Ask The Expert: ‘Tis the Season to Give… Away?

by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

Q: My grandmother recently moved into a facility, and I have been helping my mom go through her belongings. There is so much stuff, and we just don’t know what to do with all of it. We hate to throw it away, but some of it has little to no value. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Letting go of things that have emotional ties can be very difficult. When you are sorting through a lifetime of memories, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed. My first suggestion would be to make sure your grandmother has everything she will need in the facility. Take into consideration clothing and bedding for each season and plan to store anything you think she may need. After the first year, you can discard items that were not used. Now that she is in a facility and likely experiencing health issues, her weight may fluctuate, so keeping a couple sizes in her more comfortable clothing might be a good idea as well. Once you are sure she has everything she will need, then you and your mom can select items that carry the most value to you. If there are other family members or close family friends, they may also like to have something to remember your grandmother. Once you have the items that you or your family plan to keep, you can come up with a plan to tackle the remaining items. Do you have a set timeframe? I would suggest creating one, so you have a goal to work toward. You don’t want the project to be ongoing. You will need closure at some point. Pick a completion date and try to stick to it. 

I would suggest coming up with a plan to tackle so many rooms a day. You might want to set up bins to sort things. Any personal papers or items that might be needed for tax returns, estate planning etc. can be placed in one bin. You can also have a bin for things that will need to be shredded. If you are not sure what can be kept or shredded, talk to her attorney and tax professional. They can give you some guidance on what might be needed. After you have sorted all the personal papers, you can come up with a plan for the remaining items. This is likely furniture, kitchen items, décor and clothing. Some items may be easy to discard, so have a place designated for those. You can rent a dumpster if you think you have enough to fill it. Otherwise get some contractor-size trash bags and a few cans to have on hand.

There are companies and services that will come into homes and purchase items, hold tag sales and even clean and discard remaining items. If it becomes overwhelming, you might consider hiring one of these services. The things that cannot be sold can always be donated, and the reality is, some things will just get discarded. If it is too emotional for you to do that, perhaps letting someone else finish those last steps would be a good alternative. 

You have your grandmother and the memories made in her home. Letting the stuff go will be easier as time goes on, but it is a process. Try to let the guilt go; it’s part of the process, too. Many items were a part of her life but you are not obligated to keep them forever. Sometimes less is more, so prioritize what is important and let the rest go. If you find yourself getting caught up in reading every card and letter she ever saved, it might be time to take a break and come back. Remember you can scan and save things to avoid keeping mounds of paper; it’s also a good way to share family photos or preserve them. Create your plan, stick to a timeline, have a system and just keep working through it! If all else fails, take what you want and call in reinforcements to handle the rest. You can do this.

Readers may send questions to Amy Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at amyn@agingoutreachservices.com .