Guilt – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Each day, I work closely with heirs attempting to deal with what their parents have left behind.  Some parents leave more than others, and some downsize long before their time comes.  Some are so attached to their possessions, they leave it all for their children to contend with.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear they use their possessions as an anchor to this world, not fully understanding that when you are called to enter the heavenly gates, you can’t take a thing with you.  You leave this earth much as you entered it, and we didn’t bring one material possession when we arrived.

On a daily basis, I hear middle-aged children tell me their mother “would kill them” if they sold or gave her possessions away, or that mom “always told me how valuable it was and to never sell it,” or that “I had to pass this down to the kids or she’d roll in her grave.”  They openly share with me that mother always stressed the importance of these things and they now feel badly, wanting to sell them.

Friends, this is what I call strategically applied guilt and I am offering you some helpful advice here with the hopes that you will read it, re-read it, and pass it along to those who need to read it!

  1. Every “thing” has a season.  That season of cherishing that item was during your mom’s lifetime, not necessarily yours.  Free yourself and make peace with this.
  2. You may need permission to let it go.  Here it is: It’s OK to let go and let someone else derive pleasure from it. There’s no sense in the item collecting dust, being stacked in your attic, or wrapped up in old newspaper in a box where it has remained since 1977.  Let it go!
  3. No, the kids and grandkids really don’t want it, most of the time.  Even if you have an idea in your head that they will want it in the future, most of the time they don’t.  Ask them what they would like to keep now.  If it’s not on their list, don’t force them to take it.  All you are doing is “passing the buck” to the younger generation that has no tolerance for “stuff.”  They prefer cash.
  4. Why would you clutter up your house with someone else’s stuff?  It’s not fair to you, your spouse, your children.  Make a pact with yourself that you will sort through it in a timely manner … not years, but weeks.  Hire an appraiser to uncover what has value so you can make sound decisions.  Get the kids on board and set dates for them to come get what they want.  If it is unclaimed, give it to a charity of choice; let it go to someone who will appreciate it.  It really is simple — you just have to make up your mind to do it, and forgive yourself for anything you think you are doing incorrectly.  Always look forward.
  5. I’m sure they don’t care about their material possessions in heaven.  Agree?
  6. Relieve yourself and your children of guilt.  Here’s how …

My mom gave me a great gift before she died (her death was not expected).  She took me to the guest room closet which had several packing boxes stacked.  She told me those boxes were filled with family photos.  “When I die, Julie, just throw them away because they are photos of people I don’t even know; I will not give you the guilt my mother put on me.”

When mom died unexpectedly and I was in her home cleaning it out, I walked up to that closet and replayed that scene in my mind.  I actually laughed out loud when I reached for the boxes, telling my brother what mom had told me.  Even though we went through the boxes, she was right and I had no trouble letting go.  I was incredibly grateful my mother gave me that “gift” and relieved me of that burden.  That’s love!

It’s OK to feel a pang of uncertainty.  It’s not OK to drag this stuff with you through life, allowing it to drag you down with it.  It’s not right to place it all on your children.  Learn from this painful experience.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

4 thoughts on “Guilt – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

  1. Great food for thought. My stepdad passed away a few months ago and I had to put my mom in an assisted living facility. Although they had “only” been married 30+ years, the property where their house was went back to 1912 (my mom’s family property). The homestead house where she was born in 1925 is still “up the road”. At any rate, my mom had items in the house including a quilt from the Civil War. That’s just for starters. She was an only child so things ended up being all mine, so to speak. I live 3,000 miles away and am now paying $80 a month for a storage unit where the quilt (plus 10 others from the early 20th century era), dolls, several sets of crystal, numerous “Cupie” dolls and other items are stored by me. I need to deal with this situation as both my daughters are also 3,000 miles away, in their 20s and not interested in settling down or really taking this stuff either. It’s turning into a pricey dilemma. I hope I can get someone in to assess things (nothing’s of much value, I’m sure) and perhaps sell most and be done with it. Thanks for the article!
    Vivianne Hall

  2. P.S. – I meant to add that when mom and I were going through EACH AND EVERY piece that was headed for storage, she had a story of what the item was, when it was acquired, who it belonged to, etc. The scary part is now I also know the background behind EACH AND EVERY piece!

  3. Beautifully said, I agree with you. We also help people deal with this issue. Through our online auction process, everyone who wants to can bid and hopefully win items that are important to them. Other people are given a chance to enjoy them. The estate benifits by because the items are removed and money is raised for the beneficaries. We often forget, things are not the most important things. You were lucky to have such a wise mom.

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