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If this topic is somewhere else on the forum please let me know because I would love to read the comments.


Basically I am in the process of cleaning out my 85-year-old mother‘s house. She is still alive and doing very well in a dementia care unit. I’ve allowed the house to sit for two years because I wasn’t emotionally ready to deal, but now I really want to clean it out, fix it up, and rent it out to help pay for her care because she’s out of money. She has a pension but it’s $2,000 short the cost of her care. I pay the shortfall.


My problem is guilt. I feel so guilty going through her things, throwing stuff out, giving them away, taking them to Goodwill, and planning for a yard sale. I know how hard she worked to buy everything in that house and it feels so wrong to just discard her things even though I know she’ll never use the again. The house is packed with 45 years worth of stuff. I’m an only child so I’m taking my time. I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty.

Live247, when you talked about the mid-century modern stuff in excellent condition it made my heart jump. In the Palm Springs, CA area people are paying top price for unrestored Mid Century Modern houses and furniture. One of my girlfriend's house has gone down in value because she updated the kitchen. Then I thought of the problem of getting used stuff sold. You did the right thing.

MargaretMcKen, I have gone through the same thing you have. Same scenario, different people. It seems like all my husband of 18 years and I have done is downsize.

One blessing I have is knowing he has Alheimer's he has started getting rid of a lot of his old hobby stuff. He gave them to his friends or sold them for nothing.
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Another thing I did was retain the home care lady for the 1st four days my mom went to assisted living. She helped with the physical and emotional parts of the move and then with cleaning out the bedroom closet. She was good at telling me that if things had no use and were of no sentimental value that they had to go. There is very little room at Mom's assisted living and she gets confused if there are too many things there. She's never asked for any of her things.

I still have much to go through.

For myself I already had kept my grandmother's dresser and my great grandmother's rocking chair when no one else wanted them. They are wonderful memories, but I want to keep only my mom's china. At this age I'm thinking of how my possessions will burden my sons when I'm gone, so I don't keep much.
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I'm sorry you're having a hard time with the 'clean out'. I had to do that whole job myself, (& only had 5 weeks or I'd owe another $1000 rent on her place). We had talked about the fact that my home is tiny, & I would only be saving a few items. In her new room @A.L. she would only be able to take a few items. The rest went to Goodwill. She agreed that she wanted a fresh start after being in that apartment 20yrs. Sometimes 'hanging on' is more painful than letting go. But if you can afford a storage area, that would be a good compromise until a year passes maybe. Hope it goes well.🙋
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Join the club 😳...When my mother was in SNF, I got rid of some furniture (donation) to make middle level accessible for her when she came home. But that doesn’t even touch the surface....J live w mom in the house & there’s 2 other levels & all stuff in garage uuggghhh. We live here for 56 years...my mother even took in my grandmother’s bedroom furniture when she died...I donated it when mom was in SNF...I cannot get rid of anything big since she’s home...only some clothes that I’ll carry in big black bags downstairs...& she’ll ask what Im carrying? I say laundry to take down stairs to laundry room...otherwise.....????!!!! I don’t have an answer..it’s a challenge for sure ...let me know if you are successful at getting rid of stuff
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I did the same thing until, she told me, you are trying to erase me. I stopped because she still loved her house. I was trying to start a process I didn't have a right to do, take all her memories of what she was losing too early. Why we start this is our process of loss but what they hang onto should be what we see. Even as mom is not aware, think there is something about leaving stuff in place, I will never remove stuff again until she is gone, respect her stuff and on some level it is still hers.
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Just re-read my comment and realized I typed "through" when I meant "threw" twice. I need to proof-read!
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My dear, you have my complete and knowledgeable sympathy. Please forgive my need to unburden my own experiences, made so much worse by marrying again in my fifties. My mother’s death was followed by my sisters coming in from far away, taking what they wanted (in a fair process) but leaving me with all the unwanted stuff that still had emotional ties. I took it all to my small house. Next was my beloved aunt (also first MIL as I married my cousin), whose house in the city I used for a couple of years for visits, and then cleaned out – all joint family stuff from both sides of many family members, with huge memories. Then my dear new husband whose parents moved into a nursing home and left us with the major clean-up responsibility. While all this was happening, I and DH had moved to a farm, with all the clean-up issues involved as we shifted living stuff up there from our two homes. And to two houses on the farm, as we bought the place next door temporarily while we did the reno! Until one of them burned down in a fire, taking stuff I was glad to lose, and also stuff that broke a ‘little bit of my heart now baby’. Tony sold his parents’ house (which he had bought from them originally), with more stuff to be sorted. I sold mu house to a daughter, so the cleanup was done in painful bits and pieces (still not complete, though she is happy to keep the good bits). Last, Tony’s father then mother died, and we acquired all this stuff – I think his mother had bought mountains of clothes for years and never quitted any of them. It took me over a year to sort them and take them to OpShops at the season when they could sell use them.

Next? Well my first husband (my daughters’ father) died a few months ago, and they had the clean-up job. I was so sympathetic, that I said ‘just take it around to my flat, as long as I can get quickly to the toilet when I drive down from the farm’. Some is stuff that my first husband and I bought together decades ago, so back to the emotional dramas, and I now walk around all this stuff in our city flat.

So what advice can I offer after going through the fire myself? Well first, on crockery and glass ware. DH wanted the Royal Doulton to be kept ‘precious’ rather than used. I said I wasn’t giving house room to anything that couldn’t be used. Most of it went in the bushfire, thank heavens, but the rest of it is used, treated carefully, and gets broken in the normal order of things. Second, I set aside a budget to replace anything that burned that I really wanted, and the same could apply to anything that was disposed of and then regretted. What I missed was mostly books, but working out if things were worth replacing was a good test about whether they should have been disposed of anyway.

Third, I got to know the people in our local ‘furniture warehouse’ AKA clean out Op Shop for caregiver downsizing. It also provides funds for caregivers from the profits, and cheap furniture for local young couples moving out with no money.

Next, pack up stuff that you think might be valuable, or that you might want in the future, in plastic boxes. Obviously choose things that pack up small. Keep them somewhere in someone’s garage for ten years. You may feel better then, and your younger relatives may be more interested. Around our way, old fashioned wood working tools are very sought after, after years of being ‘rubbish’.

For clothing, keep a few things that fit you, that you like, and that will remind you for your mother. That is very special, at least for me. Be imaginative about what could turn into nighties! Furs are now out of fashion, but they still keep you warm and look good.

Lastly, consider getting a ‘house dresser’ to fix the house for sale. It was unusual here when we did it, but it changed Mil’s house from an ‘old lady’ house to what the market wanted. It also made it feel less like we were selling her life, at the end.

You have my sincere sympathy, for a task that is so much harder than most people realise.
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I suppose in a way you are fortunate to feel that way. Once you get started you may feel differently. I mainly felt anger doing this because there was so much stuff that didn't need to still be there. It took my husband and myself 6 months to do a one bedroom apartment. It was grueling and exhausting. Years back we had to do the same with my late MIL house. We had to travel some in both cases which made it all harder. We are both only children. I find solace in being able to pass items on to my children. But we also had to toss alot because of their poor housekeeping. I think you have to ask yourself what the alternative would be. It would be a case of that party not caring at all about what is their. It is a difficult journey. I hope you can remain optimistic and not overly burdened.
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I am in the process of clearing my mom's home of 57 years worth of stuff. I has been a cathartic process for me and her. She is safely in assisted living while I work on the house. As I clear each drawer or shelf I toss the junk, box up things to donate, and save things I think she would like to see again.

Furniture and gifts have been offered to family and friends that wants them, the rest will be donated or auctioned. Mom had tagged certain items so I make sure they get them to use or dispose of as they choose. I have donated things to the local historical museum and library, too.

Each time I visit her I take a box or bag for her to sort through and reminisce about. We have a small box (nicknamed the casket) to keep obits and Mass cards, a drawer for old cards and letters, a shelf for photos and pictures. These are things she chooses to keep, the rest she has decided not to worry about. I gave her a nice box to keep her special treasures and momentos.

there is a great book I read called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” that helps you through the process of clearing your own home so,your loved ones won’t have to. It really puts things in perspective about real and perceived value of "things."
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You shouldn't be paying the shortfall.
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Yes, I started cleaning, then Mom said, you are trying to erase me. I stopped because she was still aware, so stop wait. I know you want to clean but if she still knows, just stop
Let it go because she still knows her stuff. Wait, I am after 8 yrs, I lived with her she thought I left her, no
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TJLang, This past spring, I went through this same agonizing dilemma with my mother's things. I could have written your post. The day I drove my mother's 18-year-old car full of her stuff to the Good Will drop-off point located behind a shopping mall was the first of several very depressing errands to get rid of her possessions. Her things, lovingly cared for, were unceremoniously deposited into a big gray tote along with everyone else's stuff. What I quickly realized are several things; no one wanted her things - I couldn't give her stuff away, what she always held in high value was only in value to her based on the point in time she obtained the item, she imbued emotions into her possessions and therefore everything was "precious." Her 60-year-old mid-century modern wooden table and chairs were almost without signs of wear, yet it ended up at Salvation Army - truly the worst day for me in this process. All the while I vowed that I will not do this to my children, put them through agony, guilt, endless decisions, and the sheer chore of cleaning up someone else's house full of things. I ultimately decided to sell my mom's condo for a few reasons; I live 1K miles away and can not maintain it, my mom refused to rent it so it sat empty, taking care of my mom is enough responsibility without worrying (and paying for two monthly HOA's plus utilities and insurance) about an empty condo. I am so relieved the condo sold. You will too be relieved once you decide to sell your mother's home, whenever that is. Renting is not without its own uncertainties and risks. Selling it offers you money to invest and access as needed. Good advice here about a storage unit. I did that with what I could not bring myself to part with, and things I want to send people but can't force myself to do that yet. Time offers emotional distance. You will get through this. I will too. I am sending you a hug and want you to know that you will get through your unique situation because you are strong enough to do it.
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I agree with freqflyer, I have been a landlord and I would sell the house, put the funds in a conservative mutual fund or something similar. Unless you are an experienced landlord you don't want or need the hassle. Too, if it sits vacant or the tenants trash it you won't have the monthly income.

One of the things I have learned over the years that your treasures usually aren't valuable to others. You have received good advice from the other great people who post here. If you need to rent a storage for your own emotions do so, but remember to revisit it in 3 months. If you don't need the contents, get rid of it. If you want, take photos of what you want to remember. Go back to the storage in 6 months, take another hard look at what is there and is it worth the dollars you are spending on it just sitting there with no one take care of it. To help my children out when it is their turn, I get rid of something I am not using every week. Sometimes it is just some papers, occasionally something bigger. I don't what them to have to wade through stuff like we have had to do with my parents, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, aunt, niece, and whoever is next.
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No need to feel guilty. It's just stuff. Enjoy the time that you have with your mom and don't be bogged down with guilt because of stuff.
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If I may go off on a few tangents, here are some ideas both for dealing our LO's stuff (and our own!):

1) Make a point of getting old photos labeled while someone is still knowledgeable and mentally capable of providing the information. I almost "imprisoned" my father one day while I coaxed this information for a pile of photos (fortunately, he lived almost a couple decades longer although he had had some health issues a little while before I did this so I didn't want to take a chance by procrastinating).

2) Make a plan for your own things in case something unexpected happens to you even if you are still relatively young. For example, if you have collections having historical or scientific value (or even monetary value that might not be obvious to someone not knowledgeable), let others know what should be done with it, such as to whom it should be donated or given, or how to go about selling it.

3) When dealing with someone who has "hoarded" items that would appear not to have value (such as Midkid58's mother who saved all the PCH mail), it might be possible to compromise by suggesting that just the oldest ones (depending upon why the person still wants to keep them) be kept while the others discarded/recycled. I do this myself--while dealing with the phonograph record collection in my parents' house, I kept the very first LP album my father ever bought (Roger Williams, on a Kapp record, ca. 1960) and gave Goodwill the several dozens of remaining albums.

Any other ideas? I'd love to read them!
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I have emptied my Fathers house and have keepsakes in a box. He is in residential care and thought wrongly till recently he was going home. Luckily I don't need to sell to pay for care. Went through every emotion and guilt when clearing out. Horrible feeling. Kind of got head round it but still have guilt.
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It took us 3 YEARS to slowly un-hoard Mother and Daddy's home. We had to cull through 40+ years of stuff from a 4000sf home to downsize to an 800 sf apartment.

It was horrible. I will never do that to my kids.

EVERYTHING of mother's was so important to her--we had many battles and even though a LOT of the stuff went to family--she was adamant about some things simply NOT being "given away" so they have sat in storage for 22 years.

She's completely packed her current place to the point it's simply so full--she has had to put a lot of stuff in bins in the basement (like 60 years worth of Publisher's Clearing House envelopes. She will NOT throw those away....)

I don't know why she was like that. We were able to clean HER mother's condo out in about 2 days. GG didn't hang on to stuff. She also didn't value her junk more than relationships, which is a big part of the hoarder mentality.

I think the only "good thing" we did was to remind mother over and over that her "things" were going to bless the lives of others--we weren't trashing them. That did help, sort of.
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I filled my mom's front porch with donations of clothes too large for her or out of fashion, shoes, household gadgets and decorations, etc. when she went to assisted living. She doesn't know she even has this stuff and didn't when she was still living in her home. She doesn't know who the people are in photos I take to her. Still, I felt guilty doing that much. I have not completely emptied her house yet, so it feels a bit better to know you too held onto the house and your mom's things for 2 years. I will also need to start getting some rent from her home or sell it to pay for her care. All of that feels intrusive, though no one is accusing me of any sort of wrong doing.
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We had 70 yrs worth of " stuff". My dad passed then 14 yrs later so did mom. She lived in the house until the last year. First we had an auction house come in and they offered cash and removal for the items they thought they could sell. Most of the furniture, decor items, and tools went with them. Secondly,we had a cleanout guy come in. A veteran owned business, he did charge a fee based on how full the truck was. He took everything, he recycles and donates what he can. I donated all the usable clothing to the senior center store. My mom was not a pack rat but it was a huge undertaking! We all had already picked out the items to be kept, photos, good jewelry, some sentimental pieces. We actually had to move quickly as we listed the house a month after her passing and had an immediate offer for asking price in two days. Most of it fell to me to be ruthless about " stuff" but I soldiered through and it got finished. In all honesty, I do think about this or that and maybe I should have kept some things, but in the long run, it was only " stuff". I have the memories and some items that are important to me.
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I understand completely. It felt so wrong to be getting rid of my Mom’s clothes etc when she was still alive. I’m sorry the burden falls completely to you. I donated as much as possible. The idea of keeping things moving to others who could use them was helpful to me.
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TJLANG, the best advice I received was to swap out. I know you probably want to keep some keepsakes from your Mom's home but where to put that item in your house. Where is what to do, let's say your Mom has a lamp you really like... well, check around your own house and see what lamp you can part with and replace it with Mom's lamp.

If you find old photos, keep them all. Thank goodness I didn't toss many of my parents old photos as now I am into Ancestry and putting together binders of the generations. Photos have been a wealth of information as my Mom use to write on the back of the photos.

As for renting out the house... have you done this before? I use to be a landlord and one needs to have deep pockets as something is always needing repair. It was better to sell the house and put the equity into a money market or into the stock market, if you are stock savy.... and least that way you won't get a phone call in the middle of the night that the disposal is clogged :P
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I didn't clean out my mom's house until she died, and what a job it was! In the beginning I went through every box of photos, letters, etc. Some of them were very personal and I don't think she would have wanted me to read them--like letters from a lover she had while still married to my dad! I eventually got so exhausted I through away everything into a dumpster without going through it! So when it came time for me to downsize myself, I through away a lot of personal items, sold what I could of the furniture I didn't need. Since my husband's death (we were living in an independent living community as he had MCI) I moved into a nice apartment and have no attic or storage, so getting rid of my things should be a breeze! A lot of photos are on computer, but my kids aren't going to want them. So don't feel guilty, think about just donating everything you don't need to charity and forget about it!
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I've had several battles with my still-living Aunt. For example, she was paying hundreds in credit card INTEREST ALONE while having ample cash to pay it off. I had to wrest control of her finances away and now it's ALL cleaned up. Giving away the things she can't physically see any more was a big one. She was paying $77/month for a storage closet in which she kept "mementos." To date, I've won these battles when common sense eventually turned on the light bulb. Ask yourself if your mom will ever need these things again. In the end, they're merely possessions and while you have strong emotional attachments, they've served their purposes and now need to go on to another home. You absolutely should feel NO guilt. You're honoring your mom in life, you are doing the right thing!
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When I had to clean Moms house out it was overwhelming! My first attempt was to let Mom choose what was more precious to her and she wanted to keep. Those items now sit in storage. When I threw away a 1987 phone book and it was 2015 she became very upset and angry I knew then she wouldn’t be able to be there for the continued cleaning out! It’s hard to pick up a cherished memory and put it in a garage sale or send to goodwill!
Take your time, take pictures and make her a Memory book of those cherished items. After all, it’s not things that are the most precious its our loved one.
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My Mom tried hard the last few years she lived at home to get rid of things. But it was so hard for her to make decisions. When she moved to AL she was very happy to turn over the job to her kids. It was a relief.

Maybe think of it that way for your Mom. You are doing her a huge favor. Maybe she can't understand, or express it, the way my Mom did. But really, you are.

Don't feel guilty.
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Thanks all for the supportive comments. Just finished spending most of the day working on the bedroom. Everything is empty but the closet. I’m feeling a bit accomplished. The advice of one room at a time is very on point. It still feels overwhelming, but looking at the bedroom gives me hope that I’ll get there.
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Don't forget to take some pictures for your own memories, and you can also give a nice book of pix to your Mom, if she can still appreciate them, if it wouldn't cause her to become upset. Try not to be guilt ridden, we all have to face this at some time or another, just take your time. You can a also gift special items to friends and family! Take Care!
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I just went through what you are currently doing. I found that the amount I kept or threw out depended on my mood when I started my day. Actually, the house sat for 4 years before we started cleaning it out. There was 3 generations and 85 years of "collecting".

Stop feeling guilty. Go slowly, enjoy the memories. Do one room at a time. Make a save, keep, sell pile. Rent a small storage unit for the things you think you may want to keep or pass on to others. If you are readying the house for renters, hire some help in the form of professional painters, carpet cleaners, and even movers for the big furniture. This is a hard job, a monumental task. Do not feel guilty and remember if it is of use to someone else, and you have not thought about it in the past 5 years, you should sell or donate it.

Make a plan, lists, and pace yourself. I never thought I would get through it, but did, so will you. Blessings to you.
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TJ; I did the same after my mom had a stroke; she'd been in Independent Living for almost 2 years and we really had no plans to do anything with the house until she passed. My brother lived there briefly while his house was being renovated, and it was a useful thing to have a place to stay if mom was in the hospital (we all lived at least an hour away from her IL).

When mom had a stroke and it was clear that she was never going home, that we were going to need funds from the house to care for her, it seemed to me imperative to get the house cleared asap.

Mom had taken the stuff that meant something to her to IL; what I came to realize, going through "stuff" is that it's just.....stuff.

I had my kids come or tell me what they wanted; we kept the pictures to go through later. I put the silver and cutlery in storage, took the china to Goodwill, along with all the other household and decorative things.

It was just .....stuff.

When it came to mom's creche, some of the pieces were figures I'd bought her with my babysitting money and the whole thing had tremendous emotional valence. So did a couple of other things.

These I placed in front of mom's house. As I cleaned, I saw an occasional car stop and pick up a treasure. Mom's creche was cradled in the arms of an Hispanic lady. I could see she was going to treasure my mom's treasure.

You are sending your mother's good out into the universe, to be treasured by a new generation of folks

You are doing nothing wrong. You are regretful that your mother can no longer use her stuff. There is a huge difference between guilt and regret, in my book.
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I am also an only child, and my parents had to move in with hubs and I quickly and permantly. We decided to sell the house, and it sold in one day so the race was on. They also owned a antique shop on the premises. I hired a reputable auctioneer and rented a dumpster.. It was hard, and we didn't get much from the auction as it was a horrible winter for storms.. but it got done. It's like pulling off a bandage. First figure out what the family does want, then what they May want.. then just do it.
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