I posted recently about the health effects of clutter on the person living with the clutter. However, the effects of your clutter live on even after your death. This blog, Confessions of a Hoarder, has a post describing the process of trying to declutter an estate after a person's death.
The author describes how her mother, a member of the American Association of University Woman, was often called to help clean out someone's estate that had been left to the AAUW. They had to prepare the house for sale, and in doing so they had to clear out decades-worth of things that had been collected by these people who had generously left their estate to the charity.
The author's mother offered these tips to aging people, as well as their adult children as they decide what to keep and what to recycle, give away or throw away:
- Do not save months and years of magazines, with a thought towards donating them.
Collections of magazines, such as Life or Look, usually have no value as libraries have copies in their archives. National Geographic and The New Yorker, for instance, are available on CD-ROM. Professional journals are usually available on-line these days. Newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals collect moisture, become mildewy and/or moldy and attract other unhealthy pathogens.
- If you have collectibles that you want people to inherit from you, think about giving the item sooner along with the story behind it.
- Identify all keys with tags or labels. Safe deposit box keys should have the bank name, branch and box listed on them.
- Photographs of unidentified people are usually thrown out if donated to a charity, and are much more valuable to family if they have the identity, date and relationship listed on them.
It only takes a few generations for the identity of people in photographs to be lost, so if you are looking through unlabeled pictures with an older family member, take some time to ask them who the person is, what they were doing, where they were, and who they were related to. Which is more meaningful, a label that says "Joe", or one that says "Uncle Joe, Joe Sr.'s son, age 19, 1942 in front of his store front in San Francisco." This type of project is a good one for younger generations to help out with, and can lead to more stories and memories being shared and passed down.
- Identify flowers, plants, trees and houseplants if you know what they are. These can be useful for prospective buyers, who may want to know how to continue to care for them.
- Broken, rusted or otherwise unusable tools have no value. Consider having them repaired or throwing them away.
- Identify circuit breakers.
- Clearly mark where the main water shut-off valve it. Houses that are left vacant can sometimes have pipe-freezes and knowing where to shut off the water coming into the house is vital to stopping the flood. The plumber can usually find it, but the water should be shut off ASAP in the event of a pipe freeze.
Many times my clients who are dealing with the estate of a loved one have commented to me about things their mother, father, aunt or uncle saved, and have wondered aloud what made them hold on to so many things. They often resolve that they will not subject their children to the same onerous task of clearing out their house when the time comes.
Are there things you are saving because you think they might be of value? Do you need help decluttering and clearing out your house? Are you trying to figure out how to approach your parents about their clutter? You might try starting with some books on the topic, and then gently offering to help. Remember that people are often very attached to their clutter (and their sentimental items) so you can't just start throwing things away that don't belong to you, but you can start a conversation and offer to help get things in order.