Decluttering after a death

Dealing with the aftermath of a death in the family is a long and arduous process. Many kind people are helping me to sort through the contents of my late mother’s house, yet there are many aspects of the task which I must deal with myself rather than delegate. It feels overwhelming at times, and brings up an uncomfortable mix of emotions.

Having been brought up in frugal wartime Britain, my mother seldom threw anything away. When she came to live in New Zealand she brought a container load of possessions. Some of the household items – furniture, bedlinen, crockery and cutlery, ornaments – belonged to my grandparents. She also brought large supplies of clothing, numerous boxes of papers mostly relating to her former academic career, and her precious library of books. It feels heartless to be discarding things which carry so many memories both of her life and mine. But I know it is best that most of them should be given to charity, for I already have all the material goods I want or need.

Some of course ought to be kept, but which ones? It can be difficult to decide. My impatience to finish the job, and be free to get on with more enjoyable projects of my own, is combined with the fear of carelessly disposing too soon of items that are important or valuable or “might come in”.

It is interesting to look through the old family photos, many also dating back to my grandparents’ time, but frustrating to find that most of them are unlabelled. When and where were they taken, and who are the people in them? Some are familiar, but others are obscure. It is strange to see a young woman and her child in a picture and not to know whether they were my mother and me. The letters and personal papers are also of interest, revealing certain aspects of my mother’s life which she never discussed. But I feel a certain sense of guilt about intruding on her privacy. Did she intend that I should read this material after she died, or was she just too tired and unwell to dispose of it before it was too late?

After I have finished closing my mother’s estate I am resolved to put my own affairs in better order – to declutter, organise and simplify. I do not want my own executors to be faced with huge piles of stuff to sort out. But this is easier said than done, and I am already making room in our already fully furnished house for some of my mother’s things, and put all her photos – still unsorted and unlabelled – out of sight in a drawer.

6 thoughts on “Decluttering after a death

  1. I feel for you, a difficult and sad task.

    I’m not looking forward to sorting out my parents’ house later – my dad who has already passed on was an excitable collector of interesting things (microscopes, mini steam locomotives, cannons, motorcycles, and and and). My parents were also children during WW2 Britain. My mum is making it harder by holding onto some of these things which could be dealt with, also my health is next to house-bound, although in my early 40s I’m suffering from poor health – and the two siblings are hostile addicts! This will all be left to me to sort 😦

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    1. I understand your concerns. Maybe when the time comes you could employ some professional help with house clearance – sale of your Dad’s collectables might help offset the cost. Meanwhile I do advise making sure you know where your Mum keeps all her important documents – I wish I had done this!

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      1. Thank you Jennifer for the advice. I hope things are going well for you. I was thinking about what you said about your own photographs and not being sure who was in them…my mum has a cupboard full of unsorted photos. I will cherish the ones I’ll be able to keep.

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  2. My Scottish stepmother died very recently and I have been up to Glasgow for support to my half brother Andrew and again for the cremation. He is going through exactly the same process and de-cluttering as your self. I shall forward your blog to him but he is very stoical. He says, with humour, “I don’t do emotion, I am from the Highlands.” Leaving a clean desk for the next generation is a nice idea but I am not sure I shall achieve it.

    Our cat is settling in very well, “I think I shall be very comfortable here,” she says, from the comfort of her special down filled bed.

    I am grateful to you for making me look again at book sales from iBooks. Jolyon is downloaded (free) once a fortnight somewhere in the world, mainly USA, – so far 52 downloads! M

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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