Day 170 Leaving it behind

I really only touched on this subject with my post Decluttering Pessimism but it seems to have evoked some interesting responses from people who have been subjected to the unfortunate position of dealing with a lost loved one’s clutter. And nobody wants to be forced into the very awkward position of having to broach the subject with an elderly relative that they need to consider paring down their possessions in order to avoid this very situation.

I remember when I was a child rummaging through drawers, cupboards and sheds at my grandmothers house and being intrigued with the interesting things I found. It was mostly just clutter that she hadn’t used for years. Stuff that belonged to my grandfather still lingered in all these places especially the sheds even though he had died several years earlier.

My grandparents owned and operated a bakery during and after WWII. My grandfather would not include the secret family sponge cake recipe with the sale of the business when he was ready to retire so no one would buy it. They just shut it down, stored all the equipment and fittings in the back shed and it was all still there thirty years later when my grandmother died.

We lived 500 miles away and my parents had to go and clear everything out when she died.  My parents had a business to run and didn’t have the time to spend going through all the stuff properly and deciding the worth of everything. They kept the good crystal and china, some tools, jewellery and a few other odds and ends. Then offloaded the remaining stuff quickly in a huge garage sale. I always thought it was such a shame.

It is never to early to get your clutter under control because that old person will be you soon enough.

So far I have focused on the inevitable event of old people passing on but there is an even more tragic situation yet to explore. Anything can happen any time to any of us and it is an even bigger shock for those left behind when someone is taken suddenly and unexpectedly. I am not saying that we should give away all our beloved possessions just in case but we should at least give some thought to keeping them at a level that is reasonable to expect someone else to have to sort through during such a tragic time. Maybe the things you own that you think may be a burden to someone else could be considered declutterable.

I am still not sure whether I am comfortable sending this post out it feels like it could be a little raw for some people. I hope no one is offended by it and if so please come forward and voice your opinion. I would be more than happy to withdraw it if you feel I should.


Another ebay sale only $3.00 this time but every little bit counts.

Record $3.00 ebay

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • What is right for you? I often get comments from people contradicting my suggestions regarding what to declutter and pleading their case on why they keep certain items or collections of things. Avid readers […]
  • Transient Stuff Much of what comes into my home these days is transient. Aside from groceries much of what does come in is free, secondhand, or both. And I have to say it makes it a whole lot easier to […]
  • What do I do with my childhood paper keepsakes? By Deb J I was reading through the posts from my friends on Facebook and came across one where the poster said, “I think I can truthfully say that I kept every award, essay, art project, homemade […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I think the post is appropriate. I have helped my mother clear the possessions of 4 family members. It is hard gut wrenching work as she (we) asked did this mean anything to my loved one? And with each hour that passed her emotional trauma became more apparent. It is a gift to be thoughtful of those left behind.

    • Hello Susan,
      it is a pleasure to meet you, thanks for dropping in with your opinion on this topic. You speak from experience and that is important. I really have never had to go though this very emotional situation and I hope it will be many years yet before I do. It is inevitable for all of us at some point to have to deal with this though. Yes it is a thoughful gift to those left behind to have get your affairs in order ahead of time.

  2. First time commenter here…I don’t think you should feel bad at all about that post. It’s an important issue that people should give some thought to. Avoiding unpleasant topics doesn’t make them go away.

    • Hi Amy,
      nice to hear from you please drop in more often now that you have taken the plunge. I wrote that post earlier on in the week but I kept writing other posts around it and pushing it to the end of the queue. It is an important issue and very close to some peoples hearts and I didn’t want to upset anyone. I wanted my husband to read it before making a decision as he is far more reserved than I. He has been away with work again and didn’t have access to the internet all week. He got home last night and I ran it by him and he seemed to think it was OK. Thanks for making me feel better about it.

  3. Don’t withdraw it. It’s fine. You’ve discussed a subject that is important for everyone to think about. As far as cleaning out homes goes, yes, it can be traumatic, but the stuff needs to go somewhere, sometime. I’ve promised my kids what my mom promised me: we’ll clean out our stuff before we die. My parents emptied two family homes in four months and that prompted them to follow through with their promise.

    • G’day Willow,
      sounds like you have the perfect set-up there. God bless your mom and you it sounds like a good family tradition to hand down through the generations. Maybe it will catch on.

  4. Great post Colleen. As you know, I’ve been through this with my parents’ house. I wish it was something that was discussed more openly!

    One interesting discovery for me, as I’ve been decluttering, is that I’ve come to see most possessions as just that: things I own. I don’t want them to own me. For example, several yeras ago my mum gave me a beautiful ring she had for years (not valuable, just stunning). She hardly ever wore it, so she thought I’d like it. My sister really wanted that ring too, and was quite annoyed that I got it. I really valued it, but only wore it when I went out, as it’s quite big. Last year it was her 40th, and after MONTHS of agonising, I decided to give the ring to her as her present (she is the sort of person who is impossible to buy for, as she has everything!) It was the best thing I ever did. She was so happy, and it brought us even closer together. She wears it every day, and when I see it on her finger it gives me great joy. She’s going to pass it onto my daughter (who is the oldest niece) when she’s older, then my daughter who will pass it on to my sister’s daughter (if that makes sense).

    Sorry that was so long!

    • Hi Loretta,
      Thank you for your comment. I am glad you approve. I loved the story of the ring, why not give it to the one who will appreciate it the most. One thing about jewellery as an heirloom it doesn’t take up much space.

  5. It’s a good post and it is the reason I became interested in minimalism in the first place. I lost my youngest sister in 2006. She was 27. She had so much stuff. Probably not more than other people, but it made me think about what we leave behind. I am mindful of that now. I have less “stuff” because I know someday, someone will have to deal with all of it. It’s reality and I’m glad you are talking about it.
    I just went over to have a look at your blog. WOW!!! You are an angel and I have just got to read more. Sounds like those boys deserve a good mom like you.

    • Hi Lyn,
      I have had so many new people leave comments over the last couple of days and I say welcome to you too. Thank you for that affirmation. How tragic for you to loose your sister at such a young age that must have been awful for you and your family. I am so fortunate that tragedy like that has never occurred in my life and I am most grateful for that
      It is amazing how quickly we accumulate so much stuff.

  6. This topic should be talked about more often. My experience has been with the elderly and/or ill who are unable to make decisions about the important. Their default response to downsizing is “NO.” I’m hoping to downsize significantly before it is a source of distress for my children.

    • Hi Bobbi,
      It is sad but it’s as if we loose our wisdon at some point and can only focus on what feels good to us. It is best to get these things sorted when you are still wise enough to make decisions with others in mind. This topic has almost made me want to race ahead and forget about going slow and stready just in case something were to happen to me unexpectedly.

  7. These issues have been on my mind for the past week. Spooky to read your post now!

    • Hi Steph,
      I hope you get something out of it and it gives you insentive to declutter some extra things you might otherwise have passed over..

  8. Great post. I just found your blog through Joshua Becker. Glad to find you. My youngest cousin (39) was recently found dead in bed. A real shock to everyone. Even though he didn’t have much because of a recent divorce, his parent are struggling with what he did have. He had no will and left 4 small children he loved more than anything. How do you know what to save for them and what to get rid of? Not only do we need to keep what we have to a minimum but we need to have a will so what we have can be taken care of properly.

    • Hi Deb J,
      welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. It was very kind of Joshua to recommend my blog.
      This is a sad situation for you and your Aunt and Uncle. I almost mentioned writing a will and or getting it up to date in my post. I am guilty of this very thing myself. I do have a will but it was written 21 years ago so is a bit out of date. It was fairly basic though and would encompass most changes but I really need to do something about it. I will check our this subject and do a post on it shortly I think.
      Knowing what to save for the children is a very personal and individual thing. I would only hope that the childrens’ grandparents spent enought time together with the family to know what might be important to them. Maybe this is a time where thier mom needs to make the hard decisions, she should know better than anyone.

  9. I’m really glad you decided to go with this post. So many people can relate, and this situation is especially burdensome when relatives live long distance. My friend lost her mother LAST May and is still going back and forth to Chicago to handle her belongings, old vehicles and other affairs. It could be any of us, at any time. Imagine the stress we’d keep our relatives from experiencing if we all lived a minimalist lifestyle.

    • Hi Simply Me,
      you are right, it could be any of us at any time. The minimalist lifestyle is a very thoughtful way to live in more ways than one. Thoughtful to finances, thoughtful to the environment, thoughtful to quality of life and thoughtful to those left behind.

  10. I think this is a great topic and well worth posting. My parents, who are divorced and therefore have two households, have a lot of stuff. I am dreading dealing with it when the time comes. In the meantime, it is a great motivator to cleaning up and decluttering my own house.

    • Hi Jo,
      welcome to my blog. Divorce gets a whole new level of complicated with this issue. It is bad enough when it first happens but the ramifications just keep on appearing as time goes on. I thank God at this point that my parents and my in-laws and myself for that matter are all still married.

  11. No, No, don’t withdraw your post, it is heartfelt, appropriate, and something we all need to hear and consider.

    As you know Colleen, I’m one of the people in the “lost a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly”. Nineteen months ago my husband of forty years, a healthy man according to his most recent check up, worked on Friday as usual, became ill Saturday morning, was in critical care by Sunday afternoon, and passed away Tuesday morning.

    Thank God my husband wasn’t a hoarder of stuff. Actually by what I’ve been reading on minimalist blogs recently, he could have easily been called a minimalist. But, he was a hoarder of paper, files, and due to the fact that he handled all our financial information I found it very difficult maneuvering my way through the maze of paper he left (I’m still working my way through some of it!). It didn’t help that I had to do it through a haze of shock and grief. For the first year after his passing, just seeing his handwriting sent me into uncontrollable bouts of sobbing. That’s why much of it had to wait until now, emotionally I simply could not handle it.

    One of my reasons for doing major decluttering of my possessions at this time, is for my loved ones to have less “stuff” to deal with when I leave this earth.

    I cannot stress enough, due to experience, that our important paperwork be at the top of our declutter list and kept in order and easily accessible. I actually plan to speak of this on my blog soon.

    • Hi Betty Jo,
      How sad it must have been for you to lose someone so close so suddenly. You are a brave lady to have made it to where you are today. Using your knowledge to help other people is not only a beautiful thing but probably therapy for you at the same time. I look forward to your post on this subject when I get around to it.

  12. This is exactly the sort of post that makes people think, and I for one am glad you wrote it. Courage!

  13. I’m reading back through your excellent archives, and just came across this post. It’s definitely something that needs to be talked about more.

    My elderly parents farmed for nearly fifty years, and my siblings and I are going to have a HUGE job on our hands trying to go through and make decisions on everything once the folks are gone. Their home and every building on the property is STUFFED, and they don’t want anything touched or gotten rid of now.

    I never want to leave a big job like this for my daughter. I’ve been a declutterer and organizer for years, and the older I get, the more I find I want to get rid of, and the simpler I want to live. Hopefully this will be helpful to my daughter when I’m gone.

    • Hi Becky,
      this can be a very sad yet frustrating subject when it comes to decluttering. My mother-in-law reads my blog and has been working on her place after reading posts like this.