Personal Belongings

One of the many troubles with having a family member pass away is determining what to do with all of their personal belongings

As I meander through thrift stores and consignment shops I often feel as if I am intruding on people’s lives and their personal memories. The story-teller in me visualizes a grandma sitting in this vintage rocking chair gently calming a precious grandbaby. I picture once nimble fingers knitting colorful, patterned, body-warming afghans. The delicate china tells the story of festive holiday gatherings and overly abundant meals. I wonder, who didn’t want Grandma’s personal belongings?

As I create scenarios about the array of things that once made up a life, I realize there is a back story about how and why these items are finding their way to consignment and thrift stores.  While some pieces may be the remnants of an estate sale, a large number are the result of downsizing, decluttering and a promise to ourselves to simplify our lives.

You may be one of those forward-thinking people who declutters as you go through life, or you may be like many of us who are realizing that we aren’t immortal and that it is now time to simplify.

So where do we begin? First of all, we have to acknowledge that our offspring, relatives and friends often have no use for our treasures. And, secondly, we need to understand that these personal belongings represent our life—that they usually have little or no meaning to someone else.

Our children and grandchildren are often not shy about expressing that they don’t want the things we try to give them. Their world is different; they move frequently and they don’t store or keep items that have outlived their usefulness. Unlike their parents, they often have no attachment to things that may have belonged to their elders.  Which brings us to many a baby-boomer’s lament, “No one wants my stuff.”

Don’t guilt others into accepting your personal belongings, and don’t take their polite or non-polite refusals personally.

Organizing experts instruct that as we go through our things we should make piles to keep, toss or sell. While this may be logical for an annual spring cleaning ritual, it becomes more complicated when you are getting rid of nearly a lifetime of mementos, furnishings and treasures.

Where to begin? You may want to make a list of things of value and let your children decide what they would like. Then you can gift these items for Christmas or for birthdays. If you can, provide the background of treasured or vintage items. Knowing that great grandma’s rocking chair was handmade by her father may be a decision maker.

A word of caution. Don’t guilt others into accepting your personal belongings, and don’t take their polite or non-polite refusals personally. Not everyone wants Grandma’s stuff.

Stay firm with your decluttering mission. Beware of the child that wants your dining room buffet and then asks you to hang on to it until he needs it. Gather all of the childhood treasures or belongings that you have been store-housing for your kids over the years and demand that they take them; they can toss or keep—but these things have to get out of your house.

A retired Iowa couple, Russ and Jean Dohrmann, are making an effort to simplify their household and limit their possessions. “We have donated a lot and sold some. We asked the kids if they have interest in any of our things. Our stipulation is that they pay the packing and shipping to have it sent to their homes since they all live some distance away.” Russ smirks, “This has limited what they really want.”

Perhaps it is time to recognize that many of the personal belongings you think are necessary in your life may not be. September Holstad, a resident of Santa Rosa, CA, says when she faced the possibility of losing everything to recent wildfires, she became “unattached,” knowing that it could all be gone with the shifting winds.

And, after cleaning out her mother’s “treasures” upon her death, September made a vow to never leave a mess like that for her child. “I will continue to rid myself of things that are unused or seldom used. I’ve asked my daughter what she would like and she always says, ‘Nothing.’”

Then there are those baby boomers who have a different attitude. A friend tells me, “I had to deal with my parents’ things; my kids can deal with mine.”  

One woman, reflecting on her lifelong accumulations, says, “I think I probably don’t want to know that any of my most precious things might possibly go outside of my family. So, I guess I’ll just die and let them deal with it.”

Whatever you decide, acknowledge your personal journey. Take pictures or a video of the items you want to remember. Journaling your thoughts may also help you appreciate all the things and people that made your life experience uniquely yours. And, accept that not everyone wants Grandma’s Stuff.

Old family items make great donations to various nonprofits.

Who Wants Grandma’s Personal Belongings

  • Local Thrift Shops
  •  Consignment Shops
  • Some nonprofit organizations
  • Garage sale fundraisers

It is always a good idea to contact these organizations and ask what type of things they take and what they need. Many consignment and thrift stores are overwhelmed with unwanted china and crystal. Some may come and pick up your items. Remember to get a receipt for tax deduction purposes.

Who Can I Help

Organizing and Downsizing Professionals

These professionals will come into your home, help you go through things, take what you don’t want, and sell your items off site. Services, fees and commissions vary.

Auction Houses

They will often come and pick up your things for auction. Charges differ but most take a percentage of the sale.

Local and Neighborhood Websites

These are often good for getting rid of a small number of items you want to sell or give away.

Tag Sales

There are businesses that come into your home, price all the items you want to sell, and conduct the in-home sales transactions. This may work well if you are moving. You can leave the unwanted items in your current home and they will be sold. Commissions and fees vary.

E-Bay and Craig’s List

Items can be listed for sale on these sites. If you are not familiar with their operations, contact someone you trust to help you.

Shar Peters

Shar Peters has been freelance writing for more than 20 years. She lives in Peachtree City with her husband, Charlie, and their two dogs. Shar loves to travel, and with children and grandchildren living in six different states, there is always someone to visit, something to do, and a guaranteed new adventure in store.

February 18, 2018