What are you leaving to your family

I know we have been over this topic more than once but it bears repeating over and over.

Here at 365 Less Things readers often share their stories of sad situations where their family have had a mammoth task of clearing out the home of a deceased loved one. At such a trying time it is hard to have to make rational decisions about what to do with all that stuff, especially if it is a case of a really cluttered household.

It is natures course that when one life ends others must go on and often these other lives are busy and complicated enough already. Trying to find the time necessary to invest in doing this kind of declutter thoroughly, taking into account all family members needs, has many challenges. Challenges that no doubt never occurred to the person leaving it behind.

My advice for the future is ~ Don’t be that person. Keep your clutter to a minimum now so you don’t leave anyone in this position. And/or have that talk with ageing loved ones and encourage and/or assist them to purge what isn’t necessary and important to them now before it is too late. Remember it is never too early to deal with this issue, one doesn’t have to be old for live to come to an end.

Here is an email from Amy who found herself in this position.

As someone who recently had to clean out a person’s house after a death, I definitely agree that we shouldn’t be leaving this paper clutter for someone else to deal with later. After all, if you don’t do it, someone else has to. Why burden your loved ones with this?

I now look at everything in my house that could be considered “clutter” and ask myself if I want to leave this for my children to deal with after I’m gone? Do I really want them to go through things and ask themselves why on earth I saved “such and such?” From the leftover watercolor paints and the scrapbooking stuff I haven’t used, to the pile of recipes I thought I’d make, to the extra odds and ends that were purchased and never used – why burden someone else with this? If we don’t find time to do this, why are we assuming someone else will have the time to deal with stuff we should’ve dealt with?

Deb J also had this example to share ~ My aunt has barrels of “keepsakes” from my grandparents that have never been out of the barrels in the 40+ years they have lived in their present house. She says she will give them to the kids in her will. Well, why not give them to them now–they are all adults with families. Actually, I doubt they will want them anyway. Do they even remember them?

Katharine had this to say ~ I was able to have a much needed conversation with my mother-in-law last week as they have a lot of clutter, to gently suggest they need to deal with it sooner rather than later because it will overwhelm my husband when they are gone: combine his grief and his horder tendencies plus his parents in rented accommodation I can foresee a storage unit situation coming on. They have started trying to deal with it, I just wanted to encourage them they were doing the right thing. She seemed to take it on board…I just hope they are able to do a lot over the next year. 1/2 of it is from her parents that they never dealt with…

Here is a link to a comment from Annabelle which is also an eye opener.

These are just a few of many similar stories received from my 365 Less Things readers over the last 18 months. So the question is ~ What are you leaving to your family members when you pass. A lifetime of fond memories or a lifetime of fond memories and a house full of clutter that you didn’t want to deal with.

Today’s Declutter Item

My declutter items today are some hand-me-down milkshake glasses from my grandparent’s bakery circa 1935ish. They are, in fact, extremely relevant to today’s topic. My grandfather could have sold his bakery when he chose to retire but he would not relinquish the “famous” sponge cake recipe. Being as this recipe was key to the popularity of this bakery nobody would buy the business without it. So my granddad stubbornly packed up all the equipment and stored it in his back shed. It was still there when my grandmother died many many years later. He left it for her to deal with and in turn she left it for my parents to deal with. I did have eight of these glasses but donated 4 earlier in my declutter mission. In the process of Freecycling some other items this week is met a lady who had a 50s diner set up in her garage. It turned out her husband was related to me on my grandmother’s side of the family. So if offered her these glasses even though I had no intension of decluttering them right now. I figured she would get far more enjoyment out of them and in a roundabout fashion they were staying in the family.

Heirloom Clutter

Something I Am Grateful For Today

I have got to the stage where I could move things on the floor of my garage up onto the empty space decluttering has created on the shelving unit. I had a fun time organising and cleaning in there today. I know my sense of fun is a little odd but I never once siad I was normal.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • Mini Mission ~ Thursday 21Dec2017 Declutter your fridge of out of date items or by using up as much as possible before adding more. With the holiday season here you will likely need every inch of spare space.
  • My personal guidelines on document files. Going through and decluttering your filing cabinet can be a nightmare when it has been neglected for a long time. So I have written a set of guidelines below that I use to declutter my […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Thank you for this!
    The only time my life my late mom got Truly Cross with me was when I said, “Please don’t die and leave me to have to sort through all these piles of stuff?”
    She of course did exactly that.
    It took myself, my brother, my adult children and son-in-law an entire summer to NOT get it all sorted. The house was being sold and despite working on it daily after 4 months or so we ran out of time. My brother bought a semi-trailer and got some strong friends to help him load the rest of the houseful into the trailer which is now parked beside his home waiting for us to have time to go through it all. Whatever would not fit in the trailer was plowed under when the house was demolished.
    This all happened 7 years ago. My brother works two jobs and hasn’t time to sort through a trailer full of things none of us need. I haven’t had time (it would take weeks) nor the gas money to travel across the state to do it. I suspect it will not get done.
    I fear I will outlive my brother, and when he dies I’ll inherit his own house full of clutter PLUS the trailer full of mom’s remaining unsorted stuff, and I’ll have to go through this all over again!
    The whole summer we were going through mom’s piles of “treasures” separating the genuine antiques from the tidy boxes of empty margarine tubs and 27 sets of nail clippers and so on I kept repeating to myself “I Will Never Do This To My Children!”
    I’ve been continually weeding out my own personal belongings ever since! My goal is to own no more than will fit in a pickup truck. To me that seems a manageable amount of stuff for a woman whose kids are all grown.

    Thank you for our excellent blog, you keep me encouraged!

    • Hi Leslie,
      first may I say welcome to 365lessthings and thank you for dropping in to share your story with us. It is a similar story to many that I have heard over the last eighteen months but with the added twist of the fact that seven years later some of the stuff left behind still hasn’t been sorted. That stuff is still haunting you and your brother and that is a crying shame. I think the thing to do with your mothers things is to call in a secondhand dealer and have them offer a price for everything and get it off your hands. No amount of money is worth the emotional stress that stuff has caused and is still causing you today. Seven years down the track and it has only cost you a lot of time and money and you have redeemed nothing from it. My advice is to let it go.

      I have the same worry with one of my relatives. So much to sort through and so many things that may or may not be worth something. They all seem like treasures to the one holding on to them but to others it will just be a nightmare when they go.

      I am so glad that you are working toward not leaving the same sort of legacy to your children or family members. You keep at it as I am sure it will give you peace fo mind.

      • Thanks Colleen- I like the second-hand dealer idea. I doubt my brother would agree to do that now….he’s rather a hoarder himself. But should I outlive him and inherit it all, I’ll do exactly that. I KNOW he hasn’t got anything I need, so I’ll feel free to sell it all off as a job lot and be done with it.
        Big Relief!

        • We contacted several second hand furniture dealers and none would even come look at the items. All required photos emailed to them. Unfortunately, even though all of them said we had good pieces, their barns/sheds/showrooms were full. Because of the poor economy, no one was buying anything and we were not able to get rid of any furniture in that manner. Hopefully others will be more successful. So even though what we had was in excellent condition and decent quality we were not able to dispose of the furniture that way. I mention this, not to rain on anyone’s parade, just to be aware that you may have to investigate other options when the time comes.

  2. This has been on my mind lately. My father passed away 6 years ago and didn’t have much in comparison because he was living in his parents’ front room (bad divorce, bad health, etc. combined to have him living with them). My aunt, who is their parents’ caretaker, was left to deal with his stuff. I was entering my senior year of high school and not in a good enough place to deal with it all, so she kept a few things (pictures, some keepsakes, etc.) and took care of the rest.

    Paper, however, is something she is STILL dealing with, 6 years later. She showed me a large tote bucket of papers she’s still sorting through. Papers that need to be tossed or shredded or passed to me (or even passed back to my mother).

    I’m in a much different place now so I told her to PLEASE put me to work and give me stacks of it. I can shred papers, set aside stuff to be filed, etc. I don’t mind, and it’s not fair that she was left with that burden.

    All that to say that I came home from a visit at her/my grandparents’ house and looked at all of the clutter we still have left. It’s not bad in comparison to some people but I really don’t want my husband to deal with it if something happens to me and vice versa. Much of it I don’t want anyone to see (personal stuff) or want my kids to have to deal with when they are adults (my kids are 3 and gestating, currently).

    It was an eye-opener, for sure, since this one was a lot closer to home for me. (The other experience with it was when my husband’s grandparents were moved to a nursing home and their house was left for the kids. They were “clean” hoarders in the truest sense and it was…a lot of work. That was the start of my decision to simplify my life.)

    Sorry for the long winded comment…I have nothing to say most of the time and then bam! 😉

    • Hi Lynn,
      I am glad you have stepped up to the plate, as they say, and taken responsibility for your father’s stuff. I understand you were young at the time and not in a good space to deal with it but now is the time to take over from those who also can’t manage like your grandparents or shouldn’t have to in the case of your aunt. Private papers are something that really are laborious to go through which is way we should all keep on top of this task at all times. One never knows when one’s time will be up. Your dad must have died quite young which is proof of that.

      This issue had not really occurred to me much when I decided to downsize my belongings but I sure am glad it was brought to my attention. I would hate to think of my children having to sort through my stuff in their grief.

      • I’m sorry, I didn’t click to get notifications and forgot to come check for a reply!

        My dad was 46 when he died, so yeah, very young with a lot left over. I didn’t even know about any of it until a week ago but since I do now, I’m pushing for her to let me help. She seems hesitant for whatever reason…maybe she hates the labor but it provides her some closure? At least I’ve made the offer and I’m willing, I guess.

  3. So is the sponge cake recipe still a secret or can you post it on the blog? 🙂

    • Hi Vicki,
      in his honour we only share it with very close friends and family members. My sister and I presented it to a long time family friend (our other sister as we call her) who turned forty last year. She was so excited and couldn’t wait to tell our mummy on us. 😆 We warned her that we would have to kill her should she pass the secret on to anyone else. Ha Ha, only kidding. She had lost her mother several years back and was really thrilled to be included in the short list of people the recipe is shared with. It made her really feel like one of the family. Many Many people have enjoyed the cakes though over the years. My mum makes birthday cakes with the recipe for her great grandchildren now.

      • damn. now I want to travel to Australia and try this cake.

        I think its a supercool thing to have a family secret that is nice and tasty and a treat for everyone, instead of a nasty one that the family isnt talking to others about 😉

  4. My partner’s Great Aunt passed away earlier this year. We both loved her and he was lucky enough to be left a share (split between him and his parents) of her flat and the items in it. I went down in a van to pick up the table, chairs and a book-case from the flat that his parents had said they had emptied ready for it to be rented out.

    I came back with a van-load!!! There was so much left that it filled the van, to the point where I couldn’t fit one of the chairs they had left in and I’d had to leave it in the flat and request the building’s manager dispose of it!

    I have since freegled/freecycled a HUGE amount of it, and the last couple of things should go over the weekend. There’s also a nice dressing table that I hope to clean up and sell.

    However, despite the success of disposing of it, it terrifies me! If they thought the flat was empty, then what is their house going to be like. I know it’s full of clutter at the minute, and I’ve already dropped hints that my partner (who has quite severe depression) will not be able to deal with sorting it all out and when they were getting a new kitchen fitted and I had to empty it for the workmen, there were heaps of duplicates, things they don’t use and things that didn’t work! I asked her nicely to ensure that those bits don’t end up back in the new kitchen, and she said she’d try.

    Then this weekend, she admitted that she still had some of my partner’s old toys in the attic!!! He’s older than me and I’m over 30! /sigh

    Anyway, we’ll get through it as/when the time comes… Until then… 😉

    • Hi Tracey,
      I think the best thing for you to do is investigate in the meantime what is the most effective and inexpensive way to deal with the situation should you find yourself in it. Forewarned is forearmed as the say. Check out estate liquidators and charities who will collect in bulk. Keep encouraging your partners family to deal with the situation themselves. Just in passing mention what you have been reading here about the subject. That way you aren’t directly broaching the subject just chatting about something you came across in the web. If the subject of your partners depression ever arises tie it in with how he would cope at their passing. The power of suggestion can be very effective. Sometimes people don’t even think about how there house full of clutter will eventually affect someone else. Good luck Tracey I hope you have success.

  5. I have been reading this blog for awhile, though I have never commented. After my father ( a pack rat extraordinare) passed away, my mom and I were faced with the huge task of dealing with his “stuff”. He was a mechanic, and there were more cans of nuts, bolts, screws, cotter pins,and who-knows-what than most hardware stores. Plus car parts, and even a Datsun 260Z that was in the garage. You couldn’t see the car for everything that was piled on and around it. And the side and back yards were piled full of junk, as were the TWO extra sheds they had out back, and the patio.

    We filled a extra large, 6×12 foot, dumpster with stuff, and every afternoon, our friends and neighbors came and took a lot of it. We actually filled it 3 times before we had it picked up.

    Then I found out that my mom was just as bad, or worse, than my dad. Ten years after my dad died, we decided that in a year or so we wanted to relocate to a state over 1200 miles away. So I thought, at last, we can pack up the household stuff gradually, while I was at work, and get rid of most of it. WRONG again. She was packing EVERTHING! And whats even more ironic is that she worked in sales for several moving and storage companies before she retired. She had a great reputation in her field for being able to give accurate estimates to her customers, and tell them exactly how many trucks, movers, and packing people they would need. So she knew how expensive moving all that junk would be.

    I tried to explain that we did not need all the stuff, and the cost of moving it would be prohibitive. All I did was make her upset. She couldn’t part with anything. So I just dropped the subject. Then sadly, she suddenly passed away. That left me with a 4 bedroom house, garage, storage shed and patio to clean out.

    So I agree, de-clutter NOW. As I was dealing with this, I talked to my aunt who leaved in another state frequently. My situation actually inspired her to start cleaning out some of their stuff. Hurray!

    Sorry this post is so long.

    • Hello Shari and welcome to 365 Less Things. Thank you for coming out of hiding to share your story with us. Never worry about how long your comments are, we are here to listen and to learn from other’s experiences. Unfortunately these stories are more common than one would think. You could just about go into business as an estate liquidator with the experience you have had. My heart goes out to you for losing both your parents so quickly after one another and I can only imagine how the grief might mingle with anger at times considering the situation you were left dealing with. All those feeling are justified and one should just let them flow through in order to face them and recover from them. I am so glad that at least out of this your aunt learned a valuable lesson and began decluttering her belonging so as not to inflect them on her family. Well done you for getting through to someone.

  6. I’ve been thinking of this especially since you mentioned it. We saw grandparents who will have so much stuff to be gone through and gotten rid of. It doesn’t even seem to be worth much, and we don’t want any of it. Maybe we can help them get rid of some of the clutter and make some money they can enjoy now instead. I have been focusing on my own clutter and getting rid of things more readily too. It is kind of funny how I purged the kitchen, tucked away some favorites and then realized I don’t use them. So I got rid of them too. The same thing is happening with linens, clothes, even furniture. I feel like it will never end, but I’m moving faster and enjoying the process, and thankfully my family is on board.

    • Hi Angela,
      it is always worth trying to share your “live more with less” wisdom with someone else especially if that someone else is ageing and likely to leave lots of unnecessary stuff behind for someone else to deal with. Judging from what you have said here you are discovering as I did that the more you work with this the more you realise that you don’t need. Good for you, you are on the right path and evolving as you go. Having the family on board is a great help.

  7. It was a horrendous, time consuming job to clear out an entire house last year after a relative died. In addition to the usual rooms of furniture, duplicate kitchen items, a garage and a shed, there was also an attic full of stuff that had to be emptied during the worst heat of the summer. Add to that the grief you are experiencing, as well as the paper clutter including over 50 years of old tax returns, drawers full of old bills and receipts, greeting cards and letters that filled another couple drawers, unfinished sewing projects, boxes of craft supplies, half filled cans of paint, and numerous other items. On top of that add all the legal issues associated with dealing with an estate and preparing a house for sale: cleaning, painting, etc.
    Even if a house isn’t overly cluttered it is still a huge job. Add to that the little known fact that “unoccupied” homes are no longer fully insured after a certain amount of days. Check your homeowner’s policy.
    After 30-60 days, your coverage for theft, vandalism and water damage
    will end. See this article
    If you were able to purchase special insurance for this circumstance it would cost 50-60% more. Most people aren’t aware of this and neither was I til I was in this position.
    I know of a family who put off the chore of clearing out the house-while they were waiting to deal with it, a hurricane struck and now they have
    a house with a flooded basement, complete with a now non-working furnace and hot water heater!
    I mention these things because, for one thing, I wasn’t aware of the “unoccupied” house issue. You may not have the time you think you have to deal with a situation like this. You may not be able to secure the special insurance or be able to pay for it. Not all estates have extra funds to deal with things like this.
    The best thing we can do is try to live a more minimalist lifestyle so we don’t leave behind hugely cluttered homes. The normal every day stuff of clothes and furniture, etc are enough to cope with. Huge collections of things and unused items are best given away, sold, donated or whatever, during our lifetimes. Give your treasures to family members now and you’ll be sure they go to the person you want to have them.
    Look around your house now and see what you might be able to get rid of to avoid someone else having to deal with them.

    • Hi Amy,
      good advice and thank you for that information about household insurance. I would never have thought of that either. Oh what a complicated business dying can be even without the clutter.

  8. OH AMEN AMEN AMEN!!! Awesome post Colleen. It’s so wonderful to read, learn about and be a part of what a difference decluttering each day can be to ourselves, our families, our lives in general!!!

    We learn from the past; we learn from each other, we make the future better. Such blessings! 😉

    • Hi Annabelle, there certainly is a whole lot more to decluttering than just living a minimalist lifestyle for oneself. We are really doing our descendent a favour too.

  9. My partners grandparents moved to a nursing home a year ago and I was really astonished by the amount of dupilcates in that home. It was not even that there was so much ‘aspiration clutter’ or anything, but just the ordinary household items such as pots and tools. Apparently they bought replacements and kept the old stuff ‘just in case’.
    But what was hardest for us was that we had only a few days to look through the stuff as the house was sold including furniture and everything in it- and it wasn’t enough time to actually find the truly important things. My partner wanted a sofa from there (okay, that one was easy to find), a toy his grandfather made for him when he was little, as well as photos and a diary of his grandfather that he remembered from his childhood. We searched the whole house for these things and it was a lot of work, considering that every drawer was crammed with boxes of stuff. We found what was most special to my partner, but I guess, we “lost” some photos somewhere there in that house.
    The point is: yes, there may be valuable things that your heirs are happy to take and that they are willing to give a home (such as photos, special heirlooms etc.) – but in a cluttered home they may be unable to find them. So make sure that your daughter knows where you keep granny’s wedding-ring.
    I’m lucky with both my grannies, as they pass on things to their children and grandchildren at proper times. That way I got some jewelry from my great-grandmother AND I got the story with it and the knowledge of it being my great-grandmother’s (which I would never have known had my granny just kept it until her death), as well as I got some utterly useful things like cups and plates – I got them right when I moved out, so they weren’t additional clutter: they’re my everyday’s dishes and I’m in the happy position to own heirlooms that are beautiful, sentimental and useful to me.

    I think, I just wanted to express that there are more reasons to not hang onto clutter until the very end, it’s not just to make it easier for your relatives to get your things out of the way – it also ensures that your treasures actually get passed on and enjoyed.

    • Hi Sanna, you have it exactly right. I was so please with my mother when she started offering the items our of her china cabinet last year. She is able to see them go to her precious children and grandchildren now while she is still alive to enjoy their delight in receiving them. Like you say it is important that what is left is identified and it is high time I did an inventory of the precious objects like the grannies rings etc that I am sure my daughter would love even though there is no way they will fit her tiny fingers. And if she doesn’t want them she need to know that that is OK too.

      The less clutter one owns the easier it is to find and enjoy the precious object that truly mean something to you. Unfortunately identifying the difference is not easy for everyone.

  10. Don’t worry, Colleen, normal’s VERY over-rated! 😉

  11. Oh Colleen – my heart sings with yours (re:cleaning, moving things off floor etc). This is exactly what sparks decluttering for me, the ability to rehouse, move things around etc. Each time it refines what i have.

    I also wanted to update you – last night I spent most of my time processing ALL my digital photos (06-now). I’m so proud – you’ll remember I asked you how to do it. Well I finally have, as my grandfather’s 80th or is it 90th? is this weekend, and for a long while dad has been asking us to make him a USB of photos. I didn’t end up with heaps of photos (maybe 30 all up, far more of me solely, than family shots, but it’s a start). I’m so pleased I’ve refined the photos, as well as the documents, so that everything is sensibly organised on my external HDD. Now to add the stuff that’s on this computer again, and file further.

    • Hi Snosie,
      digital photos are a never ending task but worth the effort. I am constantly deleting as I go on my laptop but the bulk of them are on my husbands computer and I dare not mess with that.

  12. You know how I feel about this Colleen 🙂 I just wish, that in all the papers and paperwork that my father kept before he died, that he’d have put all the *important* stuff together, like, you know, the CURRENT title of the house! He was 87 when he died, but did not want to think about preparing for death at all. I’m still letting go of the anger I felt when my sister and I had to clear out and sell mum and dad’s house last year.

    I’ve been trying to convince my 86 year old auntie, who lives alone, to let me help get rid of her clutter, but she is desperate to hold on to ALL her dead husband’s clothing (so when she looks at it she can get upset and cry?) I really don’t want to be responsible for doing it when she is gone!

    So, in answer to your question, I don’t want to leave any stuff behind for my kids, apart from some photos and loving memories. Even the quilts I lovingly made for them are to be used, and if they get worn out, then they’ve done their job 🙂

    • Good for you Loretta. But sad for your Aunty. I just hope that I can be rational about these things when the time comes when I lose someone close to me. I have been very fortunate so far in my life but the time must come one day. At this point though it just seems like futility to me to keep things that only cause you misery.

  13. My mother, soon to be 87, has the avowed wish to die owning only three things: a nightgown, a pair of slippers, and her stuffed toy dog!

    After my father died she let us take our pick of his stuff, then she gave away what she didn’t need, sold the house and bought a small condo. Although she lives far from me, I will not have a monumental task of clearing out when she’s gone.

    My uncle, now 91 2/3, sends me lists. I am to have the china and the cookbooks, my brother gets the piano and the bird books… Another not horrible job.

    Now if I could only finish getting rid of the stuff from my inlaws (deceased 12 and 10 years respectively). We are working on severing the emotional ties that bind it to us and hubby is making progress.

    • Well done Wendy B and well done you mom and uncle. Isn’t it lovely when someone gets it. And you and hubby have been making great progress so pat yourselves on the back and keep at it.

  14. Don’t won’t to sound rude, but to have to clean up someone else’s stuff after their gone would be a nightmare……..Especially talking about elderly people who have had years and years to sort their stuff and plan ahead. I’ve never had a conversation with my parents about inheritance or what “do l get when your gone etc” It doesn’t interest me at all. My mum cleaned up after all four grandparents, three in nursing homes – so already downsized and sold homes etc..Luckily not as much to deal with.

    I LOVE your mother’s attitude Wendy B. That’s awesome for her to think that way.

    My parents have downsized quite a lot with regards to possessions, but it is still too much in my opinion. Especially my dad who keeps so much crap. I do not even want to have to deal with it when they die. If l’m expected to go through it – l won’t be – it’ll all just be dumped in a skip and go to the tip.

    • I can understand you feelings on this Felicity. The thought frightens me at times too. But I would consider opening the house up so people can take what they want and then let a charity take the rest before filling that skip. Though that idea sure does have its appeal I must admit. 😉

      • Felicity, you’ve hit the nail right on the head. I agree totally with you that IT IS RUDE for others to NOT deal with their stuff and leave it for the living to have to deal with (but that is my opinion). However, I also see a compassion towards this, strange as it may be, because there appears to be a generation of folks who just can’t bear to let go of their stuff, maybe because it is as if they are slowly letting themselves die away when their stuff goes away (which we know is not true). It’s such a fine line and such an individual thing.

        I loved Wendy B’s comment about her 87 year old Mother (now that is one very well loved stuffed toy dog!!!).

  15. Hi Everyone,
    My heart goes out to you all, I have been there and done that! Man it’s a quest to deal with it, thankfully, I am in a good place with it all and I can say from experience that it is a very emotional time and to have to add all the ‘STRESS OF STUFF’ to the situation, it makes for a very bad day, week, month, year!
    Thank God my MIL is an organised and de-cluttered soul. When my FIL passed away in 2008, not only was it a shock but having to fly off at the drop of a hat to get to Albury, was a feat in itself. None of us really had time to grieve properly but I do thank my MIL for being so able to deal with my FIL’s possessions. Mum promptly gave my husband the ‘treasures’ he’d been promised by his Dad. Small significant things that I know our son will cherish too. After a few days Mum was able to see that she had to deal with clothes etc, they were all packed up by her daughters and sent to another town’s Salvation Army. Everything else was dealt with promptly to the best of everyones abilities and I feel it made the whole process so much easier. Dad, thank goodness was also very organised, so the only things that my Hubby had to do was help Mum with the financials, transfers for utilities, closing joint bank accounts and transferring the car details. Dad isn’t coming back and having his stuff still sitting around won’t change that. Although material things are not the person, my hubby has a lot of memories tied up in his Grandads’ leather bound tape measure. Dad used it, my hubby used it and I’m sure my son will too ( it’s feet & inches so it’ll make the mental maths so much keener!) When Mums time comes, (God willing not for a while) I know it will be a sad affair but I know none of her kids, Grands & Great Grands will have to go through a traumatic time of having to sort her stuff!
    After losing my Dad in 2010, we were all shocked and saddened but we still had to deal with his Stuff. My Dad was a builder and to this day we are still getting the amount of tools down. Thank goodness my Mum sees the sense in making sure another builder out there can benefit from my Dad’s gear. My problem at the moment is convincing all my family to adopt a lighter house so none of us have to ‘Deal’ with it when the time comes. I am happy to say though that my family is getting ‘onboard with the idea’.
    All I want to leave my loved ones with is my personal jewellery, the family books I have made for them and loving memories. NO STUFF as such! I don’t want to have to hear them yelling ‘What the hell did she keep this for? from the other side!
    Happy trails of memories not STUFF!
    Dizzy 🙂

    • Hi Dizzy,
      it seems that your relatives have the situation far more in hand than some of those of other readers. There will always be stuff to deal with when people pass but massive amounts of excess stuff is just hard to deal with. I am glad your mum is letting go of the tools your dad had. It is good to put them in the hands of someone who will use the well. Keep on trying to convince your other family members to deal with their stuff. Tell them about a few of the horror stories you have read hear and they might start to understand.

  16. Hi Colleen! Awesome post! I agree with Dizzy. And I sure understand what people are saying here. I am evaluating what I want to leave my children. Will they want/need every scrap of stuff I have today? I don’t think so. But still we hesitate in using what we have. I have lovely china that I got as a wedding gift about 9 years ago. Some of it I never used. Why keep it? I don’t know. Why not put to use now? I don’t know. So it sits in the house and if we let it linger and just live with it decades will pass and things will become clutter to someone else. It was an excellent advice. I don’t want to clutter my children’s lifes with stuff.

    • Hi Andréia,
      this is as good an inspiration as any to cut down on stuff. After reading all these comments I think it is time I double checked that all the important paperwork is in one place that my children know about. I think it is a good idea to keep information about investments in the same place as the marriage and birth certificates just in case. And a note about the location of our wills would be a good idea too. Even I don’t think I am current on all that information.

  17. This is such an amazing topic. I’ve re-read this post several times and e-mailed the link to my Mom and Dad. My Mom since replied back to me via e-mail w/ a list of what to do w/ their stuff. She has been decluttering now for a bit and really understands she doesn’t want her own kids to have to go through a nightmare getting rid of hers’ and my Dad’s stuff (although his stuff will be a bit of a headache to have to go through, but at least we know that). Sorry to say, my Dad is a bit of a pack rat, and it would be his sister, my Auntie, that I’ve commented about before, along with realizing now what a pack rat my darling-oh-I-so-loved-her-my-dear-Grandma was…and I miss her something fierce!!! 🙁 My Dad and Auntie had a bit of a time having to deal with her stuff when she passed. There’s a generational thing going on here, but I’ve broken the mold BIG TIME!!!!

    What am I leaving behind? Good question. A ring, some of my art work (of which I don’t care what my kids do w/ those items). Other than that, hopefully memories to those who love(d) me and good warm fuzzies in their hearts. Others might say good riddance! (hee hee hee, so be it!). 😉

    • Hi Annabelle,
      so your mom is still decluttering since you helped her out earlier on in the year. Good for her. It is a wonder your dad doesn’t understand how important it is after being burdened with the stuff of his mother. Oh well, never mind, hopefully your mom will be a good influence on him. I am sure you will leave behind more warm fuzzies than people saying good riddance because you seem to be a friendly fun loving person and who doesn’t love that.

  18. fascinating topic. death in its full experience is not just grief and sadness, but leads to anger and requires a lot of pragmatism.

    My Dad died 5 years ago at the age of 53. it was such a shock, I still sometimes cant believe it really happened, but anyway. He was close to being a hoarder, alsways saying you could use this stuff one day, “this is valuable, my lovely daughter, please make sure to treat it right” (I can still hear his voice…), he collected magazines about physics (he was a teacher) and so on… I even remember as a child that his office was always full with stuff, plants and books, a lot of paper but also old clocks, heirlooms, pictures and so on.
    When he died, my brother, my mum and I tried to find the most important papers (its impressive what the state wants to know from you after someone is dead). It was a huge task. We were sure he had a system of how he was filing stuff, but we never got it. it was more a coincidence that we found what we needed… thank god we knew the password of his computer, I had a friend who died and noone knew the password to her laptop. that sucks.
    My mum tackled year after year after year all of his places, first the office. she gave books to his collegues, tried to give away belongings that might be worth something to some of his friends, or just put nice things in a good place in the shelf. She had some issues to give away his clothes in our town, because she couldnt stand the thought that she might meet someone who was wearing my dads shirt. So she brought them to another district to the second hand shop.
    then she rearranged the garage, I always tell her she must have used magic for that!! she sorted stuff out and cleaned up and found for everything a place. I adore her for that, but I do get the slight feeling that she lost it too. There are hoarders who are messy, and then there are hoarders who clean up. I really dont know whats worse. 😉

    SO please: Make sure your children or husbands or wives or whatever relatives KNOW where they can find the important papers, how you want your funeral (thank god my father was ALWAYS saying that funerals are the easiest way to rip people off, so we knew that we were going for the cheapest, when it was his coffin we had to choose)
    and make sure to be precise about items you consider valuable and what to do about it. My dad used to take me and my brother through the house to explain which picture and icons are going to which gallery in case we have to get money and sell that. 😉 I always laughed at him that he was so strict about that, but now I really appreciate it, because I have clear instructions.

    • Very good advice Lena, one really does need to make sure that more people than themselves know where the important documents are. Especially financial information. Investments can be lost if no one knows that they exist. And valuable things can be giving away if no one knows they are valuable. My husband and I need to pass this information on to our children just in case we both die together.

      • exactly. I have been telling this people over and over again when the conversation was about my fathers death. its just one of the things that makes a tragedy a lot easier.

        and dont forget to tell people I LOVE YOU. it might be the last thing they hear 😉

  19. So interesting reading everyone’s stories, opinions and advice on this subject. Colleen is right, we should all make sure the important papers are in one place and someone knows where they are! Yes, research your local charities and thrift shops because when the time comes you will be surprised at what they will and will not accept. Some will pickup items and some won’t and they will each have different rules on what they will accept.
    Most importantly, be kind to yourself, this is a huge, thankless job and you won’t do it perfectly. There will be things you will have to toss because you can’t find “homes” for them. You may have a time crunch and not be able to dispose of everything the way you would like to.
    If your relatives are agreeable, help them now. Yes it’s rude to leave a pile of stuff behind. However, the elderly are not likely to decide one day to climb into the attic to start de cluttering. Their eyesight is poor, and the agility and strength they had in their younger years is gone. Maybe schedule a weekend to help them with huge jobs like this (if they are agreeable and willing to part with stuff)
    Maybe the next time you visit you notice a broken lawn mower in the garage that Dad doesn’t know how to dispose of. Take that chore off their hands. Who knows, once he sees the extra room he has in the garage he might call you and tell you he has a few more things he would like to get rid of.
    For those who have collections they think are “valuable”-maybe look up the item on Ebay and show them there are 300 of them for sale with no bids! If you’re lucky enough to have something that is valuable, help them sell it now, they can surely use the extra cash.
    When the time comes, and you’re still left with tons of things to dispose of, go easy on yourself. It will cost $$ to haul the stuff away but sometimes it is easier than trying to find “homes” for everything.

    • thats an amazing tip as well. I will start to look out for second hand shops soon.

      I have an aunt that is hoarding, and because she is almost blind, the whole place is filthy. I started to help her with her clothes and the cupboard, and I promised her that we will take a tour though other places that needed decluttering, but I guess its a “drop on the hot stone”, if this is happening only 3 times a year. I try to keep her motivated when we talk on the phone though…

    • Hi Amy in NY,
      good advice. I was just thinking yesterday how hard it would be for me to have to go through a house knowing how important it is to me to dispose of things responsibly. I would regret anything that was still useful that might be thrown away. As I have four siblings the choice will not be entirely up to me and I am sure they won’t want to dilly dally.

  20. Here is a funny story regarding cleaning out houses-I read it somewhere while I was going through the process and it made me laugh.
    There was an old woman on her deathbed who was well aware of the fact that she was leaving behind a huge mess of stuff that she had collected and saved over the years. Afraid that her one faithful child would be the one stuck with the job of clearing it all out, she took this person into her confidence and hatched a plan to make sure all the children would help with the job.
    When her other children came to visit she made sure that while they were gathered around her “deathbed” she mentioned that she had hidden money in the house and couldn’t remember where she put it!
    That was all they had to hear!
    After her death that house was cleaned out in record time! Just about the time they were finishing the job, the child she had taken into her confidence “found” the hidden money and shared it with her siblings.
    (I think it was about $1000 in small bills)
    Just something to keep in mind if you’re afraid you’ll be stuck with the job. It would be easy to do something like this!

    • Hi Amy in NY,
      I love a great cunning plan. She may have been old but she certainly still had all her faculties about her. I will keep that in mind but I doubt I will need to deploy the strategy as I am sure all my siblings will come to the party.
      I do know however that my father was sure that there was money hidden in his parents house but he never did find it when they did the clean out.

      • Hi Colleen,
        I just loved the comments from Amy NY and her story and your comments for the ‘cunning plan’. Believe me though when I say it, if you are in the position of helping someone clear out after losing a loved one, CHECK THE POCKETS OF EVERYTHING!!!
        My Mum was with my Nanna when she passed and stayed in England to help my Grandad sort through everything and to help him through it all.
        My Mum bless her with Grandad’s help put together a few things for us girls, hence my beautiful teacup & saucer, I also got given a beautiful brooch (more later) as mum was sorting she gathered all my Nanna’s coats, although she went through hell and back in her life my Nanna was very good in making a little go a long way and sometimes nothing went even further! When she was able to afford more she bought really good stuff and coats were a weakness. In England you practically wear a coat year round. In the first cull my mum sent a load to Oxfam and the lady there (she knew my Nanna & Grandad for years)rang my Grandad to say they found over 300 pounds (money not weight, why can’t comps have the right signs!)in the coat & jacket pockets. At this stage no-one else in the family wanted to help except my mums bro and his wife and my Uncle was the one who discovered my Nan’s engagement ring, in a pocket. My Grandad & Mum were happy to give it to my Aunty and between them all they found 1000’s in cash. My Nan had folded the notes meticulously and put them in her coat pockets!
        After this cull, my Mum put all of my Nan’s costume jewellery out for the assorted rellies to choose something if they wish. Quite a few were chosen but my other Uncle’s 1st wife (horrible) said it was all crap and chuck it away blah blah! She chose a brooch and then said to my Grandad that he must of been mad to let his wife buy such garbage and shoved it back in the pile! It is a purple spray of flowers and my Grandad knew I loved purple so he gave it to mum to give to me. I wear that brooch a lot and it is really gorgeous. I happened to be wearing it when I took my engagement ring in to the jewellers to have a claw fixed. The jeweller remarked about my brooch being so pretty and old fashioned looking and asked permission to have a closer look, I told him the story and he was smirking all along. He floored me by telling me it is not ‘Paste costume jewellery’ but is in fact quite valuable, hahaha and my Ex Aunty called it garbage & crap. I love it coz it was my Nanna’s and just coz it’s pretty and doesn’t take up a lot of room! Wonder if my Ex Aunty would like it now LOL!
        I love this blog not only for tips and great advice but the chance to share, you just never know what life is gonna throw at ya!
        Dizzy 🙂

        • ha, Dizzy, you sound like you had a lot of fun in the jewellery shop. in german its called “schadenfreude” (if you laugh about your ex aunt because she lost a chance)…

          I love both stories, the little trick the family was played and yours. not that I think money is the most important thing when it comes to clean out houses, but what a nice surprise if you find some.

        • Good advice on searching the pockets of clothing! I’ve heard of lots of people finding $$ and little treasures that way!

        • Hi Dizzy,
          this is the scary part about decluttering after a death in the family, you really don’t know what is among the stuff. Sifting through it all to find the treasures could be a nightmare. Thank heavens for you that the Oxfam staff knew your family and were honest people. As for the bitchy Ex Aunt, ha ha de ha ha, he he, snigger snigger. I bet you wish you would run into her one day with that broach on and tell he the wonderful news after she finishes saying to you what bad taste you had for keeping and wearing it. A little more he he ha ha.

  21. Excellent post!

    This is what I’ve been trying to hammer into my husband’s head ever since we got married–that we do NOT want to leave a ton of stuff for our children to deal with later. (He is a major packrat and never used to be able to get rid of anything, but I’m wearing off on him, lol, and he is now able to clear out more than he’s ever done before. He’s got a long way to go though.)

    In my family I’m always joked about as the one who “tosses everything”. I can’t stand clutter.

    My father died this spring, and we’ve spent the summer starting to go through his things. He saved everything, so there’s a lot to deal with (he was a farmer, so there’s tons of large equipment to deal with too).

    The problem is that my mother, who also finds it hard to get rid of things, ends up wanting to hold onto a lot of stuff that really should be gotten rid of.

    We’re still going to have a HUGE job clearing out when my mother is gone.

    I am an avid declutterer, and REFUSE to leave a bunch of clutter for my daughter to deal with when I am gone.

    Keep spreading the word! The more that hear it and start decluttering, the better off others in their families will be.

    • I sympathize with you, my hubby likes to keep everything too. whereas I’m a “when in doubt, throw it out” kinda gal. He’s starting to come around though.

    • Hi Becky,
      perhaps you should piece together a few of the stories that have come forward from this post, print them out and give them to your mother to read. Sometimes people don’t realise the effect that their clutter is having or will have on others. Ask her, in relation to your father’s stuff ~ If I disposed of everything I felt you didn’t need of dad’s (without you seeing it) would you even know it ever existed. That is if you weren’t going through it with me would you even recognise half of it as his. ~ Perhaps then she might see that it is mostly unnecessary stuff. Out of Sight = Out of Mind and Out or Mind (should) = Out of Here.

      It is so hard to get these messages across without offending people at times but at the same time if they aren’t aware of the alternatives then they are operating without all the facts to make good decisions. I am glad that you have learned from your experiences and are doing the right thing my your family. Keep up the good work.

  22. Wow, is this post timely for me. My father died 2 weeks ago and I am in the middle of organising his funeral with my Mum. He was in hospital for about a month which involved my family and I travelling from one side of England to the other in a 9 hour journey each way 3 times in about 5 weeks, which has been exhausting, especially as I have no siblings and am having to deal with this essentially alone. And Boy, is the house stuffed to the rafters with stuff! Vital documents are hidden all over, rooms are piled high with new, unworn clothes and shoes, nothing has been thrown out. We can’t even take a bath because the bath and bathroom is filled with brand new toiletries etc. Just doing basic things like cooking, cleaning and even moving around the house! take such a huge effort. The sad thing is that I have been asking them to start sorting stuff for years as I knew that it would end like this. I simply cannot sort it out as I live the other side of the country and there is just TOO much stuff, it is overwhelming! Added to which there is the issue of all this spending has caused my parents to have run huge debts, basically for STUFF. Another sad point is that when we return home my mother will be stuck on her own in the house, just when she will need company, because no way can she let her friends and visitors see the state of her home.

    I appreciate that obviously there is a psychological hoarding issue here and I feel a bit disloyal airing this in public but it is just so sad that this need for stuff can cause those who collect it and the immediate family so much pain and for the many months and years in the future to sort it out. All I can say, is to those in a possible, similar future situation, to keep encouraging family members who ‘collect’ to start thinking about their stuff, not easy but keep trying!

    • Hi Fee,
      my condolences to you on the loss of your father. And of course welcome to 365 Less Things and thank you for sharing your experience in the hope that it will help others. I sadly shake my head thinking about your situation and especially for your mother’s situation. Is she the one hoarding stuff or was it the both of them? If it is her it is probably more than time to get her some help with this problem. I know Australia has organisation that can help in these situation and I imagine England would have to. Perhaps it is time to investigate the possibility.

      It is so hard when you live so far from your mother to be able to help her when she needs it most. When I hear stories like these I am so glad to have always been relatively frugal in my life and my husband has a good job so that we have got ourselves into a position where I don’t need to work and can be available if my family needed me like this. My heart goes out to you and your mum and I hope that the situation improves.

      • Hi Colleen,
        Many Thanks for your kind words. Yes, both of them were hoarders though Mum would buy stuff to come into the house whereas my Dad just didn’t throw stuff away. I think there’s about 4 sheds in the garden chocka with junk such as piles of newspapers, bits of old greenhouse etc and all manner of unimaginable stuff, I suppose that more of a man thing!

        I would just like to give my sympathies to any of the above people who have been in a similar situation to me and also Thumbs Up to those who managed to get their relatives on board with getting themselves sorted out (or are at least making a start!)

        Colleen, I have been enjoying your web-site for over a year now and it is so reassuring and helpful to know that other people are in similar situations. There has been some really useful tips from you and your readers, it is a great resource, many thanks!

        • Hi Fee,
          it is absolutely my pleasure and I am sure that of your fellow readers as well to share our combined knowledge in the attempt to help as many people as possible to find a way out of the clutter jungle. I sincerely hope you have success with your mother and if not at least keep heading in the right direction yourself so your relatives don’t have to sort out behind you. I have been inspired this week to get a wringle on when it comes to our keepsake boxes. I would like to narrow it down to just one. I made some more headway today. I have been in no hurry to start this job because it is slow and tedious but it would be worse for someone else if they had to do it for me if I died tomorrow (touch wood). So there is no time like the present to get started. I was pleased with my progress.

  23. I am trying my best to declutter a little at a time. I have a business at home and have health issues I am dealing with. I order a lot of things online and with each package get packing material in each box that is not recyclable. I save some of it for my business and try to freecycle some of it but lately have had no takers. Any ideas on how to give it to a good cause without throwing it in the garbage? I hate to do that but do not want to keep too much either.

    I also wanted to say that my mom is on the verge of going into skilled care and she has hung on to a lot of stuff that is going to be really hard to go through. I am determined to get rid of that kind of stuff! I lay awake at night thinking of those things in my house. But don’t have the energy to do it all and then it ends up cycling in my brain. I think I am just going to make a short list and try to tackle one thing a week of that little stuff. Some of it is all in a file, just need to leaf through it quick.

    Thanks for all you do!

    Blessings! Marianne

  24. Definitely a topic that not enough people talk about!
    In the US, going to the 1-800-Recycle website has a tone of resources for recycling stuff, possibly packaging.
    If you are in the Texas area or want donation/declutter ideas, my blog post has a list of options.

  25. My parents and my inlaws are very much alive, but both are hoarders, the inlaws especially. The idea of clearing out their houses is quite a scary one, especially as both live 5 hours away, and there is a finite amount of time you can be away to settle things, and this is on top of dealing with grief.
    My husband and his bro visited their parents who had asked for some assistance around their property, as fast as the boys were putting things on the trailer to go to the dump or recycling, they were pulling them off the other side.
    I tried to convince my MIL that the boxes of clothes she has in the ceiling that date back to before she had the boys (they are in their 40’s) were no use to anyone. No luck.
    So frustrating!

    A friend recently had to sort out her parent’s home, and she did a really quick and effecient job (no thanks to them) and she said that she wrote a list of headings: linens, books, crockery etc etc. She decided in advance if there was anything she needed for her own home – in most cases NO. Did she know anyone who needed stuff and was prepared to take it within a short set time limit? In most cases, NO. After that it was a blanket policy that it had to go and as quickly as possible.

    Photos and papers got their own corner and were to be the last thing as they take the longest. She bought one of those filing boxes that suspension files can sit in – sort of like a cardboard filing cabinet drawer and roughly filed things as they came to hand, in case she needed something for the lawyers before she left town. Then she put the lid on the box and took it home with her to go thru there, but kept her eye on the goal to clear the house as fast as possible.

    If something needed more consideration such as books or paintings, she gathered the whole collection to one area and then she gave herself a 30 minute time limit to decide.

    She said some people were horrified with her brutal efficiency especially when they saw Salvation Army and SaveMart vans turning up, but she found this task quite horrible and wanted it over as quickly as possible so she could get back to her home and family.

    I hope I don’t find myself taking on this task for many years, but when it comes I hope I can follow her example.

    • Ah Moni the fear of the big clean out after a loved one passes on has been discussed many times here at 365 Less Things. It actually disgusts me in some ways that people can be so inconsiderate to not get their affairs in order as they get older. Not that you need to be old to die so having clutter under control should be a continuous endeavour no matter your age. I bring this topic up with both my parents and my in-laws on occasion and I think my parents at least are slowly reducing their belongings and hopefully their house size too soon. I have offered to help if they need it even though they are 1000+ km away. I would rather help them now than sort it while dealing with the grief of their loss. And as people get older it becomes difficult enough to maintain a home without having clutter in every corner hindering the process. It sounds like your friend did an amazing efficient job of clearing her loved ones effects. I think one has to do the best to remove themselves emotionally from the process like your friend did or else it would take forever and all end up back at your own house. I imagine the people who thought she was brutally efficient are people who also live in cluttered homes just waiting to leave their mess to someone else.

  26. I want to make a correction to my earlier comment: In the US, going to the 1800recycling.com website has a ton of resources for recycling stuff, possibly packaging. (The address I wrote before is incorrect!)

  27. Hi Colleen, When my aunt & uncle went through their deceased relatives place, they had thrown away many papers before they realized that there was money layered in with the papers… My aunt & uncle figured they must’ve thrown away a lot of money before they realized… So when someone is clearing out anothers home, they should be aware that people squirrel money away in the oddest places! I know that my mom was one of those who left money in jacket pockets…

    • Wow Peggy, that was unfortunate and one of the reasons to have our affairs in order at all times. I remember my parents searching high and low through my grandmother’s house after she passed away because dad thought there was money squirrelled away somewhere. They never did find any though. It is best to keep you closest family informed on where to look for these things if you are the sort who stores money around the house.


  1. […] Amy in NY did a great tips round up in this comment of all the points from many of the comments on my post What are you leaving to your family. It is […]