For the past several years, West has been methodically going through hundreds of letters. She’s tossing out “anything I’d never want to read again,” but keeping correspondence that has personal, historical or emotional significance. Old letters from aunts, uncles and cousins have been sent to surviving relatives. The ones she is keeping are filed chronologically in airtight plastic containers, rather than cardboard boxes that could be susceptible to insects.
With her own professional papers, chronicling her work on UC-Davis faculty women’s issues, West has already donated many to the UC-Davis archives.
Tackling those kinds of chores now can save everyone tedium and some heartache in the long run.
Miller, having closed up his parents’ Palo Alto, Calif., home and settled most of their legal affairs, is now committed to paring down the physical pieces of their lives that he’s accumulated in Davis. “The nature of the job is emotionally wrenching, but most of it is so tedious just because of the sheer quantity,” said Miller.
For him, it couldn’t be done without a professional at his side.
“We baby boomers want someone to give us permission to let go,” said Smith, the professional organizer. “We feel a huge responsibility to honor the past. But there’s the financial, emotional and sheer exhaustion of the time and energy in dealing with it.”
That’s why she advocates a simple rule of thumb: “We spend our first 40 years in life collecting things. And we should spend our second 40 years getting rid of things.”
TIPS ON PARING THE CLUTTER:
—Label photographs: While an elderly parent is still alive, go through family photos together, jotting down pertinent dates or names on the back. Enlist a grandchild or friend to help, sorting loose photographs by month or year. Eliminate duplicates or send to other relatives.
—Pretend you’re moving: The art of downsizing takes practice. Every couple of years, go room by room, sorting through clothes, books, kitchen cupboards, even the garage, as though you were weeding out in preparation for a move.
—Designate: Some families put sticky notes or masking tape with their names on furniture or belongings. Others keep a list of items that family members have “claimed.” It can speed up the sorting process and ease arguments after you or your parents are gone.
—Slim down: If you love Grandpa’s flannel shirts, don’t keep all of them. Choose a favorite or two and donate the rest. Same for sets of dishes, books, artwork and clothing.
—Donate: Help yourself de-clutter by giving to those who need it more. Whether it’s books, clothing, linens, furniture or bric-a-brac, pick a favorite charity and donate. If there are valuables or items with possible historic significance, contact a local historical society, museum, fraternal organization, school/college or group with a specific interest.
—Hire a pro: If the task is too overwhelming to go it alone, consider hiring some help. To find a professional organizer by ZIP code, go to the National Association of Professional Organizers’ website: http:// www.napo.net. Professional organizers, who typically charge by the hour or by the job, are trained to help clients sort, organize and downsize homes and offices.
©2014 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): PFP-PARENTS-ESTATE
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