30 Comments
Nov 14, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

This really helped me:

“It’s deeply satisfying knowing every item we get rid of is one less thing our kids will have to deal with.”

My mum lives in an enormous house that is FULL of the kind of stuff that will be a nightmare to decide what to do with — antique editions of books I’ll never read; beautiful Georgian jewellery my grandmother collected that I don’t want (BUT WHAT IF MY KIDS DO ONE DAY???).

I am committed to not leaving my kid that level of stuff, but maybe I’ll try gently encouraging my mum to start purging too…

xxM

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I didn't know there was a term for this. OK, so living in a NYC apartment does tend to make this task a bit easier, but even so, I'm determined not to leave this arduous task to my kids wherever I end up. Thankfully, my mom did her own death cleaning (coping? processing?) when she moved out of the house when my dad died, but I see the never-ending struggle that my MIL continuously deals with everyday in her house. It's to the point that whenever I go into both their homes, it's hard not to just see the future task in front of you when you look around.

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Nov 14, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

OK... question: is it ok to toss/rehome items that are not your own, i.e that are the spouse's/kids'? Kids are both in college now, though it is still only just the first semester for the youngest one... don't want to tacitly say, "Don't let the door hit ya on the way out", nor do I want to tacitly say, "Storage facilities are a waste of cash! Leave everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) here!" It looks like everyone just took off to pick up take out. Or like the fire alarm was going off and they had to run away quickly.

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Nov 15, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

We are gingerly stepping into empty nesting, with a recent college grad still at home, and another in their Junior year. Our first step was buying shelving units for the garage, to see, group and organize what we have (cheap enough, from Costco, and can always sell or leave when we move). Next, listing the stuff we know we don't want, for free on Craigslist. My husband is itching to get rid of bedding and kitchen supplies, but with potentially two apartments to help furnish in the next few years, I've convinced him to hold off on that, and work on his bins and cabinets of paperwork.

My 'plan' for my parents' home, is to get a large tub for each grandchild and put a selection of housewares and tchotchkes in each (my mother is a genuine collector, and has a lot of vintage stuff. Both of us regret giving away too much stuff when her mother died because we weren't thinking of what I might want down the road). Whatever is then left after myself, my sister in law and cousin go through it is easily donated, along with clothes and shoes. Jewelry gets put away for a later date. I have asked her repeatedly to get her art and furniture appraised, so we'll know what to do, but she won't. So that will be a biggie.

I will honestly be there for a few weeks, I just know it.

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Nov 15, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

My sister and I are doing the same at our mom's house, after moving her to a senior apartment complex. One minute, it's "ooh, look at these 120-year-old letters in Yiddish!" and the next it's "dear lord, how many linens does one woman need?" We're not on a deadline, thank goodness. But after 50 years in that house, there's a never-ending stream of stuff. My instinct is to toss or give away most things. I need to pause and consider if the kids would want anything.

You could say I did some serious (perhaps overzealous) death cleaning when I downsized. I probably tossed things I should have kept. At the time, it seemed the only thing I truly needed was my dog.

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Nov 15, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

I had exactly the same experience of having to clean out my mother's house in order to sell it. She wasn't a hoarder, but she was somewhere along that continuum and she was always a very disorganized person when it came to papers. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done as it meant emptying out my childhood home, sorting through every inch of my mother's life, and confronting the fact that what the doctor was calling "cognitive impairment" looked a lot more like dementia once I saw how she'd really been living. It was rough and lasted an entire summer and most of the fall. But, like you, it left me with a very clear purpose: I will never let this happen to my children. They are are both off at college now (youngest left in September) and my husband and I are finishing up the fall clean-up outdoors and knocking out a couple of long overdue painting projects before we settle in to a winter of basement clean out. I'm honestly really excited about it. There is a such a feeling of lightness that comes to me when I clean out and clear out. I'm lucky. I know that's not the case for everybody. My best advice is take small bites: tackle a closet one shelf at a time, pick a single drawer, not a whole dresser. And don't buy a whole lot of organizing equipment until you see what's left to organize. Oh, and invest in a decent quality shredder. There's nothing more frustrating than spending ages clearing paper jams when you could be making confetti!

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The prospect of dealing with my mom's house terrifies me. Not only because I know it will take weeks (at the very least) but because I don't know how I will do it with a full-time job and no spouse to pick up the financial slack. How do people make time for this work? I don't really understand that part.

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Nov 15, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

We have watched all of the episodes of the show and I have the book on my list at the library. Right after my sons left for college this fall (freshmen), I dove into starting to help my parents clean out some things from their garage (a starting point). I was asked by my dad, who wants nothing, hates "stuff", but is more than willing to hold onto things if it is something the grandkids or I want. We did pretty well. I tried to share with them some of the ideas from the show. Made sense to my dad, not my mom who will very readily tell you she "likes her stuff". I tried to share that I would much rather go through things WITH them and understand why they have kept what they have, versus after they are gone and trying to guess what's important.

This first pass opened the door to a few things. 1) I was able to point out to my mom that the toys she has saved for 40+ years for my sister (who wants NONE of it) are starting to deteriorate and really are not worth saving anymore as there is no one in the family who wants them. She agreed to let me take it all away. I sold massive lots of Barbie and baby doll stuff! 2) This prompted me to pull out the boxes of my own things from my basement and get real about what my sons might want (likely zero). I was able to knock down some of our own storage in the process! In helping my dad with the old tools and things he had in their garage, things moved from their family farms in Iowa, I was able to work with an antiques dealer nearby. It was eye-opening on many levels. And when it came to stuff like my dad's old toys, the antiques dealer told me the time to get rid of that stuff is now because the people who still remember things like Howdy Doody are a narrowing crowd. Anything pop culture really only stays around so long. So, if you're holding onto something because it "might be valuable someday", really consider if that's true.

At the same time I was working with my parents, I started working with a friend of mine whose husband has been diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Dementia - Behavioral at age 52. She also wanted to do death cleaning (and had read the book). She is coming at this from a very different place. She needs to simplify her life in order to be a caregiver for her husband. She has had to get very real about what is important to hold onto and what just isn't. We all have various challenges with all of our stuff (personal and inherited), but I am encouraged by this group all nodding together about what we do and do not want to leave for our children. There is a lot in this that is so freeing all around.

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Nov 16, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

Oh man, my sisters and I are sort of doing this for my parents as they age. It has been very hard, as they have a lot of trouble letting go of stuff and also have very little stamina at this stage. My husband and I will also at some stage help his mother as she moves to a smaller place. It’s so exhausting and time consuming to do it with them; but I guess it would be the same without them but with grief on top.

Is this a peculiarly modern phenomenon? Were previous generations both less consumed by avalanches of Stuff and also able to pass it on to younger generations to use? Or are we just talking about it more, like menopause.

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Nov 16, 2023·edited Nov 16, 2023Liked by Asha Dornfest

I was so happy to read about your initial skepticism with decluttering -- but now I'm jealous that you've been so successful with it. I was so deeply committed to getting rid of what I've saved that I started a podcast about it a year and a half ago called I Couldn't Throw It Out. The idea was to tell the stories behind the stuff and then have witnesses make me toss it. So far, um... epic fail. I think I've thrown away a few cards from friends.

Part of my challenge is that I saved everything from my career as a reporter, including crates of celebrity interview tapes. I've gotten some good advice -- digitize the tapes and donate the files to archives. But I still can't toss those tapes with Joni Mitchell or Kiefer Sutherland talking with me for People Magazine. I can't even toss personal items, like my high school literary magazine -- which I've saved for 50 years. The best I can do -- after each episode -- is to put things in a box called "Processed."

Last week, Theresa Rebeck -- who wrote the play I Need That, which is on Broadway with Danny DeVito -- came on the podcast to talk about what she saves. Turns out, she saves only beautiful things, not the letters and cards from friends that I save. She wrote a play about it, but she's better at tossing things than I am!

When I read that you shredded those work papers, part of me knew it was the right thing. But another part of me wondered, what will historians do when they're trying to piece together the evidence of your publishing career? Those poor Asha Dornfest historians of the future! Anyway, I've had a lot of fun sorting through my stuff. So one goal accomplished. But while you are thriving in a clutter-free house, I have a feeling that I'll still be up in the attic, sorting through my 24 boxes of treasures.

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My dear friend, you have impressed me so much in how you have handled things over the past couple of years.... I imagine it won't surprise you AT ALL to know that I have a weekly recurring to-do in Todoist to take one small decluttering step. The action is actually called "7 YEAR DECLUTTER" since I imagine we will be at or near a decision point to downsize once both kids are out of the nest!

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