Back when I was in my early 20’s my grandparents were forced to move to an assisted living home due to my grandpa’s Parkinson’s and increasing blindness and my grandma’s Alzheimer’s. My aunt asked if I would want to take on the project of hosting the estate sale and decluttering all of their belongings. I imagine going through her childhood home would have been too difficult and she also had a full time job. I happily accepted as I had always loved my grandparents and their house had been a second home to me. I wouldn’t be lying when I say that I truly loved going through each and every piece of their life. However, I had a few major realizations throughout the process as well.
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Your family doesn’t want 99% of your stuff
So many people hang onto things with the belief that their family or their children might want these things someday. I have no doubt this comes from a place of love and wanting to pass on quality things to your kin, however, the reality is, most of it won’t be wanted.
My aunt and I each took a few cherished items from the house (not enough to make a dent), and I proceeded to slap price tags on everything else.
I’ll take the light switch
It’s kind of funny how in a world where so many of grandparents might have hung onto things like their good china, or a silver spoon collection thinking it was going to be a great gift to pass on, the truth is, we are each going to remember different aspects of our family member’s homes.
For example, I was talking to a girlfriend whose grandma had recently passed and she told me all she wanted from the house was the little goose light switch cover from the bathroom. She said as a kid she remembered looking at this adorable light switch every time she went into the bathroom.
Chances are no one else, not even her grandma would have seen value in that little goose light switch, but my friend did.
This is similar to the fact that all I wanted when I left my grandma’s bedside after she passed was her porcelain frog lamp. It was the lamp that used to light up the room as Grammy and I sat on her couch in the early morning waiting for the sun to come up. I have been given diamonds of my grandmothers, rubies that were my grandma’s sisters, and to me the most valuable thing I own is that frog lamp. At the end of the day no one can predict what items may or may not steal another persons heart and hold value to them.
Be open to what they want
I think the best way to work around this is to clearly ask your family members what it is they might want to hang onto once you’re gone. You never know, maybe there is a certain family member who would cherish everything you own and happily bring it into their own. However, I have come to find that people often do this out of guilt or a sense of obligation.
“It could be worth something someday” usually isn’t
As people paced through my grandparent’s house, checking out all of the items, I had a very kind man notice the vintage…magazines…I guess you would call them that were resting next to me on the couch. “Hang onto those,” he told me, “Those were considered very risque back in the day. They’ll be worth something.”
These magazines had drawn on photos of women showing a lot of leg and some of mid-drift. Think 1950’s pin up girls. I thanked him for the information and tucked these treasures away for myself. To be honest, I kind of loved them. They were in pristine condition and I loved the vintage appearance of them. For years I even tried to incorporate them into my decor, but the truth is, they didn’t really add anything to my life.
Finally, over a decade later, I looked them up to see what they were selling for on eBay. Twenty five dollars. A definite price increase from their original cost, no doubt, but definitely not worth hanging onto for 60 years.
Support someone else’s eBay addiction
I bundled them up and sold them for around $50 total (since I had several), and let go of the notion that I was missing out on any sort of income. No doubt the person I was selling them to was going to re-list them for a higher price. That’s fine. If they enjoy spending their time listing, selling, and sending vintage items…then I decided I was happy to help them out because that sure as hell wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time.
Someone wants your unused stuff
While your family members might not be fighting one another for your things (another potential reason to declutter your stuff — no one wants to leave family behind fighting like toddlers over an armoire, am I right?)
There are people out there who just might find themselves elated to scoop up your old forgotten things. Here are some items that people were THRILLED to find at the estate sale:
- Old VHS tapes for their outdated classroom’s TV
- A vintage baptismal dress to use for their new grandchild
- Gnome figurines for their mom (she was a collector)
Of course, these are just a few of the things that still stand out to me. The idea that in our growing digital age anyone would still want VHS tapes shocked me to my core, but this teacher was so excited to be able to offer some old classics to her kids!
Let go and share the love
It can be tough letting go of things, I know, but chances are you have some unused items that just might make someone else’s day.
I know it can be tempting to insist you see each item handed off and know the backstory of the family and where and how they will be using your things. However, I think we are still just as capable of dropping our unused items off at a local donation center and holding in our imagination who these items might be going to.
Your stuff is not an extension of you
One of the reasons people struggle to let go of things is because we tend to see our items and the things we own as an extension of ourselves.
The work clothes represent our livelihood and how hard we worked to get where we are.
That vintage car was something we always wanted when we were younger and still makes us feel young whenever we look at it.
Those baby clothes in the totes in the garage keep us connected to that simpler time when we knew where our babies were and how easy it was to snuggle them whenever we wanted.
At the end of the day, these things we hang onto are only activating a feeling within us, feelings we have access to at all times and in all places.
You still accomplished amazing career goals, even if you don’t have the power suit to show for it.
You were still wild and free once, whether you were in your car or not.
You no doubt soaked up all the snuggles you could from your kiddos, even if the onesies have been passed on.
— This sentiment reminds me of something I read in Tracy McCubbin’s latest book, Make Space for Happiness and I no doubt have her teachings about stuff and why we accumulate it fresh on my mind.
We don’t keep anything
Even though my grandparents tried their hardest to hang onto every single thing they owned in their lifetime, in the end, they still left it all behind.
My grandpa passed shortly before I gave birth to my first biological child and years later I sat alone with my grandma and held her hand as she took her last breath.
Sometimes I still drive by the house. It was the only place that gave me a sense of home, and you know why? Not because of their vintage antiques, not because of the VHS tapes or the Barbies (well, a little the Barbies), it was because of them.
Their personalities filled that house and the memories still linger in my mind.
We don’t take anything with us, and yet too often people allow the stuff they cling to to hold them back from truly living.
Whether you are constantly hoarding and re-organizing the clutter you’ve accumulated or are dusting off the shelving and getting under each knick knack, if we are not careful, our stuff can rob us of the things we hold the most dear and in the end it will have all been for nothing. No one will remember what you owned (unless it took value over the people in your life), they will simply remember who you are and how you made them feel.
You are bigger than stuff. Your life is bigger than stuff. So let go, and start living.