How can I get rid of Grandma and Grandpa's STUFF ?
October 16, 2010 11:48 PM   Subscribe

Grandpa died, and left a house full of items to his five children. Seven years ago, he died. The problem resulting from this has been a never-ending Stuff deadlock in which nothing can be distributed, and nothing can be thrown away.

Perhaps you can blame poor estate planning, or poor estate distribution by the executor. For the past seven years I have been afloat in a swamp of old Stuff. LOTS OF LAMPS. FURNITURE. CHAIRS. TABLES. DRESSERS. BOOKSHELVES. OLD BOOKS. OLD LPS. OLD PAPERS, TAX RETURNS, AND FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS. BIG HEAVY SEWING MACHINES. FRAMED PICTURES AND PAINTINGS. LUGGAGE. MATTRESSES AND BEDFRAMES, BEDSHEETS AND BLANKETS. a KITCHEN FULL OF OLD DISHES, POTS AND PANS. Mugs. Baking pans. Gardening tools. The list goes on and on... ...

In dark moments, I wish to call a Salvation Army truck and have absolutely everything taken away. The five siblings have all moved on with their own lives and have no interest in owning these objects or paying to ship them anywhere, but any mention of discarding or donating things encounters the objection "No, don't throw that away, don't get rid of that! It is a valuable antique! It is important!" --- --- and sentimental value has got everything deadlocked into place.

Has anyone any advice for such a situation? It's like an estate sale that's permanently frozen in time around here!
posted by shipbreaker to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just throw it out.

Are you living in grandpa's old house?
posted by dfriedman at 11:52 PM on October 16, 2010

Give them a deadline where they can pick up what they would like to keep or it's going on eBay (or similar) with the money to be distributed amongst you. You are not dead grandpa storage. 5 years! That's ridiculous. If they complain, tell them they can take over babysitting it, otherwise it's out the door. Tough love, baby.
posted by Jubey at 11:56 PM on October 16, 2010 [17 favorites]

You could have the most low-maintenance garage sale ever. Put up signs, an ad on craigslist, etc, advertising that you have a house full of stuff which people are free to browse through. Most items you'll probably let go for free, some you will want money for, and some you may decide not to sell after all.

Downsides: strangers in your house, you have to deal personally with every customer and make a split-second decision about whether to sell or not sell

Upsides: other people are taking the first step for you

You could do a cursory run-through to get boxes of personal items, valuable things, things of known sentimental value and lock them in another room. Leave the rest to the locusts.
posted by phunniemee at 11:56 PM on October 16, 2010

I knew three people in a similar situation. Their solution was to take turns picking items they wanted to take, and everything else was appraised and sold and the money was split evenly after paying the appraiser. Some minor hurt feelings came out of it (there was some jewelry involved in this case), but it emptied the house and most of the old stuff ended up being taken home with the siblings rather then sold.
posted by cyphill at 12:01 AM on October 17, 2010

Who owns the house? I think it's OK for the siblings to want to keep things, but not OK for them to expect free long-term storage. They've got to put up or shut up. If an object is not important enough for them to pay for shipping or storage (in a storage unit off the property) then it's not important enough to keep.

If the siblings own the house jointly then you have a trickier situation.
posted by Orinda at 12:08 AM on October 17, 2010

Send them a recorded delivery letter that gives them a date. Say that from that date everything in the house will go by whatever means you choose and if they want it they had better come and get it. If they dispute it, they remove it and argue. But come that day it all goes.
posted by episodic at 1:55 AM on October 17, 2010

"...but any mention of discarding or donating things encounters the objection..."

It's your "mentioning" that's causing the problem. Make a unilateral decision to have an estate sale, as suggested above.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:08 AM on October 17, 2010

Tell everybody that the auction has been set for a certain date. and they must pick up any items they want before that date. The law likely requires that probate be completed in a timely manner, so claim legal requirements. Auction companies will come in and take care of the whole thing for you.
posted by theora55 at 5:16 AM on October 17, 2010 [10 favorites]

theora55 is spot on. Set a date. Notify the other kids. Last chance, kids. Pull the flush handle next day in whatever manner you choose.

As an aside, your objections are just as valid as anyone else's, you know?
posted by FauxScot at 5:28 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Has Grandpa's estate been settled? If the estate is still winding its way through probate, there might be Important Legal Reasons why the stuff can't be distributed or otherwise dealt with.

If the five children each had an equal share of Grandpa's estate, then unilaterally taking action might be harming the siblings' property interest in the stuff, which, if taken to the extreme, could lead to adverse legal consequences.

These issues really would trigger the "check with the lawyer" vibes if the OP was the executor of the estate. But in any event, a quick phone call to the lawyer ("Hey, remember me? Yeah, is there any reason why I can't pitch the stuff?") might give you peace-of-mind on those legal issues.

I read over the original question a few times, and it sounds like the OP is living in the house but the other siblings are distant (but that's not at all clear). If this is the case, I think it's a lot easier to move things along. ("We really need the space.") Likewise, if the house hasn't been sold yet, the "stuff deadlock" is probably preventing that from happening. Again, tread cautiously if the estate is still open.

posted by QuantumMeruit at 5:53 AM on October 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

This is what estate sales are for. There are companies that will do this for you. They sell EVERYTHING.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:05 AM on October 17, 2010

The siblings can EITHER wash their hands of it OR have a say in the matter. If they've washed their hands of it (moved on, not wanting any items) then they don't get a say. You're the one who is neck deep in the stuff, you make the decisions. Go with theora55's suggestion.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:45 AM on October 17, 2010

Estate auction conducted by professionals, proceeds divided among heirs, with family members able to bid on any items that they personally want. When all is settled individuals will have their treasures and all will have a share of the money raised.
posted by X4ster at 6:47 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

They ask for what they want (taking turns ... oldest to youngest, youngest to oldest, random slips drawn, doesn't really matter). Set a date for finishing this. On that date, everything unclaimed you arrange to sell. (Garage sale, estate sale, whatever.) Use the proceeds to ship. Anything too expensive for the estate to ship they pick up or pay to have shipped by date X or you sell that thing too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:08 AM on October 17, 2010

If there is an objection because things are 'valuable,' the logical response is to capitalize on that. Sell, and distribute the proceeds amongst the heirs.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:10 AM on October 17, 2010

I came into make X4ster's recommendation: sell it all at estate sale where heirs bid as they like. By the way it's an easy way for friends to obtain a keepsake they would otherwise feel strange about requesting. That's how someone I know acquired a coffee mug that reminded him of many happy breakfasts together in the deceased's kitchen. This approach is how Mennonite communities deal with estates. It enables each heir to bid on whatever is most important to them for whatever reason.
posted by carmicha at 7:11 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

And then, of course, the heirs split the proceeds in whatever proportions the will stipulates.
posted by carmicha at 7:12 AM on October 17, 2010

An estate sale will get rid of the stuff quickly, but won't maximise your financial return, you effectively pay someone to sort it all out for you.

Selling everything on ebay will give you a higher return but will take forever.

The 80-20 rule applies here 80% of the value will lie in 20% of the items. I would try to figure out the top 10 or 20% of items and sell those individually on ebay, then estate sale the rest. If you space out the auctions over a number of weeks that will give the siblings time to get used to the idea that these things are finally going to get cleared out.
posted by Lanark at 8:05 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is time to distribute the stuff! Part of the issue will be who gets what, at least with the bigger, better, more valuable pieces. My suggestion would be for all siblings involved to make a list of the specific things they want, in order of importance. Then draw names as to the order, and start giving away the stuff. First name drawn gets the first item on their list. Second name drawn then gets the first item on their list. And so on. This is very fair. If anyone wants to trade later, no problem. They need to all visit and make their lists. They need to understand that the stuff must be gone by a specific date of your choosing. This can be a fun and positive thing if it's handled correctly. Anything left goes to the estate sale and the proceeds are split. Ta-daa!
posted by raisingsand at 8:57 AM on October 17, 2010

The five siblings have all moved on with their own lives and have no interest in owning these objects or paying to ship them anywhere.

Don't ask them, TELL them you are having an estate sale / Salvation Army pickup on a near-future date that gives them the opportunity to come and take whatever they want, as long as they don't bring it back into the house. When the day comes, get rid of whatever's left ... with extreme prejudice.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:40 AM on October 17, 2010

Are the relatives users of the Internet? Email pictures of everything and tell people to claim stuff they want because all of the remainders are going to be gone by Christmas (or Halloween).
posted by rhizome at 9:49 AM on October 17, 2010

My grandma recently died, and her house had to be cleared out. Stuff to be divided among eight children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Technically it all belonged to the eight children, and they handled it much the way raisingsand suggests. They inventoried the stuff in the house and made a List, which included everything of significant monetary or sentimental value. The eight kids had several rounds of choosing items from the List, randomly selecting who went first, second, etc in making their choices. My dad bowed out after a couple rounds; others kept going, but even so not everything on the List was claimed.

Grandchildren and great-grandkids were invited to take what we wanted of the stuff not on The List--napkins, bedding, knicknacks, tools, etc. (All of this happened at the time of the funeral, so we were all there--this might not be so easy for you.) Grandkids also ended up taking some things on the List, things unclaimed by the eight siblings. Everything not taken, by the end, was sent to Goodwill.

The whole process was very harmonious and sweet, with everyone happy to know the stuff was going to good homes. Well, I should say, bittersweet--as it was very sad to see Grandma's house dismantled. But it had to be done, and everyone understood that: I think that's something you still need to persuade your siblings (?) is true in your case.

Good luck!
posted by torticat at 9:54 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could tell the siblings that it will not be possible for you to store this stuff any longer, so if they want it kept they'll have to fork out for regular payments to rent a self-storage facility.

You, of course, don't need to pay for the self-storage because your position is clear: you want the stuff gone.

Otherwise, I'd second the suggestions above for a round-robin style disbursement of things among the five siblings. Just keep working through everybody's lists until everything that anybody actually wants enough to take home is gone, and then either sell the rest or donate it to charity.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:50 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a lot of good advice here.

I suspect that you have held on to everything for so long because you are afraid someone will be angry or hurt that such-and-such was given away.

The way to avoid that is to decide what your "rules" will be for how things are distributed, sold, and donated. Make sure that family members buy in to your rules, and explain that if someone doesn't buy in but doesn't have a reasonable alternate solution, majority of agreement to that particular rule will take precedence.

We had a situation in our family where grandmas' jewelry was to be distributed among several daughters and granddaughters, however, the excutrix of the estate, one of the daughters, never made her distribution parameters known. In this particular case everyone was shown the items at the same time, but no method had been mentioned for how people were to indicate what they wanted (everything was just sort of passed around in a circle, so if you were sitting at the beginning of the circle, you didn't know if something would still be available once it got to the end of the circle), nor was there any discussion of how a "tie" would be settled in the event that two people wanted the same item. Feelings were hurt, angry words were spoken, family members were estranged for years. None of the family members involved were greedy about the items they wanted, it really all boiled down to misunderstanding and a lack of clear leadership. It could have all been avoided with clear communication BEFORE distribution began.
posted by vignettist at 12:24 AM on October 18, 2010

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