Dealing with inherited possesions and letting go
January 23, 2019 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Last April my mother passed away. I'm the only child and sole heir. I'm struggling with what to do with her stuff, and as a result, her house. She LOVED her stuff. Her house, now mine, is sitting unoccupied and still full of her possessions. I can't move forward with selling her house until I get rid of the contents, and I can't really rent it furnished with all of her furniture inside. I have to move forward but can't figure out how.

She owned several antique shops over the years so she had a curated collection of the "best of" as well as lots of family heirlooms. Over the last couple years of her life, she repeatedly (and worriedly) asked me what I was going to do with everything after she passed away. I never had an answer. My wife and I are fairly stuff-averse. We own a home in the Caribbean but it doesn't lend itself to antiques and collectibles. We rent a furnished home in the US and have no intention of buying here. Our near-term plan is to buy a sailboat and go sail for several years. My father spent 30 years storing his possessions after my parents divorced and he ended up spending a ridiculous amount of $$$ doing it. He was financially forced into getting rid of nearly everything he had in storage (which I handled for him). This is a long way of saying that I don't want to fall into that trap, too.

I know her stuff isn't who she is/was. I guess I'm having a hard time emotionally letting go of her memory. I also know how much it meant to her, and how devastated she'd be to know that it was sold at an estate sale for pennies on the dollar. It feels like a sin to essentially junk it all. I've had appraisers come in and they've all reported that there is no real market for antiques anymore. There are no family members to bestow/burden this stuff on. Do I just put the blinders on and liquidate everything? And ignore the judgment of friends and neighbors? Do I spend $1000's annually storing stuff that I'll never want? (To be brutally honest, I'd like nothing more than if there was an accidental fire and it all burned up, but I didn't say that out loud).

Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi.
posted by karst to Human Relations (38 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Let the friends and neighbors pick out a few pieces to take home with them that they will cherish as part of her memory. You and your wife should take a thing or two as well.

Then put the blinders on and let go of the rest of the stuff through an estate sale. It's just stuff.
posted by erst at 1:09 PM on January 23, 2019 [69 favorites]

Oh, I'm sorry. This is difficult. There are people who would find great happiness in owning and using these things. They might not have a ton of money to pay for it, but they would love it. Could you spin this as a positive thing? If you sell these things for low cost, it means that someone who wouldn't normally have been able to afford these things can have something beautiful they will treasure.

I would choose one or two things that you love, that mean something to you. I don't mean dressers or buffets or large pieces of furniture, but rather something small and perhaps not valuable but has some sentimental value to you. This is what you can use to represent her memory.

If you spend money to put this stuff in storage, this stuff isn't getting any use, and it's like you are trying to buy your way out of guilt. But this stuff isn't making you or your mom happy.

You said you've brought in appraisers. My dad recently downsized from a big four bedroom house to a small condo. They hired someone who came in and sold it all. They found it all quite liberating (they had sooo much stuff). They didn't worry about how much they were going to get in dollars. But, if you want, you can decide to donate the money from the sale to a non-profit or cause your mom supported.

I wouldn't do this piecemeal. Bring in someone to deal with all of it. Let go of the emotional weight of all that stuff.

And ignore the judgment of friends and neighbors?
Are you sure this judgment is going to happen? Or are you making this up as a manifestation of your guilt? Liquidating a household is a very standard thing to do after death. Your neighbors might even want to buy a few things from the sale.

I suspect this is so difficult in part because you have some complicated feelings about your mom and her stuff. I know this is standard AskMe, but a few rounds with a therapist might be really helpful (do you have an employee assistance program through work? Mine offers three free therapy sessions for short term issues).
posted by bluedaisy at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2019 [25 favorites]

My solution to this is to keep a few small items that are especially meaningful, with a preference for things you might actually use or otherwise interact with now and then. Let the rest go to someone who might find some joy in it all. I recently lost an uncle, and kept his pocket knife and some automotive tools (he was a mechanic). Then my dad, and kept his yoyo and a handful of photos.

You really don't need it all. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by jon1270 at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Letting it go for pennies on the dollar? So someone who never thought they could afford such beautiful things can? If you can afford to do that (and it sounds like you can) what a wonderful thing you’d be doing! Don’t hoard things away in storage to be dealt with later. Let those things go to people who can use or want them? Wouldn’t your mother hate them sitting in storage? Wouldn’t she love someone using them, even if those people weren’t her friends/family? Do the estate sale, but don’t think of it in terms of return on investment. Think about putting those items back into the world to be used and maybe loved!

(I’m so sorry for your loss.)
posted by greermahoney at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2019 [42 favorites]

You could make a website with pictures and stories for each item, and give the items to whomever needs it. I’m sure there are a lot of people needing furniture for whom items of this quality would spark joy. I’m sorry for your loss.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you are at the point where you would be relieved if a fire burned it, you are at a place where it’s time for an estate sale. Put out to friends and family that they are welcome to come through to select items they would like. Be vulnerable and say that this is emotionally very difficult for you, but it’s an important part of the grieving process that you have been putting off and you need their support - not judgement- as you learn how to live in a world without Mom. Hire someone to do the estate sale. Put the money towards funding your dreams.

Your mom absolutely would want her legacy to you to be freedom nkt an anchor. You are feeling weighed down by her things. They gave her pleasure, now you can turn them into something that gives YOU pleasure. That’s a good legacy.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

Sorry for your loss.

First, ignore judgment. Do what works for you.

I've gone through similar situations several times. (And anticipate doing it again pretty soon.) One epiphany I had while sorting through one family member's things was: just because it was owned by someone you loved who has died, doesn't mean it's valuable. Frankly, there has to be a bit of ruthlessness to the process.

There are many ways to liquidate things, which will all be suggested by others here. But regardless of how you do it, I suggest that you just take a photo of as many things as possible. You may never look at them again, but I have found that to be very helpful in lots of circumstances where I need to get rid of something that might have sentimental value. It's not the "thing" you want, it's the memory, and a photograph will supply that. There's also something in the act of taking the photo that is cathartic. Think of it as a ritual that allows you to let go. Just save and keyword the images on a drive where you can view them if you ever want to. And you may never want to.

Good luck.
posted by The Deej at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2019 [15 favorites]

I went through this in November with my mom's house/stuff. One of the most difficult tasks of my life, honestly, so you have my sympathies. We had to get rid of a LOT of nice things many of which had some sentimental value.

We were under time pressure because we needed to sell her house and an offer came in much more quickly than we'd anticipated. So what we ended up doing with a lot of the stuff was putting it out in the driveway and posting a picture of "free stuff" to craigslist. We probably could have made a little money selling the things, but it was surprisingly nice to see people clearly thrilled to be picking up things they would not otherwise be able to afford.

Good luck with this difficult process. It is a massive relief to have it over.
posted by nixxon at 1:24 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Im pretty sure ill end up in a similar situation, so to start with you have my sympathies.

Your concern around your dads post-divorce strategy of just storing everything indefinitely seems to be that it both cost a lot and didnt make him any happier. You could store a small fraction of the total stuff (only things you could conceivably want?) and do so for some time delimited period - if you havent thought about the storage locker within 5 years junk it then (or whatever time frame works for you).

When it comes to thinking about my own relationship with my mothers stuff, I come back to two things - whether disordered or not, her belongings (or not getting rid of them) bring her happiness, so thats good. My throwing most of them away eventually will not harm her in any way. Not pushing the issue of her belongings/downsizing is a kindness i show to her and one that i owe because shes my mom and am happy(ish) to offer because, on the whole, im lucky to have resources to deal with it that many people do not.

Good luck and dont be too hard on yourself.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2019

And ignore the judgment of friends and neighbors?

Are you sure this judgment is going to happen?

It's surprising what people will judge for, especially when they have no skin in the game. It is not honoring your mother to put her things in storage where no one will get any use out of them. Locally, we have a non-profit called Community Warehouse that takes a huge range of household goods and gives them away for free to families who are getting back into housing after a period of houselessness, maybe you have something like that? Can you imagine the joy a family like that would experience to have a dresser for their clothes? A nightstand to set their coffee on in the morning? Soft sheets to snuggle down in after they lost everything? For antiques that are too bulky or inappropriate for such things, allow the estate sellers/buyers to come get their pick. It will find a new life somewhere.

You can thank these possessions for their service to your mother - comforting her, delighting her, soothing her, entertaining her when she was on the hunt for them - and then set them free into the world to be that service for someone else.
posted by amanda at 1:26 PM on January 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Hello. I'm literally the last of my line and I've been through this. My advice is to realise everything you do not dispose of is just stuff someone else will have to dispose of, and they will 100% throw it in a dumpster and move on with their lives.

Understanding this has made it 3000% easier for me to let. stuff. go. I'd rather know where it ended up and have some vague control than know that destination is a dump after I'm dead.

I have six pieces of art, a silver salver my dad stole from a reception at the Canadian Embassy in New York, three photo albums, a set of china, a set of sterling, and my dad's passport from 1968. There's a massive Stuben ashtray I really deeply associate with him that I wish I'd also kept, but whereas five years ago that thought caused pain, it now just causes nostalgia.

So don't be mired in where you are now; think instead of where you want to be in 10 years. I'm going to guess that doesn't involve dragging someone else's stuff behind you.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:31 PM on January 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

I am basically your mother, in that I worry greatly about this, and my own kid seems to feel somewhat similarly to you. I have subsequently come up with a lot of solutions.

Is there anyone else in the family that would be delighted to receive some of this? Cousins, second cousins, etc?

Could you take one or two objects she would have considered most valuable/precious?

Actually, a contingent question: do you need the money from the sale of the furnishings? If not, could you find a charitable recipient in your mother’s church or other social group?
posted by corb at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you can afford to give it to a charity, would something like Habitat for Humanity work? I know they have thrift stores (I believe called ReStore), and maybe they could either sell your mother’s things for a good cause, or use them in furnishing/stocking the homes they build.
posted by elphaba at 1:34 PM on January 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

My parents are collectors of antiques and 'beautiful things' and they have way more stuff than us kids are ever going to take. What they would want is the stuff going to somebody else who can appreciate it, and value it, not rotting in storage lockers.

See if there are any auction houses that will take the bulk of it and only keep the things that speak to you. The auction near me gets most of its stuff from estate clearances, and they clearly take almost everything.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was you, 10 years ago, with the added dilemma that the house was also the house I grew up in. Like you, I lived some distance from the house - 4.5h - with the house having to remain unoccupied during some harsh winters.

Let me say that you will come to the ability to let go - eventually, in your own time. You don't need to rush. I had everything pushing me to clean it out - insurance payments, storage space payments, TAX BILLS - you name it - and it still took me 2.5 years. I don't mean this to be bleak, I mean it to give you permission to not think about this for a while. A year if you have to.

I picked away at the task bit by bit. I started hearing my mom's voice, saying "oh, get rid of that stupid thing - what are you doing?!?!". Some stuff went to friends. A lot went to her church. If you are lucky enough to live near a university, I would strongly suggest you reach out to whatever performing arts department they have, who will be looking for props and furniture for their next production of some 20th century drama, which may earn you a nice credit in the program in memory of your Mom, and can go and see as young actors use that old coffee table or lamp during their performance.

Finally, I left enough furniture in the house to facilitate showing it for sale. Not too much - just enough to give the rooms character. I specified that whatever was in the house at showing would convey with the house - no bargaining allowed. The new resident loved having a few items to get them started.

You've got this. She doesn't want you tied down with that stuff. It's ok to pass it on to the next person who will love it.
posted by scolbath at 1:46 PM on January 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm so sorry about your loss and I wish you luck with this huge challenge. I totally understand the mixed feelings and, most importantly, the guilt. Honestly, those friends and neighbors probably wouldn't judge you -- they'd sympathize with you. I love the previous suggestion of inviting them over to pick out a few pieces for themselves. I also like the idea of your picking out a few items that spark joy for you (to borrow from Marie Kondo!) I love my parents and like my childhood home but am dreading the day I must sort it all: there is almost nothing there I would want but my parents are not ready to let go of anything yet a la Swedish death cleaning. That's their prerogative and I respect it, just as you respected your mother's wishes to be surrounded by things she loved in her final years. However, your prerogative is different, and that's totally OK!

I'm also in the camp of letting these items go so others can enjoy them. Think of their new owners being so happy and how your mom would be so happy to know others are enjoying them, too. I did a huge decluttering/purge/deep cleaning a few years ago when downsizing and it was so painful but ultimately freeing: I had a lot of family items I was holding on out of guilt. Thinking of how my previously-beloved record collection would make someone happy, just as those 50 cent David Bowie records made me when I was a young teen who loved music but couldn't afford to buy new. When I let go of expensive clothing I once loved -- or wish I had loved more, I think of how thrift stores provided me with a fun wardrobe growing up and how lucky I felt to find really nice stuff in a sea of stinky polyester and broken sequins. What are you going through now is understandably exhausting, physically and mentally, but there is happiness, too, at the other end.

I have three specific recommendations: first, give yourself a bit more time. If you can afford to wait a bit longer, give yourself more time. Wait until the weather is warmer, until you have a week or two to go and take on the task -- make sure to treat yourself while you do it, say to dinners out, and use this time to relax and mentally prepare. (Nothing like a self-pep talk!) Because this is about more than just stuff, a few sessions with a therapist could help you sort through your feelings before you sort through the stuff. Having a friend to call occasionally during the process might be nice; you could even create a blog or Instagram account where you post photos and share stories, it that were to help. Second, I'd consider watching Clean House with Niecy Nash, an old show that was fun and realistic, that talked about the emotional heaviness of family items way before Marie Kondo got famous. It's fun and funny, and might help you prepare. Third, I'd look into local charity organizations who can help. For example, our Rotary club has a HUGE annual yard sale that benefits a different local cause every year. They come and pick up your stuff, and are truly more than happy to do so. Estate sales can be very positive but if you don't need the time or money, I'd just focus on getting the items to happy new homes and supporting a good cause. Whatever you decide, best of luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:51 PM on January 23, 2019

Also, as for the storage unit: you could always store a few items and give yourself a timeline. For example, you rent it for two years and vow to work on it every six months. I did multiple rounds of cleaning so I can relate, although I was local so it was easier in terms of logistics. You don't need to be all or nothing just yet! If spending $1000 a year for a few years is doable and gives you peace of mind, then it's a worthy expense.
posted by smorgasbord at 1:56 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this story will help, but to add to people saying you may unknowingly help someone out unexpectedly by an estate sale.

My father made me go for a drive with him one day when I was a teen or maybe home from my first year of college. We didn't get very far before we saw a huge sign for an estate sale, and my dad is nothing if not in love happening upon yard and estate sales. He almost never buys anything, but he loves to poke around. We go in and look around this beautiful old house. There were three floors of stuff. Furniture, knickknacks, dishes, etc. And all of a sudden, in a badly lit corner, I see a tray and I shout at my dad, "YOU HAVE TO BUY THESE FOR MOM!!!!!"

He stared at me like I grew three heads.

About three years before this, somehow by accident, all of my mom's Christmas ornaments had been thrown away. She had been storing them in a trash bag and someone (we still don't know, it could have been any one of the six of us) must have thrown it away because all of her ornaments disappeared. The ones we had made as kids, the "Baby's First Christmas" ones she had been given for the four of us, a few she had bought over the years. These were memories to her.

What I had found was an entire group of these weird little wooden ornaments I had never seen anywhere else. Elves, Santa, reindeer, snowmen. They were barely an inch tall. My mom was the only person I have ever known to own them. They were gone, but here were like 25 of them. Ones she had had and ones that would have been knew to her. The entire tray was maybe $5 once I convinced my dad to buy them.

My mom was so unbelievably happy. Sure, they weren't her exact ones, but it did mean something to her to be given some of what she had lost back through random chance at an estate sale. I'd hope that whoever had owned them before this would have been happy they ended up in the hands of someone who appreciated them.

If you can consider this less about letting go and more about spreading out your mother's joy, it may help you see an estate sale could be a good thing.
posted by zizzle at 2:06 PM on January 23, 2019 [51 favorites]

After my father’s death, we invited the neighbors and family to all take a few pieces they would like. My sister and I rented a storage unit for the things we had a hard time letting go of but agreed it would only exist for three years. We sold the rest at a yard sale. Three years later we kept 10-20% and got rid of the rest. No regrets about the storage unit.
posted by frumiousb at 2:12 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss! I have been in your position in recent years ... one thing that helped me immensely was hiring a personal organizer (technically a team of 2) to help with the actual process. It wasn't cheap, but it allowed me to get through the entire bulk of stuff in two days.

The men who helped me sorted things into piles, opened/unpacked/repacked boxes, kept me on task, acknowledged my nostalgia while keeping me looking forward, and gave me gentle but firm and realistic guidance on what was worth what. They arranged for the auction house and the donation and the recycling/trash pickups, and they had contacts at all those places to make it happen quickly and efficiently. With their help, I did in a long weekend what would otherwise have taken me weeks to accomplish.

I got almost no money out of all the "big, brown furniture" and the old things that were so sentimentally valuable to the family. And at the time that hurt, but now (4 years later) I can honestly say that I feel no emotion around any of it. In this case, for me, the *anticipation* of how awful it would be turned out to be far, far worse than how it ended up.

Agreeing with the previous poster who said take pictures, too. I do have a few of those, and they bring nice memories now but no real sadness or regret. It's just stuff. Not having it around doesn't diminish my familial love at all.
posted by mccxxiii at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Howdy, OP. You may find this post on the blue of interest. Please note, the link is to a parody article. There are many comments that explore the meaning of possessions, including my own struggles with shedding stuff that belonged to people I love. I would encourage you to take all the time you need to deal with this.

It feels like a sin to essentially junk it all. I've had appraisers come in and they've all reported that there is no real market for antiques anymore.

Here's a link to a directory of museums, charities, and other nonprofits. If your mother genuinely had a curated collection of the "best of" various objects, there are museums that may welcome donations to their collections, other nonprofits that might appreciate the opportunity to sell some of those objects to raise funds, potentially universities or other organisations (if there is a connection to an area of interest, or history, etc.) that might be eager to give some of these objects a home.

Consider giving yourself a time budget or hiring someone to deal with this for you. There are professional organisers who deal with seniors downsizing to much smaller homes, for example. If you like, you can deal with the emotional side of shedding all this stuff and hire someone else to deal with the practical matter of disposing of most of the possessions.

I think you are super smart to recognise what a burden these possessions would be if you kept them. Your mother enjoyed the things she collected while she was still alive; you don't need to be trapped by those objects because she loved them. Free these things up for other people who will enjoy them as your mother did. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:57 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, I'm so so sorry. I am in a very similar situation, though my father is still alive, but had to move out of his condo into assisted living following a stroke. I had begged him for years to start downsizing because I knew what a hellish problem I would inherit if he didn't, but he never did. So then it became my problem to empty out his condo and sell it. We accomplished the first part, and are now moving to the selling part.

Here is what we've been doing:
-My father probably owned well over 1,000 books spanning an impressive array of topics. I took home what I wanted (maybe 100 or so), and then basically had a series of open houses for my friends where they could come over and take home anything they wanted. It broke my heart to think of most of his books going into a landfill or similar, and even though I knew most of it would be, eventually, having a friend take home even one book of poetry helped lessen the pain.

-I contacted a couple of family members to ask if they wanted to take a few things, and they came over and took some stuff.

-I had a friend who is good with sorting through tons of important shit help me go through his office records, and we set aside anything that looked important. Then I took several boxes to Office Depot to shred.

-I took a few nights to go through the family archives. There were SO! MANY! PICTURES! of people I barely knew, and I was ruthless and only took a couple boxes home. I should note that I am a professional archivist, and that didn't necessarily make it any easier.

-Because at this point I was so emotionally drained and angry at my Dad about this, I had my husband take my Dad back to his condo once last time for a final walk through, sort of the "last call" for final items he wanted us to have.

-We then used an estate clean out company for the rest. I put off doing this, but it became inevitable. They listed some of the valuable stuff for resale, and then basically brought in a dumpster for the rest. It was expensive and I freaked out about the costs, but the day I walked in and saw it entirely empty, I swear I felt so much lighter.

At some point, you'll have to realize that you have three choices:
1. Keep paying for someone else's stuff to live in their house
2. Take all of their stuff to live in your house
3. Take what you want, get rid of the rest. Your decision to send it to a landfill is not heartless, it is the inevitable outcome of someone else who never downsized before it became your problem to deal with.

I never realized how emotionally exhausting it is to clean out someone else's house until I did it myself. It sucks and I feel like I will be dealing with the residual emotions of it for a long time. Be kind to yourself. You will inevitably throw out something you regret shortly after it's too late to go back and get it, you will probably take home more than you should, but forgive yourself. This is a shitty problem to deal with. MeMail me if you want to commiserate.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:04 PM on January 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

It's a ton of work, physical and emotional. Take pictures of all the stuff, lots of pictures. Then hire someone to sell all of it. She has good antiques so how somebody who will do a good job. They will usually have an auction of good stuff, then tag sales and maybe a lesser auction. It's wrenching to let go, but you will feel so much better when you don't have to deal with it.
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on January 23, 2019

I'm sorry that you're dealing with this, and as someone who tends to be overly sentimental about objects (thanks to my on mother, who also frets about keeping things in the family) I completely understand how you feel.
I also know how much it meant to her, and how devastated she'd be to know that it was sold at an estate sale for pennies on the dollar. It feels like a sin to essentially junk it all. I've had appraisers come in and they've all reported that there is no real market for antiques anymore. There are no family members to bestow/burden this stuff on. Do I just put the blinders on and liquidate everything?
I can't find it, but there was an article that made the rounds online a few years ago (I thought I remembered being posted here) about the bottom falling out of the "heirloom antiques" market due to a number of factors; changing taste, people moving around a lot more, having less space, entertaining less. Your grandparents might have been happy to inherit your great grandparents' Victorian china cabinet and full service for 12 as a practical matter. Your parents might have been happy to inherit them for sentimental and monetary value, but this Onion article from last week sums it up in a headline: Mom Wants To Know If You Could Use Grandma’s Antique, 12-Person Dining Room Table In Your Studio Apartment.

So... from a purely pragmatic standpoint, liquidating these things is not being sinful; your mother spent what she spent on them, and enjoyed owning them in her way, but if you don't want it then selling gives them new life with people who actively want it and will enjoy them - and one thing that has really helped me let go of some things that I never wear or use but feel guilty about getting rid of is remembering what it's like to be a broke early-20s person just starting out on your own, and finding a good deal on the most amazing nice/cool piece of furniture/lamp/mirror/whatever at an estate sale/tag sale/thrift shop. Good luck.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 4:26 PM on January 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

She owned several antique shops over the years so she had a curated collection of the "best of" as well as lots of family heirlooms.

Oh hello there me! This is my life right now. I have a little bit of time, money and space to deal with it and part of what has helped me is picking a few things that mattered... to me, to my mom, to the family, and really trying to make example things out of them. Give them to a good home, make a big deal out of it, tell people nice stories. Then after this, show no mercy getting rid of things. Because, honestly, your mom's concerns ended with her life at some pragmatic level and if there weren't more people in the mix besides only you, there's not much you can do about that. Sometimes the apple DOES fall far from the tree. It happens. Keep in mind that I am gathering from your post that either the relatives aren't helping or there are no relatives. We have a lot of unhelpful relatives (from the Buddhist who doesn't need attachments to stuff, to the people who are concern trolling me about my mom's things but not offering to help lift a box, no love, y'all). So it's hard because you're out on a limb but at some level you just need to make it right with whoever you need to make it right with. And if that is just you well... you can do what you want. Maybe you want to honor your mom's legacy in some useful way but maybe that doesn't have to be with money. We did a lot of stuff with my mom's stuff and we're still going (I have one very on-board sister with all this which helps)

- gave some special stuff (outside of her bequests) to people who meant a lot to her or who she meant a lot to, wrote letters, etc. Took a while but I felt good about it
- gave every single blanket and towel to the local pet shelter
- gave her books to Books to Prisoners and/or the library book sale (she would have liked this)
- had her foster kid who was left out of the will (he got money, not stuff) an offer for stuff if he wanted it, he did

Keep in mind that whatever kept your dad in his weird situation probably applies to you too. No need to untangle it but you can think "OK that will not be me" It's hard and sometimes you just need permission from your friends and other family that it's okay to let go. Anyone who judges you can be told, politely "You didn't help. I did what I needed to do" The world is full of "ur doin it rong" people, don't let them colonize your mind. I am sorry for your loss, if you want to start a support group for people dealing with this, feel free to PM me.
posted by jessamyn at 4:30 PM on January 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Offer to give things to folks that want them in memory of your mum, and then have an estate sale. As someone whose house is full of stuff I've gotten at auctions & estate sales, let me reassure you that the things that you will sell will be appreciated and loved by folks just like me. The objects where I know a bit about the person that owned them are even more special - every time I weave on my floor loom, I think of the lady it belonged to and I'm grateful that her family decided to have a sale and give me a chance to own something so wonderful. I use her books & her handwritten patterns, and a little bit of her lives on in every piece of work I do.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:23 PM on January 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you're not dependent on the money and have some spare time, I had really lovely experiences getting rid of my old furniture when I massively downsized (vintage ish but your mums stuff sounds way nicer, my stuff was purchased pretty cheap and bad condition) on craigslist. I put it up for a nominal fee but not for free which seemed to work well (some people trawl for free stuff, where as the $20 for a bad condition mid century modern chair people were sweet students or pensioners who really wanted an antique-y chair within their budget). Most peoole who came to get it really appreciated what they were buying.

Similarly, if you had the time and money you could send pics to refugee/homelessness/women's domestic violence shelters and ask whether they want any of it for free.
posted by hotcoroner at 7:51 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I find it hard to believe those appraisers. Antiques remain popular around here. Sure, people aren’t necessarily buying entire matching bedroom sets, but quite often, they’ll want that one special piece to stand out against more contemporary stuff. Plenty of people would rather go with antiques over MDF... Then there are people who’ll refurb for fun and resell for more... also, there are places that want antiques for film and theatre prop rental, or for staging for real estate... just not sure I agree that everyone’s on the scandy train, there’s value there.

If you want to feel like you’re paying your mom respect, why not email some pictures to some local antique / furniture consignment shops, and see if there’s interest? You might make a nice chunk of change in the process, you never know.

If that fails, you can always go with the estate sale.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:04 PM on January 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

So I have a friend who was in a similar situation down to wanting it all to just go away in a fire. Then, a fire actually happened. Not everything was ruined, but the bulk of it was toast. It took him about 3 years to get over it. He still talks about some of the family items lost in the fire and how terrible he was to think he did not care about them. Be careful what you wish for and all that.

Me? I would take a lot of pictures of the house, the items in the house, the views from the house, etc. I would wait 6 months and if I still had no desire for anything, I would have the estate sale. Sounds great to find poor people who need nice things and give it to them, but how is that going to work? If you want, donate the proceeds of the sale to charity. Then, sell or rent out the house.

Keep the insurance up to date in the meantime.
posted by AugustWest at 9:47 PM on January 23, 2019

We hired a nice woman who does estate sales (after taking what we wanted). It was difficult for me-- selling my mother's Waterford crystal she waited most of her life to be able to afford, etc. But over time I got less sentimental about it and appreciated having the estate state woman do everything.

I like the idea of giving to charities, if you have the time to figure it all out.
Putting the stuff in storage just seems to be avoiding the evitable.
posted by DMelanogaster at 9:59 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you considered airbnb-ing that property? And after letting everybody get that thing that will mean something to them, let the rest go by attrition.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:09 AM on January 24, 2019

There's so much great advice here already. I want to echo those who urge you to reframe the issue to alleviate your feelings of guilt or confusion.

I heartily recommend Peter Walsh's book, Let It Go which deals exactly with their conundrum of handling your parents' belongings after they are gone (as well as downsizing your parents' and your own home). To paraphrase Walsh, your mother's things existed to make your mother happy, and she is gone so their job is done. Let these things make someone else happy now (as with all the great advice to sell and donate).

Walsh would also urge you to take the time to really go through her belongings and see if there are some treasures you would like to keep. A treasure is something that jogs a best memory of your mom-- and with how you describe your life goals, this may be just one or two small and very special things. I think the point here is to do this thoughtfully so you can move forward without feeling hung up or unresolved. "Through" is your way out.

I wish you all the best in this time. Most of us will face similar, but most of us come unprepared.
posted by tamarack at 6:14 AM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

There is a whole business here that rents out antique type items for weddings and parties - people do want this kind of thing. Maybe they wouldn't pay want your mom thought it was worth, but they will take it one way or the other and put it to great use.

I think the idea to invite friends and neighbors to come pick a couple things and then having an estate sale is great. You will draw more people the more stuff you have. I would make a deal with the person who runs the sale to take whatever is left if you can. Or do an auction and you will have less left.
posted by domino at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2019

I go to estate sales on occasion, not very often. I usually buy a few little things. I remember the places where I bought the things, and I "remember" in a weird way the people who owned the things, through the things. I have: two deep violet cut-class highball glasses, three lovely generous crystal brandy snifters, a framed print on a leopardprint mat of Bugs Bunny giving the orange monster a manicure, and a burned DVD of Brokeback Mountain. I will always "remember" the person who owned these, though I never met them and never saw an image of them. I'll remember them because of the beautiful way they lived, in a small apartment in a run-down part of town but with such beauty and style and obvious hospitality that I couldn't help loving them and wishing I'd known them all my life. I use the snifters every time my friend comes to visit because he always brings a bottle of brandy. The Bugs Bunny picture is in the guest room. I probably won't watch Brokeback Mountain again, but I'll never get rid of it, either, because it makes me happy to have charge of it and to take care of it for this person who took the trouble to burn the DVD so I could watch Heath Ledger and figure out what the hoopla was all about. This estate sale was close to 20 years ago, but I think of that person frequently still.

At another sale I got a little drinking glass with a few postage stamps from the 50s in it. They were pretty, and the woman had clearly saved them because they were pretty. You can't pull the stamps out of the glass without them tearing, so I put the glass in the window so the light shines through and you can see the pretty blue stamps.

Stuff is weird that way. You don't have to keep the stuff because it was your mother's: the stuff will reach the people who long to care for it. Read Marie Kondo for more of this sort of demented rumination on stuff and how best to be kind to stuff: it's not by hanging on to it forever when you don't want it. Per Kondo, that's cruelty to stuff.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:34 AM on January 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Depending on the kinds of antiques and the house's location, you may be able to donate some antiques in your mother's name to local public institutions like museums, where many people can see and enjoy the items.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:34 PM on January 24, 2019

The thing that spoke to me here was your feeling of imagining your mother's disappointment and sadness seeing the items sell cheaply. I wrestle with those feelings of disappointment too. And I would say this:
The value of those items was their value *to your mother*. They may not be able to do what she hoped they would do now, but they did good for her and gave her comfort in her life. Nothing more is required.

I would try to borrow a Kondo-ism.and thank the objects for their service, and see if that shifts your feelings. They were meaningful and important, and not being worth money now doesn't erase what they did for her in the past, or obligate you to hold on to them indefinitely.
posted by Lady Li at 1:09 AM on January 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

You could also watch that bizarre movie franchise where the dog keeps dying and being reincarnated as other dogs that find the original dog's owners and become their dog. (Or maybe just watch a preview; a whole movie of that might kill a person.) Stuff is like magical reincarnating dogs, except with stuff, it's the owners who reincarnate. In this belief system, when I adopted my Bugs Bunny manicurist picture and my blue stamps in a glass, I absorbed a part of their owners' personalities, and every time I enjoy my stuff, they enjoy it through me.

What I'm getting at, here, is, it's all magical thinking, and in my experience it is more effective and vastly more pleasant to yield to it. I like Kondo so much and she works for me so well because her stance on stuff is at the opposite end of the continuum from my natural hoarder ideation about stuff--but it's the same belief system. You can be an Ikea atheist--remember their heartless vicious terrible ad where the woman hygges a poor defenseless lamp out into the rain and it slowly dies of neglect? "Many of you feel bad for this lamp! That is because you craaazy! It hass no feelings! And the new one is mush beeehtter!"--but it's painful and difficult. Who needs pain and difficulty right now? Let the stuff go so it can live on and find its new, happy home.

P.S.: Antique auctions still exist--you might google around and see if an auctioneer wants to take on the whole collection. And if she has any sets of smalls, like china or silver, you can call replacements limited.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:13 AM on January 25, 2019

I thought an epilogue might be helpful for someone reading this in the future, facing their own version of this story.

I sat on my hands for a year, sort of unable to move forward on doing anything. Finally, a neighbor approached me to see if I'd be interested in selling the house to her and her father. I was very receptive to the idea, she had been a friend of my mother's, she'd been taking care of the fish in the little fish pond, and knew the neighbors and friends. We discussed money, timing, etc. In the end, the house didn't work for her father's needs so no deal was struck. That was fine, though, because the logjam inside my head broke loose. I was ready. I called an estate liquidation agency. They came in and took virtually everything, leaving the house "broom clean". They reassured me they'd donate/auction/Ebay/consign everything...but I knew it was theatre. I don't know or care what's happened to it. Maybe I'll get a check from them, maybe I won't. It was cathartic to move on. I listed the house and it sold in less than a week. That chapter of the grieving is over.

I guess my point is that taking a year to digest what had happened was very useful. Time heals all wounds, etc, etc.
posted by karst at 12:23 PM on June 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

« Older Gotta buy a dishwasher   |   An electric range with a griddle? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.