I’m so sorry you’ve lost your mom.
This is some general advice and a basic game plan for going through your mom’s belongings.
Aaaaalll the memories
For the sentimental part of this process, which is the weirdest (probably), it helps to spend some time thinking about your mom’s legacy in your eyes. Do this before you start picking through stuff — just lying in bed or on the plane where you can think a lot:
- Think about how you remember your mom.
- What did she love to do?
- What sort of objects remind you of her the most?
- What were 3-4 of your most treasured memories of specific events together?
The point of this mental exercise is to have specific sorts of items you are hunting for to keep for yourself. These items should light up your face and honor her memory.
There will be SO MANY amazing things you will come across in the organizing process. But you can’t bring them all home with you. Keep your focus on what you DO want to bring home with you to display and even use in your home. Think about where each item could be displayed at your house, even if that’s inside your closet on a wall for only you to see.
Renting a storage unit long term (for years) is not a good solution to this problem. A few months of storage may be necessary, but years of storage where everything is in boxes out of sight, isn’t the respect the treasured items deserve.
So be thoughtful about choosing items and be realistic.
Timeline and asking for help
For the actual sorting process, it really depends how much time you have to go through the estate. It also depends on your own emotional state. It takes about a year for most people to think logically about their parents’ stuff. Give yourself grace and if you can’t handle the emotional load, wait a while and use a storage unit if needed for a few months.
After a parent dies, you will make mistakes. Click To Tweet
You’ve never done this before. You will make mistakes and that is alright. Your siblings will make mistakes. Forgiveness is the key to getting through your mom’s estate without causing more harm than good.
1st – Bills and mail
Logistically, you’ll want to gather all of the papers together first and make sure all the utilities and monthly expenses get paid or get cancelled.
(This quick video about going through papers may help you. Watch it here.)
2nd – Food and trash
This is usually not an emotional category to handle. And it is important to handle ASAP. Food in the fridge and the pantry that will expire. Make sure the trash will get taken out regularly as well. Find a local food bank/homeless shelter to take donations of cleaning products and food you don’t want.
3rd – Online accounts
Talk to your siblings and other family about what the plan is for her FB account and other social media. Find the passwords for her bank, utilities, other online accounts so you can cancel those as needed.
Super important – The will
This is where things can get overwhelming quickly. To start: You must obtain a death certificate from the coroner ASAP. You can’t do much without that. Your mom’s hospital can help (if applicable). Google “death certificate (your state)” for info.
Try to find a folder or binder or something your mom left with her will and estate plans. Contact the estate attorney for help dissolving the will. You can choose a different attorney later if you’d like, but meet with your mom’s attorney first for a lay of the land.
It’s nice to split up the duties according to your strengths. If you have someone with whom to split the duties, you are very fortunate.
If you’d like to start thinning out your mom’s physical items, and if you have time, it can be a nice break from the legal rigmarole.
Pick a category to start with that interests you. A hobby you had in common, her clothes, books, something you know about.
Once you’ve located the collection, shop her stuff. Remember the rules:
- have a place in mind where the things you bring home will live
- only bring home what you can actually use or have a spot for (you may trade out something of yours to make room)
After you pick your favorite (2-3 items) from the collection, you’ve got to let the rest go. Maybe another family member will be interested. But you can’t bring home everything you like.
If you honestly feel like her collection has some market value, look up specific items online and make sure you find the price they’ve actually SOLD for, not what they are listed to sell for.
If you don’t have a lot of time to spend going through all of her things yourself, AND if you feel she has a lot of valuable items, hire an estate sale company to come in once the family has taken the things they want.
You’ll generally earn 30-35% of the proceeds from an estate sale done by professionals.
If there isn’t a lot that’s worth much money, donate it. Find a local company you like that will pick up items for free in a truck.
You can sell off specific items using facebook marketplace. Unless your mom had a lot of very valuable things that are currently in demand, I recommend this method– selling off individual things. You’ll save time (by not organizing a public sale) and still make money on individual items. Usually family wants the valuable stuff anyway.
There’s enough to get you started and to help you divy up tasks if possible. Don’t be a hero; and forgive yourself every day for judging your efforts and mistakes.
There’s a great book on this topic called “Let it go” by Peter Walsh and I’ve written a summary of the practical and emotional tips from the book here.
Another helpful article: 9 things no one tells you about selling the family home
Also published on Medium.