January 19, 2010


I lost my grandmother on November 30th. After the funeral, the family began the process of cleaning out and organizing her home and belongings. These necessary steps have been difficult and trying both emotionally and physically for all involved.

My grandmother started the process of organizing a few years back. I'd go over to visit and she'd be filing photographs of family members and memorabilia. Each member of the family had their own file and there wasn't any question about whom she wanted to have what. She also organized her important papers and files as best she could so that we could find what we needed.

Yet there was a lot that my grandmother was unable to organize. She had asked me to help her clean out her closets a number of times. We would pull a few items here and there to take for donations, but we never accomplished the major overhaul that I wish we would have. Then, there would be some visits when we would tackle one curio cabinet or one pantry together. I would pull down each item, and she would tell me whether she wanted to keep it, donate it, or throw it away. How I wish that we would have done more!

She tried to give us things or to ask us to write our names on things in her house that we would like to have after her passing. This went on for years and all of us found it too painful to think about to actually do. Now, we wish we had a record of what she wanted to save and for whom.

This process has reinforced a few things for me. I hope you'll be able to glean a few tidbits that might help you and yours.
  • Having a written will is an important gift to give your family. If you do nothing else than write on a sheet of paper whom you would like to receive what, it will be a guideline that your family can use.
  • Don't be pushy, forceful, or tacky. As a geriatric social worker, I've heard about many a family argument that started because one family member went into the home of a loved one and started asking him or her to give them things. Instead, a genuine offer to help might be appreciated. "Grandpa, would you like for me to help you get your shop organized today? We could go out there together. I'll pull this chair out there for you, and you can help to tell me what you want to go where." Do so with a giving heart. Don't do this if you are concerned about what you will get in return. When I helped my grandmother, the thought of what I would receive was never in my mind. The reward I received was seeing how happy she was to have more her things better organized so that she could see them and enjoy them.
  • At whatever stage you are in life, try to live simply. More "stuff"= more burden for you, your family, your time, your energy, and your money. I've noticed that I've been organizing more of our home since this process began. In the next few weeks, I have a big overhaul of the house planned in the effort to glean and organize. Not only will you have less upkeep on your home because you have less to dust, store, and clean, you will be giving your family a love gift.

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