By Rita Wilkins
The Downsizing Designer

You probably all know someone or perhaps, you even experienced this yourself.

Your parents passed away, leaving a lifetime of possessions behind for you and your siblings to deal with and clean out.

Having NO PLAN ahead of time, having not even talked about how to divide the parents’ possessions, The Big Clean Out turns out into chaos, drama, hurt feelings, jealousy, and rivalry. It has the potential to divide families, so they end up not talking to each other.

None of us wants this to happen after we are gone. We don’t want our kids to get stuck dealing with our stuff, when, in fact, we can help prevent our stuff from becoming an unnecessary burden to our family by taking these 4 steps now.

1. Confront the elephant in the room.

No one wants to talk about it but face it, we will all die, and we need to talk to our kids about disseminating our stuff sooner than later.

Putting the conversation off until tomorrow or the next day because you’re too busy will only make matters worse.

  • What if you die suddenly and your kids are forced to act quickly to dispose of a lifetime of your stuff? All of this, while dealing with their own emotional loss.
  • What if you die before you get a chance to declutter and designate what you want to go to whom?
  • What if your kids start fighting over your stuff, causing a permanent rift in your family?

All of this can be prevented if we are proactive in facing the fact that we will die, talk about having a plan in place, or how to deal with your possessions, and if we start decluttering our own houses now.

We cannot only help prevent some of the disagreements, hurt feelings, and resentments, but we can also make the entire process easier once we are gone.

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2. Get together and talk about it while you are still here.

How do you want to be remembered? By the impact you’ve made during your lifetime or by the mess that you leave behind?

Use this legacy-based approach:

  • Talk to your kids and family members now.
  • Discuss how to divide and disperse your stuff.
  • Ask who wants what, make a list, leave it in your will, or with important papers.

If you are ready to let go of it, have them remove it from your house now. That can actually help you declutter.

Clearly state your own intentions and communicate your wishes for what you want each child and each grandchild to have.

Give them an opportunity to say “yes” or “no”.

If they say “no,” respect their wishes. It gives you the freedom to let it go.

State your wishes. Talk about how to dispose of items they don’t want. Let them know charities you would like them to donate to.

Get together and talk about this.

Take this opportunity to take pictures, tell stories about some of your stuff and let them know about the family history. Let them ask questions.

This can be a bonding time and bring families closer together. Get involved. Let them get involved in the process.

Letting go can be challenging. Talking about this can be emotional but it’s also an opportunity to:

  • Connect and say things you’ve been wanting to say.
  • Let them ask the questions they have been wanting to ask.
  • Have fun, laugh, and cry together.
  • Make memories!

3. Make a plan.

Develop the plan together. Give yourself time to do this, ideally before you pass away avoiding the pressure and emotion.

The key to this entire process is that you must trust each other and have good communication among each other.

Before doing anything designate a key person/beneficiary to delegate the process. This makes the process smoother, helps prevent hurt feelings and arguments, and helps avoid having to act quickly under pressure.

The plan is intended to equitably/fairly divide and disseminate your possessions and to make decisions about what stays, what goes, and what is to be gifted, sold, donated, or disposed of.

How to distribute to beneficiaries.

  • Have each beneficiary list 5 to 10 things they want. List in order of priority.
  • Compare the list of beneficiaries. If the items on their lists are different, it makes this simple. If they are the same, negotiate about the items that are the same.
  • If it’s still disputed, sell the item and divide the proceeds.
  • If it continues to be disputed, determine the cost and purchase the item from the other person for an agreed-upon amount.

4. Start decluttering now.

Think of who can help with this process because it will be physical and emotional.

1.    Your kids, grandkids, and siblings

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
  • Designate and mark each item that each one wants and agrees upon.
  • Make a list, save the list for when you’re ready to let it go, or have them arrange to take those items with them as soon as possible.
  • Room by room, take your time, and tell your stories while decluttering together.

This process is cathartic. By using this process, it gives you permission to let go of the things you don’t want, your kids don’t want, while making memories at the same time.

2.    Do it yourself

Pretend that you are moving to a smaller home, set a percentage of what you want to declutter, i.e., 50%, 75%. Determine the items that you will need in your new smaller home and select only things that matter to you. This will help you let go of the rest.

3.    Hire a professional

When you have no time or energy to deal with this large project, hire a professional downsizer or organizer.

They will help you sort, donate, dispose of, and organize your stuff. They will also teach you how to let go throughout the process. They will be a significant help for this exhausting task.

How to get rid of your stuff:

1.    Gift it

Starting now, who can use something you might want to get rid of? Who might want something that you are ready to declutter, i.e., Furniture, dinnerware, china, crystal, jewelry, artwork, clothing. Identify those people and ask them if they want it. If so, have them arrange to pick it up.

2.    Donate it

Donate to charities that speak to your heart, to those in need of items that you are getting rid of. There are many local churches, charities, and homeless shelters that are in desperate need of things that you are decluttering.

3.    Consign it

Many local consignment shops and antique shops might be interested in the items you have. They will often pick them up because you’re local.

4.    Sell it

Contact local estate sales groups and appraisers to get information about how to value and sell the items you are ready to get rid of.

5.    Recycle it

6.    Free list it

7.    Trash it

8.    Liquidate it

Life is a balance between holding on and letting go. If you’re a baby boomer, if you want to prevent your stuff from becoming a burden to your kids and your family:

  • Face, the fact that we will all die.
  • Talk about how to disperse your stuff.
  • Have a plan in place for what to do with it.
  • Start decluttering now!

Make the process easier for your family when the time comes in order to help prevent family arguments over your stuff.

Remember it’s just stuff. Having your family continue your legacy is far more important. 


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Rita Wilkins bio