Inherited Things

Blog Photo 7.31.2013If you’ve inherited things, perhaps from family members who have passed away or downsized their homes, you may find that your own living space has become cluttered with items that aren’t…well… yours. But because they once belonged to loved ones, you may feel obligated to keep them. The trouble is, you’re eventually going to be challenged to find space for three sets of china from three different grandmothers, or your uncle’s stamp collection that fills multiple shelves of your bookcase, or the photographs your parents took on their many travels, stacked ceiling-high in your attic. If you’ve had inherited things for some time, you may even be hanging on to them out of sheer habit rather than because they hold meaning for you.

If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed and your space cluttered with inherited things, recognize first and foremost that you are not required to keep them and you’re not dishonoring the memory of your loved ones if you get rid of their things. Here are a few suggestions to help you through the process:

Take some time. If a loved one has died, it can be difficult to make decisions about what to do with their things. Beyond those items specifically bequeathed in a will, you may have a house full of furniture or closets packed with clothing and mementos to sort through. You may be able to pare down some items quickly, though what those items are will depend on your own attachment to them. Once you’ve reduced the number of items to an amount you can reasonably store (in your home or offsite storage), make appointments on your calendar to go through them periodically. Discarding items in the time immediately following someone’s death can be very difficult, but parting with some things over time may be less painful. That way, you’re left with only those items that hold special meaning and memories for you.

Be creative. One professional organizer shared a story about dealing with her grandfather’s clothing. After his death, her aunt was tasked with emptying his home. The grandfather was a farmer and wore overalls every day, so he had LOTS of them. The aunt hired a photographer, brought family members together and they each donned a pair of overalls and took photos in the corn field. Afterward, she asked each family member to take the overalls with them, to do with as they pleased. The result: the overalls were gone and everyone had special photographs to remember their grandfather’s iconic clothing.

Be selective. You can’t keep everything, so focus on those items that evoke special memories. Perhaps you don’t have room to store all your grandmother’s china, but you can keep the mixing bowl she used when she taught you bake her secret-recipe cookies. You probably don’t need and have space for your father’s collection of more than 100 neckties. But hold on to the one you gave him for Father’s Day when you were a child, or the one he wore for your wedding.

Be generous. Share your inherited things with other family members and friends, but take care not to over-burden them with lots of items you don’t want. Select items that have special meaning for them, or let them choose something that they want to hold onto. Donate clothing and household items to a local charity, give books to your local library, sell or donate collections that you don’t love.