Who’s Responsible for the Stuff?

Most of us are faced with dealing with other people’s stuff at some point in our lifetime.  It could be our parents’ stuff if they have to move to a senior care residence.  It could be other family member’s stuff if they sadly pass away.

I have had discussions with many of my clients over the years when I have the opportunity to help them deal with someone else’s stuff about who should take responsibility for stuff and when.  And the topic comes up over a glass of wine with friends occasionally. Not surprisingly, people are of very differing opinions.

Your family may be of the belief that they brought you into this world and took care of you and that now it’s your job to take care of them and deal with their stuff once they are no longer with you.  Some of you may totally agree with that philosophy in which case later will certainly work. Although, it can be a huge burden as you will have to take full responsibility for dealing with each and every item.

The only piece of advice I can offer is to try to discuss with them where they would like to see things go and to whom. Find out which objects mean a lot to them, write down or record the story associated with that piece and keep those items for yourself, if you are so inclined, or give them to family and friends with the story. This changes the item from an object into a valuable memory.

If, like me, you’re not so fond of the stuff, take a photo of the object and keep it with the story and then let the object go. This may be something best left unsaid to your loved one as they could find that idea upsetting.

Consider going through family photos and making a note of who is in the photo and when the photo may have been taken.  So many times, I have come across photos with clients, and they have no idea who the people are which sadly deems that treasured photo meaningless.

If you think there is a possibility that your loved one may agree to having you help them go through their belongings now, you’ll need a whole lot of energy and most likely a lot of patience. You know if you have ever tried to downsize your own stuff that it’s not that easy to let go. When you are older each object can be a trip down memory lane and rightly so.

One thing I try to remind someone if they are resistant to downsizing is that if they do it now it puts them in control of what happens to everything.  Sadly, once they are gone someone else makes all the decisions.  What looks like junk to someone else may be a family treasure.  In addition, when there is a large volume to go through after someone passes it can mean you have to either take weeks off work or spend every weekend decluttering which many of us do not have time or energy for. We have our own busy lives and our own stuff to organize and deal with.

The easiest route in that situation is to hire a Professional Organizer to do it for you or call the junk removal service. It’s not that I haven’t suggested junk removal companies to many of my clients in this situation, but I find it a little sad that someone you loved spent their entire life accumulating all those things and then a stranger comes and takes them away. Although, what many people don’t know is that all that stuff doesn’t go to the dump.  It gets sorted and donated, sold, or recycled. Only a small portion ends up in the actual garbage.

If you hire a qualified Professional Organizer, they will go through most of the stuff under your guidance and pull out the treasures.  They will call in experts in estate sales if they think anything is valuable and then they may call the junk removal service.  They will know what to look for when it comes to important documents as well.  I remember one downsizing job many years ago where I spent days and days digging through boxes of paperwork.  Not really my idea of a good time and certainly not yours, I’m sure.

So, please discuss with your family members who is responsible for the downsizing process and how they think it should be handled before it’s too late.  You could find the process highly rewarding and worth the time and effort.

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