WHAT do I do with Mother’s Stuff?

by francy Dickinson          www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Dear Francy; My mother has lived with me for four years and now she is moving into a care center. I have paid over $200 month to keep her things in storage for her and now, I know she will never be on her own again, what do I do?

Well, it is not the best time to attack the storage unit with her new change of pace into a care center. Wait until she is settled first and then you can decide what to do. But something does have to happen, there is no purpose to keep things in a storage unit that could be given a new life out and about. Here are some ideas that I have used.

Storage Unit or Family Home you are going to be the referee for this process, so take off your daughter hat and put on a neutral hat and be kind to all involved.  

  • First, you want to take an inventory (photo inventory). This is not a fun thing to do, but it has to be done. So plan for a weekend and get a gal pal to help or your teen and above children. You take your trusty digital camera and have it all charged up and ready for loads of pictures. Have a few boxes in your car and a permanent marker at hand. You will need a box cutter and then more of the packing tape to re-tape the boxes.
  • Now I have a sorting tool called, I just know what is not going to go to anyone I know – family or otherwise. That knowing means that I have a few large trash bags at the ready and they are going to be your dump bags.
  • Then there will be the bags that will be give away to charity bags & boxes.
  • Then you will have a few boxes for family.
  • I put the family boxes out and put names on them. I included the boys, too. Because some day they will have wives and a household.
  • Line up all the boxes of what I will call your mother’s grand children, grand nieces, great grand children. Then put the boxes out that have your mother’s children’s names and you just start to sort. Then put one box aside for Family& Friends.
  • I would think you would know enough of each of their tastes if they have homes and how they dress to know if they would like a vintage dress or coat. Maybe a handbag or evening bag, gloves and even a pair of very unused shoes. All the rest of that sort of thing goes to the give away pile. Your mother has all she needs to wear at this time, so you do not have to worry over older clothes. Do go through pockets, inside purses and such things –  valuables do get left behind and you do not want to send them to the charity without a check.
  • China and special things. Here you have a duty to share the wealth with the family. The best pieces go to the nearest in her heart. But do not bother giving china to people who do not cook or entertain. It’s best to give china to someone that does the family dinners. The rest of the things. The side dishes, the older generation dishes you need to divide up among the siblings. The little things like wine glasses, tea cups, salt and peppers, sugar, creamers they go into the grand and great grand children boxes. Just take turns and know you are spreading the memories around. 
  • Gifts; most of us know the different gifts that were given to our parents through the years. If you sister gave something to your mom, put that item into her box. If your dad gave something to your mom share those with all of you.
  • The special memories need a box. There will be lots of photos that can be gone through at another time. Put those into a large plastic bin. Old photos, pictures of your older grand parents, wedding certificates, hand written recipes, old family books and such – those go into the plastic bins. No worry over sorting, you can do that at another time. They will go to a person that enjoys older memories, there is always someone in the family that loves the stories and keeps the photos. Now days a simple computer program means it can all be scanned and then given a copy to every family member so you all get to have those special old photos and recipes and bible entries of years ago.
  • All the everyday things, like towels, stepping stools, things from her everyday life, they all go to charity or dump.
  • Her furniture – take a picture of the pieces and spread them around to anyone that wants it. Usually no one will really want her furniture unless you have a person with a new apartment or home.
  • Books should be sorted for money or notes tucked in their pages and then given away to chairty. The fine furniture take the pictures and ask her who she wants to have them. Usually family ask for things long before the parent goes into sickness so have your mother decide.
  • Once you have finished the sorting then you go back to the boxes. Find a small table and go to each box and lay out the contents of the box and take a picture of it and then put it back into the box wrapping it carefully this time. Repeat this process with all the boxes and then close them up and replace them in the storage unit and then lock it up.
  • Now, you need to go home and print up a small pictures of each of the boxes and contents. You put the name of the person on each and you go over to your mother and you review what you have there and what you have giving each person. This is when you ask if it looks OK and she will say yes or no. Then you ask about the heritage questions so you know where she got things and who gave them to her and how old they are and such. So each box will have a picture on top and then the description of the things inside. If your mom wants to give one thing to her and not to him, then take note of the change and do it. Remember to use your camcorder or voice recorder to put her information on the tape, it makes it easy for you to share and nice to have her voice talking about family history that you can use on a website or save on a disk.
  • I like to remember people that are close to your mother in the end of her life. Maybe a neighbor or a young person at church and so on, they could get a little candy dish, or pin that your mother always wore. Let your mother think about it, it will give her lots to do and you can spend a few visits working on the project.
  • Now, when the boxes are given out, there is no muss or fuss, your mother has viewed the contents, you have written down the history and they can know they get a little piece of family history with each box they open.
  • Jewelry is different. I always give jewelry to the siblings and not to the grandchildren. It is up to the siblings to know if their children will take care of the jewelry or expensive art. You can write notes on the things and let them know your mother wanted her grand daughter to have this for her wedding – type of thing. That’s special and it releases you from hurt feelings.
  • Now, you can see, if you take pictures, review it with your mother as much as she can do without getting too upset or tired. You become the person that is doing the work, but not the person that “controlled” the distribution. Even if your mother has passed, this way of taking photo’s is good. One person may say they wanted something special and you can show them that they got just as much as their sister and if they want that item to ask her now and make a trade of something in their own box.

I know it sounds nuts, but things mean a lot to people. Being fair and doing all that you can is all that is asked. Hurt feelings can last years. It can break up a family of siblings in no time. I tried hard to make it fair and as a matter of fact, I personally took very few things. I have no children and so I just had the things that mother had given me through the years while she was alive. I had no one ask me about anything that I separated for them. I was ready – I had the photos and I was ready to show them to anyone. I also did something that I think is important.

Long before mother was ill, I had her take special things and give them to her grandchildren or kids as we went through the holiday time or birthdays. I would keep her from sending money and asked her to give them a pin she loved, or a candle holder, etc. It was a nice way for her to share the stories for them to remember.

When you hand over the things you simply say.

“You know these things belong to Mother and they mean a lot to her. But they are really family pieces. If you do not want them any longer, or do not use them please give them back to any family member and we will hold them for one of the future family members to enjoy in years to come. We all understand that some things do not fit into some lives, but please think of these things as yours to enjoy but the family’s to pass down to in our line of heritage.”

You will never get a guarantee of this, but in the middle of a nasty divorce they can always say that you considered those items to belong to the family as a whole, not an individual to sell or give away to anyone outside of the family. I always think it’s so sad to go to antique shops and see lovely pictures of people with no names and no home or a family member. They are just a photo in a pretty frame hanging on a wall.  To keep that from happening, stories of who your family members were and where they lived bring them to life and they mean more to your neices and nephews than just a frame or an old sugar pot.

Lots of work ahead, but you have your family’s history in your hands and that’s a very important thing. Thank you for caring for your mother. I hope you will go to my website and get more tips on giving care and family issues at www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Thank you, francy

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