Back in February, Richard Eisenberg wrote a piece for Next Avenue titled, “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff.” While the post generated a mix of passionate responses, the message behind the article was still sadly relatable; we end up with a lot of stuff from our parents that we simply don’t want or need.

If you have inherited all of your parents’ stuff, what in the world are you supposed to do? Here are three ways to approach the problem, and three people who have lived through each one:

Communicate With Your Parents Early

If your parents are older, it is imperative that you communicate with them about what’s important before they go. Sometimes, it can be  impossible to distinguish between items that are actually meaningful, and items that are just clutter.

Paige Arnof-Fenn recommends talking to your parents and, if possible, going through the stuff together:

“Both of my parents have died sadly and both left a lot of stuff behind. I always knew my mom had a lot of clutter in the house but I did not realize the extent of it until she was gone, she was more than a pack rat I’d say a bit of a hoarder. They both saved a lot of paperwork and files, both kept tons of old tax records and papers from their parents who were long gone.

My mom died first so I had time coach my dad to start cleaning out his stuff at least. They both had storage lockers too, so much unnecessary stuff! After my brother, sister & I kept what we wanted, I did estate sales, donated to several charities, threw out the junk, there was plenty to go around. It took a ton of time and was exhausting.

I wish I could say there were shortcuts but I did not find many. There was good stuff mixed in with the crap, so I really did have to go through it all. I did not feel obligated to keep any of it but I am glad to have what I kept. I tell all my friends to have your parents tell you what is important and why it is meaningful to them while they are alive otherwise those stories will be lost. It would have been much more meaningful to go through it together.”

Sell, Donate, and Recycle

When Jodi McCaffrey inherited her parents’ 2,300-square-foot home on the Jersey Shore, she was astonished to find it packed to the rafters:

“Both of my parents were collectors and repurposers: my mother collected art supplies (we inherited a large ceramics kiln, 2 potters wheels, 7 easels, countless tubes and jars of paint, glaze and stain, thousands of art history and instruction books, paintbrushes, canvases, frames, etc.), tea pots and ceramic unicorns, among other things. My father collected sports memorabilia (including hundreds of hockey and football books and magazines). They didn’t like throwing things out, so there are duplicate and triplicate of many items. For example, we found 12 pairs of work gloves, a bag with 6 mallets, 4 fish tanks. For awhile there were 11 beds in this house, including a Craftmatic adjustable bed from the 80s. Not to mention thousands of photographs and mementos…

We’ve emptied A LOT from the house through a variety of methods – estate sale, donations, “shopping” days with friends, Facebook selling, recycling, bulk trash, free on the curb, and probably other ways that I can’t remember!”

Luckily, the avenues for getting “rid” of excess  have grown almost as much as the number of things we own. Your options are endless – and like Jodi, you can exhaust every channel to start cutting down on possessions:

  • Hold an estate sale
  • Bring items to donation sites
  • Have a group or friend item exchange or sale
  • Sell items via online channels like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Etsy, Amazon, eBay, etc.
  • Recycle
  • Host weekly garage or yard sales

Know How (and When) to Let Go

Naturally, the process of sorting through your parents’ stuff and saying goodbye can be emotionally taxing. And sometimes, your parents’ things may simply be too unique or niche to appeal to anyone else. So, what do you do in that scenario?

Heidi Hornbacher encountered this very problem when she tried to get rid of her parents’ things. The things she tried to sell were either not worth the trouble, or not worth what she thought. After trying and failing to sell things like her dad’s Little League memorabilia and pheasant taxidermy, she had to face reality:

“There are some things I maybe should have kept but who has the space? There are some things I’d have loved to have gotten some money for but who has the time to deal with all those seller services? I kept lowering prices and adding new pictures but nothing moved for months. I’m finding out the answer is: no one wants your old stuff. I have to look out for my own sense of closure and home order and just get rid of things in the most expedient manner possible.

In that regard, the only way to separate junk from good is to look at what my heart responds to. What holds happy memories for me? What do I think another friend or loved one might like? The rest can go out and find someone new to love it.

It’s been a painful, time-consuming process but I’m hopeful I’ll soon be out from under all the boxes of all his cherished possessions. Each week I find I’m able to let go of something I felt too guilty to donate. On the other side of this pile I believe there is a clean space for me to create my own home, free of obligation to memory or familial duty. I know for sure it’s all made me want less stuff in general. I don’t want to dump the burden of my own cherished worldly possessions on anyone else.”

Jenny Zhang is a writer for SpareFoot. She's currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing in Wyoming, where winter is always coming.