works great as a wooden spoon!

          • Ros said:

            My grandma`s antique rolling pin is in constant use in my kitchen; I also use her pie crust recipe and she`s the one who taught me how to make apple pie (and OMG it’s good pie…)

            To everyone’s point, though: sometimes it’s not about the value, but about the memories. That’s only the case when you keep a FEW items, though – I can think of my grandma when I bake a pie, sure, but I couldn’t remember her quite as well if everything in my kitchen was from her.

      • CrushLily said:

        I made my Dad put it in his will that I would get a Phillips head screwdriver that was his father’s. It is the Best Screwdriver Ever and unscrews EVERYTHING. It is so awesome my Dad won’t give it to me until he is dead.

        • rikibeth said:

          Oh god, I’ve PROMISED myself I won’t.fight my brother over my grandfather”s folding ruler that my dad has. I know we would otherwise.

        • Elizabeth said:

          I have a glass ashtray depicting the Ascent of Man that my grandmother got as a promo item at a pharmacy convention. I got it because I was the first to ask, but every single one of her seven grandchildren asked for it when asked if there was anything special from the house they would like. I don’t even smoke, but I love that ashtray.

    • Guava said:

      Yup. I am forever thankful that I insisted on taking my grandparents’ antique bed and shipping it 3,000 miles to my home when we sold our family cabin. I miss that cabin every day, but when I lie in the bed to put my kiddo to sleep, I can still pretend I’m there.

    • espritdecorps said:

      I still use my grandmother’s pots, knives, and bakeware. Our relationship was strained, but she was an amazing chef. And using her tools reminds me of the things I admired about her.

      • Cricket said:

        My grandmother passed away when I was just starting college, and so as a grandkid who was imminently approaching adult life I inherited a bunch of plates and cookware. Younger relatives didn’t need them, and older relatives already had equivalent items and generally took a couple of small decorative plates and dishes and left it at that. Now that I’m graduated, job hunting, and scouting out apartments, I look forward to the time when I’ll be able to put all those inherited tools to use. Practical items are a wonderful kind of legacy to have.

    • rikibeth said:

      YES. When my mother’s mother died, after the specific bequests and requests, they did have the professional estate sale person come in…and there were some items that didn’t sell, and some that were considered not in good enough condition to sell, and I have a few of those. I would have loved to have taken my grandmother’s entire set of Company Dairy Dishes, which I always thought of as the Brunch Set, but I had no room; what I di ask for was two cups and saucers from the set, and the fish-shaped plate that my mother said was “too chipped” for HER to use to put out lox and whitefish at brunches.

      It’s my cake (and cookie) plate now. And when my mother first came to see me in this apartment, and I served her tea in one of those cups, and cookies on that plate, she about lost it crying. She’d forgotten, in the intervening several years, that I had them!

      I also asked for the two little display demitasse cups that my grandmother kept on a table in the living room. You know who drank out of those cups? My dolls, when I visited. So I felt pretty attached to them. (My cousin Jake felt the same way about my grandfather’s manual typewriter – that was HIS toy.) They’re on the table with all the family photos now (including her wedding picture). My mom also forgot I had them and was equally struck.

      From the other side of my family, my father’s mother gave me HER mother’s rolling pin – an amazing oiled-finish French-style tapered pin – when I asked to learn to make her strudel, and the chopping bowl and curved chopper when I was the only one who had interest in homemade gefilte fish. And it was universally acclaimed that I got the silver server that holds a pie plate, and the fancy serving knife that went with it, because I was the one who learned how to make the (pain in the ass) rum chiffon pie.

      Both my grandmothers had houses full of Stuff. But it’s the small things – THIS is every family bagel brunch, THIS is the strudel and THIS the beloved pie – that actually carry the meaning.

  9. Virginia said:

    The Captain’s kind and wise advice is so good.

    She says, “Nothing about that weekend will be easy” – and it totally won’t, but it might be *good*. You might cry through all the stories and memories, but in my experience, you’ll also laugh. I think it’s so healthy to make oneself speak of those we’ve lost, even when it’s hard to open that door.

  10. I’ve been there, done that with a grandmother (influenced by the Depression and the Second World War) and by an elderly aunt (more of a hoarder due to tragic losses in her life). The process will take more than a weekend, even a long one.

    For the grandmother, we made two separate week-long trips to try to empty the house before moving her to an assisted living facility. She wouldn’t help, and she mostly actively prevented us from helping. Over those two trips, we got so little work done, we might as well have waited until after we’d moved her out. She was so upset about the disruption that, frankly, she went to her grave without forgiving me for being the grandchild who had participated. We thought it was being nice to let her be there and direct the work. Instead, it just caused grief for everyone. We managed to clear out the house, on a third week-long trip, only after she was out of there and we could get a professional person to run an estate auction and donate/trash the rest.

    For the elderly aunt, she was too embarrassed to let us into the house, so we had to take care of it and two storage units on a succession of weekends over a good 10 months — after she had passed away. It would have gone faster, except that one family member wanted to go through everything. My view is that going through collections and selling things is a full-time job. The people who make money doing it on EBay are able to make money because they’re experts at identifying the items that will actually make money (protip: most of what people collect is completely worthless for resale), and they don’t do anything else for a living. The reason we can hire professionals to run estate sales is because running an estate sale — whether for real or on the internet — is a profession in itself. Add on top of that that the relative is experiencing profound grief and is attached to the items? This can be a months-long project.

    If/When I’m faced with this kind of thing again, I’ll be going with Strategy 4. (Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice — uh, I’m going with Strategy 4.) Here, if Dad had the wherewithal and the desire to take care of this stuff, he would have done it by now, or at least he would have started. LW can help provide him some tools to get him there, and that will be great. I hope that the LW doesn’t feel that staying away from it personally and dealing with it later is a hurtful choice. It may make a lot more sense than the other options.

  11. kaevas said:

    If your Dad is anything like my father-in-law, he’s a hoarder, and I mean that with the utmost respect and sympathy. It’s a mental condition marked heavily with depression and obsessive compulsion. Anything can be hoarded, and it doesn’t even have to be unsightly (although it certainly can be, obviously). Despite the excellent suggestions outlined here, I wanted to make sure that the LW is prepared for resistance and possible hostile reactions to any attempt to separate her father from his treasures. Despite what he says while getting ready to proceed with moving, he might reconsider when it comes to actually giving up anything or paring down what he has amassed. He might be alright if he can be assured that it is going to be used, but then express reservation or upset or refusal if he knows anything will be thrown away.

    It’s very, very common for a hoarder to express despair or unhappiness in general with the state of their collection, but then turn around and continue to acquire new things, resist any attempts to clean their trove, or make any particular change, including therapy. Anecdotally, it seems more common to nurses, teachers, artists, or people in general long-term stressful jobs, but that might just be on TV (my FIL was a teacher; his wife is a nurse, and it’s both of them).

    It’s the whole idea that the collections was supposed to “accrue in value” and be worth something at some point in the nebulous future (even though they are not inherently valuable) or be exceptionally useful to someone…that was really caught my attention. It’s such a common explanation given that is patently absurd but works to disguise the real underlying statement. “I only feel safe surrounded by happier memories, which I associate with all these things. I’m sad and scared and part of me hates the hold that they have over me, but I also love them because they give me joy. I wish that other people saw that instead of the stuff, but I don’t want to move beyond the connection I get from my things.”

    My FIL’s house is filled to the brim with papers and books, to the point that there are only goat trails to walk through and he won’t let anyone in. The downstairs has clothes and shoes and more more more books and just *stuff*. Only one fixture in each bathroom works. The heater broke and they won’t have anyone go through to fix it because the appliance is inaccessible. It’s a very bad state of affairs, and even though they have people who love them, they are so depressed and ashamed of the state of things, they have cut off contact with pretty much all their loved ones.

    We really, really tried to get them to talk to someone (a therapist) in the most gentle way possible. My FIL has said in no uncertain terms that the hoarding is his wife’s fault (it’s 50/50) and that he doesn’t believe in therapy (he was a psychology professor). His wife says that the stuff is all his. They both talk about moving to a larger house so that they have more space (a terrifying proposition b/c it will just be filled up again in a short space of time); fortunately, they don’t want to pack to move.

    If I could have, I would have asked for a professional organizer to help, but without regular mental health counselling, the situation is beyond my control. I’d say the same to the LW: if you can, ask your father to see a professional therapist who has some experience with hoarding or hoarding-like behaviors. See if he will accept a professional organizer, with appraisal expertise, to help him sort through his stuff. But hoarding is very difficult to treat, especially if it is someone who hasn’t sought out help on their own but is being asked by others to change the state of their situation.

    Good luck and *hugs*

    • Weddings and Hospitals said:

      Oh my god, thank you. So much this.

      I was wondering when the discussion thread would move from “yes, go there! give of yourself!” to “beware, here may be hidden dragons of sadness, woe, and lost identities, guarded by growling dogs who bark fiercely and weep at the same time, tread carefully.”

      My family too are hoarders. ‘Rational’ hoarders. Of things like antique dishes. Um. Or shop equipment. Errr. And mahogany furniture. So I get told that, “it’s gooood stufffff.” But still. When there are goat trails through the house of dishes and mahogany furniture, it’s still hoarding.

      There is nothing more maddening and confounding and impossible to deal with than a hoarder wailing, “Come helpppp me, I can’t deciiiiide, and I kept all of it for youuuuu, it’s your ‘estate,’ come help me sort and I’ll let go of things, just take what you wannnnt, I need the space, I need to die in peaaace!”

      And when you show up, they turn into a slavering dog treating you like a traitor and an apostate, even like an abuser, making themselves into the victim of you, instead of the self-inflicted victim of their own stuff, because you refuse to “understand,” or listen, or make an “exception,” or just, actually, you know, expect them to do the thing they said they wanted to do and you bought a plane ticket and rented a car and put in a vacation requisition to do – clean out the china cabinet or the hall closet (never mind the whole attic, whole basement, or whole storage unit).

      It’s impossible. It’s a straight up mental illness. And it is the domain of professionals. Too sadly, it’s the domain of death. There really is no other resolution for too many families. Strife, grief, talk-talk whining about the trove, for decades, while continuing to bring stuff in the house, and ultimately merciful death closes the book.

      That’s the heartbreaking conclusion I’ve come to with my family. I cannot be cast as the ‘abuser’ again because I’m being sucked in to someone else’s mental illness hoarder stage play. I am one of the nicest, kindest, most peacemaking personalities. I am far from abusive. But I am not a mental health care professional.

      I sincerely hope LW’s father and family do not fall into this demographic. Not every family with a house full of treasure troves does. Thankfully. But when the family does fall into this demographic, the “go, give of yourself, take cameras, listen to the stories, clean out the stuff” solution sadly feeds into the illness rather than helping it, and can set the helpers up to be sucked into a whirlpool of grief the elders themselves can’t adequately deal with.

      • Nicole said:

        My paternal grandfather and all of my dad’s eight siblings are/were some level of hoarder. I mention this because when my grandfather died, doing option #1 was never really an option. The only thing worse than going through a hoarder’s possessions is doing it with other hoarders. While I agree with many commentors in the thread that #1 is an emotionally respectful and cathartic way of dealing with the stuff… If anyone involved has problematic relationships with things, it may head south quickly. Hoarding is 100% a mental illness and the compulsion to collect and keep items to the detriment of health, happiness, and relationships can be terrifyingly strong.

        LW, I’d suggest giving #1 a shot as it doesn’t sound like your dad has a seriously problematic relationship with his collection, but if he or any of your siblings begin to grow hostile towards the idea of throwing out or getting ride of anything from the collection (like, we literally, cannot throw anything at all away, it all has emotional value.) Don’t invite them back to any future dealing with the stuff events. Ideally, get them into some type of therapy, even if it’s just grief counseling and doesn’t address the hoarding directly. I’m sure they’ll be mad at you for not involving them in the de-cluttering process, but if it turns out you’re dealing with a hoarder, there really are no good options. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be your situation and you, your dad, and siblings are able to use some of the time required to cleaning away the collection to deal with your feelings of grief together.

        • Yeah. The worst moments in trying to clean out the house after my hub died were when my “friend” the hoarder showed up like the Junk Lady from Labyrinth, adjuring me that I’d want this, and that, and this thing too.

          • As the child of hoarders, I just wanted to add that hoarding is often triggered or exacerbated by stress, and extreme stress like the loss of a spouse can cause hoarding to get worse.

        • Baytree said:

          “The only thing worse than going through a hoarder’s possessions is doing it with other hoarders.”

          Yes, a thousand times. My grandmother was a hoarder and not just a little bit either. Both of her children are the same way to a greater or lesser degree. We started cleaning out grandma’s house when she moved to a nursing home oh… 10 years ago? It’s still not done, and she’s been in the grave half a decade. I eventually got to a point where I had to stop participating. It’s agonizing and emotionally draining to have people around you constantly fretting and crying and telling you they want to clean things up, only to do exactly everything in their power to *not* clean things up. And if you try to help hearing them cry traitor at you.

          • Eureka said:

            I’m dreading what will happen when my fiance’s parents die. He’s pretty good about resisting the hoarding tenancies, but his sister is…no so much. And his folks have a fourteen room house full of stuff. It’s mostly pretty good stuff, and they’ve managed to keep it from becoming goat territory, but still…It’s nice to see these options laid out in black and white.

      • Ros said:

        Oh god, the “it’s good stuff” excuse, and then the guilt that comes with refusing to let it through the door…. I feel it. Combined with slight emotional-associations-to-things issues, it is NOT a good or reassuring feeling.

        I kind of get where they’re coming from, which I find frightening: I associate memories to things, and then have a hard time letting go of the things. Which means that I currently have two sets of dishes: my ‘everyday’ dishes, and the china my grandparents got for their wedding and that was used every Thanksgiving and Christmas while I was growing up (and, um, also a few antique serving platters with pretty patterns that I use with the everyday dishes!) The personal line I have drawn is that I may not keep dishes that I will not use. Functionally, this means that I host the family Thanksgiving and occasionally Christmas, and therefore justify keeping my grandma`s wedding china, which makes me happy every time I host a Thanksgiving dinner for 15. But I’m not going to start keeping extra sets of china because ‘it’s good stuff’, no matter what other people insist – it’s only good if you have SPACE for it (non-cluttered space. In the cupboards. The already-existing cupboards.) and you USE it. (Also, um, the resale value on antique china is crap right now, because people don’t have space and want dishes that can be put in dishwashers. Barring a few well-known antique patterns, it’s ‘good’ but that doesn’t mean it’s worth much. Check Craigslist for examples of 12-piece china sets from the 50s being sold for 200-300$…)

        And furniture…Is meant to be useful, no? So, I have antique mahogany and oak furniture in my house, and antique cast-iron bedframes, and yes, I completely agree that it’s good stuff. But the trick there is that I have ONE dining room table and ONE buffet and the couches that fit comfortably in the living room and empty space on the floor. I keep an updated list of things I’m looking for for the house (building a house = furnishing from scratch + budget = craigslist and auctions), and I don`t CARE how good a piece of furniture it is, if it doesn’t fit our needs or our house it’s not coming in our door. No matter how much family gets frustrated at that attitude. No. I am NOT shlepping it into the house and then back out. No.

        (Caveat: useful things are WELCOME. We live in the country. You are getting rid of a good wheelbarrow/ladder/rake/garden tools/things we might use? BRING IT. We will either use it or pass it on to someone who will.)

        • rikibeth said:

          Yeah. When I got divorced and went from a six-bedroom Victorian house to a much smaller duplex, my mother’s best friend agreed to store a lot of my stuff for me in her barn. And it was good stuff, and much of it with family memories – my grandmother gave me her spare set of good china when I got married, because I’d loved the pale purple flowers on it since I was ten.

          My parents brought me a couple of the boxes when I moved in here. All the pretty vintage glassware with the gold rims? I took back four or six sherry/cordial glasses, because that was a thing I didn’t have in my arsenal, and I passed the rest along to my cousin, who has a bigger house and a place to put the glassware he collects, and told him specifically “keep what you like of it, but if you don’t like all of it, I don’t care if you sell it or give it away to friends or to Goodwill – some of it was our grandmother’s, some wasn’t, I’m letting it go.”

          I passed along all the damask tablecloths and napkins and a number of the silver serving pieces to another cousin, who’s actually observant and actually hosts big Shabbat meals. Kept a couple of pieces because they had good Pyrex liners I can use for everyday and haul out the silver outsides (from the basement) at Thanksgiving. It may be overkill to bring mac & cheese in a silver dish, but it’s Thanksgiving, after all.

          I haven’t got the box of china yet. When I do, I’m going to reclaim a few cups and saucers, and if there’s a sugar bowl and creamer in the set I’m snagging them too – I literally do not remember. It was most of a service for 12 with SO MANY sizes of plates. I’ll keep the cups and admire the dainty flowers with my tea, and find someone who wants at least some of the other pieces and HAS ROOM TO KEEP THEM. I don’t.

          Man, though. Things I use every day? My father’s mother had two little carved teak tables, round with hinged tripod bases. My mother tells me they were never Fancy and just came from Pier 1. They are the PERFECT little side tables. I only have one now because the hinges finally went on the other one. I sit in my IKEA armchair every day and rest my coffee on that little table, and my son wants me to scout eBay for another one, because he wants one next to the arm of the couch, besides the trunk we use as a coffee table. It may not have been Good Stuff like her mother’s antique mahogany piecrust table which is my family-pictures hall table now, but it was a fixture in my grandmother’s living room and it’s a fixture of mine.

      • kaevas said:

        I’m glad that was of help to you! After I wrote it, I got worried that I was contributing in too much of my own experience and that it might derail from the LW’s situation.

        One of the things that did help my husband, in particular, was actually watching some of the kinda-sorta reality TV shows that dealt with hoarding (Buried Alive is actually better than Hoarders). Yes, they are sensationalized. Yes, it’s sometimes all-too-pat. Yes, they are crap TV. But…they also show houses and family interactions that can strike a chord, because they do show how the hoarder views their materials and how family members have interacted with the situation (sometimes for better over worse). The UK version, even though it has the more colorful title, is more responsible; the person has usually contacted the show themselves (which makes a huge long-term success difference) and there’s more emphasis on a slow, meaningful, professionally managed decreasing of the stuff over a wholesale purge (though, I guess, to credit Hoarders, the purge is often in response to outside pressures: clean up or CPS will get involved or the county is going do it for you or your fines for not cleaning now equal jail time, in some cases).

        In an odd way, because we were able to open up and talk to other people about the situation, it helped us to disengage. (Much like sooo many other things, once you start talking about *a thing*, other people talk about their experiences with the same *thing* and you can all heal a little more.) We started accepting that we’d never be able to clean their house. They were never going to change their behavior because it was too stressful and too scary for them to do so. But it also helped that we started to refuse them requests as well: take more things up to the attic (so that they could put more things on the stairs!) or listen to rants about how their HOA was taking them to court again for the state of their yard (and believe me, I hate HOAs, but I could understand *why*). I didn’t ask about the air rifle in the living room, but it was volunteered that it was there to hunt the “mice” that were taking up residence in the home (I’ve had pet rats before, and I actually saw a live one under their side table, looking up at me like “Why are you here? This is my house.”).

        We stopped offering solutions to their problems because even though it was solicited and the problems were complained about at length, there was no possibility for change.

        We accepted that at some point, we’d be responsible for cleaning out the house after their death, as my husband is an only child. It would be a long, possibly difficult, possibly unhealthy process, but it would be the only way that their place would be classified as habitable.

        It sucks to come those conclusions, but it sucks even more to have to be in a situation where you are considered an aggressor or a bad person or an ungrateful child simply because you are worried for another person’s health and well-being. There’s a certain sense of liberation that comes from all reasonable options being exhausted and accepting that it is just the way it is.

        *hugs* for you as well, because I can tell that you’ve been through the ringer on this one.

    • Myrtle said:

      My Uncles home had goat trails, which, upon his death, his brother rented a dumpster and cleared out. What a firetrap; and a reason one can involve agencies for the aging to intervene. Any idea how hot a wooden home packed with newspapers can burn? Also in the rubble were 100 thousand dollars in gold and silver coins. Actual coins and stamps that were once in circulation can be worth large amounts of money. Careful in giving away things you’re not personally familiar with. Baseball cards are a classic example.

  12. Commander Banana said:

    Hi LW!

    I have a very similar situation with my grandmother. The last two times I visited her, she packed up an additional suitcase full of stuff and mailed a second giant box to me at home with stuff she wanted to give me.

    Some of the stuff was useful (especially her clothes, we wear the same size and I love vintage) but most of it…was not. Or it was stuff I didn’t need and didn’t want, and we also have a very different decorating aesthetic so things like her plates, etc., are not things I would choose to have in my house.

    She also likes giving me religious things – literature, icons, etc, – for a religion I am not a member or and am not interested in joining. She also has a habit of asking about things she has given me – some things that are from YEARS ago and are long lost in many moves – ad nauseum.

    The second time I visited her I handled it a little better by refusing to take things that I knew I wouldn’t use/didn’t want.

    I did:
    – Let her give me one big suitcase to take back. If it didn’t fit, it didn’t come with me
    – Accept the religious stuff, which I ditched when I got home
    – Took some things I knew I didn’t want but could donate
    – Told her I liked certain things – hats, jewelry, clothes, old pictures of our family and pictures of my mom as a child – over certain other things – kitchenware, which I have enough of, or decorative things, because my house is already decorated in a certain style that does not include Baroque Religious Kitsch

    Fortunately she won’t be visiting me at my house because she doesn’t travel as much and I have no guest room/nowhere for her to stay, so I don’t have to worry about her realizing that I have donated all of the tiny port glasses she gave me that I loved so much at 5 because they were the right size for me. At 5. Not at 30.

    The Captain’s advice is great and given with a lot of understanding and compassion for how Stuff isn’t just Stuff to your dad right now. I am also so very sorry for your loss and wish you and your sibs the best in navigating this new terrain.

    A few things that helped for me were being honest about the size of the storage in my house, limiting the size of containers (you could bring one Box of A Certain Size and once it’s full, you can’t take any more) and also telling her I would take certain things but they’d be getting donated to a charity.

    It definitely sounds like your dad is (understandably) feeling overwhelmed right now at the thought of dealing with the Stuff Trailer, but unless you have a pressing need to move it/sort through it now, you could try gently reminding him that you can take it in small bites.

    I will say that while I (lovingly) roll my eyes at my grandma and mom Stuff-Bombing me, I too have a tendency to give people random things because they make me think of them (with the caveat that I am 100% ok with people refusing stuff they don’t want!) and it makes me laugh knowing that it’s something I’ve inherited.

  13. allreb said:

    ::hugs hugs hugs hugs hugs::

    LW, I am in a similar situation – mom passed away, dad is far away, and while he’s not ready to leave his house yet we’re in very beginning stage talks about it. My folks were less into accumulating collectibles, but still had a huge amount of Stuff. For my mom, it was mostly craft based. I don’t know if this would work for you since trinkets may be less helpful to others, but we rounded up as much of it as we could (everything from old sewing machines to finished quilts to boxes of fabric and batting, tons and tons of yarn, the world’s most extensive collection of knitting needles, books on same, etc etc etc) and donated them to relevant organizations. (The local quilting guild, the spinning guild, etc.) They didn’t need all of that Stuff either, but were able to auction most of it off – they had initially offered to split the profits with my dad (half for them, half for him) but he asked them to keep it all, and everyone involved agreed that mom’s Stuff going to people who could use it was much better than it being passed off to us kids (who have neither the room nor the interest) or tossed.

    (And yes, we did save some of it — very little, though. I have a wallhanging she made that I have always loved up in my cubicle at work, and another one at home. But that’s it, and having those, which are meaningful to me, make it much easier to say “No thanks” when Dad unearths yet another crate of projects.)

  14. minuteye said:

    Okay, this is a really good collection of strategies and advice IF there is nothing else going on here. LW has given us no reason to think otherwise, and diagnosing online is a horrible idea anyway.

    But I feel it’s really important to point out that this advice does not apply in similar situations when one is dealing with a parent or elderly relative who is a hoarder. I don’t want to derail the discussion, but strategy #2 is commonly advocated for in hoarding situations and can be traumatic for the subject and cause rapid backsliding (Source: Nick Frost’s “Stuff”).

    So if ‘collecting’ really is just ‘collecting’ = good advice; if ‘collecting’ is code for ‘hoarding’ = consider seeking some professional help with this.

    • LW 757 said:

      Hi there, LW chiming in. This is Collectibles capital C. I was probably seven when I realized Franklin Mint wasn’t a person sending gifts but a company you bought things from.

      Pops has been handling clearing out the other little c collectibles and home furnishings better– Mama had a thing for decorative pillows, and the day after Mama passed we took an entire pickup truck load of them down to the charity shop.

      • e271828 said:

        Hi, LW. Is there a plan in place for your dad to move, yet? In my experience, it is easier to detach from the Things if the Things are not so immediately present. The process of choosing what to move with will also be helpful in prioritizing (for him) what he really does want to keep. If there is any possibility of your dad moving out, into a less-isolated, more-stimulating place, BEFORE the great winnowing, I do recommend that. I realize finances may preclude this.

        Also, another voice in support of using an auctioneer after you have investigated whether there’s anything worthwhile in there. I do not recommend renting a storage unit and shifting stuff in there. It only postpones the horror and it incurs a monthly expense while doing so.

        Finally, Franklin Mint. Augh. If only there were a way to just send it all back to them.

        • Nineveh said:

          For people who are capable of sorting, moving is a great incentiviser. My parents sold the family home and moved to a smaller flat, and they sorted through the entire contents of a 5 bedroom family house, plus garage and attic, taking only stuff that they wanted to keep (and making their children remove their own stuff we’d been storing there). They were always committed to do it, and pretty rigorous from the beginning. They tried to maximise how stuff was recycled and reused where possible. But still in the last coupleof weeks they were really, really rigorous about “Nope, don’t need this any more!” If Dad is willing to get rid of stuff, and it sounds like it is, a deadline can help the process.

        • rikibeth said:

          Franklin Mint: RIGHT? Anyone remember that decorative china plate that Kaylee liked on Firefly and Simon hated? My ex-MIL had the full set. And gave it to me, when we had the big house. Now, like Kaylee. I thought they were pretty, and I hung them on my living room wall; they worked with that Victorian-Japanophile look. Moving out? NO room for them. SO easy to let go. I think my ex took them and tried to sell them. I think he discovered just how little resale value they had.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        Franklin Mint? I’m so sorry. So many people have been snookered by Franklin Mint and their ilk.

        • Yes, my grandma left me a ghastly decorative plate with a teddy bear reading a bedtime story to a kitten. Can’t even sell the damn thing on ebay because there are about 15 of them for sale; apparently a LOT of people got left this monstrosity and now have no idea what to do with it.

          • It is *surprisingly* enjoyable to smash a plate to smithereens in a Dumpster. Just sayin’.

        • solecism said:

          Yep. That’s my dad. No way I can convince him that it’s a waste of his fixed income. For my birthday this year, he offered me my choice of $2 bills encased in plastic to fill an entire collection box, or commemorative “gold” coins for large mammals of North America, again in a collection box. I reluctantly made a choice and asked him to hold it at his tiny apartment until the collection is complete. I am hoping he’ll forget about this gift whenever that happens. And I reiterated that music is good. Give me CDs. That netted me Kenny Rogers greatest hits CD set. Better than Franklin Mint and Bradford Exchange any day. Grrr.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        we took an entire pickup truck load of them down to the charity shop

        This says louder than words that your Dad *can* and *will* get rid of stuff, which should make option 1 possible.

        Best of luck with it.

      • Sarah said:

        Oh the Franklin Mint. Also the Bradford Exchange. Good luck LW; I’m sending your question and CA’s response to my sisters for our eventual use.

      • stellanor said:

        Oh lord.

        When my grandparents died they left behind an entire house crammed full of that kind of thing. So, so many commemorative plates and prints, some of which were actually appallingly racist to the extent that we were too embarrassed to donate them. Also for some we-grew-up-in-the-depression reason they bought two of almost everything.

        Their children managed to defer dealing with it until both of my grandparents had died, at which point the eldest sibling suddenly decided that all of those items were precious and must be kept (but not by her), so we ended up having to do Option 1 ANYWAY. Multi-generational hoarding and attachment to collectibles.

  15. cv said:

    I think the Captain’s advice is good. I also think that choosing at least one thing to keep is very important as way to be kind to your father. I’ve lived in some tiny apartments, so I sympathize on not wanting to take a ton of stuff. But can you find a dish that you can use as a soap dish in your bathroom or a flat framed thing that it would be easy to store or an over-the-top spoon that you use to stir your coffee at the office and that becomes a conversation starter with coworkers? Do you have any friends or classmates or coworkers who would appreciate one of these items because they relate to a specific interest/tv show/hobby or they would be amused by the kitsch or they have a family tradition of weird ridiculous useless presents at the holidays or they have kids who could play with it? (Note: I’m not saying to dump all your parents’ stuff on others. This would have to be done very thoughtfully.) Refusing to take anything will probably make your father feel rejected, so think about what stuff you *can* allow into your life and then be genuinely pleased when you talk with your father about those things.

  16. What might help when the emotional side gets exhausting is thinking of the purely practical side.

    I know you said that it’s all useless junk, but is it REALLY? It’s all boxed up. The stuff in the bottom back corner that’s been boxed for 40 years may have appreciated in value by now, you never know. My grandmother saved everything, just like your parents did. When she went into a nursing home (vascular dementia), it fell to us to clean out her house. In one closet we found 4 sets of silver valued (on eBay, no less) for a combined total of, no joke, $1.3 million. She had NO IDEA what she had; it’s possible your dad doesn’t, either.

    Even if it IS all junk…not to sound heartless, but this is what’s getting all of us through the cleaning-out-of-Wacko-Grandma’s-Stuff-Process…it lets you go through it all with him and hear the stories before he passes, so you know where it all came from. There’s stuff we’re finding and going, “Where did she even GET this?????” and we can’t even ask her (because dementia), and it would be nice to know. As other commenters have said, though, number one could easily turn into a neverending event, so maybe put a time limit – e.g., five minutes MAX per item, or 15 minutes for a small box, 20 for a medium, 25 for a large? That would almost force your dad to keep moving through and making decisions, if he agrees to it and can keep to it.

    Then again, we have everything from Grandma’s house currently sitting in our living room, dining room, and bedrooms until we can get through a yard sale (tentatively scheduled for Saturday, but it looks like we’re going to get rained out), and have for six months, so. Take it with a grain of salt.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      Whereas my grandmothers ‘I’m buying this for the future of my grandkid’ collected treasures had a value of around $100 when I finally tried to sell them. She paid a lot more for them, and I found them rather millstone-like.

      Her stamp collection I gave to a friend because I did not have the spoons to try and sell them. My friend made minimum wage, and was happy with the deal, and I was RID OF THEM.

      It all depends, but don’t underestimate the cost in time and spoons.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      I really like the idea of videoing the stories too. This might be partly influenced by my oral history papers at uni which specifically focused on the indigenous culture – so much history is being lost as elders die out without it being passed on. Plus both my parents are genealogists. But keeping copies of videos of family stories can be so important to later generations – even with a time limit, either per item or “we’re only doing this for x many days” etc.

    • I think this is a really good argument for getting a pro involved. Try and find someone who can value a wide range of the Collectibles (does your Dad know roughly what’s there? That’ll help) and who can be avaliable for a set period of time and NO MORE. That gives you both a chance to make some money for your Dad from the stuff and a built in time limit (‘oh, Dad, I’d love to hear the story of this, the thousandth spoon, but Pro will need to leave. Why don’t we take a photo and do the story later?’).

  17. N-thing everyone who mentioned getting an otherwise detached professional involved in the cleanup. LW, I don’t know how similar situation is to mine, but when my mother died with no other children and with a fair bit of resentment toward my father, I was both the executor and sole heir to her estate. My mom was something of a hoarder, so imagine that full trailer expanded to the size of a 6000 square foot house, and you can picture the good times I had for the better part of three months following her death. I did have family around to help sort out trash from donation items from sentimental/useful-if-only-at-some-faraway-future-date items, but once all that was taken care of, having professional estate sellers take care of the rest was invaluable, especially since I was so goddamned sick of that house and everything in it by the time I was ready for their services. And they worked on a percentage, too – while it was a fairly hefty one of 30%, it meant that I didn’t have to pay anything up front for the advertising, and they were as motivated as I was to get rid of whatever remained. This is even something you can pair with CA’s first options and could easily make those easier on you, your dad, and any siblings you have if you go for them.

  18. JennyA said:

    I have this to a lesser extent (English-sized house in a town). Mum passed away at the end of 2013 and Dad is frail, so it’s fallen to me to sort through her stuff.

    Ho boy, did she have Stuff. She described the “pleasure of possession”, which I guess was a response to growing up in the 50s. What this means is that the house is packed to creaking with fabric, craft kits, plastic bags (for storing more craft stuff!), books, old computers dating back to the 70s, more books, every single issue of every single magazine she ever bought (and she had around 3 of them on subscription at any one time)…

    What I’ve been doing so far is clearing out about one chest of drawers-sized drawer each time I visit. Someone mentioned Tetris; Mum had acquired the ability to make things take up No Room At All by putting them under other things. Seriously; one drawer *fills* my car. Then once every few months my sister will come up from London & we’ll have a joint effort to clear a whole lot more (say another 3-4 drawers-worth). This means it’s taking time, but doesn’t overwhelm either of us and doesn’t leave Dad with nothing around him all of a sudden. (I realise this is a different situation to having everything in a container and out of sight, but Dad also doesn’t ever go into those drawers or the loft so there aren’t Unexpected Gaps.)

    Where is it going? Sister & I pick out anything we actually want. Going through it in front of Dad means he’ll get to keep anything he wants and protest the casting out of stuff nobody does. (To date there hasn’t been much of that; Mum’s things were precious-to-her rather than actually valuable). There was enough fabric etc to start a market stall, so I’ve passed on the good bits (see footnote) to friends who quilt & dressmake, and they’re making donations to Cancer Research in return. It seems to be keeping Dad as not-unhappy as possible throughout the process, even if it is taking a long time.

    Not sure whether that helps at all or is just another voice in the crowd, but I thought I’d put it out there.

    (Footnote. Fat quarters, 3m lengths of suiting fabric: Good Bits. Bent & rusty pins, 1/2 inch trimmings from the bottom of trouserlegs where Mum had taken them up: Not so good.)

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      the house is packed to creaking with fabric, craft kits, plastic bags (for storing more craft stuff!), books, old computers dating back to the 70s, more books, every single issue of every single magazine she ever bought (and she had around 3 of them on subscription at any one time)…

      Oh my god this is going to be my parents’ house. Though, they did move a couple of years ago and I know they had trouble finding a house with even half as much storage space so I suspect they’ve winnowed it down a bit. But once when I was a kid I went around counting the old computers and came up with about 33; we played on an Apple IIe with no hard drive probably well into my teens, and I’m 30 now. And my mother’s a quilter so fabric and completed quilts everywhere too.

      • JennyA said:

        There has been a lot of “Your mother was insane!” between me and my sister. Some of the bits have even got Dad to crack a smile, and he’s (undiagnosed because he won’t admit it) quite seriously depressed over the bereavement.

  19. slfisher said:

    From my perspective, LW, you’re fortunate because you’re actually getting to do this while your dad’s still with you.

    Story time.

    Once upon a time, my mom died. She and my dad had been married for 40 years. After a decent interval, my dad took up with another woman and in the course of things he was going to move in with her, so he was going through the stuff that had accumulated in the house for the quarter-century they’d lived in it. I lived 2000 miles away and he indicated he didn’t want help.

    One day, he told me with joy how much work he’d gotten done that day, and how he’d thrown away all the letters I’d written them in college. I eeked.

    Perhaps in revenge, perhaps out of fear, it looked like he never threw anything away ever again, and instead had it all packed up and stored away, in something like six packing crates’ worth. He paid the storage fees on this for the next ten years, until in the course of time he passed away and it was left to my sister and I to go through it.

    We found half-empty bottles of cleaning products and half-used rolls of paper towels. We found spice cans I remembered from the 1960s. We found sheets and blankets that I similarly remembered from the 1960s.

    And we found things that daughters should never, ever find out about their fathers. (The phrase, “My eyes! My eyes!” was used several times in this part of the process.)

    To the extent you can, it’s really preferable to deal with this stuff now, either #1 or #2.

    Good luck.

  20. CleverNamePending said:

    I recently did something like the first with my Grandmother. My Grandfather had passed and the doctor wanted her to not be living on her own, so everyone came down to get on with it. The not-adult grandkids stayed behind, I don’t know if you have adult nieces and nephews who might want to help or be able to. My siblings came down, and I live in town, but not all the grandkids came for ours. The grandkids having a level of removed were also often the ones to do the more physical labor when the others were too overwhelmed.

    The following lines came in handy for the out of towners: “Sorry I don’t think that will survive the trip” “My trunk is already full” “That won’t fit in Clever’s car next time she comes up so we’ll have to pass” “We just moved/renovated and really don’t have the space”

    My husband and I live in town, and have a car, so we had to fall back on “It’s lovely but we really don’t need/won’t use X” “It’s lovely but not really us…” “I already have an X that serves this purpose and is machine washable” “Gran you know the setup of our apartment, where would we even *put* that?” <- this one being an honest question, not sarcastic.

    We sorted her stuff into two piles: Stuff for donation, and stuff to get appraised. Everyone took things they actually wanted or would use (and on things that are supposed to be "collector's items!" maybe warn your Dad you will actually use it and see if he still wants you to have it). It was more about being together and not doing it alone and being able to support each other through it for my Grandmother, but she was also physically incapable of doing it herself. It was hard, physically and emotionally, but it was also kind of nice? We all got to go through it together and there was some closure.

    Good luck and hugs if you want them.

  21. unlurking said:

    Great suggestions. Also I agree, it will help you to have a plan(s) in place to physically move out — that weekend — the items you’re donating/selling/etc. It’s so important, because you’ve already done the emotionally-hard part of deciding, it’s easier to follow through right then, because if not then the emotionally hard part simply returns when it’s time to move the objects.
    Also: lots of snacks and very active managing of everyone’s blood-sugar levels! ❤

  22. Friendly Hipposcriff said:

    I like Option #1, it’s compassionate. One thing for if your Dad apologises for making you do all this work: My Mum had a lot of stuff (and health problems that means she could not lift things or kneel down, which put most of her storage out of her reach). After her death, I had three months to clear her flat. And I was very happy that she didn’t have to agonise over which things to keep (I could just toss without emotional attachment) and that she spent her time doing things she enjoyed rather than sorting boxes. It was hard, but it was a gift I could make her. So tell your Dad ‘I’m glad she got to enjoy the things she loved. And now we’re here to help you.”

  23. I have what might be a stupid question. For perspective, I have ADHD and have to work pretty hard against hoarding tendencies, and I know that for myself I suffer from a lot of exective dysfunction a la, “I cannot do This Simple Thing, for I must by necessity do This Complicated Thing first!” Like, “I cannot set up this new lamp, because there is a box where I want the lamp to go and I have to sort through the box and colour-code its contents.” And then it always BLOWS MY MIND when someone picks up the box and carries it two feet to make space for the lamp.

    Why can’t Pops just… take the trailer with him? Hire a trucker to come in and hitch the trailer up and bring it along as he moves? Yes, in this place the trailer’s storage is basically free, and if he moves somewhere more populated he will have to arrange and pay for storage; but this is going to cost money anyway. I know more than a few people who store things in sea cans specifically because they’re fairly easy to ship and store, what with them being totally designed for that purpose.

    I know, I know, people have a Thing about wanting to clean clutter instead of taking it with them–but if someone is grieving and it’s possible to delay an emotionally rending and logistically crazy process that could take months, and let him move and get his social and emotional feet back under him before doing it, why not consider it?

    • Anti Kate said:

      I like this solution, too. All the Captain had to say was marvelous, as usual. And I’m a believer in seeing all the options.

    • That might not be possible given the size of the trailer BUT it does raise another potential outcome: What if they only need to blitz through enough of the stuff to get it down into a reasonable uhaul or POD sized trailer that they could then work through more slowly. That is the technique we took when moving my grandmother into assisted living (it was after a fall and so the potential was there for her to live independently again + time constraints). My mom and uncle picked an affordable storage place and we spent one very long weekend sorting and trashing and emotionally exhausting ourselves but now we have as much time as we’re willing to pay for (and unless OP’s father just owns a 40 ft storage container, he is paying for it and could possibly save money simply by working down to a smaller size)

  24. Cricket said:

    Two pieces of advice from my own experiences on this front:

    Think about the dynamic you have with your siblings if you are going to be cleaning out your parents’ place together. When my grandmother passed away, my dad and his siblings spent multiple days clearing out her house in shifts, and had boxes set out for storing items that different siblings wanted to take. It became common practice for people to drop unwanted items they weren’t sure what to do with in other people’s boxes while they weren’t there, as a way to avoid actually discussing what to do with items that didn’t interest most of the family. It got very annoying for everyone involved.

    If there are a lot of old family photos that only your dad can remember the context for, consider (if you have the time and energy) doing a photo project. After my paternal grandfather died but while his wife was still alive, my mother took on the responsibility of scanning a huge stack of their old family photos, and for several years after that we would sit down once a year with a piece of the original photo stack and a tape recorder and let my grandmother talk through her memories of all the photos. I’d then transcribe her stories, we’d print them out along with the scanned images, and give little photo binders of family memories to our relatives for Christmas. After the first year we’d package envelopes of new stories and photos that they could add into the binder. It was a big project, but we did it little by little over several years, and the end result was that we have a lot of family memories digitized and recorded in my grandmother’s own words. Even if you need to go with a more streamlined, hire-an-outside-professional option for dealing with most of your dad’s stuff, having one project where you get to preserve some (relatively physically compact) family memories in photo form may be a comforting process.

    • Elf Krystal said:

      THIS is a brilliant way of dealing with Family History before it is unavailable when the grandmother is no longer with you. Well Done!

    • Myrtle said:

      What your family did is really lovely. I’d love to have recordings from my grandparents of our family stories. My siblings were in so much pain at our Mother’s suicide that they only allowed us to fly in and take about three hours to pile up her things. Then the rest was left to Goodwill.

      Related topic: The part I was allowed to be in charge of and mess up for everyone was the cremation. I would’ve taken a baggie to pick up the ashes if it’d been legal. The siblings have since regretted their rush, (they were close to her, I was her “the person who’d ruined her life,” so, not close) and I’ve regretted not having a viewing, as for years after her death I’d jump, thinking I saw her in a crowd.

      • JenniferP said:

        I am so sorry. I wish you’d had more consideration from your family at such a terrible time.

  25. Aurora said:

    Gosh I remember having to deal with this. My grandmother — a second mom, really — died and it was all I could do to not enshrine her house and never touch anything and forbid any of it from being sold. But…well, it has to go somewhere.

    My suggestion, really, is to pay for a place to store this container and slowly handle it. Grief is a strange, terrible beast sometimes, and committing to big strategies while mourning is hard and sometimes harsh. Find the container a stable place, then you and your dad can pick through the collection slowly.

  26. Kat said:

    My family and I deal with a similar-ish issue with my grandmother, who collects STUFF (which includes a few valuable/sentimental items, but also kitchy collectibles and probably hundreds of plastic bags) that she wants to give to us. There is a standing family rule: if Grandma offers you something, YOU TAKE IT. YOU TAKE IT RIGHT NOW AND BE EFFUSIVE IN YOUR THANK YOUS AND YOU RUN OUT THE DOOR AND DON’T LOOK BACK. Then you do one of two things…

    (1) If the item has some sort of sentimental value (Grandpa got it during the war is a common theme), you should probably hold onto it until Grandma’s death, at which point you will see if anyone else wants it, then feel free to get rid of it. Grandma is still about 95% there mentally at the age of 93, so she WILL remember the Sentimental Thing and ask about it, and you should be prepared to tell an animated (possibly fabricated) story of how it reminds you of her/Grandpa/whatever. Luckily, Sentimental Things tend to be small and actually kind of cool.

    (2) If the item is just something that she thought might be useful, you are under no obligation to hold onto it. Give it away, whatever, but be prepared to tell how you shared the useful item with another person because it was just so darn useful!

    Her packrat tendencies have come in handy, like the time when I got an unused, still-in-the-box Le Creuset pot (in my favorite color!) that she’d gotten possibly decades earlier and never used because it was too heavy. DON’T MIND IF I DO.

  27. Amy said:

    Hi LW. I watched my mom, aunt, and uncle go through my grandma’s stuff when she moved to a retirement home, and right now my great-aunt is in a “all nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews should take whatever they can every time they visit” phase, so I’d like to share what I’ve learned from these experiences.
    First of all, it’s possible that some of your siblings might feel differently about this than you do. With my grandma’s stuff, my aunt took care of most of it. The reason for that was that my mom saw it all as junk and my uncle, who lives in Texas while the rest of us live in Illinois, could only be there for one weekend. So my aunt, who wanted to go through everything one by one and keep as much of it as she could, ended up being the one to go through it because she was the most interested. Similarly, I’ve taken some of the stuff my great-aunt has offered me while my sister and parents have taken none, because I wanted it and they didn’t, but that’s gotten them off the hook because she knows the stuff I take is going to our nuclear family. So, if you have a sibling who feels that the collections are valuable, then maybe that’s the sibling who should go through the stuff most carefully. You and the other uninterested siblings can go for a day or a weekend, hear some stories, take what you want, and leave the rest for the interested sibling(s) to take care of.
    Second, you may be able to take things that are actually useful instead of taking the collectibles. For example, one time I got a blanket from my great-aunt when she wanted me to take some Christmas ornaments. The blanket and the box of ornaments were equally unused and taking up the exact same amount of space, but I actually use the blanket and would never have used the ornaments. So my great-aunt was able to clear out space and I got something I needed. Similarly, with my grandma’s stuff, her retirement home has a dining hall so she didn’t need her cookware anymore, so my mom took the cookware. It’s useful to her, and that way my aunt couldn’t make her take trinkets on the grounds that she hadn’t taken anything. Depending on what other stuff your dad might be getting rid of besides the collectibles, you might be able to do something similar.
    The last thing I want to say is that I definitely second the Captain’s advice not to have any children involved. They may not quite understand what’s going on, and they may be far more susceptible to accepting the value your dad places on these collectibles. I was around 8 or 9 when the adults were going through my grandma’s stuff, and I tried to keep everything I got my hands on, much to my mom’s dismay. My aunt, the one who also wanted to keep everything, encouraged this, since she lives in an apartment and we live in a house (and therefore have storage space) and she wanted to keep the stuff without actually keeping it personally and saw me as an effective way to achieve that. So yes, no kids unless their parent(s) is/are absolutely certain that they will not let your dad convince them to keep things they shouldn’t.

  28. +1 to hiring professionals. We got less for some stuff (like the baby grand) than it was worth, but also we didn’t clear out my grand mother’s apartment.

    YMMV

  29. Really like the Captain’s first suggestions. My dad died last year and mom–the non-hoarder of the two–needed help going through all his “stuff”. Most of it was old newspapers, cereal boxes and walls of baseball card sets. But what really was important wasn’t keeping the stuff, it was having someone from the family to go through it with her. To talk about it. Occasionally we’d find a baseball my son might want, or a little thing I might take for memories or use. My mom made sure to find something that belonged to my father for each of us five sibs. But she’s still needed time and support getting through the rest.

  30. Elibeth said:

    LW, my condolences on the loss of your mother.

    I experienced a similar situation–on a much smaller scale–when my maternal grandmother passed away. I and my mother both handled the situation poorly, so I’ll highlight some of the details as what I’ve since realized I wished I could handle differently. The Captain’s Option #1 would have been a great solution for me if I could have afforded to travel and take the time off work to accompany my mother as she sorted through her mother’s things, but it never even occurred to me as an option. What happened instead was a mess.

    My mother did much of the sorting through with herself and her siblings. I requested and received an item in the wake of this sorting, and I thought that was it. The next time I visited my mother, however, she began to bring out a parade of items. Do you want this? How about this? Or this? Surely you want this! Each time, I tried a different way to turn down the offered item: “No, thanks.” “Thank you, but I really don’t have the storage space for it.” etc. etc. After the first several times, thinking this would end the parade, I accepted a small item. But this apparently encouraged my mother to bring out new items, which I returned to declining, and this continued even after I asked her not to continue to offer me things. The occasion ended with my mother growing angry and upset, and accusing me of not respecting my family. I too was upset because she wouldn’t accept my answers and kept trying to give me stuff, and was upset further by being called disrespectful. Clearly my mother and I were working at cross-purposes and from different frameworks of what was happening. My responses were based on not wanting more objects to clutter my household and already enjoying the memorial objects I’d previously been given. To my mother, however, these things weren’t clutter: they were relics of someone beloved, and my rejection of them was a mistake kept trying to remedy. I now wish I could have done a small-scale version of Option #1, because what I think my mother wanted most was to have the memories of my grandmother acknowledged and preserved in some way, and I would have liked to have responded with more grace and understanding than I showed then, and given her space for those memories and love.

    Whether you choose option #1 or 2 or another, here are benefits to all of them: 1) Organizing something like these options offers the opportunity to plan breaks–for lunch, tea, whatever–to give those involved some emotional breathing room. 2) Outside participants–beyond your other siblings–might be available to encourage the giving-away spirit, or could just join you for lunch and remembrance of your mother, then provide the fresh air of totally different topics, if that’s desired. 3) All the Captain’s options offer the opportunity to discuss with your father what the alternative respectful future for these items would be. That might be deciding on a favorite charity or church of your mother’s to donate it all to for them to sell, or videotaping it all + Goodwill, or an estate sale specialist, or whatever. Even pet rescue organizations sometimes organize yard sales where the proceeds go to the charity. This step gives him time to reconcile himself to the thought that not everything will end in family hands, but also invests him in the process of thinking about what the alternative might be in a way that could honor your mother.

    It might also be good to wrap up the visit with something not loss-oriented–a movie, a dinner out, whatever you all might enjoy–so that the experience ends with some good memory-making, too.

    Best wishes to you and your family!

  31. I don’t know if this is workable/feasible/possible for LW and siblings, but something I’ve found that works really well when helping clear out spaces with elderly relatives is having a grandchild/grandniece/younger generation person there, less to help with moving and more to keep Elder Family Member company and to ask things like “What’s the story behind this decorative spoon collection?” This tends to be helpful because it gives EFM someone who HASN’T heard the story about Grandma and the Great Spoon Debacle 500+ times, the younger person tends to have less of a connection to the things rather than the stories, and it can be a really great bonding moment.

    When I was 15/16, my paternal grandfather moved into our house, which required cleaning out the massive amounts of STUFF in his old house (canned food from five years before I was born, an entire dresser full of bullets, you know the deal). I was the only grandkid available to help at the time, and I found out later from my mom and aunt that the days I was able to come up and help were some of the most productive. I was able to keep Grandpa on my end of the house as we cleaned out our section, and he was less likely to search through the garbage bags going into the dumpster when I was around. Plus, I got a chance to learn more about the house where my dad and his siblings had grown up.

    If there’s a teenaged relative who’s good at listening, having them along for Option 1 could be really helpful. And if they /are/ the kind of person who says “look grandpa gave me two world atlases from 1910 and a paisley handkerchief,” it can always be up to their parents to say, “X, we really don’t have room for that” or “I’m not sure they’d survive the trip.” I’m just saying, sometimes that generational gap can be really useful when you’re cleaning out. Best of wishes to you, LW. May everything go as smoothly as possible for you.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      Interestingly one of the oral history projects that’s been done here was specifically people interviewing their grandparents, because they still have the connection and basic family knowledge but are one step removed – it makes the elders more likely to share some things that they wouldn’t tell their children.

    • This can be a great strategy, but LW: please be honest if this is a hoarding situation, and do not being anyone who isn’t an adult if that’s the case. My grandmother was a hoarder and every few years my mom and her siblings would go “clear out” Grandma’s trailer. My mom would bring me and my brother, ostensibly as a distraction for my Grandma. Instead, we got to witness our mom and aunt and uncle being verbally and sometimes physically abused as they tried to throw out something as small as a napkin.

      If doesn’t sound like this is your dad’s situation, but please do some soul searching — for your sake and those of any nieces and nephews. Hoarding is a whole ‘nother beast that requires different preparation. If this truly is a great collection rather than hoarding, I love the idea of bringing a younger relative.

  32. sara said:

    Since this is a recent loss, I wouldn’t necessarily push your dad to do this RIGHT NOW unless there really is an urgent reason (must move for medical reasons, no money to move/store items, etc.)

    RE: neices and nephews – while they don’t necessarily need to be there for the whole process (and it could be too intense/sad for them depending on their age), I wouldn’t leave them out entirely. I love all the little items I have from my grandparents, and definitely am pretty sad that I don’t have more things to remember my paternal grandmother by (I have a couple of small items, but my aunt did all the cleanout/disposal of her things, and while I 100% understand from her point of view not being able to handle the distribution of tons of keepsakes, because my grandma/her mom was going through a serious health crisis, there are definitely things of hers I would have loved as keepsakes that probably ended up getting tossed). And, I have zero things of my paternal grandfather’s, who passed away before I was born – even though I never got to meet him, it would be cool to have some small item connecting to the past. On the other hand, my mom’s family is big savers of keepsakes, and I even have some items from my great-grandmother, as well as family silver, quilts, and bibles that go back many generations. Even if this is just “stuff” it really is very valuable to me — I get not everyone feels that way, and it’s fine, but just to say there is another perspective here! Even if you’re a minimalist/don’t like clutter, don’t rule out that there might be one or two people in the family who really like keepsakes/weird little figurines scattered around their house (I do!).

    • Elsajeni said:

      I agree with both you and the Captain about involving kids. I think, as you say, it can be really valuable for kids to have the opportunity to have some keepsakes and “heirlooms” from earlier generations, and it can be awfully sad to realize as an adult that you missed the chance to have something like that. On the other hand, I’ve been the kid/teen who came along on a couple of these types of clean-out-grandma’s-house trips, and I ended up being pushed to take a lot of stuff that I didn’t really want, didn’t have a use for, and wouldn’t even have the space of my own to store until, well, now, ten years later… but also feeling that I wasn’t allowed to refuse any of it. If I were organizing something like #1, I would want to invite the nieces and nephews for at least some of the time, but I’d also encourage everyone to talk as a family about what/how much they can take home, and try to make sure that the nieces and nephews always had a parent nearby to step in and say no if the Really, You Must Take Grandma’s Dishes For When You Move Out On Your Own (In Eight Years) situation arises.

      • I have a few bits of my Great Aunt Betty’s jewelry, which I love. It’s in no way valuable, and I really didn’t know her, but it’s a lovely link to my beloved Granny and I adore it for that reason. Maybe give the kids set things to ‘sort’ (like a tray of costume jewelery, or cute knick-knacks or books) and have the parents set limits on how much they can take?

  33. apismellifera said:

    About five years after my grandma died, my grandpa moved out of their house. My mom, two of her sister, and a few of the grandkids (including me) went to help him pack, organize, and clean things out. This included dealing with all of my grandma’ s things, which hadn”t really been touched yet. It went relatively smoothly, and I believe most things found a home somewhere, but there was a lot of stuff and my mom is one of six kids, so it got spread out a bit.

    I started thinking about the things that we have from that weekend thinking oh, I’ll just talk about how my mom has an extra set of china from her great aunt now, and started to realize HOW MUCH stuff it actually was. Considering how much stuff the LW’s dad apparently has, I think an impartial professional would be a great deal of help.

    LW, if you do take some stuff, I’d recommend only things that you would *use* and/or that have a good story attached. (Displaying pretty/fascinating ceramic figures counts as use, imo.) (but only if you actually want them.)

  34. Myrtle said:

    I loved all except #4. When my Mom of my heart passed away, her husband really needed to offload things, move, and sell the house they’d lived in. Keeping a huge task like this one looming, seems hard on everyone.

    • JenniferP said:

      I guess one way to look at #4 is “if you need to disengage, disengage.” Kids from abusive families aren’t necessarily going home to help. Not everyone can come up with the $. being able to detach is self-care for some readers.

      • Myrtle said:

        I’m with the commentariat that Option #1 was lovely

    • Absotively said:

      #4 doesn’t necessarily keep it looming, though. The captain’s script is pretty clear about suggesting that LW’s dad should deal with the stuff without waiting for LW’s input. It’s their dad’s stuff and thus their dad’s responsibility, and their dad wanting help with it does not mean that LW is obligated to provide that help.

      And if LW takes option #4 and their dad never does deal with the stuff? That might well be sad, since it might prevent him from moving where he wants to, but that would be his own fault. And when the stuff eventually did fall to LW & siblings to deal with, if LW’s siblings feel the same as LW, then they’d be able to call a stuff-selling professional and hand everything over, so the looming task would be much less huge than it is now.

      Of course, it may well be that the LW is ok with helping, in which case that’s great, and that’s why there’s three other options. A lot of this depends on the sort of details that don’t always fit into the letters we see here.

    • There’s also a lot of ways to kick the can down the road. If there’s just no other way for the kids to help this happen and/or dad can’t disengage with this stuff when maybe you just have to find a way to store that shit somewhere else. Find a local farmer who will indefinitely rent a place to plop the container. Make putting it off in a corner of the property until dad dies a condition of the sale. That could cost you but it’s not unprecedented; utility companies regularly make deals with property owners to put a big ol’ transformer on the corner of the property.

      It’s an expense but it’s not insurmountable and if it’s what needs to happy to keep dad happy and maintain family harmony then it might be worth it. Delaying might be best, depending – maybe dad comes to see that this stuff isn’t worth keeping after he hasn’t looked at a single box in five years. Maybe you have to open a few of them as part of your new Thanksgiving or Xmas ritual.

      Dad’s need to offload & move on doesn’t precude all methods of avoidance.

  35. Devin said:

    I want to say thank you so, so much to the Captain for making this post and acknowledging the many kinds of labor and other types of resources that can go into dealing with *stuff*. When I was younger, in the span of several years we had a few of my grandparents either downsize or pass away and my parents (and to a much smaller extent, myself) went through a ton of stress, time, money, etc. to deal with things, often on a strict schedule. It can often be hard to get other people to acknowledge this particular difficult in elder care/death/what have you. So I just really appreciate this post and the many perspectives and strategies offered.

  36. Leah said:

    I used a combination of #1 and #3 with my mother when she had to move from her home to an apartment. I used both strategies again after her death. She was a major packrat and we had to be careful as we found money and important documents in random places.

  37. I love – and can recommend from experience – Strategy #1. I especially want to emphasize this:

    Bonus: Each sibling could select one small object, and one object only, that you each will make much of as your very favorite thing that your parents could have picked out for you. You will keep this thing and display it somewhere next to photos of your parents in your house (or keep it in the cabinet or box where you keep photos of your parents and other mementos).

    With the caveat that it doesn’t necessarily need to be a small object – just something that each time you see or use, you’ll think of them. When my grandparents downsized from their house to a nursing home, (after setting aside what they were taking with them) their kids and grandkids each got to ask for a specific item. For example, my sister got one of the music boxes that my grandma always put out for Christmas, I got the anniversary clock that was spinning over my grandpa’s desk (and you can guess where I put it), and one of my cousins got the three-foot-long fork and spoon that always hung in their kitchen.

    The thing to emphasize is that that one item means much, much more than a box (or boxes) of clutter that gets packed away and never seen.

    Also, depending on where the items fall on the tchotchkie scale, your local historical society may be interested in some of what your father has – and the stories behind the items.

  38. Msconduct said:

    Thank you so much, Captain. I will be facing the stuff problem when my beloved mother dies, and I am her only family, and I’ve been wondering how on earth to deal with it. She isn’t a hoarder, but she has stuff as we all do, and so much of it I associate with her. Yet I know I can’t keep it all. Documenting it is something that had never occurred to me and is the perfect solution for items that mean “Mum” to me yet I can’t keep. What a weight off my mind! Thank you again.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      From my own experience: apart from memorabilia, pick some daily things, things you associate with happy times together. Kitchen implements. Duvet covers and tea towels. Gardening tools. Those things give me grounding and connect me to my Mum (and my childhood) in a way that the photo albums and tchotchkes don’t.

  39. Schumsy said:

    LW, this is going to be a difficult for a while, while you and the sibs decide on a course of action, but when the dust is thick and you’re sneezing like crazy, thinking “why didn’t I just get this entire damn trailer hauled away” — think of 10 or 15 years in the future. You have an opportunity to select one or two things that may really provide you with memories of your mom. Even if in an weird and unexpected way (you keep a ceramic boat because it reminds you of how much she complained about taking that ferry while you were on vacation). I think you’ll be happy then, and it may even be a sibs bonding moment (remember when we cleaned out the trailer from hell?).

    My mom and dad are the opposite — they are throwing out their stuff at a phenomenal rate. Since I live nearly 1,000 miles away, it’s difficult for me to stop by and gather up the few things I want. I’ve had a talk with them both as they’re afraid of leaving a mess of stuff for the kids to clean up, while I try to reinforce that they don’t have a lot of junk and it’s not a problem. Mom is on the brink of Alzheimer’s, so she forgets and starts the cleanup all over again. Last time I was at their home, she said she had starting giving some old photos away, but didn’t remember who she gave them too (YIKES).

    In the short term this is going to be difficult — but keep your eyes on the prize, a few years from now. It’ll be done, and you’ll have one or two things that may really provide a memory of mom. At the very least, it’ll be a reminder of how you and the sibs did a good job of working together to resolve a crazy situation.

    • My mother periodically decides that she should get rid of everything she owns, and several years ago my sister had to step in and tell her that she’d promised me the Good China (I love those freaking dishes, and the story is awesome), and if she sold them I’d never forgive her.

      Apparently the good china is worth some money?, but I don’t care about that, I just love that stupid china.

      • Nanani said:

        My mom is like this too. I think I lost a few items mistakenly left at her place in the latest purge.
        It sounds better than the alternative though, and I think she kept the REALLY nice cookware etc.

      • My mom does this as well– she oscillates between “I CAN’T THROW AWAY [CHILD’S] REPORT CARD FROM 1994” and “Hey [child] I’m about to throw away all your cherished childhood possessions” periodically.

  40. I have a lot of feelings about this one, LW, from an inverse perspective. My dad died a couple of years ago, and my mom threw away a lot of his things (and some of mine while she was at it) without telling me. I felt really hurt and angry about it, in large part because I’ve always depended on Stuff(tm) to memorialize people I’ve lost. That said, in some ways it was a good thing even if she went about it poorly.

    I hadn’t seen a lot of the stuff in a while, and could only name about a fourth of the things in there. Those things did have lasting sentimental value, but the rest could only work their magic when I was looking at them. Maybe it’s the same with your dad? It might help him let go to 1) list a limited number of things from memory that he thinks are particularly precious and awesome and 2) get a realistic idea of the number and/or size of things you, he, and your siblings are each willing to keep, independent of specific things, before he goes in to sort through it all. That way, when he rediscovers powder horn number five and it’s not on the list, you can remind him of that and what else he might be pushing out if he insists on trying to save everything.

    Another strategy I’ve used before is the Time Box. If splitting things into ‘go’ and ‘stay’ is too hard right now and he just doesn’t have the realism in him, could he split them into ‘go’, ‘stay’, and ‘if I haven’t yearned for this specific thing independently within one year and got it out of storage, I need to accept that I’m done with it’? Then when he goes through everything, he can actively seek things he /knows/ he’s okay with getting rid of, defer on things he’s uncertain about, and later come back to rinse and repeat. That’s worked for me pretty well in the past, as long as someone helps keep me accountable.

    In the end, it’s going to be up to him what he does and doesn’t get rid of, but definitely don’t let yourself be guilted into taking a bunch of stuff (I would take the Captain’s advice and find at least one small thing to take that you can make a big deal over). People grieve in different ways and need different things. I’d suggest saying that explicitly if he’s upset by you telling him you don’t plan on taking more than a couple of small things of your mom’s – you’re trying to respect his grief and he needs to respect yours. Some people treasure the things their loved ones leave behind them and some people feel weighed down by them. Some people just don’t get that emotionally invested in objects no matter how much they loved the person who owned them. Nobody’s wrong there, but you both need to be able to manage your grief in the way that works for you.

    I’m sorry for your loss, and I hope you and your dad figure out a good way to navigate this all this.

    • storyranger said:

      The TimeBox has been a staple in my life ever since I went through the 7 Moves in Three Years of Hell. It started as “that one box of stuff left over at the end of every move that you’re not sure if you really want it, but it can’t stay here so pack it up” and turned into a helpful emotional strategy for me. Once a year I make a date with myself and I MUST go through the TimeBox. Do I toss most of that stuff? Yep. Do I feel so much more at ease doing so because I know beyond a shadow of doubt I really don’t want the stuff? Yep, and it worth it to me to get that feeling.

      sidkettle love the part about respecting different object investment levels; we’re going through that with Grandma right now (she wants to toss all her stuff so we don’t have to deal with it when she’s gone, I want her to slow down a bit because GRANDMA YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE and also she has some really comfy sweaters I’d never wear but also want for house clothes? I have a stuff problem.) and it’s really important people understand that other people are not them and will not react the way they think they will to keep/toss decisions.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      Sorting stuff into ‘keep’ ‘get rid of’ and ‘not sure’ has been a life saver for me, because they turn out to be about equal thirds, but the last third was taking up 80% of my time and 95% of my spoons. A year or so later, I went through the pile again, only this time with a much better idea of what I need/use/love, and what’s superfluous. Very few items have needed more than three sorting.

      Putting all of the hard decisions off sounds like cheating, but don’t let the brainweasels fool you: you’ll a) sort through a lot of stuff very quickly, b) get rid of a lot, and c) get ever so much better at making good decisions about what to keep and what to toss.

  41. gunesvar said:

    LW, I am sorry for your loss and I wish you all healing. Captain, I love your advice. You are so empathetic.

    My mom passed away a few months ago, and it’s quite impressive how those Depression-era habits were passed down. I’m grateful to have the time to go through all of this stuff, and decent-enough family relationships to not make this process too awful (though we sure have had some awful moments). There are so many good responses that have been shared on this thread, so I will only leave one thought here: my experience with my mom’s stuff has made me determined to clean out and minimize my own. I will continue to “sweep” over the coming years because I just do not think this Stuff Sorting is worth doing to someone else on such a scale. A little work = great memories and helpful processing. A lot of work just = a lot of work.

    Very best to you, LW!

  42. I’m so sorry for you loss, LW, and that you have to deal with this potential prolonging of it.

    It’s possible–POSSIBLE, but I don’t know your dad–that by the time you can arrange for everyone to go out there and clean up, your dad will have had time to process some of his grief a little better and will have an easier time letting stuff go, or even be eager to do so. I’ve participated in two similar occasions, and both times people who had been close to the deceased (in one case the daughter and in the other the widower) were happy to say, “Take whatever you think you might want, the rest is going to charity or the dumpster.” Depending on your dad’s level of participation in the collecting and the direction his grief/recovery takes, he may actually be relieved to let most of that stuff go, but just now he’s afraid to admit it to himself or to you.

    That’s not to say you should count on that. The Captain has some great ideas, and it’s best to come prepared for the worst case. But in the meantime you might see what you can do about getting him grief counselling, or at least make sure that people he knows and trusts can be there for him. If he’s a member of a church, it’s common for a pastor to make visits in cases like this, and/or to send some of the congregants. Elks/Masons/Kiwanis clubs might do this, too, if he has similar connections. Even though where he lives is remote, if he’s been there for a long time it might not be that difficult to scare up a Team Dad–rural and small-town communities can be very tight-knit, for all their geographic separation.

    Don’t forget yourself, either. An experienced grief counselor might be a great help in preparing you for dealing with this. They might even have more ideas for how you can help your dad.

  43. GothicArch said:

    When I was 23, my father became too ill to maintain his own home anymore and moved a town over to my grandmother’s house (the easiest house for 2 people of limited mobility to co-exist in). Because of his health, he couldn’t really do much with the move other than tell me what stuff he wanted moved to grandma’s. Professional movers handled the furniture, and the heavy boxes, which I highly recommend! But that left me with the task (with the wonderful assistance of my mother, who had divorced him 15ish years before and really didn’t sign up for this) of dismantling my childhood home in the space of about a month, before I moved myself for grad school. My method became: load car, drive to grandma’s, unload car, drive back to dad’s house, cry, load car, lather, rinse, repeat. Looking back on it, I know I made mistakes – kept some things that didn’t need keeping, threw a lot of stuff away that I probably shouldn’t have but was just too overwhelmed to do anything else. But with 20-odd years distance I can say for certain that none of those mistakes were the end of the world. Yes, there are some things I wish I hadn’t flung out, but beyond a little wistfulness I don’t really regret anything. I did the best I could with the physical and emotional tools I had at the time. You do get through it, and the wounds don’t stay raw forever.

    That said, 1 technique I used that probably wasn’t very nice but for the sake of my own sanity I didn’t regret at the time and don’t regret now, was lying like a rug! Dad wasn’t a hoarder, exactly, but he was a keeper – he didn’t necessarily bring a lot of stuff into the house, but once it came in it never left. So there was stuff in the basement that I knew perfectly well he hadn’t looked at in 20 years, but he wanted it moved to grandma’s basement. Because of his mobility issues, I knew he would never go into grandma’s basement. Stuff that really mattered – tools, radios he’d built, etc., those got moved. But a lot of the other stuff just… didn’t. And he never did go into the basement looking for it. But he was happy believing it was there, and I was happy that it wasn’t and I would never have to deal with it again. Not a technique that works in all situations, and I don’t recommend it unless you’re really sure it won’t cause you more headaches in the long run, but if it’s a choice between your mental health and 1 more box of stuff, your mental health wins, and whatever you need to do to preserve it is valid.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      That reminds me of a post I read from the wife of an outright hoarder whose specialty was junk and useless papers, which he characterized as items vital to his business. (Cords cut off of appliances, mail addressed to Occupant, grimy broken blenders…) She assigned one room in the house for secure storage of his vitally important items, packed them all very carefully in identical storage cartons, and assured him that they were perfectly safe. She knew that his strain of the disease did not prompt him to actually take out the items and look at them; he only needed to see that the cartons were exactly where they had been the last time he looked in–which he only did when it was time to put in another carton of stuff.

      And they were–at the front. Meanwhile, she was quietly removing the same number of cartons from the back row whenever he was away for a while, so the room never overflowed, rearranging everything as she backed out so that it would look unchanged from the front. He had no problem shifting cartons as needed to add more. His anxiety soothed by the sight of all those securely taped and carefully packed cartons, he never felt the need to count them.

      • JenniferP said:

        People who live with people who hoard must sometimes adopt extraordinary strategies for coping, but can we not share “how somebody tricked the hoarder” tales?

        • Jenny Islander said:

          Does it make a difference if the hoarder insists that he/she is not sick and that the person who is trying not to live in a hoarded-up mess is neurotic or otherwise crazy? (Personally I would probably have cut ties instead, but it wasn’t my relationship.)

          • JenniferP said:

            I’m not saying the strategy was wrong in itself (I can’t imagine living in her shoes and she needed to do whatever she needed to do). I’m saying that telling “how I fooled my hoarder” stories are uncool. One terror that people with hoarding issues have is that people will throw away all their stuff without their knowledge or permission, and to work with them successfully people have to win their trust and their agency. The good news is that the LW’s dad was not the main acquirer of the stuff at issue so this won’t be a thing that the LW needs to consider.

          • No. It really doesn’t. My late husband was a hoarder, and what *I* hear in these stories is that if I’d been “better” in some way I could have ameliorated his disease and the effect it had on our lives and my psyche. So in addition to being kind of mean and disrespectful to people with hoarding disorders, they make me, as the survivor of someone with hoarding disorder, feel pretty bad. Just FYI.

  44. Anisoptera said:

    Oh LW I’m sorry. The Captain’s advice is great. My parents are both alive but they live in the country and they do have a giant shipping container, massive sheds and Dad is talking about getting a second shipping container to hold mum’s stuff. She is, obviously, a hoarder. Anyway. I live in dread of the day I have to deal with it all. 😦

    I do understand the desire to give precious stuff to relatives though. My mother tends to view me as external storage for things that belonged to her now deceased parents, and I’ve had many many conversations where I’ve been offered stuff and had to say no. My advice is just repeat “thank you so much for offering but no” and its variants over and over again. See also “my living space is really small” and “I’m sorry I can’t take any more stuff”. It’s an upsetting conversation every time but you can say no to your Dad’s offers and it will eventually be OK.

    I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.

    • Ros said:

      Oh, I am so sorry.

      My MIL just finished dealing with her father’s house. He wasn’t a hoarder (exactly) but he grew up in a poor country family during the depression and always worked country/manual labour jobs once he came back from the war, so “keep anything that might ever be useful again, ever” was kind of a motto. He had a full house, two 2-story sheds, and a garage full of stuff, along with semi-rusted cars in one of the fields needing to be lugged out prior to selling the property. I kind of get a feel of what you’re gonna be dealing with…

      Best advice: it takes time. A lot of time. Seriously, don’t underestimate the time. The emotional effort seemed to be higher at the beginning, but after a while the “OMG what is this LAMPSHADE??!” hilarity takes over, and it becomes a family activity – still emotionally loaded, but not as much as at the beginning. I think it took my MIL 2-3 years of doing this almost every weekend. Also if you have a sibling who cares about and wants to examine every item before it goes anywhere, only let them do it if they’re efficent and take the stuff AWAY, otherwise you’ll be there for 10 years (real-life example: you WANT 30 years of Sears catalogues? FINE. Take them AWAY.) The emotional effort is HUGE. But also, if they’re in the country, a lot of seemingly-useless stuff (from the house we just emptied: tractor parts from the 50s, a saw mill, parts from 80s cars, etc) can be used by other country/rural folk who know what they’re doing, so it’s worth asking the neighbors if they know anyone who would be interested – or an auctioneer, if there’s enough of it. And then the house stuff: an appreciation for kitch mid-century furniture and old couches hasn’t hit the country yet, so mid-century dressers are available for 10-15$ because no one wants them. On the flip side, if you post them to Craigslist and Kijiji and can load them in a van to the nearest city, the same dresser can sell for 300-400$ because that’s where the current design aesthetic is.

  45. Pikkunen said:

    Speaking as someone who just lost her wife unexpectedly a few months back, I can tell you, going through my wife’s things was brutal. Just brutal. In fact, I tried and couldn’t do it alone. I kept crying and wandering around in circles. It was awful! What I ended up doing was just what the Captain suggested – I hired a disinterested third person to come in and help me sort through everything (trash, keep, donate) and she even took away the trash/donate piles for me. Then I had a housecleaning service come in a do a deep clean. Best money I’ve spent in I don’t know how long.

    I wanted to be extremely considerate of our thirteen year old twins – these were their mother’s things, after all – but short of a few small tokens the kids weren’t all that interested in what she had left behind. And that was okay, really. My wife wasn’t a collector, but she was one of those people who could simply not throw anything away. I mean, in one of our closets was a collection of over one hundred plastic shopping bags, just collecting dust. The remote control to a TV that died thirteen years ago. Big ugly tacky plastic sunflowers, which I had never even seen before. It was a mess. (As in, borderline hoarder kind of mess, and it’s just now hitting me, now that it is gone, how much worse it had gotten over the years and how much all of that crap was impacting all of us as a family. It’s something I’ve been able to talk about with my grief counselor, and that’s been tremendously helpful for me. I have no idea if your father would consider talking over all of this with a counselor, LW, but I know it’s been helping me a great deal.)

    It was an ENORMOUS relief to have it all gone. It felt like such a weight off my shoulders. I can’t even tell you. I loved my wife, I still love my wife, and I miss her so much. But now with all this crap gone? With a clean house and all? I feel like I can grieve over HER and not grieve over the MESS, if that makes any sense at all. I hope it does.

    I also second the idea of telling stories about your mother. The kids and I have been doing a great deal of that over the past few months and while there have been plenty of tears, there is a lot of laughter as well. I hadn’t thought of recording any of it, though, but that’s just a brilliant idea, so thank you so much for that, Captain.

    And LW, my deepest condolences on the loss of your mother. I am so sorry.

    • moss said:

      I’m sorry for your loss. You sound like an amazing parent.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      My condolences. What you did sounds difficult, but cathartic.

  46. Did anyone else who grew up with a hoarding parent (or in my case hoarding grandparent who only had one child, so the relationship was super intense between her and my mom also that whole Great Depression thing coming into play) swing in the other direction and become almost compulsive about throwing stuff away? I sure did.

    My husband once complained about how my biannual fridge clean up was “getting rid of useful stuff” then we moved into my grandmother’s old house and he saw what lay hidden in the cabinets and now he understands. (I’m also great at helping you pack for a move, straight up ruthless when it comes to donations/getting rid of)

    I can feel that attachment to stuff growing, and I’m running from it.

    • kaevas said:

      Oh yeah. Hear you over here. I’m not the kid from the hoarding family; that’s my husband, the compulsive purger 🙂
      I was the kid whose family moved all the time, so I don’t keep stuff around generally anyway. But we have the rule of “If it’s been a box for X amount of time and we didn’t even look for it, we don’t need it, so *chuck*.

  47. Omnipeixe said:

    Longtime reader and CA fan coming out of hiding to express my thanks for this post. This is almost exactly my family situation, although thankfully both (~ age 75) parents are still alive. However, in the next few years I expect mom and dad (who live 1000 miles away, also in a more-cows-than-people village on the East coast) to need more help with basic daily needs or experience health issues, as least. They also have five decades of collectibles (books, cameras, clocks, etc.) neatly boxed in a large outbuilding and on the ground floor of their home, none of which my wife and I are equipped to handle or transfer at this point to our urban Midwest apartment – and we are both only children. Thank you, Captain Awkward and fellow commenters for your scripts, ideas, and thoughts on this scenario.

  48. b said:

    So sad for you OP.
    This (or a variant) is in my future too. With our family the twist is that there is art least five dead relatives’ stuff in my parents’ garage. Most of these people have been dead 10+ years and it’s highly likely that before my parents die there will be at least two more deaths (one more house clearance).

    • Rana said:

      This. On the positive side, I figure that stuff will be relatively easy to get rid of, as I myself will have no attachment to 95% of it.

  49. firecatstef said:

    When my mom passed, I was going through her old papers and feeling terribly guilty about knowing I wasn’t going to do anything with the papers relating to her grandparents. Genealogy isn’t really my thing and I don’t have kids or relatives younger than me. It took me a while to realize that she had those papers because she inherited them from HER mother, and she hadn’t done anything with them either, and probably had felt the same guilt I did when she looked at them and shoved them into the folder that I found them in.

  50. Oh my gosh my dad does this type of thing with like minor-level hoarding? This is sort of gallow’s humor but he keeps some cash around the house as backup and joked once that he wouldn’t tell us where it is so that we’d have to clean the house after he died. (We have an odd sense of humor sometimes.)

    • Rana said:

      He might be joking, but I’d act as if he’s serious. Not so much because he might really hide money in things, but because in our family, we’ve had several instances of people filing important papers, photographs, keys, whatnot, in with genuine crap. So you couldn’t just throw any box of junk out; you had to go through it first. (Very tiring!)

    • I’ve heard more than one story about people finding ten, twenty thousand dollars in cash secreted away in books and such so I would probably look, even if my impulse was to burn down the banana stand, as it were.

      • Sparky said:

        There’s always money in the Banana Stand! – George Bluth Sr.

  51. My father, sister, and I just told each other where we stash our emergency cash just so we wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of situation.

  52. CrushLily said:

    Just so you know, my Mum died four years ago and we are still in #4 with my Dad. When it comes to Mum’s things, he just … won’t. So we have compromised and mostly got rid of the ‘general use’ stuff of hers (kitchenwares, magazines) that he will never use, but when it comes to her belongings, clothing all of that is still exactly where it was the day she died.

  53. HC said:

    Might I suggest that if you go with Option #1, perhaps make some time in the schedule to go over the house itself, at least as an initial survey, not just the container? When my grandmother was still in her house, her dementia (which my uncle denied and my mother was too disabled to try to take on herself) urged her to greater and greater heights of clearing stuff out. There was nothing left of her china set in the end, and she had cut the photograph albums to pieces (cut out photos on one side of a page while cutting through photos on the other side). Fortunately, I do have both her sets of silver plate (my mother saved them and there are stories with each), but there was pretty much nothing else left, other than furniture my cousins got.

    The initial survey may be helpful in case there are issues between siblings (or between in-laws married to siblings). My family also has two stories of married-in people in the family tearing through the house after the older generation died and stripping *everything* irretrievably — taking it, selling it, pocketing the money. The spouses did nothing to stop them and, in at least one case, aided and abetted. No one expected these people to be as vicious as they were, and it caused permanent fractures in the families.

  54. Captain, thank you for such a lovely, compassionate post. LW, I’m sorry for your loss.

    Coming at this ass-backwards, I want to share a story about my grandparents. When they hit their late 70s/early 80s, they started slowly giving stuff away. When everyone came for holidays, you could add various things you loved in their house to the “list of stuff I wish I could inherit.” They would take everyone’s wishes into account, and everyone would get one thing from their inheritance as a present. Stuff they were still using that they planned to give to a particular person, they would tell everyone who it was going to, put a post-it on it with their name, and put it down on the list of stuff for that person.

    In practice, this meant that they got to see everyone enjoying their treasured things before they died, and by the time my grandmother moved into a nursing home (after my grandfather’s death), the only stuff left to distribute was big furniture and paintings, and all of it was already listed out by whom it was destined for.

    That side of the family was not super-contentious to start with, and I know this isn’t a strategy that will work for everyone or in all situations, but I think this was both a really lovely ritual for my grandparents and a HUGE burden off everyone else when they passed.

    I know this does not help the LW at all right now, but it might be worth considering amongst the Commentariat as a strategy for when you yourself are old for getting extra enjoyment out of your stuff as well as making the death and mourning process easier on your family and friends.

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