She has been in Assisted Living for 4 months now. Her five bedroom house is still full of many of her personal belongings. Family members have taken some furniture and she's fine with that but there is still quite a bit left. I would like to start getting rid of things but I feel like I'm doing it behind her back. Occasionally she will ask for something like her craft supplies for example or a piece of jewelry. I feel like I can't get rid of anything because what would I do if she asked for that item after it was gone? She also can't stand the idea of strangers living in her house whether we rent it or sell it.

I know this is a slow process and maybe she will eventually give in but I'm wondering if other people who have been in my position could give me some advice.

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Don't do what I did, and get into arguments, and try to reason with her. Phewf! I can still hear myself... what an idiot...

Her jewellery you should box up safely and keep at your home (assuming your home is sufficiently secure). In due course, as time goes on, suggesting she might like to make gifts of pieces she doesn't wear is a good idea: granddaughters and DILs and nieces get very special birthday and Christmas presents, and your mother has the pleasure of being thanked in person and not just in memoriam.

Are books a problem? Don't know what you do about books. I'm still working on that one, and my mother died coming up for three years ago (unbelievably). The awful thing about them is finding good homes, it's a real struggle; and throwing them away - yikes. Can't do it.

Clothes: we had endless battles. Then suddenly mother lost interest. Wearable items went to charity, ragged items to textile recycling; and I had no idea what we were ever arguing about. It was like a tug of war where one team just let go of the rope.

You can safely work on the "if she hasn't named it, she'll never want it" principle. I could quietly have stowed all of the disputed items away, dealt with them a few weeks later, and she'd never have noticed. My mistake was to think she ought to be involved in the selection.

Craft supplies: you only need to keep "old faithfuls" - for example, pinking shears that fit her hand perfectly; thimbles somebody gave her that she uses all the time; a pincushion she made herself in grade school; anything that looks as if it was in constant use. Stashes of part-used yarns or embroidery threads or fabrics or other materials; or anything that you can easily and cheaply replace should she ever need it - they can go. Half the fun is choosing materials for projects, anyway.

With *anything*, actually, you can make a certain amount of progress by boxing things up in categories, throwing out whatever is unusable by anybody, stacking it neatly and then just waiting and seeing.

Genuine treasures that don't take up too much space - do you have a nice chest or blanket box that you could store them in?

And on a philosophical note, the very worst that can happen is that you might find yourself in disgrace temporarily. After all, if push came to shove, assuming you haven't done something daft like auction off her great-grandmother's Crown Derby, and she really wanted or needed something you've sold or given away, you could always buy her a new one, couldn't you? They're only things.
Helpful Answer (22)

Do you not have any sympathy to spare for a daughter who has a pretty major project on her hands, who would like to be getting on with it, and who can't even make a proper start on it because of her respect for her mother's sentiments? It must be extremely frustrating.

And, since the OP also states that the house will have to be either rented out or sold, then yes I think we can assume that in due course the income or capital will be needed to pay the mother's ALF.

It is the mother's house, they are the mother's belongings, it is important to respect the mother's feelings. But don't get snippy with people who raise an issue, and dismiss it as though there isn't a problem.
Helpful Answer (11)

Books can go to Goodwill along with some appliances, dish ware,
Etc that she will never need or likely ask after in AL. Call church and they may have a thrift store or be resettling immigrant families and can use much of the furniture. Agree with others on selected keepsakes you keep or divide with siblings.

I cleaned out moms house in a week with a big dumpster. I had no time for yard sales etc. I put a lot out on curb and many neighbors and passerby’s stopped “to ask after mom” — then her furnishings. I told them if they could haul by end of week they could have. One lovely family was helping their son set up household and they cleaned my house the last day in exchange! One mowed. So nice to have it all over with in a matter of a week and on the market for sale.

Some questioned why I did what I did, but honestly—it gave me comfort to know the furnishings, prints, lamps, etc went to good homes where families will gather around the dining room table again, kids will be sitting at their new desks, someone crafty will repurpose and adorn an old dresser, etc.

Don’t think of it as disposal-but of giving new life and new memories.
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I packed up all moms craft and hobby supplies into plastic bins and put them in my basement just in case she asked for stuff. Same with the sentimental mementoes that she didn’t bring with her. At least it was organized for the garage sale. Got rid of all the clothes she didn’t need, and got rid of all old bedding and towels and started her off on all new stuff. She never missed anything.
Helpful Answer (9)


I have to comment on "Are Books a Problem?" I admit to being an avid reader and keeper of books. I could fill an Ikea Billy bookcase with novels, then there are the craft books, cook books and others. I gave away over 100 books last year.

For places to donate books, here there are several organizations that do big books sales as fundraisers at different times of the year. I give to them.

I probably have 20 books on my desk as I type this.

In my will, all my sewing, quilting and craft books/magazines, will go to the quilt guilds. My kids get first dibs on my cookbooks (favourite recipes), then the rest, plus all the novels and nonfiction will be donated to the next book sale.

I have 3 heirloom books that I would like to pass on to the next generation. If they do not want to keep them, that is ok.

My dad is a book hoarder. He has floor to ceiling bookcases two deep and 15 feet wide full of gardening and finance books. The gardening books would be easy to donate, but most the finance ones are out of date and of no interest to anyone. Likely we will rent a community hall and have a big book plus 'treasures' sale. The property is such that holding a garage sale is not possible (very limited access, no turnaround space).
Helpful Answer (9)

Dear tossit,

I hear your struggle. I think the suggestion of a storage locker might be best. When my grandmother moved into assisted living, we left everything as is till her passing.

I think its an uphill battle to convince an elderly person to let go of anything. They have worked hard their whole lives for these items. My grandparents and parents grew up very poor and it was hard for them to want to let go of anything. I made the mistake of decluttering and cleaning up like a mad person. It only caused them more stress. In hindsight, I think I should have left well enough alone if possible till they passed. I know everyone is different and finding the right balance seems almost impossible sometimes.
Helpful Answer (8)

Mother had so much junk...true, honest junk. And she gets more everyday.

And everything has "value" to her, so throwing anything away is pointless. At this stage, we sometimes can get her to box up a certain amount of junk, label the box and put it in the basement in storage. Absolutely nothing of value.

It's not worth the headaches/heartache of watching her dither and fuss over a card or a piece of mail--she literally came unglued when I gave a plastic frog to GoodWill. She went out to the box I'd put it in and scrabbled through it to retrieve the nasty thing.

Choose your battles. It seems inevitable that you'll toss a piece of junk jewelry or a mug and the next thing you know, she's wanting it back. She had a commercial grade meat slicer that went when she moved from the "family house" to her apartment and she honestly mourns that thing. It weighed about 20 lbs and was huge, but she remembered she owned it and wanted it back.

Now we just placate her and try to keep open walkways in her place. Not worth the battles and anger afterwards. She is content to know that a lot of her stuff is "safe" in the crawlspace under the house.

Mother notices if she doesn't have 20 boxes of Kleenex. No way could we remove a dresser or chair she doesn't use so she could have more space.

I "deep cleaned" ONCE in the 21 years she's been in her current apartment, She has never forgiven me, not forgotten a single thing I threw away. (ALL with her permission). Not worth the hassle.
Helpful Answer (8)

My parent has dementia and has moved out of her home to an ALF with memory care. She has never been able to return to her home and after three years we sold it. I have to say I fully respected her very well organized stashes of collections and keepsakes. In this adventure into the unknown territory of Dementia I HAVE BEEN VERY GRATEFUL that I sifted through everything carefully. What you think is an old card turns out is a message from a long time ago friend. As mom's memory goes back into time I have brought things like this to her. It is her new reality, though years past in time, she relives the friendship as if the person is still with us. She may not remember that person died, yet she smiles that the person "took the time" to send a birthday or Christmas greeting that day - her new time orientation. Moments like these have brought joy and conversation - validating her here "now". The past is the present now and I bring something from her "past" each time I visit her. That is her "present time" and it has been a gift to figure out that things of the past are her current "present" time orientation. I say, sort through everything - her sentimental collections meant something when she first kept them AND now they bring joy in the midst of this long goodbye. Grief yes but the blessings of the past revisited and "remembered".
Helpful Answer (8)

Some of you seem to think that I'm being mean to want to get rid of mom's things. I have to do something with her stuff so that I can rent or possibly sell the house in order to keep paying for her apartment in AL. I lie awake at night worrying about how long her savings will last at the rate it is going. She has always counted on me to help her with financial and life decisions, so I feel a huge weight of responsibility now that she is even less able to make decisions herself at age 91. My problem is her attachment to things and yes, she does remember her stuff pretty well. She may not remember every item, but she knows she has a lot of craft supplies, jewelry, photos, etc. I would love to just wait until she is ready to let go of things, but who knows how long that will take.
I'm sure I'll find a way to make this work, it's just harder than I realized it would be. The other day she asked me if she would be living in the apartment the rest of her life and I got choked up trying to come up with an answer.
I didn't mention this earlier, but I also have a disabled brother who was living in mother's house, so we have moved him into a new place too. He has his own issues and challenges that I am trying to help him deal with. I do the best I can.
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Would it be possible to rent a small storage locker for the things mom really wants to keep? I am not terribly attached to every single item in my home but there are some things that are heirlooms and other things that have value only to me that I don’t want my kids to toss out. If you stored her things for her, you could move ahead with the sale/rental of the house.

Four months is not a terribly long time to become accustomed to her new living arrangements. She has no memories at the AL like she has in her home. Don’t rush her to accept her new living arrangements. Tell her that whomever you rent or sell to at some point will absolutely have to be in love with her house and promise to take the best care of it ever.
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