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Several years ago my cousin, a single child asked my brother an I to help downsize her elderly parents' home. We walked into a nightmare.

The house was huge. A four bedroom split foyer with a basement and a 30' by 60' out building with garage, workshop, and storage room.  While the living area had been kept relatively neat and tidy through the years the spare rooms were jam packed with every conceivable item of "good stuff" they had picked up at yard sales during the 25 years since my uncle had retired.  For example: hundreds od teddy bears that a department store had given away one year at Christmas, multiple crock pots, mixers, blenders, waffle irons and George Foreman grills picked up for next to nothing.  Sheets, towels, comforters, kitchenware, even containers of plastic forks/napkins/condiments from fast food restaurants. Huge quantities of paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, etc. from Cosco.
Uncle's garage/workshop was filled with every imaginable tool and gadget ever invented as well as his collection of video and electronic equipment collected for over 60 years. Unfortunately, the roof on the outbuilding had collapsed several years before and everything was ruined by the weather.
Keep in mind my cousin was in her fifties and didn't need any furnishings and her children didn't want any of this.  My brother and I are older and we didn't need any of this.  There were a few things the younger generation could use but most of this years of collecting was taken either to the dump or thrift shops.  It took three weekends of physical labor to clear the property so it could be sold.
If you are reading this and you are sixty or over THINK OF YOUR CHILDREN.  Offer them what you no longer need and take "no thank you" if that's their response.  Then Craigslist, EBay, or Freecycle everything that you don't need.  They'll thank you for it.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Also know that if you think your children (8+ / 0-)

    will be able to sell your household goods at an estate auction and make a lot of money, they probably won't. Auctions usually don't net a lot. Better to give it away now, to someone who will value it.


    •  actually, my dad is an auctioneer (4+ / 0-)

      and has been doing estate auctions for years, leaving happy families in his wake because they have some money, and they don't have to deal with all that stuff. Perhaps not every auctioneer handles things the way he does, but his clients have been happy.

      Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one. -driftglass

      by postmodernista on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 09:16:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Happy to have the things dealt with, yes. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        And I expect $ value depends a lot on the type of household and also where in the country. The ones I've seen (having been an investment manager working with trusts and estates) haven't done particularly well, in general. Of course it varies.

        Good on your dad for making the process easier for so many families.

  •  Youre right about not leaving it for the kids (9+ / 0-)

    My brother had a friend, a former work colleague, who turned out to be a secret hoarder afte dying. she sounds  much like your aunt and uncle---lots of this stuff was new.
    her daughter and daughter's husband are still cleaning this house out 6 months later. there was over $100K worth of clothes, many of them brand new, unworn. all kinds of brand new gadgets, lots of them unused
    this is worth pennies on the dollars. She could have just left this money for her daughter.

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 05:34:56 PM PST

    •  I never understand that unworn clothes thing (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      liz dexic, chimene, radarlady

      I read about celebrities who donate piles of clothes with the tags still on and I'm baffled. I got a skirt today at Target, and I came home and put it on to sit around the house and write. I could hardly wait, it was so cute.

      Jon Husted is a dick.

      by anastasia p on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 07:26:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I find lots (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        liz dexic, radarlady

        of stuff at the thrifts with the tags still on .

        I also see the local hoaders loading up. LOL.

        "As the days go by, we face the increasing inevitability that we are alone in a godless, uninhabited, hostile and meaningless universe. Still, you've got to laugh, haven't you?" - Holly, Red Dwarf

        by pale cold on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 08:27:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  This is our story! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      My MIL left a house full of this same sort of collection -- thank you QVC. Endless days and weeks of clearing and cleaning so the family can sell the house to pay off the mortgage she took out to pay for all this stuff she didn't need and nobody wanted. Well over $100K just flushed down the drain.

      Every time you think of buying something, if you are just adding to your pile, don't. Put the money in the mattress if nothing else. Your children and grandchildren will thank you. At least they won't be cursing you.

  •  Also think of the environment (3+ / 0-)

    Think of all the resources used to create these items that are just going to waste. It's sad that some people have more than they know what to do with while others cannot afford enough to survive.

  •  This is a lesson that I sorta need to learn. (7+ / 0-)

    Occasionally I've gone on binges to 'decluter' my house.  This past May a water line broke and caused some shelves to be moved in the basement.  When putting all back together, a van load of stuff made its way to Goodwill.  Although, the box of college papers are still sitting my garage waiting to go to the recycle bin......

    The problem I have is taking 'family' things.  I have both of my mother's sewing machines and yes I do use them, along with the 'accessories'/threads/bobbins/rick-rack/etc.  I have my dad's and his brother's childhood beds - they're in the extra bedroom and have been used occasionally.  Most everything that I've inherited does get used.  A couple of weeks ago, I received my aunt's buffet.  This buffet was her (and my mother's) great aunt's buffet.  I don't need the buffet, but it made my aunt happy that it stayed in the family (she's had to move into assisted living at the age of 62 cause of genetic disorder).

    I can say that there is nothing in an external storage shed.  Nothing stored at other family locations.  The garage contains the usual garage stuff (fertilizer, lawn mower, snow blower, etc).  There is nothing in the closet in one extra bedroom and the other extra bedroom has the sewing machine stuff and my needlework fabric.  The hall closet actually has a couple of empty shelves and the rest contains extra blankets.  There are empty shelves in the basement and you can see its floor......

    But, I've got to not 'take' everything that's offered to me from family.

    •  I am dreading when this issue comes up (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      with my in-laws.  For my Mother, it's over. My sister and I cleared out her home back in 2007, and it was bad. She broke her hip back in 2000, and has been in and out of nursing homes, assisted living, various hospitalizations, since then. My stepfather developed Alzheimer's  in 2001 and was hospitalized, never to return home again. So, in 2007, the house had been sitting since 2000, just as my Mother and Stepfather had left it. One room was floor to ceiling junk, and the rest was not much better. It took us weeks to get it cleaned out, and each one was a trip from Maryland to Florida for me (my husband gave up after the first couple of visits, and I can't say as I blame him). My sister still lives in Florida, so it wasn't quite the disruption for her that is was for me, but she had to do more of the day-to-day dealings with my Mother, who refuses to make positive life choices for herself (long, long story).

      My in-laws are approaching that stage. My Mother-in-law is in a memory care facility for Alzheimer's, and my Father-in-law, while he is still able to care for himself (and spends most of his day with her) is approaching the age where he will need care, too. When that day comes, he'll try to dump stuff on his three children, and I'll have to put my foot down with my husband. We have a nice big house, but we had a flood in the basement that prompted throwing away a U-haul truck's worth of damaged furniture and papers. We had wanted to get the basement redone, since it was mostly empty, but we've ended up storing books and sheet music down there now for a friend of my husband's who is on the verge of losing her home to foreclosure. My husband is quite the clutter bug, so I'm constantly throwing stuff away that he brings home for projects that he gets in the middle of, then loses interest in and starts another. I refuse to live like my Mother, and I don't want my in-law's stuff. I shipped back 8 small boxes (the size of copier paper boxes) from my Mom's house, mostly items I had left in my Mom's garage after college, and even that was too much.

      We have no children, so I'll be having to try to deal with any messes while working past the age of 70. I get tired of it, but I know I'll have to be tactful and diplomatic when the time comes with my in-laws. Athena help me.


  •  My Mom Spent Years Downsizing In Her 70's (6+ / 0-)

    which came in unexpectedly lucky as she had to leave her home for assisted living across the country with us.

    She also opted for cremation, paid for it listed on a national registry so that it's only a matter of verification when the time comes. The other benefit of cremation is you can take your time scheduling a memorial.

    I got real lucky in that department.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 05:53:51 PM PST

    •  You did. (0+ / 0-)

      My Mom has a decluttered house and all her ducks in a row. She has gone over everything with me, telling me just what she wants. Compared to dealing with MIL's mess, when my Mom's time comes, her thoughtfulness will make things a lot easier.

  •  To be fair, the true (diagnosed) hoarders can't (9+ / 0-)

    think this way.  It's the nature of their mental disorder.  In addition, hoarders who die in their pile leave behind not only tons of stuff but usually a uninhabitable house that ends up being a tear-down due to structural damage and threats to health/hygiene.

  •  Good advice, and not just for hoarders. (8+ / 0-)

    The normal accumulation of "stuff" in a lifetime is enough.

    My sister and I just went through this with my mother's house, which she had lived in for nearly 50 years. Even though she was not a hoarder, it took months to go thru everything and sort the wheat from the chaff. It made me vow to go thru my own home and get rid of everything (of course, I haven't, but at least I've made a little dent in all the junk).

    I’m tired of sacrificing lives on the altar of the Second Amendment. - Mark Damico

    by Hastur on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:14:25 PM PST

  •  dunno about that; the kids have already marked (5+ / 0-)

    out what they want and I continue to collect stuff, mostly colonial coins, sub-Saharan blades, and books to a lesser extent while picking up Titanic stuff for the grandkids.

    I would say what is more important is to do what museums do and catalog everything, arrange to have it displayed or in a safety deposit box, and keep the provenance of each item along with the date, the amount paid and the amount it was estimated to be worth on the sale date.  This will assist heirs who have to empty things out after you die.  However, I also anticipate some of the family continuing to live in this house as the fifth generation here.

    (Note I am redecorating and so have also been buying Victorian door knobs and B&H and Rayo lamps)

  •  When my great-uncle passed away in 2008 (11+ / 0-)

    My dad and I flew down to his house of 40 years in Lancaster, CA from here in Washington State. We spent a month and a half temporarily living in the house going through things in order to prepare it for sale.

    It was alot of work, but I saw it from a different perspective. While he was a pack rat, especially with hardware and tools, but he had some really cool things, too.

    Coins, tools, and lots of other things that were valuable. Sure, there was alot of stuff that we ended up tossing, but I'm glad it was us that took care of it than someone else who wouldn't have done it with the care and respect my great-uncle deserved.

    Not to mention, I've always been a treasure hunter type of personality, so it was interesting trip down memory lane, as sad as the occassion was that prompted it.

    His death was rather unexpected, and we found indications in notes that he had written that he was indeed trying to organize and streamline his belongings. He was alone for several years after his true love, my great-aunt, had passed away.

    He ran out of time. I'm thankful we were able to complete his task. All of the things he held dear are in our possession, being executors of his estate. My dad and him were close.

    Long story short, we didn't see it as a burden, but rather as a labor of love.

    Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
    ~ Jerry Garcia

    by DeadHead on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:29:34 PM PST

    •  My mom died a year ago December 17th (5+ / 0-)

      the day after the eight year anniversary of Dad's death, and I agree with you. I do appreciate that she downsized some after Dad died, but going through their combined belongings was an amazing experience, finding their marriage certificate, and his mom and dad's death certificates, and an article from the Vancouver Sun about the time, before he met Mom, that he "sunk" the Canberra and other treasures that other people might not have recognized as significant. There are things she discarded that I wish she had asked me about first.

                 Sorry for your loss,

      Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

      by Chacounne on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:48:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I didn't have that problem. (5+ / 0-)

    By the time my father died I discovered that

    1) Most of the treasures from my childhood that was remotely valuable (a handcarved Pinnochio Pelham marionette, an English teapot belonging to my grandmother,  a 3-speed bike, my childhood toys, which were by then collectors' items) had mysteriously "disappeared," probably sold long ago for cash by my mother, whose bingo addiction forced my father to work two or three jobs for most of his life; and

    2) The family keepsakes (Christmas ornaments, photos, mementoes from my Dad's time in the Marines in WWII and Korea) that were at all worth dividing up were long gone, snapped up by sisters who had better access to Dad before he died than I did. Of course, as they took pains to explain to me, he "gave" them these things. No word on whether they ASKED for them first, though;

    3) The sister who had been assigned executor had helped herself to thousands of dollars in his bank account before dividing up what little was left.

    Dad was a frugal and generous working-class breadwinner who could never deny a request and spent little on himself. For the above reasons, cleaning the family home prior to its sale took only one day, for which I suppose I should be thankful.

    I have almost NO items from my family to remind me of our history. The collectibles we use are from Spousal Unit's family. Given how things have shaken themselves out between me and my sisters, maybe  I should count my blessings.

    "The truth will set you free...but first it'll piss you off." - Gloria Steinem

    by Sharoney on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:49:26 PM PST

    •  Family politics are such fun - NOT. You probably (4+ / 0-)

      did end up on the better end of the deal??

      My mother passed 5.5 years ago.  Dad has gone through some stuff - gave, donated, etc a bunch of 'stuff'.  There are things that he's not willing to go through yet - the majority of the nick-knacks from their travels, Christmas ornaments, and mom's jewelry.  However, my sister has been harassing him about it from time to time.  To the point that she asked to borrow mom's pearls for her wedding last year.  Perfectly logical and dad liked the idea.  She hasn't given them back to dad yet and it's been a year.  To say dad is not amused would be an understatement.  What part of he's not ready to part with some things because there's still that connection with mom in them.

  •  When my mum passed (4+ / 0-)

    Very suddenly.....We had days to clear it all out. We could not afford to pay the next months rent. We also had no place to store anything at our own home.

    What a nightmare.

    So we speed sorted and sent most of it to charity. We could not stay in her place while this was going on either. (for reasons I will not go into) We had to travel a long way every day to get there. I was pregnant......
    I kept the things that I really needed to have. I had to be ruthless.
    I still feel TERRIBLE about it.
    And yes, she was a bit of a hoarder. Much of it was random stuff.

    My granny moved back in 1977 to much smaller digs and it took the family months to clean it out. Secret trips to the dump when she was distracted.

    She never noticed any of it going missing.

    "As the days go by, we face the increasing inevitability that we are alone in a godless, uninhabited, hostile and meaningless universe. Still, you've got to laugh, haven't you?" - Holly, Red Dwarf

    by pale cold on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 08:38:27 PM PST

  •  Every now and then (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, nchristine, Miggles

    my 90-year-old mother will start fretting about what we are going to do with her stuff when she's gone.

    I just keep telling her it's not her problem.

    Not that she's a hoarder, but she has a house full of stuff accumulated over a lifetime, and I don't know what we're going to do with it.

    But we'll cope. I want her enjoying her home and not preparing for her death. We'll probably end up giving away rooms full of very nice things because neither my brother nor I has room for any of it, and I'm sure that will feel very sad. But I don't want her to give it a thought.

    We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

    by denise b on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 10:13:15 PM PST

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