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Why Your Kids Want You to De-Clutter. NOW! 

Here's the absolute best way to do it.

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cluttered closet full of clothes and purses
Alamy Stock Photo
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I’ve spent the past few weeks cleaning out my mother’s home after moving her into a nursing home. Her stroke was sudden, so she really didn’t have time to prepare, to “get her affairs in order.” Unfortunately, a brain aneurysm left her 100 percent incapacitated. And as the only daughter, the task of sorting through her 80-plus years of stuff has fallen to me. 

My mother was a saver. Not a hoarder-type of saver, but a sentimental one. I found a yellow plastic salt-and-pepper shaker set on the top shelf of her closet and vaguely remember a story about her honeymoon and breakfast at a Howard Johnson’s, but the details of why she kept it escape me. 

As I sorted through her drawers, cabinets and closets, filling boxes labeled “Keep, Donate, Toss,” all I could do was mutter under my breath, “I’m not doing this to my kids.” 

Fast forward to a week later. As I was unpacking the “keep” boxes, I found myself surrounded by her Depression glass collection, my father’s (who died 30 years ago) coin collection and antique cameras, her three sets of vintage fine china, and hundreds of cards and journal pages, not to mention the actual sewing pattern from her elaborate wedding gown that she made herself in 1957. After days and days of scouring the Internet to identify and catalog patterns of glass, china, and coins to determine their value, I repacked everything into “keep” boxes, thinking to myself, “I’ll let my kids deal with this.” (By the way, I did not. I set up an Etsy shop to find new homes for some of her treasures.) 

My kids are not this patient. They’d probably just toss everything anyway as they’re minimalist Millennials. So, I set out to organize my own affairs and eliminate the burden of this process for my kids. Here’s my process: 

Toss. Now.  

If you know that something is going to ultimately be thrown out, go ahead and do it now. My husband and I had moved years’ worth of high school and college yearbooks around the world, never even opening the boxes. So out they went! All those boxes of “everyone gets a trophy” or swimming medal? I kept one of each and tossed the rest. It’s not as if my kids will ever think, “Whatever happened to that generic trophy I got for sitting on the sidelines of the soccer field when I was 5?” Get real. They don’t want it, and you don’t either. 

Identify valuables.  

I’m now sitting on multiple pieces of valuable china and crystal. I’m normally a toss-it-out kind of girl, but something told me, by the way my mom had lovingly packed up certain items,, that they had monetary value. I mean how could I possibly know that this glass dish was worth hundreds of dollars to collectors? I know that some thrifters prey on anti-hoarders like me who unknowingly drop off items of value. So, make a detailed list of your valuables, their worth, and suggestions for what your kids might do with them. I’m photographing and cataloging my (few) valuable items in a neatly packaged binder for them. 

Write notes.  

I’ve saved some things from my kids’ childhoods, and when they open that bin and see the Blues Clues Halloween costume, I’m sure their first thought will be, “WTH?” (If acronyms are still a thing then.) I bought two large, plastic bins, one for each of my kids, and packed away the mementos from their early years that were special to me. I wrote individual notes and attached them to each item with the story behind it and why it meant something to me. Otherwise, how could they possibly know that the reason I kept that particular Halloween costume was because I made it by hand out of their footy pajamas? I plan to give them each their bin when they have children of their own and can appreciate the sentiments of childhood. 

Identify a cause for donations.  

When it came time to donate my mom’s clothing and other useful goods, I pondered. Domestic violence shelter? Red Cross? Homeless shelter? No, my mom was an animal lover. So for me, there was no question: I took more than 20 boxes to the local animal shelter’s thrift store. Since I tend to like animals more than (most) people, I think my kids would do the same, but I did state this “for the record.” It’s just an extended way to honor your parent by ensuring that their mementos go somewhere meaningful. 

Talk about it.  

This may seem overly obvious, but in cases like mine, you might not have the opportunity to ask questions about treasures left behind. It doesn’t have to be a doom-and-gloom family dinner with death as the topic. Maybe it’s a walk-through as you’re downsizing or a snowy day when you can take your kids down memory lane. I have a cousin who recorded conversations with my grandparents before their deathsand they’re a hoot to listen to. The point is to tell your stories now so your kids can relate items to their memories and won’t be second guessing your wishes when you’re gone. And it will leave them with stories they can tell their own kids. 

And before you get all judge-y, I did keep a ton of my mom’s mementos. I’m not sure what I’ll do with that sewing pattern, or my dad’s childhood teddy bear, but if they brought a tear to my eye, that’s my mom’s way of saying, “Hold onto this; it was special.” 

I’m not mad at my mom for leaving me with the task of rehoming her memorabilia. I actually enjoyed the quiet, peaceful time at her house as I sorted through it all. More than anything, I was frustrated that I didn’t know the stories and value behind some of her keepsakes. I wish I had known to ask before it was too late. My kids have never appreciated my rather militant organizational skills but once they see my “What to do with my stuff” binders, they’ll thank me. 

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