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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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Oh, how kind of you. Thank you!

I started the year off well. I cleaned out the kitchen and bathroom and made significant progress on the dinning room. I even hired a company to haul away a huge dumpster full of junk from the back yard. In February I hit an emotional wall. I was suddenly struck by the full on knowledge that my mom would not be returning to her house and that paralyzed me. I've really struggled to come to terms with this fact. The good news is that my mom is doing fabulous at the care center. According to her she's in charge, and cleans up, and keeps everyone in line. Lol! I love her main nurse. She goes above and beyond in so many ways and I am incredibly appreciative.

Soooo..... as for the house, I decided to give myself a break and start up again this fall. My original plan was to have it cleaned out by June. Ha! I finally allowed myself to accept that it doesn't have to happen overnight. That said, I really want to get done by the end of the year. I had lunch with a woman last month who shared that her parents passed 5 years ago and she STILL hasn't done a thing at their house! No way I'm going to take that long, but it did make me feel better.

Thanks so much for checking in. I appreciate it. :-)
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TJLANG, just checking back to see how the project is going.

It's been almost one year ago when I emptied out my parents house, and I still have some stuff piled up in one of the rooms in my home. Just dragging my feet getting the items to the donation site. Or maybe part of me just doesn't want to part with those things. I've gotten so lazy.

I drive by my late parents house almost daily as it is the only route out of the subdivision. It seems odd seeing different cars in the driveway. The Buyer has been busy doing major remodeling. I never grew up in that house, so I didn't have a major attachment. But one thing that can't get thrown away are the wonderful memories :)
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And the stuff part - when there is lot it is completely overwhelming. What to do, what to keep, will someone ask about something later - such a responsibility. I had a panic attack over the pressure of it and got some anti-anxiety meds. And I don't take any medicine, but it helped. I kept some things that didn't even make any sense but it's OK for now. It helped that Dad had often said he would like to have an auction. That's what I did in the end. I feel for you. TJ - hugs.
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Oh TJLANG, I can so identify. It's been a year and finally the auction is over and the house is for sale as of 2 months ago. Very difficult decisions as you know logically and financially what to do but those emotions are sooo strong. In my case, oldest of 7, all grew up in the house - it was a safe sanctuary and all Dad and Moms work to make it so. He was a pharmacist, woodsman, woodworker and he created many things in the house. 60 years there and full of stuff from even farther back - WWII guy H- died at 90. Had everything we ever needed and so proud of it. Mom died earlier so it was only him with me caretaker. I guess being oldest - all my memories... and I feel like I am destroying and disrespecting everything they worked for. Feel like I am ending the family, but there is really no family to be there any more. I keep second guessing it. It is still haunting me and in my dreams but I know it is the right thing to do. Such anxiety and hurt. At first I couldn't even move a thing that he had used.
Countrymouse, your comments are so helpful. "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. " That is right on. Thank you. I want Dad to be there. I want things to be like they were, even taking care of him. It became my life and as some have said you even start to feel like you are them. It is about letting go and acceptance and going on with life. They would want it that way I think. And CM, and love your comment about if you're going through Hell, keep going! Yes. And the other person's comment too that was like it. Thank you!! Keep going!!
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((((((tjlang)))))) I know the feeling well, and I had a lot less to deal with. My dd consoled me with the statement, "Remember mum, the job is finite." It will end. I have found that clearing out trash, as much as possible, helps and gives you more room to deal with the other things. Of course, it is never that simple and in the process you will have to set aside treasures to be kept and useful things to be donated.

Let us know how you get on.
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I feel like I'm slowly moving past the emotion piece. Now I'm stuck on the overwhelmingness of it all. There's ALOT of stuff in this house. 3 full floors and a veranda, a packed garage and a packed shed in the backyard.
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I have to admit one of the deciding factors in selling my childhood home was the thought that, as difficult as the task was, it would be 100 times worse after mom was gone.
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Dear didntknow,

Sorry to hear you are struggling with your parents house right now. It is hard. Please be kind and gentle with yourself. Take as much time as you need. One closet at a time if needed. I'm with you. When I started to donate my father's belongings to the homeless shelter. The emotions would come rushing forward and I would cry while packing his shoes and clothes. Its a difficult decision whether to keep items or even the whole house. Give yourself some time to grieve. Maybe even wait a year before making a decision. I am struggling with the same thing. I don't want to erase my dad's memory by giving away too much or selling the house. But yet the pain is also weighing on me heavily. I just don't know sometimes. Maybe with more time the decision will become clear.
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I'm struggling with my parents house right now. Mom and Dads place, where I spent so much time and moved in to help.   Every drawer, cabinet, closet, is full of memories and things that make the rawness of losing them bubble back up.  I have accomplished little more than donating their clothes.  My brother thinks I should sell my home and keep theirs.  But I'm nervous it would end up a monument to my pain.
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When my grandma moved out of her house we had to sort through 40 years of stuff. We ended up getting a small storage unit ( like this one storagewest/locations/arizona/surprise/) for s short time to store the things that were still in good condition and wanted to give other family members a chance to take. It was hard but it helped doing it together; reminiscing about the past.
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I agree! Great tip about the photo albums. I like the idea of starting from the back of the room to the door. I've been on a "break" for two weeks, but it's time to get back to it or it will never get completed.
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NYDaughterInLaw, thanks for the warning about the glue in those old photo albums.   I have found much of the glue had dried up so the photos were falling out of the albums.   But this gives me a real good reason to finish emptying some more of the albums.

Now, if only I could identify who half of these people were in the photos?
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I agree with freqflyer. The approach I suggest is one room at a time. Work from the back toward the door. Photo albums are usually filled with toxic glue. You're better off removing the pictures from them, putting them in an archival box, and taking them home to be dealt with at a later date.

Clothing that's in good condition can be given to a thrift store. Clothing that's worn out should be thrown away. Keep vintage clothing that you like and fits.

Once you've sorted through a room, offer friends and family to come over and pick through that room letting them know that everything left will be donated or thrown away.
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TJLANG, I know what you mean about having friends or relatives help.

I asked my sig other to help but it took me twice as long to sort through things because he was constantly asking me "want to keep this or toss".   Or he would find photo albums and would go through it instead of helping me clear things out.   I was ready to scream.   He could look at the albums when we got home :P

I did hire a handyman to help me clear the basement.   What a relief letting someone loose in the basement who was thinking the same way I was.   He knew exactly what to keep to donate and what to throw out :)
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TJLang -

I completely understand how you're feeling.

When Dad passed away 4 years ago, Mom was still in relatively good health, just at the start of dementia and the lack of personal care was starting to show. (No showers, not wearing depends, missing meds or appointments, and not showing any awareness or caring that this was a problem.) So I moved in to care for her, and we started to go through Dad's things together. She asked for his wallet, and tucked in the back, we found a folded up $50 bill. I told Mom this was Dad's final gift to her, and that he would want her to use it to buy herself something nice. She picked out a nice winter coat that was on clearance in a catalog. She loved that coat and wore it every year until she passed away this past summer.
I had the hardest time getting rid of that coat. It means nothing to me as far as being able to wear it or use it myself, because it's the wrong size. I could see and hear Mom saying, "Why are you hanging onto that? If you're not going to use it, just get rid of it!" - but it's the sentiment of it - this was Dad's last gift to Mom and it broke my heart to get rid of it. I finally did it, but it was hard.

Going through Dad's things was harder than I thought it would be. You know what bothered me the most? It wasn't his watches, carefully packed away in the box they came in - one watch for every 10 years of service at the factory where he worked; it wasn't his agate stone ring, which he wore every day of his adult life; it wasn't even his handwritten notes on things that he knew he would forget - so he labeled them. It was his handkerchiefs. Those red bandana-style handkerchiefs. Dad had one in his pocket every day of his adult life, and his morning routine was to walk out in the kitchen, drop his shoes on the floor, clear his throat and then blow his nose - loudly - in the red handkerchief from his pocket. (This was like an alarm clock to anyone sleeping in the basement room below the kitchen - BANG! shoes on the floor - AHRUM! throat cleared - PHHRRROOOOT! nose blown - 6am every day.)
I sat down and just sobbed when I pulled those clean, folded handkerchiefs out of his dresser. That was the last thing of his I got rid of, and I left everything else. I haven't gone back to that task yet. I will, eventually, but that was so hard that I just couldn't continue.
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Try letting them help for maybe two hours and see how it goes. Take a lunch break and then decide whether or not to go on with their help.
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Vegaslady - I'm definitely having a hard time letting friends help. I feel like there needs to be some type of easy task for people to do. I don't want people to feel like they need to stop and ask me every 5 minutes if I want to keep something.
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If friends are offering to help, I say take them up on it. It's easier to share the load that way. They may help with the motivation as well as the physical work. Let people help you.
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It's sad and it's overwhelming -- but it's just stuff. Dump the nonsense and clutter, keep some select mementoes, and donate the rest. Thrift stores survive on free inventory. Your parents' stuff will be a blessing to someone else. It's a good cycle.
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We had to put my mom in a nursing home one year ago. My dad is deceased and we recently had to clear out the family home and are in the process of selling it. Your are dong the right thing. It is hard because it is another goodbye. Goodbye to memories and things that were precious to your mom. Hang on to mementos with sentimental meaning. Possibly have an estate sale and donate what is left. Say your goodbyes to the house privately if you wish. Take pictures. So sad and hard, unfortunately one of the last things we all have to do. It is hard to let go, but your memories will always be in your heart.
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As I had mentioned prior, swapping out items..... helped me somewhat with the guilt. Example, I donated the bookends that I had as those had no meaning for me, but my parents book ends did.

Same with some small very old bowls that were gold trim on the top with a painted pink orchid on the inside.... I got rid of my paper clip containers and now use those pink orchid bowls for paperclips around the house.

I donated large glass flower vases and kept a special one that my Mom had that I had always admired.
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Take pictures of things that make you smile and keep the pictures. Take a few sentimental things that will fit in the storage space you have. Maybe one big piece of furniture that you adore, if it fits. Let the rest go to people who need it and will use it. Thrift stores are grateful for donations. And remember - it's just stuff.
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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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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. :-)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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?
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