When there’s no space for memories
Garage sale, yard sale old unwanted items and utensils.

I moved to be closer to my mom once her health started to decline. She lived in an affordable area, where I could get a cute little house on my modest salary. She kept the house I’d grown up in, which she’d slowly filled with things.

After seven years, her illness had gone from chronic to terminal. I kept her at home until her last moment, thanks to hospice and volunteers from church.

It’s clear that I have to sell her house. Her healthcare expenses have eaten up just about all of her retirement money, so taking my time to go through the things she and my dad accumulated over a lifetime together isn’t an option. I can’t afford to pay for two homes for longer than it takes to sell hers and it needs to be “showable” to put it on the market.

I knew this was coming, but I didn’t have the heart to try to do anything about it ahead of time. Our neighbor cleaned out her mom’s house and it took half a dozen yard sales and endless trips to the town dump to clear it out. It eat up as much time as taking care of her mom when she was alive.

Suggesting we clear things out before she died wasn’t going to fly with my mom. It would have just made her cry. Instead, I’d try to casually ask about one thing at a time.

This looks a bit worn, do you need it anymore?

Should I get this broken XYZ repaired, or should I find it a new home?

You haven’t used this in a while, have you? Maybe I could drop it off at the Salvation Army.

But for her, everything had a memory. I just didn’t have the heart to press the issue.

When a family nearby had their house burn down, I tried to get her to donate the kitchen things she didn’t use. I brought over a list of things the local women’s shelter was asking for, acting like I was doing a general collection.

She had excuses for why she needed everything, even though we both knew she was never going to cook again. She could hardly eat and everything had to be pureed. But she needed all of her serving trays and dusty appliances as if she was going to be roasting a turkey for 20 this Christmas.

So I let it go. We had so little time left, I wanted to enjoy every moment we had together.

Now that time’s up. And all of this stuff has been here, waiting for me.

I loaded up my car for a couple trips to the women’s shelter with the best stuff, the practical things, the clothes in good condition. I’ve been calling around to find a place that wants her furniture and will pick it up, but after endless phone calls I’m not any closer to a solution.

Taking photos of things and posting them to Craigslist and our neighborhood Facebook group has cleared out a few things, but not really enough to be worth the time it takes to post it and coordinate with the people who respond.

I’m torn on what to do. Some of it is useful and probably worth something. Some of it is trash. I’ve taken a bunch of trips to the municipal waste center to get rid of the things that are obviously not going to find a new home, but there’s so much stuff left in that limbo of neither trash nor treasure.

I feel guilty just giving it all away, but taking the time to weed through everything and sell it would probably cost me more in expenses (to keep the house) than it would bring in.

Keeping things, even the things that are sentimental are for me, isn’t really an option. With her gone, there’s nothing keeping me in this (perfectly lovely, but not for me) little town.

As soon as I was old enough to leave for the city, I did. I came back for family, but once this is settled I’ll be transferring back and trading my cute little house for an apartment.

I’m going to be getting rid of most of my own things after this. I’m already sick of clearing everything out, the thought of doing this twice is difficult.

It’s already difficult. Because I miss my mom. And as much as I don’t want a house full of clutter, I certainly don’t just want to let go of everything she owns. I wish there was space for a lot more than there’s actually space for.

I finally understand how hard it can be to let go.


Judy Allen

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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32 Comments

  1. It is sad but it is just stuff after all the people I have lost Mom , Dad , and a younger and older sister !!! I am finding that the memories are what get you thru not the stuff !!! I also find myself going thru my stuff and getting rid of more and more cause I will NOT have some one do that for me !!!!! I would rather have less and more memories !!! Then my kids going thru what is just STUFF!!!!

    Reply
  2. It’s been 2 yrs since I lost my Mom, almost 3 yrs since I lost Dad. I still have a few things (coats, shoes, hats). It is Soooooo Hard to let go, I guess one day I will….

    Reply
  3. Cleaning out mom’s house took me a full week working largely on my own, and five to six hour days. By day four my siblings finally realized it had to be done, and “came to the rescue” with a truck, to take the piles I’d amassed to donation, or the dump. There’s no easy way to do this, but one thing I’d encourage “keepers” to do is create a savings account for the one who’s most likely to get left dealing with the stuff. Leave enough money to pay for that person, for things like 1-800-Got-JUNK, cleaners, and repair people.

    Reply
  4. Foyr years later I am still dealing with some stuff. Wondering if I should feel guilty about donating a dresser that was my great grandmothers. I dont like it or have room for it but it had memories for her.

    Reply
  5. Been there….done that !!! It is sooo incredibly hard !! I cried the entire time……

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  6. My son and I lived with mom the last 25 years of her life. He was able to get time off work to be her caregiver at the end. Complicating getting rid of stuff is I have to save it until my sister is ready and able to come up and get what she wants. I started sorting stuff and getting rid of it but then realized she might want stuff. So now her room stores boxes of stuff.

    Reply
  7. I can relate. My mom doesn’t want to get rid of her things. Nor is she really able to make decisions about who she would like to give her things to etc. I’m fine with her holding onto her memories through keeping her things, especially considering that at least she can see these things which represent so many sweet memories, while the memories themselves are confused, mixed up or forgotten.

    Reply
    • I didn’t / do anything until months after my mom passed. Agree completely ♡

      Reply
    • Prior to her getting sick mom would occasionally get rid of some stuff, mostly mine. I let her because it was easier than fighting with her. We lived with her and didn’t realize just how well she was covering her dementia until she died and I started sorting through her drawers upon drawers of papers. Stuff from the 60’s mixed in with new stuff. Some important most not.

      Reply
  8. My heart goes out to anyone left with the daunting task of cleaning out a house. Some of the ‘interested parties’ seem to have no interest in any of the dirty work.

    Reply
    • My mother is currently still at home. I moved in with her several years ago. At first she wouldn’t let me get rid of a single thing. Bags of plastic forks and newspapers. Then, as the dementia got worse and she was so adrift, I was able to start clearing out some of the actual garbage. I would also “guerrilla clean” when the home support worker took her out of the house. Basically tearing through the house and throwing junk in boxes and taking it to the shed. That way the house has become liveable again. Now I’m starting the daunting task of cleaning out her shed which is filled with so many memories. All the craft supplies and knitting she used to do but no longer can. I’m overwhelmed by the necessity of having to clean it and get rid of so much stuff. I feel like I have to turn off part of my brain that requires me to feel emotion. Bouts of crying and frustration as I hold up her beloved treasures that have no meaning for me but would devastate her to know I donated. And as in the story, things that aren’t treasures but aren’t garbage. I’m glad I am able to do it now, before she is gone, as she was quite the hoarder and 50 years of stuff is a lot. It’s an emotional roller coaster and every single bit you can get rid of before the loved one passes on, is better for your mental health overall. I cannot imagine having to do all this once she is gone. It would make it so much more emotionally difficult.

      Reply
  9. It’s been extremely hard for me to do this with my mother’s house. Sounds so silly, but I feel once the house is gone all the memories will go with it. Have held on to it for 1.5 yrs. I just can’t make that final step calling the real estate company.

    Reply
    • Not silly – real. You’ll find the strength in your own time ♡

      Reply
  10. Procrastinating on this very task. Been dreading it my whole life, it seems.

    Reply
    • I did too. My mom was a “collector” – for what it is worth here is what I did 1. Paid an appraiser to come through the house (eye opening – the antique market is down over 60%) 2. Hired an estate sales company 3. Got what I wanted 4. Let my parents
      friends pick an item to remember them 5. Turned over the keys to estate sales people 6. Collected check (they emptied the house) ❤ this is so hard – unspeakably hard… I also binged watched horders for motivation… I’m serious about that… 😉

      Reply
    • Thank you! I hear ya!

      Reply
    • It. Is. So. Hard. But one foot in front of other – one step at a time. No guilt. ♡

      Reply
    • Last thing is that I did not go to the estate sale I turned over the keys and I walked away because that is all my heart could stand my whole life my mom always told me how valuable everything was and how much everything’s meant to her there was a story behind every item… I feel better now that it’s all over… you will too. ♡

      Reply
    • That’s what I’m hoping to do, then sort carefully

      Reply
  11. I have lots of memories and fond memories after we cleaned out my nanas house. You wouldn’t think they were hoarders but they lived during the Great Depression where they saved everything

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  12. When a person dies and they right out a will of what a persons after the person dies. No matter what you inherit all of their stuff.

    Reply
  13. Cleaning my parent’s house out after my mother passed and my father came to live with my husband and I was a huge feat, one that I had anxiety over years before because I knew it would end up being my “job.” I was so drained, but knew that I couldn’t “just throw everything” away. I went through as carefully as I could and condensed their lives. I felt a huge weight lifted off me when it was over and the house was sold. Best of luck to all going through the process.

    Reply
  14. I had the EXACT same problem. I gave myself 30 minutes to go through my mom’s house and pick out things that I would like I didn’t even think about it – I put them all in a corner – I had a moving company come and take those items to my house and I turn the keys over to an estate sales lady and they dealt with the rest. Emotionally I couldn’t handle going through all the items… because every single one had a memory attached. I had to save myself from that…

    Reply
  15. We had an ‘estate sale’ and did very poorly, as it was held on a gorgeous weekend in May, when there were literally thousands of other garage sales going on. Every family has some antiques and collectibles that could be looked at by dealers, that’s the only thing that brings any money. Refugee resettlement organizations, the Salvation Army, the Rescue Mission, various charities will take stuff. Unless you like to hold garage sales and try to sell stuff privately on Craigslist, that’s the way to get rid of it. I know a family that removed everything of value from their mother’s house, and put up a sign saying : ‘FREE: this weekend, everything in this house is free – furniture, kitchen goods, linens, picture frames, toiletries. You take it away.’ That worked out well enough, no big fights on the lawn or wheeler-dealers were allowed.

    Reply
    • That’s what I did, donated most to a charity. Our kids don’t want it. We all have too much stuff to keep it.

      Reply

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