You can save your loved ones some time and heartache by starting to organize your belongings while you are still able. But if, on the other hand, you find yourself suddenly faced with a death and have to go through what is left behind, this article offers some suggestions to help you tackle the task and shows you why making a list should be at the top of your list.
When our mother died, my siblings and I were left with the task of cleaning out the house. It was possibly one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to do. My mother wasn’t a pack rat or hoarder. She just had 40 plus years of living in the same house. And that life accumulated many things, from photo albums to travel souvenirs, clothing to kitchen gadgets: her things didn’t seem like much until we had to go through every single drawer, closet and box.
We found our school reports and pictures from over the years. We found awards and citations and all the things a proud mom would keep. At first there was really nothing that any of us wanted. Since we were all established adults, no one needed furniture or appliances or knick-knacks of any kind. But now that our mother had died, every little item became precious and we wanted things to go to the people who would cherish them.
My mother came from a large family, so aunts, uncles and cousins came forward, expressing the desire to have something from the house. It became overwhelming for us to try to make decisions about what went to whom, particularly if an item was coveted by more than one person. Larger items were spoken for, but there were the hundreds of items that still needed to find a home. We knew of the causes that were close to mom’s heart, so we packed up clothing for the women’s shelter and refugee clinic. We decided that the rest would be sold in a yard sale.
Each item was priced and arranged. We weren’t out to make money, but just to make sure that everything found a new place or purpose. We advertised that the yard sale would take place on Saturday morning at 9:00. When the day came, cars started parking in front of our place around 7:30. As we began setting up tables, the early birds started to circle, hoping to get a better deal. I can’t express how upsetting this was to my family. When you’ve lost someone, and people start going through their things, it becomes an assault. More than once we all took turns going back into the house, crying. I didn’t want any of these items, but suddenly I didn’t want strangers to have them either. Her Christmas ornaments, her costume jewelry, the skin care products she never got to use – all these became cherished to me.
During the day I received texts and messages from close friends asking how I was doing. I responded to everyone:
“Tell your parents to clean out their house and not leave it for you to do. It’s the worst thing ever.”
Although our mom had made a will, she didn’t specify what would happen to all the things. Recently I came across an article that made me wish I had read it before this had happened. Like its author, Siobhan Adcock, I thought it might be helpful to write about what my family and I went through in dealing with all the things. Because if you haven’t had to do it yet, chances are you will. As Adcock suggests, make a list. And at the top of that list write, “Make a list.”