The guilt of cleaning out the house.

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I moved my 83 year old mother to a dementia care unit on November 30. To my shock, surprise, and relief, she has adjusted very well. I am now in the process of cleaning out her home of 40 years with plans to rent it out. The money from renting it out plus her pension check will pay for her to continue living in the care unit.


I cannot describe the guilt I'm feeling. I've been throwing things away, taking things to charity, and with every carload I feel worse, worse, and am questioning my decision. I keep telling myself I'm doing the right thing. She was living all alone with progressive cognitive dementia, and now she is being cared for, taking her medicine appropriately, and eating healthy meals, but the guilt keeps growing. I know it doesn't make sense to try and bring her back home, but this is killing me. I just love her so much and I feel terrible dismantling a home she loved. Ugh.

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What you're going through is a harrowing experience.

What you're feeling is pain. Not guilt. The loss of your mother's home, the anxiety that you are somehow dismissing her history, the sadness that your lovely mother is fading away from your life. These are all painful emotions.

But what they're not is a prod from your conscience telling you that you are doing something wrong, or have neglected to do something you ought to have done. That's what guilt is. Guilt can be mistaken, guilt can make people feel responsible for things that logically they have no responsibility for at all; but that's different from how you're feeling.

You recognise that your mother is flourishing. You are setting about ensuring she will continue to thrive, through a practical and well-organised financial plan for her. So sad though you are, your capable mind has in fact set you on the right path: focusing on making your mother's remaining life the best it can be.

You are a doing a superb job, a model of its kind. I just wish it wasn't so painful for you.
My mother had lived in her home for fifty years and is was my childhood home as well. It was really tough figuring out what to keep and then asking myself why I am keeping it.

I held on to anything that I thought held a special meaning to her. Some is decorating her apartment and some is in my attic. For every piece that I discarded, I worried that she would ask about it and I would have to confess that it was gone. For every piece I kept, I wondered why I was storing it because I knew it would never be used again (or even seen) because I know it will never come out of the box again.

Time will help a lot. Mom has been out of her house now for 18 months and when I realize how much better off she is living a clutter free life I am happy that I got rid of stuff. She does still sometimes ask when she is going back home and that is sad but she never asks about all those things I got rid of.
Thanks so much Churchmouse. I really appreciate your words of encouragement. I think you are right about it being pain and not guilt. I never thought of that. I grew up in this house, so that definitely contributes to my angst. I'm trying to stay focused on the financial benefit this will provide for her, but it's hard, not to mention overwhelming. It feels like it's going to take forever to get it all cleaned out. Friends keep offering to help, but I'm not even sure where I'd have them start? I feel like I need to go though it all.

Mom2Mom - how long did it take you to clean it all out?
TJLANG, it isn't easy cleaning out a house that one's parent had owned.   Every piece of furniture, even a fork brings back memories.   Then there is the haunting task of wondering if to keep the items for yourself, donate, or trash.

One really great idea, another writer on the forums gave me, was see if you can swap out something at your own home for something that your parent(s) had.   It helped me keep some of the smaller items.

Here is a forum that might help you with what to do with the items https://www.agingcare.com/discussions/how-to-get-your-parents-to-downsize-195854.htm
My brother had been living with Mom and he was a disgusting pig/hoarder. He also took some of her pieces when he left so I probably had more garbage than goods.

I hired four teens and a rental truck and we spent about 6 hours moving mom's stuff out of her house and into her apartment in my house.

I went back a couple of weeks later with three or four teens and we hauled everything that was left to the curb. That took us a whole day, a long day. The mound of trash and furniture was incredible. I paid 1-800-GOT JUNK to cart off about 50% of it for $700 just because I didn't want to freak the City out. GOT JUNK filled one of their full sized trucks and that was still only half of it. The City trucks took the rest away for me.

I then spent a couple of months cleaning, repairing and bringing in contractors for the stuff I could not handle.

Off topic but, Mom had not done repairs in quite a while. I spent almost $30K cleaning and fixing up the house but it ended up renting for $2400/month so after the first year, we were past the break even point and now it is all income.

Ironically, the house rented to a company that does Assisted Living and her house has been converted to a AL home. So, whenever she talks about moving back, I respond that I can see if they have a vacancy.
I have a friend (70 NM) who just went through two weeks with her recently widowed sister. Sister (68 Orange Co) has been hoarding and living for 35 years in the same place. She used Salvation Army and the Junk outfit and then found an estate man who said he would clear it all out in exchange for the better pieces so no charge for that. The intention was to put sisters condo on the market. Now the sister wants to stay there. My friend expects it to take several more trips to get it all resolved but they made a major dent. To the OP, you are doing a hard thing in removing your moms things but somehow I think it would be easier knowing it's for her ultimate good and support. My mom never moved from her home until she passed. She had lived there at least for 70 years. She wasn't a hoarder by today's standards but there is so much to deal with. It's been 18 months and I haven't started. In my family we have had four deaths since she died so there has been no rush. I know it's really hard what you are doing but at the end of the day you can go give mom a hug. I envy you that.
Tjlang, I thought of you: my cousin has just been to stay overnight, and as we were going through the caregiving mill together we had a lot to talk over. Her mother died a few months after mine, in 2015, having been ill with Parkinson's for many many years.

Well, now. My aunt was living in a (very good) nursing home for the last three or four years of her life. So you can imagine that I was startled when Cousin mentioned that she and her brothers haven't yet sold their mother's house. This came up because she was saying how supportive her brothers were (they're very kind and good-hearted men), and weren't putting any pressure on her to get things moving.

Oh goodness! I said. You still have all that to do?

Cousin explained that she couldn't face letting the house go. She didn't want to let it to tenants. She can't bear the thought of its not being her mother's house any more, either. She and one brother are just keeping it in good repair, ticking over, and...?

All I could think of to say was how much better she will feel when she doesn't have to think about it ever again. But right now she just seems to be stuck: can't move forward, can't come to any decisions about what to do with it.

So it seems to me to come back to the saying "when you're going through hell, keep going!" If you grind to a halt, you still have the job to face, it doesn't hurt any less, and it goes on hurting for longer.
Yes CM I know that saying only my version goes. When you are going through the valley, don't pitch a tent. Good to remember.
Oh, wow! I can't imagine letting the house sit for months or even years, as easy as that sounds on days when I'm standing in the packed living room. I agree with you, Churchmouse - I'll feel so much better when it's all empty. Part of me is looking forward to making it beautiful again. That's how it was when I was a kid.

Yes, this is hellish, but I'm going to keep going!!

Thanks everyone for the support! It's been very helpful. :-)
I remember my Dad saying that I could sell his house with the furniture in it.   Nice idea, Dad, but you house isn't a starter home, buyers will have their own furniture.

It's always interesting how one thinks there furniture would be great for others.   Nice gesture.  The sofa my parents had one could see it in photos from the 1960's. The real thin legs on the sofa end table fell off when the movers picked up the tables. The stereo console looked nice, but how many people still have vinyl records and 8-track tapes?  Typing table, seriously?   No, Dad, not leaving the CB radio for the new buyers. 

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