Keeping the Memories, Getting Rid of the Stuff

“But that’s the chair that Grandma used to love to sit in…”

“That piano is the one Mom learned to play on…”

“How can you give that chest away? It’s been in the family forever…”

These are the kinds of statements that can lead to getting-rid-of-stuff paralysis, a common affliction that occurs when families have to disperse the things in a home that has held many happy memories.

But a surprisingly simple strategy can help break the impasse: that is, recognizing that it is the memories that are important, not the chairs, the pianos, the chest of drawers.

In many cases, pieces of furniture can be passed from generation to generation: loved, enjoyed, treasured. And in such cases they can indeed help keep memories of loved ones who are no longer with us.

But in other cases, the furniture (or whatever) has become a burden. There’s not room for it. It doesn’t fit the lives, or the apartments, of those who have been burdened with it. And now the memories are becoming part of the burden too.

In such cases, isn’t it better to acknowledge the importance of the memories? And to assure that they will endure, by telling them to the next generation? Or better yet, writing them down?

And then to get rid of the burden, by selling the furniture, or giving it away?

Often, families get caught at the first stage of this process: grief or longing for times gone by, the desire to acknowledge how good those times were, and how much they meant to us.

If we can just take the time to look each other in the eyes at such moments and say, for example, “Yes. I remember Grandma sitting in that chair too. In fact, I have a picture of her in that chair that I think you’ll really like.”  (Instead of “You’re being ridiculous. We can’t keep all this stuff!”)

That could help to safeguard the memories, as well as the tender feelings that go with them.

And it might help us get to the next stage in the process also: of getting rid of some big, unwieldy stuff that has outlived its purpose in the family. Instead of spiraling down into bickering and sadness.

With an extra ounce of understanding and compassion for each other, this can happen! Yes, it can!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Five Key Questions to Ask Before You Begin Emptying the House

Whether you are downsizing your own home or you are in charge of the process for someone else, answering a few key questions before you begin dispensing with objects can help the process go more smoothly.

1. Has everyone in the family been consulted, and informed that the process of emptying the house is about to begin?

2. Is there a family plan for how to go about this process? Has everyone agreed to it?

3. Is there a date set for when the process will begin? Is it clear to everyone who will be involved?

4. Has there been a discussion about how to handle any disagreements or disputes that may arise in the process?

5. Have we dealt with any disagreements about any of the above as well as we can? If we are not all in agreement, is there at least agreement that the process should begin?

Depending on the situation, you may have to proceed without having ideal answers to all of these questions. But if you’ve done your best to inform everyone of what’s happening, and have attempted to gain cooperation among all involved parties, you will have done all you can to promote family harmony in what can be a difficult time. You should give yourself credit for that–and so should everyone else!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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