The Real Legacy You’ve Left Your Children Part III

Written by Karen Jessee. Posted in Organizing.

The Real Legacy You’ve Left Your Children Part IIIThe E-mail: "Dear Karen,

"I am inquiring on behalf of my parents without their knowledge. They are both retired and in their early 70's. The family home that I once knew as clean, organized, and well kept has become a complete mess and a horrible embarrassment.

"My mom will not get rid of anything because she feels that she may need it one day. She keeps saying she's going through things but this has turned into a slow process of her moving things from one area or box to another. The house has become overrun with boxes and general clutter.
"My father has basically given up which has led to some marital discord. I have tried, as have my siblings, to talk to her or offer assistance but we get pushed back with excuses. They want to declutter and move to a smaller home but the task is well beyond their ability at this point.
"I am at a point where I don't know what else to do to help them and I think its time for professional help but don't know how to get them to accept it. Hoping you may have some answers or guidance? Thank you in advance...Phyllis"

My Reply: "Dear Phyllis,
"You have my sympathy regarding this situation. Trust that you are not alone in your dilemma. I am sending you a copy of September's article that addresses the very issues that are frustrating your family.

"Here's what I know. I can come in for a consultation with your parents, and ask the very same questions and say the very same things all the siblings have said. Your parents will look upon me as a professional with very good ideas; I will be the voice of reason and truth. They will continue to look upon all of you as annoying children with an agenda who were nagging. I've been through this before.
Do not assume that they will now act upon my advice. I will leave, the door will close, there will be some discussion, and then it just may be business as usual.
"May I suggest that you share September's article with your parents and then have them give me a call. This is still your parents' home and their things; they have to want my help as much as you do."

Phyllis' Reply: "Good morning Karen,
"I spoke with my mom this morning and gave her your article to read. I was met with excuses (No time) and some defensiveness at first but I was eventually able to get her to at least ponder the idea of getting outside help. She just texted me and said she is absorbing the information and thinking about it so that is slight progress. I am going to give her some time to think and then ask her to call you. Fingers crossed...."
A month has passed.
She has not called.

Some Truths

If you remember your family home as once neat and tidy, you might also remember your parents as logical and intelligent people who could make numerous logical and intelligent decisions when you were growing up. However, when it comes to the business addressing cluttered rooms and years of accumulations, those ships have sailed. Conversations will become confusing and circular; excuses will be pulled magically out of the air. You will amazed and bewildered as you wonder who these once-upon-a-time reasonable, rational, always-in-charge people have become.
The Real Beginning

Here was another recommendation for Phyllis and anyone else in this situation: think bigger.

If your parents are talking about moving to a smaller place, help them look for and find that smaller place. Once they see their future, once they get familiar with the idea that they're really moving on, once they've answered the big question of "where do we go from here," they will look differently upon all the little things that are consuming their lives and their present home. Downsizing, letting go, giving away, will all take on a new meaning and purpose. They will have a floor plan in front of them that will show them what "smaller" really means so they can make better decisions.

Right now they're just looking at stuff and things and have no way to judge what is and what is not important. The floor plan of any new living environment where a 4-bedroom home is reduced to half or a quarter of the space will help them see the difference.

I don't guarantee that this will be easy; I do guarantee it will be time consuming. But at least you will have pointed the whole project in the right direction.


"My siblings and I gathered to clean out my parents' house after they passed away. I counted well over 100 garbage bags I took to the curb, and then I stopped counting. We had to sort through everything to make sure we weren't pitching out something of relevance or value. The occasional $10 bill would show up inexplicably in a book, a forgotten secret stash of a mother who was waiting for the next Depression.

"When we got around to the bulk, we ordered the largest dumpster available, filled it, and then ordered two more. All this came from a simple 2-story, bare-basic summer home that had been converted to year-round use. It took us more than a year of meeting every other weekend to finally clear out that house.

"It was also on the stage of drama that seems to take place in many families where unmet expectations of two sisters and their brother begin to play themselves out. We were not enjoying each other's company. It was a long, difficult year where conversations were often tinged with resentments. We said little except to make essential decisions.

"Given the distances we had to travel and the small spaces from whence we came, we were unable to take home anything that we would have deemed personally valuable from our childhoods. There was nothing pleasant about any of this."


If you are the parents and are leaving these things "for the children and grandchildren" please remember that times change. Your granddaughter can outfit a kitchen from the Dollar Store and a whole house from an auction, a charity store, or that popular Swedish furniture store. She has a credit card, she knows how to use it, and she can shop from her computer and the television. Your children are grown and have their own established lives. There is simply no room for your garage and basement in their home. Saving a few valuable items or heirlooms for the family is kind; expecting the family to leave their own lives and jobs to clean out the whole house after 40 or 50 years ...not so much.

I remind everyone again of the most important issues: have your paperwork in order. Have the will, the living will, the powers of attorney, phone numbers, account numbers and passwords where the executor can find them.
Take comfort in knowing this; for everything else and for all that stuff, there are numerous businesses and people who can help you get to where you want to be. Next month, I'll introduce you to Elliot, his basement, his toys, his frustrated daughter, and the services that will ease her mind. See you in December.

Karen Jessee is a professional organizer and founder of Simply Organized. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and the Philadelphia Chapter of Professional Organizers. She encourages people to simplify their lives and works with those who need to downsize and get organized. Karen helps clients make the decisions and create the systems that are best for them. She also teaches the strategies to help clients gain greater clarity, control, productivity and peace. Karen is a public speaker on these topics. Visit her website at:
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