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Clearing personal possessions - Carers UK Forum

Clearing personal possessions

For anyone who is bereaved or no longer providing care.
Oh this is a hard one for us. Mum had to go into a nursing home following a nasty fall down the stairs resulting in a broken neck in 3 places. This has also spurred on her dementia with lots of hallucinating, misinterpreting, paranoia. Although not left paralysed she is unable to walk unaided. She needs a zimmer and help of one to even make 2 metres. Can no longer feed herself. On puréed diet and also incontinent. LA and CCG have said she will remaining in nursing home for rest of her days. We agree with is as we can not meet her needs anymore. We are now facing the task of clearing out her things. Very difficult indeed. Respecting that her stuff represents her life of memories and sentiments. Fact is we need to make a start. Knowing difference between sentimental toot and just plain old toot plus a number of items that may have a monetary value is giving us a brain ache. The other difficulty is that although we always knew the inevitable time would come to clear her stuff, we always assumed it would be after her passing and not whilst she was still alive. There is no line, no closure on this. Our emotions are running riot. Feels like we shouldn't be sorting through her stuff but at the same time we have to. Just wondering how others have coped after being the main carers then having to sort through their loved one possessions
Hi Belinda
I'm doing exactly that at the moment. Mum is now in a Nursing Home for the rest of her life. Her needs are beyond my capability to cope with now.
I'm not rushing. Luckily I have no need to sell up straight away. I'm taking it room by room and cupboard by cupboard.
First of all I've packed and removed to safety any item which I would really hate to be stolen. Sentimental or perhaps of some value.
I'm binning the real rubbish. Old really tatty clothing and medicines, out of date hand cream, food etc.
Next I have a 'charity' pile. Good clothing which doesn't fit her any more or she hasn't worn for years. Paper back books no-one else will read. You know the kind of thing.
Next, because I'm not comfortable about getting rid of her possessions willy nilly, I'm boxing things like glasses, china, vases and making a list of what's in the box to put just inside it. I have boxes marked 'keep' and boxes marked 'sell?' In the end I will have everything packed up, labelled and listed
I'm an only child so all her possessions will come to me. However when my MIL died we lay out all remaining objects on the living room floor, in groups of 'similar. Like a group of jewellery, a group of cut glass etc. Then to start my husband and his brother cut cards. The winner made the first choice of the first group, followed by the other. For the next group the former loser made first choice, followed by the other. No arguments. If one brother chose something the other would have liked too, it was hard luck. (Anything 'willed' wasn't there of course).
I'm gradually getting things sorted away. When it comes time to sell her home I won't have a panic clearance to deal with. In the meantime, if Mum asks for something from her home then it's still available. I just have to find the right box!
PS I haven't got to the attic yet. Goodness knows what's up there!
Hi Belinda
Yes it is a difficult thing to do. It feels very strange as if one is mourning yet the person is still here. I felt the same whem my Mum suddenly announced her intention to move into a Home. As we cleared her flat it transpired she'd already got rid of loads of stuff and what was left were only the more treasured bits she wanted us to have - but of course we didn't want to accept them as it meant admitting the start of the closure of her life. Yes we knew she was 93 but somehow closing her home was really difficult emotionally. It must be even harder when dementia and/or an enforced move is involved.
We have made her room lovely and it does help me to be able to visualise her among her own furniture (she's over 3 hours away).
Perhaps it would help if you could look in it as just another caring task you are doing for her?
I was in the same situation with my mum three years ago. I had previously sorted out my in laws house, my husband's things after he died, and also my brother's house when he died. It's so difficult to start with, but I had to empty and sell the house as quickly as possible. It had a large garden and my own health problems meant I couldn't look after it. Eldest son kept the lawn mowed, we put weed suppressant material over the veg patch, and eldest son attacked a lot with a petrol strimmer.
Start by sorting out the really useless stuff, to get in the swing of things. Piles of magazines, anything broken, or too ancient to be of use to anyone.
I knew that there would be lots of Ercol furniture to sell, so we cleared the lounge first, and used this as a furniture "showroom". Another room was used as the "sorting office". Stuff to sell, stuff to take home, stuff to give to the Salvation Army, in different bags. As soon as a bag was full, it was dealt with, so gradually the house emptied. My eldest son owned a Land Rover tipper, so rather than have a skip at mum's, where space was limited, the skip lived out of sight in my drive - I'm now on Christian name terms with the driver!
Join your local Freecycle group. Advertise things you just want taken away here, you'd be amazed what people want to take off your hands.
Once the junk has gone, you'll be left with the "core" stuff. Whatever you pick up, try to decide what you are going to do with it, there and then. Ask yourself if you like it, will use it, will want to keep it clean, dry, dusted, and in your house until you die? If you got rid of it, then decided you needed it, could you afford to replace it? Do you have room for it at your place?
Staples and some other stores sell Really Useful Boxes - the 84 litre size is a bit too heavy when full, but the 64 litre size is good. These are vermin proof and more or less damp proof, much better than cardboard boxes and they stack well, and are often on special offer at Staples. I'd suggest one or two for things like family papers, photos etc. Just put them in the box to look at later when you are less emotional.

Then remind yourself it's only stuff you are getting rid of, not your mum. You don't need it to remember mum by, she will always live in your heart.
Books will be welcome by Oxfam. Many charities provide bags for donated items.
I found it easiest to think of stuff that I'd given away being of some use to someone else in the world. The only things which were skipped were really beyond use. Things like broken chairs, perished garden hoses, broken plant pots etc.
Thank you for your lovely replies. She has actually lived with us for the past ten years and we gave he rout living room so she could move her furniture in and still live as independent as she could but with us as a back up ( but over the years her independence diminished significantly) and of course she has her own bedroom. About 18 months ago my sisters marriage broke up and she moved in with us along with 3 small children so that meant with mum too there were 7 of us sharing a house with mum taking up a third of it all to herself. So now she is in a nursing home through the circumstances of this horrific accident we are not able to let these rooms stay as they were as much as we would have liked to if it was just me and hubby in house. We have no attic either as that has been converted into a bedroom many years ago. We are packing away the things that we think she may ask to see again and also taking photos to make an album of her things for her to look back on if she ever wants to. We never realised how much she had. Even found army records over 100 years old. I like the idea of the boxes in staples. Will they be ok for garage?
Yes, they'll be fine. One summer we were doing some work in the house, I accidentally left a couple outside and it rained, everything inside was fine, although I can't guarantee that!

If you google "Really Useful Boxes" and find the company's own site - not retailers, you'll see that they do a wide range of different sizes, from tiny to huge. When my husband died I inherited 30 tons (yes, tons) of brand new lorry spares. I gradually sorted them into Really Useful Boxes (RUB) and lived off the sales of the spares for 10 years, until I became a pensioner.

The key things to consider are
how strong you are - no point in filling a box you can't lift;
the size of the things you want to store (if you have lots of papers I'd suggest the size for C4 envelopes, not the A4 boxes because these don't allow finger room when sorting)
the space available in your shed.

The boxes stack really well, and you can buy a "dolly" (frame with 4 wheels) so that you can wheel them around.
If time and enthusiasm are short, why not just do a rough sort, photos in one, papers in another, treasures in another, then put them in your shed for the time being. When mum has passed away, it will be a lot easier to see clearly what you really want to keep. It's a gradual process, one day you will just think to yourself "What am I keeping that for?"

Clothes will be fine in the boxes too, I use them for out of season clothes.
Really useful boxes being delivered today. Again thank you.
Just a quick tip!

When I had to clear mum's bungalow after she went into residential care, I used my digital camera to photograph her ornaments (one ornament per picture!) and then scrolled through them with her. She chose which ones she wanted to keep and I "deleted" those she didn't. Have also done the same thing with clothes, shoes etc. - saves a lot of carrying backwards and forwards!
Hi Belinda,

Totally understand what you're feeling about this arduous task, as it's one I've been through twice, first when my father moved into his care home, then when my mother went into hospital, followed by a nursing home, for end of life care.
...we always knew the inevitable time would come to clear her stuff, we always assumed it would be after her passing and not whilst she was still alive. There is no line, no closure on this. Our emotions are running riot. Feels like we shouldn't be sorting through her stuff but at the same time we have to.
I felt exactly the same, both times. Dad has dementia and mobility problems, and by the time he went into the care home it was the only safe option for him, so we knew he wouldn't ever return home. I had to decide what things to take to make his room homely (he was in denial about his problems so thought his stay was only temporary), but space was limited in his single bedroom at the care home, so I had to choose carefully. Anyway with his dementia he quickly forgot the things that were left behind. It just felt so wrong making decisions over things he'd spent a lifetime accumulating (he had a habit of hoarding), but once he'd settled in I realised that all his needs were met and he had no need of the remaining stuff, so with Mum's agreement I started decluttering and gave many of his things to the charity shop. (Mum and Dad's marriage was not a happy one, so Mum didn't have any need to board his stuff.)

Last autumn Mum's health declined rapidly and after a couple of falls she was admitted to hospital. It quickly became clear that the only option left for her was a nursing home, as she was very frail and needed end of life care. I knew then that she'd never return to her home and I also knew the task of clearing the house would be massive, so I started to gradually clear the house, in stages. Valuable items were removed for safekeeping, and the best photos and a few other things were installed in her room at the nursing home when she moved in there, but again space was limited. Between visits to the nursing home I carried on clearing the empty house, knowing it would never be her home again, but I almost felt like a thief, like I didn't have the right to be doing it. Over the course of several months I took lots of bags to the charity shop, and although it was difficult at times, I felt pleased knowing the things would be of use to someone else. The charity even sent me a letter to inform me how much money the items had raised, which made me feel a bit better about the whole thing, but it is so hard when you feel that you're disposing of possessions from a person's whole lifetime, things that they took pride in and loved. But really, unless you have unlimited space to store everything, there is little choice but to part with it, and I think donating it to the charity shop is better than sending it to landfill.

Mum passed away in January, and after the funeral I needed to press on with clearing the furniture. I looked on eBay to see how much similar items were fetching, and decided it wasn't worth the hassle of trying to sell large items for a few pounds each. Finally I arranged for most of the furniture to be collected by the British Heart Foundation. It seemed like a great idea and all was going well, until I watched them load a certain coffee table into the van. Suddenly I remembered my parents beaming with pride many years ago, as they carried the new table into the house. I crumpled into tears and had to hide away. It's hard.
Just wanted to say that I know the feelings! Like you, my MIL is not dead yet, but in a care home for dementia, and most of her 'stuff' is in my garage, in my 'retirement home' (eventually!) in the westcountry, near to where her own Care Home is. I do feel 'blocked' psychologically from getting rid of it, as it's 'her' stuff, not mine!

Some of the nicer pieces of wooden furniture are in my retirement home itself, but most is in the garage. I am using some of her 'kitchen things', and also her clothes - she has loads and loads! I find wearing her clothes very guilt-inducing, but on the other hand, I also feel it's a sort of 'tribute' to her maybe.. Mixed feelings!

Part of me definitely feels guilty to use ANY of her possessions. I feel like 'Oh, you couldn't be bothered to look after her yourself, you stuffed her off into a care home, and now you're helping yourself to her things! Very nice behaviour I don't think!'

The thing is, with her dementia, she really doesn't either recognise or remember anything that was hers, though I tell her it is, and tell her that all her things are 'safely in my garage'......

I have give some of the furniture to our local charity furniture shop, but not all of it is 'giveable' - a dark wood bedroom furniture suite (wardrobe, dressing table and drawers) has been rejected (no longer sellable - no one wants it!), and some like her two patterned sofas are unsellable as they have no safety labels on them.

BUT, what I wanted to say was this - when you give 'their stuff' to charity shops, especially furniture, do, do, do please see it from 'the other side'. I can so understand bursting into tears about giving away your parents' coffee table that they bought so proudly all those decades ago, as a married couple.....BUT, my nephew and his pregnant wife are currently buying their first home togheter, and they are shopping for furniture from charity shops, and please therefore do think that your 'pre-loved' pieces from your parents will now be loved again, by another married couple embarking on their life together, just as your parents once did.

I definitely know for myself, that everything I've bought in say probate auctions, or charity shops, has to my mind, been given a 'new home' with me, and I will care for them just as their previous owners did. There's a story behind every piece of furniture! They may even become the antiques of tomorrow!