Inheriting Clutter

box of old things
Whether a loved one passes, two families merge, or a family member downsizes to a smaller home, stuff is passed down to you disguised as a good thing. We get our grandmother’s dishes, our uncle’s coin collection, pieces of furniture that are less than functional, and the list goes on. Soon this “inheritance” is more of a nuisance than a blessing and we’ve been “dumped on”.

Of course, our family members had good intentions and thought we’d enjoy the stuff they treasured, so with these things comes the guilt if we get rid of any of it. How could we let go of the things they thought to leave us or pass down to keep in the family?

Well, the real answer is yes, you can. You can let some of it go. If you find yourself with a full basement, jam-packed garage or extra storage unit full of a family member’s things, consider the following thoughts and questions.

  1. What are you giving up by storing these items?
  2. What is it costing you to keep these things? Financially? Emotionally? Square footage?
  3. How much energy will you need to spend going through all the stuff?
  4. How will your existing home or space change by keeping your inheritance?
  5. How does this stuff make you feel? Guilty? Sad? Resentful? Bitter? Overwhelmed?
  6. What’s the worst that will happen if you let some of it go?

Consider a compromise. Keep the items and things are you really love and find interesting. Don’t keep anything out of guilt. Be realistic with what you keep. If it’s not going to fit in your space or home, let it go. It’s better to be used and appreciated by someone else instead of collecting dust in storage.

Time will solve things that you’re on the fence about. Letting time pass makes it easier to give things up and sometimes we need to wait for time to pass.

On the reverse side of things, consider what you’re leaving behind for others. What will you pass onto them? Will they appreciate sorting through all your collections and things? That day may feel far off but consider breaking the cycle.


Photo © Vasilisa Zabavnova / Depositphotos

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9 Responses to Inheriting Clutter

  1. Sarah Park says:

    Thanks for this post. I realized I shouldn’t stick with guilt and let so many not-so-useful things occupy my already full place. I just can’t keep them forever.

  2. Christina Christl says:

    Soo true! I had this problem when my husband’s grandfather passed away and we were the only family in the area close to him. We ended up with all kinds of stuff just after I got settled into our new house. It took many years and two floods to get rid of a lot of the stuff but we still have the precious items that really matter. It does make you motivated to get through your stuff so you won’t leave such a mess when you go!
    Good Advice Amber!

  3. Amber says:

    Yes, floods and natural disasters will unfortunately push us sometimes in the right direction whether we want to go there or not :/ Thanks Christina!

  4. Janet Barclay

    My mom spent her last few years in a long term care facility. Because she grew up during the depression, she felt it necessary to keep all the packets of salt, sugar, ketchup, etc. she didn’t use that were given to her with her meals. When we had to clear out her room, we found them everywhere – in bags, loose in drawers; it was crazy!

  5. I find this to be a major issue with my clients. They’re keeping 3 sets of china because they were “in the family”, but they have no intention of using any of it…ever! Dealing with the guilt is the hardest part, but I’ve had success getting clients to donate to a non-profit thrift shop or charity that has meaning to them. It definitely helps to know they aren’t throwing stuff away.

  6. Thalia Poulos

    Have any of you worked with an Estate Sale expert for these types of projects? It’s possible that some little trinket has value (not the ketchup bottles!) and since I’m not an expert on those things I like to have a resource who is. I’m currently looking for someone like that in the Temecula, CA area. Nice Blog!

  7. Amber says:

    Thanks Thalia.. i have an antique dealer I use and an estate sale person I use when I come across “older collections” that “might be valuable”.. unfortunately they are all here in Chicago. I’d do some research in your area if I were you. Good luck!

  8. Your post makes a lot of sense. There is no point keeping or storing things just because you don’t have the heart to get rid of them, despite knowing they are of no use anymore. I guess the question that you always need to ask yourself is, “what’s the worst that could happen if I throw this thing away?”

  9. Amber says:

    I wholeheartedly agree! That’s a great question to ask yourself.

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