Minority Family

Experts share tips for getting the job done and keeping the peace.

Clearing out the family home? How do you keep the memories, but also get rid of stuff? In reality, you just can’t keep everything. The Wall Street Journal MarketWatch recently interviewed author Linda Hetzer in an article titled, “Cleaning out Mom & Dad’s home without a fight“. Hetzer says to honor your family items—reminisce, take photos, write down your memories, tape record family members sharing stories—then let them go.

Hetzer’s co-author Janet Hulstrand cautions that many people start too late then rush through. This is when mistakes are made, she said, and that can often cause regrets. People approach downsizing as one big project, instead of breaking in up into a series of small efforts.

In the WSJ article, Hetzer advises to first agree that it’s time to let go of the house, then draft a schedule that works for everyone. After that, start sorting through one area of the house or one category of items at a time, dividing them into three piles—Keep, Toss or Donate.

Hetzer said that to be successful in downsizing, each family has to come up with a plan or approach that works for each member, because “conflict may be inevitable, but planning ahead can help.”

For items the family agrees to sell, the first step may be to hire an appraiser to go through the entire house (called a ‘look-see’) to tell you which pieces may be valuable and could be sold at auction. If the entire contents of the house are to be sold, Hetzer suggests an estate sale. For individual items, there are online auctions, resale shops, and yard sales.

Avoid a power struggle by allowing the people who lived in the home to be in charge. However, some moves are made in stressful times such as due to a serious illness or after a death in the family. In those cases, the decision-making will have to shift to others. Most importantly, make sure that no one rushes the process or leaves out people who should be involved. If a family member has passed, there are also legal issues that will control when you can remove items from the house.

This is a task that no one enjoys—OK, there may be a few neatniks out there who can’t wait to recycle Grandpa’s beer can collection—but most of us approach this with anxiety and trepidation. Help yourself and other family members by working as a team.

Families can make this process fun and memorable, the article says, by taking their time. “If you can build in the time for family members to reminisce and just enjoy being together, as well as going through what can be a pretty tedious task, it actually can be fun.”

Reference: Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch (April 21, 2014) “Cleaning out Mom & Dad’s home without a fight

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Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.