By: Karin Pauly, founder of Caring for Nancy

All the Stuff

Organizing is all the rage right now. Small businesses are popping up to help us organize our homes and declutter; Pinterest is full of ways to design closets, shelves, photos, and Marie Kondo encourages us to only keep the items that bring us joy. I love reading about and watching these ideas; and as our lives seem to become more complicated, finding relaxation and respite in our homes is important for our mental health. 

But how do we deal with all of the items that belong to the person we are caring for? If they are still living, how do we help downsize for a new living arrangement? And once the person has passed, their items are full of memories, and meaning – both good and bad.

I have a few ideas about how to lovingly get rid of things when your loved one or  care receiver passes away. If you are the person responsible to distribute items based on instructions in a will or supporting document, you will want to follow the written wishes, prioritizing this activity first. If you do not have clear direction or if you are the recipient of more items than you wish to keep, it is important to work through getting rid of “the stuff” as this will help the grieving process and healing.

As you are making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of, remember you have permission to not keep it.

7 Choices You Can Make

There are at least seven choices you can make when dealing with “the stuff”:

  • Keep it: If your loved one wanted you to have something AND it brings you joy, and you have room and a spot for it, then you may want to keep it. If it is something fun to look at, enjoyable to use, or provides you with a precious memory, it is worth keeping. My mom Nancy had so much glass that it overwhelmed me. However, she had this small blue colored glass collection that I just LOVE. And blue makes me happy, so I hung a shelf in my office where the glass glitters in the sunshine.

collection of blue glass objects on shelf

Collection of blue glass

  • Repurpose it: Flower pots, barn wood, Christmas decorations are all items that can be repurposed into a new item or to provide a new function. My husband grew up on a farm; we now have an old milk container holding a pot in my garden and a barn window propped up on display in our house.
  • Make a legacy item: A beautiful idea is to take items that belonged to your loved one and turn them into memory pieces. Fabrics from clothing may become a memory quilt or bear. Put artwork into frames, and recipes on wood plaques. Create memory boxes of things precious to your loved ones such as letters, decorations, dried flowers. Nancy was a jewelry lover and had more pins then I could ever use…and she had a mink stole, which I will never wear; so I arranged the pins on the mink stole and have it hanging in my hallway. It brings me joy. When my father-in-law Don passed, Helen, my mother-in-law sewed memory pillows out of Don’s shirts and gave them to us as a Christmas gifts. 

Nancys mink stole

Nancy’s mink stole with collection of beautiful pins.

memory bears

Memory bears.

  • Donate it: If items are in good shape, and they will not work in your home or they do not bring you joy, there are many donation centers looking for gently used items. Donating is such a great thing to do, particularly when the items are in great shape. Don’t feel badly about getting rid of a wonderful item, feel great about it because it will become someone else’s treasure. And remember many donation centers give back to the community and have employees they support.
  • Gift it: If you have a family member or a friend that has an interest or is an appreciator of some of your loved one’s things, gifting is so rewarding. This past Christmas, I packed up some glass items, wrapped in tissue for my brother, and put them in a beautifully decorated box and he loved it. I have also gifted some of Nancy’s beautiful clothing to my petite-sized friends who so appreciated her good taste. Helen gifted Don’s fishing lures for Christmas. I give away small plants from Great Grandma’s spider plant to keep her legacy going.
  • Sell it: There has never been a better time to sell your items! If you are comfortable with the Internet, there are endless platforms. Legacy items and artwork on Etsy, household items and more on Craig’s List, or clothing on Shopify. Brick and mortar stores will sell used books and one of my favorites is a consignment shop for clothing and fashion items. 
  • Recycle it: Paper, steel, aluminum, cast-iron, tires, glass are often recyclable. If none of the above are options for you, the next best option is to recycle.
  • Throw it away: This is the last resort, and if the items are hazardous, make sure you dispose of them properly. Chemicals, oil, paint should all go to designated drop off sites. And of course, if there are no other options, dispose of remaining items with a professional waste management organization. 

Ease the Pain or Guilt

Getting rid of things can bring pain of separation or guilt for not having kept something. Taking a photo of the item has helped me process these emotions; and I keep lists of what I give away and donate as this gives me history of the decisions and a sense of satisfaction for being a good steward of my loved one’s possessions. 

Blessings to you as you lovingly get rid of stuff. Feel good about your decisions, and cherish what you have kept, especially the memories.