What do you do when someone else wants you to keep stuff? Downsizing an elder — old family items, etc. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 08:20 AM - Thread Starter
 
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My mom moved to a retirement place this spring and I helped her move and decluttered a lot of the 50+ yrs worth of stuff that was in her house when she moved. However, there were a lot of items that were _really_ old family items and/or antiques. The retirement place provides a storage unit for independent living units and we brought up some of that stuff that we just didn't know what to do with and put it in there until we could get around to sorting it out.

 

Well, now Mom is going to downsize and move into Assisted Living. And we have to figure out what to do with this all of this old family stuff. Mom is 86 and her family kept A LOT of things through the years. Some of it is very interesting (great grandma's old baby clothes, old photos, old books, trinkets, mementos, furniture), but I don't know what to do with it all. I don't necessarily want it myself. The thing is my brother is an engineer-type with very rigid thinking. He wants my sister, myself, and him to divide it all precisely equally 3 ways and, I'm pretty sure I'm then supposed to hold onto it into perpetuity. Some of it (like g-gma's antique baby clothes from the 1800s) I have a hard time figuring out what to do with myself, but most of the old books I could let go unless it's somebody's diary or something. If it's just a novel from 1910, well, that's cool and all, but I think I could take that to the antique book store and let somebody who's into those things get some pleasure from it. Unfortunately I fear that he will not think that's okay at all — these are "OLD FAMILY ITEMS". We have a strained relationship as it is. And since we're both in the same town as Mom and both are involved in caring for her I have to be able to maintain some civility with him. 

 

My mom has memory issues, but when she's clear she's in favor of selling the old dishes, etc. It's really my brother that's being the sentimental one, but he doesn't want to keep it all himself. He wants me and my sister to keep our fair share. He's really unpleasant to deal with when he's angry — bulldozes right over whatever you have to say, yells, etc. I don't relish getting into a confrontation with him so I'm trying to figure out how to approach the situation diplomatically. Any advice?


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#2 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 08:29 AM
 
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Would she consent to giving the antique clothes to a museum?

Or maybe another family member would appreciate and treasure them just like she would.. she could "share".

Or split things three ways like your brother asked and you can do as you please with your "share". Make sure the three piles look even.
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#3 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 09:18 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Yeah, it's not really my mom that's the problem — it's my brother. My sister said in email to him that she would be happy to take a third of the books and take them to a used book store and that's when he started in about them being OLD FAMILY ITEMS. I guess I could take them to a used bookstore on the sly, but if he would like them I would love for him to just have them all. I think, unfortunately, what he really wants is for my sister and I to want them and appreciate them. I am not super far into my decluttering journey in my own life, but i do know that I don't want an old novel that has no personal touches to it, but some ancestor (I don't even know who) owned. I mean, if the front bookplate was written on and said who it belonged to and that it was their favorite novel when they were 24 and living in <insertnameoftown> or had a lot of notes in the margins or something to personalize it then that would be worth considering, but these are mostly just old kinda musty moldy books that have been in the family for a long time. I could go to the used bookstore in town and find another copy and I wouldn't know which was which. I'm not sure why he thinks they're important.

 

As for the clothing, I'm not sure a museum would even want it. I guess I could put out a feeler on that, but there's not a huge amount of that kind of stuff we have, although some. What there's a ton of is knick-knacks, most antique.

 

We have shared some items with my cousins and my mom is totally happy to do that. I think my brother is begrudgingly okay with that if it stays in the family.

 

The other thing that makes dealing with him fun is he can be pretty bossy. So he comes up with a plan (divide it 3 ways) and everybody's supposed to jump up and down about it and pat him on the back and say what a good idea even if we don't want the stuff. 

 

urgh!

 


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#4 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 09:43 AM
 
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I'm not sure if you have a budget for this at all, but there are professional decluttering consultants out there who can help you with both the physical as well as the emotional aspects of clearing out a parent's home. You could probably find somebody who has experience dealing with family conflict issues as well. I suspect an outsider may have other ways of fairly distributing items beyond "three equal piles". They would also have a good idea about the value of things and how to best "move things along" if that is your desire. They also take care of the hauling, donating and/or auctioning of estate items.


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#5 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 02:15 PM
 
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Well, if he wants to store them- let him.

Otherwise, make it clear, that once things are "yours" (after dividing) you will decide for yourself what to keep and what not to keep and that it will be none of his business anymore.

 

 

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#6 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 02:48 PM
 
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I mean this in a freeing way, not in a "you have nothing to complain about" way - because your brother does sound like a pain. But ultimately the only problem you have is what you accept.

 

Your brother can't make you keep anything, nor can he make you feel like a bad person. As the PP said, keep what you want, get rid of anything you don't want. You can make it clear upfront that if he cares about anything, he should take it. Once it's yours, it's yours - it's not "his" to store in your house with all the obligations and responsibilities that come with it. If he wants to keep it in the family, then it's on him to keep it, store it, or get it to a relative that wants it.

 

Also, you are not creating a problem with this. Your brother can choose to make it a problem, but your choice to do what you want with objects given to you is not a problem. Don't own the problem. Even if you "know" it will cause uproar, let your brother own the problem rather than walking around on eggshells. Either he will surprise you and deal with it - or he (and not you) will make a problem.

 

You love your mother (and grandmother, etc) but these are things, they are not your mother, etc. The things should either be in the hands of someone who wants them (and thus will give them an extended life), or they should be thrown away. They should not moulder and rot and fester in your home just because your brother says they should.


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#7 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 03:50 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by laohaire View Post

Your brother can't make you keep anything, nor can he make you feel like a bad person.

 

Also, you are not creating a problem with this. Your brother can choose to make it a problem, but your choice to do what you want with objects given to you is not a problem. Don't own the problem. Even if you "know" it will cause uproar, let your brother own the problem rather than walking around on eggshells. Either he will surprise you and deal with it - or he (and not you) will make a problem.

 

They should not moulder and rot and fester in your home just because your brother says they should.


You hit so many nails on the head there, laohaire.

 

Yes, I know it's not my problem. I know it's his issue, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant to deal with. I sent an email this afternoon which I hope didn't touch any nerves and asked for suggestions on dealing with the stuff and asked what both my brother and sister thought of doing it the same way we did the furniture. He's much more friendly if he thinks something is his idea, so maybe he'll be able to turn it around and make it his and it will be okay. I did say I was totally fine with dividing things three ways, but I was really overwhelmed with the amount of stuff in my house right now so I wasn't sure I was going to be able to keep it all. I haven't heard back from him on the email yet. We'll see what happens. My sister is totally on board.

 

He can't make me feel like a bad person, but he can definitely try to, and that's not fun, either. He's done it a lot over the period of time that we've been caring for our parents (the past 9 yrs or so). At first when he started in on me, I would call him on it, but that just enraged him more. Then I tried ignoring him, but that made him mad, too, so now I've learned to try to walk a middle ground. I've gotten a lot better at diplomacy over the years, but I wish I could just get him to see it in a reasonable way from the get go w/o having to choose my words so very, very carefully. I'm not diplomatic to spare his feelings, but to spare mine because I don't enjoy getting in a big blow up with him. I do not have a close relationship with him and if it weren't for our mom I doubt I'd see him very often at all. We used to get together periodically before he started being such a @$%^*, but I really don't enjoy hanging out with him now. I'm always on edge that he's going to lose it and blow up. It's a shame really, but it's not worth it to me to work on it, especially since I don't feel like I'm the one who needs to do much work on the relationship. My sister's relationship with him is somewhat better, but it's a bit strained, too. 

 

Anyway, that's more venting than necessary probably, but that's where I'm coming from. The thing is, he's been really helpful in caring for our parents, so it's not like he's some total deadbeat. He's just a jerk at times.

 

Fingers crossed he'll not freak out about the decluttering/sorting/etc, and we can get through it unscathed.

 

thanks for the ideas and space to vent!

 


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#8 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 04:04 PM
 
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I wonder if this would help:

 

Use a lucid moment with your mom to sort out her preferences.

 

Assure your brother (like you would a toddler) that you understand that OLD FAMILY ITEMS are especially precious to him. Invite him to do the work of sorting the 3 piles, and invite him to put in his pile ALL the things he feels are most precious and wants to store.

 

Perhaps allow you and sister to have a first turn to take the few things you care about and really want to keep, and then he sorts the rest with freedom to have a larger pile of things he wants to guard.

 

Agree amongst the three of you that as long as any of you siblings are alive, any profits from the sale of these things will be divided among you, and that siblings will have first chance to buy at fair market values. Agree that donations to museums and historical societies are good to do even at the loss of cash.

 

Accept that as you all age, this will not be carefully tracked and your mom's grandchildren may benefit or bear the brunt of storing OLD FAMILY ITEMS. 

 

Just a thought.


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#9 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 04:18 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by LCBMAX View Post

Accept that as you all age, this will not be carefully tracked and your mom's grandchildren may benefit or bear the brunt of storing OLD FAMILY ITEMS. 

 

Just a thought.


I think this is so true. Since I went through my Mom and Dad's house and found old stuff from my childhood I realized I really didn't need to hang on to a lot of stuff from my kids' childhoods for "someday" because it becomes a burden. He's all, "maybe one of your children will want it" (btw, he doesn't have kids), but I think my sister and I are in agreement on keeping a few nice things for the kids and letting the rest go. I mean my mom has like 5 or 6 sets of dishes—old, historical, family dishes. We did keep some, but my mom is totally ok with selling some of it and I think that's what we should do. I agree about asking other relatives if they would like grandma's dessert service, but my sister and I already have old dishes, and I doubt if either of us wants that one, too. Funny thing is, I don't think my brother cares about that, either. He has a thing about the old books because he likes books and thinks we should all have some of them because <intone Wilford Brimley's voice from the old Quaker Oats commercial> It's the Right Thing To Do.

 


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#10 of 24 Old 12-02-2011, 07:38 PM
 
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I agree with PPs not to take what you don't want to keep. Can you talk to your brother about the logic of splitting everything 3 ways v. having everyone talk about what they really want?

 

I know that when my grandmother died, she wanted us to all split her jewelry (she had a lot) evenly amongst ourselves. The trouble is, there were only a few items that meant anything to us, and we all wanted the same three pieces. The rest didn't matter. Thankfully, we were all mostly on the same page, and worked it out, but no one was going to have a fit if someone pawned their share or anything like that. Even still, I think we'd all consult one another before getting rid of anything, in case someone got something someone else wanted.

 

Would that work for you and your siblings? Or if your sister is on board with the 3-way split, just take a third and then divide whatever you don't want to keep between the two of them individually. ("Hey, I really have no room for these books, do you want them?") I don't think it's fair of your brother to expect you to take stuff you don't want to keep and then not get rid of it. Can he be reasonable enough to make a deal that you will not toss or sell anything without asking if he wants it, and if he doesn't, he's agreeing that it's okay for you to get rid of it however you see fit? I mean, it can be overwhelming to have all that stuff to take, but once it's divided and then starts coming back to him, he'll either keep it himself or realize it's too much and start prioritizing.

 

(And the clothes are cool -- you could put them in a shadow box or something and display them if you want a way to keep and enjoy them.)

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#11 of 24 Old 12-03-2011, 06:00 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I think things are going well. So far I haven't heard anything bad back from my email. When my mom was moving up to the retirement place the first time, for the furniture we just took turns saying what we would take and we were left with some items that nobody wanted and my mom didn't need and those went to Goodwill, etc. I suggested we try the same thing with the other items and my sister said that's fine with her. I think the other taking turns method (with the furniture) was my brother's idea at that time so maybe he will be on board with it this time, too. We can offer the things that none of us want to the cousins and then it's to Goodwill with it. I think (fingers crossed) that should meet his sense of fairness and meet my sense of not having to take everything. 


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 Unfortunately I fear that he will not think that's okay at all — these are "OLD FAMILY ITEMS". We have a strained relationship as it is. And since we're both in the same town as Mom and both are involved in caring for her I have to be able to maintain some civility with him. 

 

 

...

 

He's really unpleasant to deal with when he's angry — bulldozes right over whatever you have to say, yells, etc. I don't relish getting into a confrontation with him so I'm trying to figure out how to approach the situation diplomatically. Any advice?

 


I realize that I may be going beyond the problem and into things that are none of my business, here. But it sounds to me like he's engaging in bullying and emotional blackmail - "don't disagree with me or I'll get MAAAAAD and you'll be sorry!" - and he's succeeding. I'm just saying this to raise the question of, what would happen if you fail to obey him and he throws a tantrum? What's the worst that he's likely to do? It seems possible that, as with a toddler who can't always have a cookie when she wants one, if he won't go with your reasonable suggestions it may be time to call his bluff (or non-bluff) and let him have the tantrum.
 
You're not _required_ to stick around as a willing audience for that tantrum, or JADE to try to persuade him of your position, or in any other way to put up with it. You could always do the classic, "You seem upset. We can talk when you're feeling better," and hang up the phone or walk away. I realize that you know better than me how far he'll go - for example, whether he'll do things to trouble your mother if he's thwarted - but I wanted to raise the possibility that it may be time for him to learn some boundaries.
 
(Also, have you heard of OCPD, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, quite different from OCD? I realize that I'm going even _further_ into amateur psychologist territory, but what you say about your brother points to OCPD to me.)
 
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#13 of 24 Old 12-03-2011, 11:16 AM
 
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there is a way to do this

 

all of you get together, oldest goes first and takes ONE item of their choice, go in order oldest to youngest and each keep taking one item until it's all gone- get ride of what you don't want on your own

 

all's fair, all's equal, all's gone 

 

do what ever with your stuff if that mean's downsizing etc

 

get rid of the stuff first and deal with the "emotional" stuff later

 

first born, first dips (my grandmother's brothers and sisters - 8 of them did things this way)


 

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#14 of 24 Old 12-03-2011, 07:49 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Crayfish, he certainly does have anger and control issues, but yes, I've tried confronting him about things and I'd really just rather avoid the confrontations with him if possible. That doesn't mean I'm giving in to his terms, but just trying to avoid his trigger points. And yes, he would certainly do something to upset my mom as she's easily upset by any perceived discord. He throws big tantrums when he throws 'em.

 

An update -- he responded positively to the suggestion I made of taking turns. But his last line was basically these are old family books — I think you should have some eyesroll.gif . See, he wants us to want them (I sound like a Cheap Trick song). He just doesn't understand that he can't make other people do and feel the way he wants them to. And he ain't never gonna learn. 

 

Ah, well. He's not causing a scene right now at any rate.

 

serenbat, that's basically the idea I suggested, but it's complicated by the fact that my sister is not local and will only be here for a few days after Christmas, so we're going to have to do it via email. 

 

Fingers crossed!!


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#15 of 24 Old 12-04-2011, 10:15 AM
 
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Quote:
serenbat, that's basically the idea I suggested, but it's complicated by the fact that my sister is not local and will only be here for a few days after Christmas, so we're going to have to do it via email.

 

 

have her come and take her turn (assuming he would be there to see her as well) - if she only takes 10 things that she wants and you and him do your picking what is left split the cost to get rid of or just say to him, I don't want any more and what you don't take we donate

 

with the book, maybe you could take what you WANT and just say to him, if you want them please take them - I simply don't---who knows if this will work or not!

 

good luck


 

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#16 of 24 Old 12-04-2011, 10:28 AM
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When this issue has come up for me, I have leaned on my family and the size of my house.  I have two rambunctious children, and not much space.  So many things are beautiful and meaningful, but I don't have room to store them.  We simply can't.  If they come to us, they will then have to go to consignment or the trash.  No one wants to see my family eating spaghetti off a stack of grandma's beloved books, or to have her baby clothes crumpled in a box at the back of my closet.  These items should be with people who can store them properly or put them to good use.  I've had to repeat this several times, but most people get it now.  

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#17 of 24 Old 12-04-2011, 10:32 AM
 
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I havent read all of the replies, and I dont know if this has been mentioned, but is is possible that your brother is actually upset about your mother getting older, needing assistance living, and the potential of her passing? As the sentimental one in our family, I can say that I think often times people confuse themselves being upset about material objects with actual pain from watching someone you love go downhill. I know that when my grandma was sick, the idea of anyone throwing anything away just made me sick, but now- almost two years later- Im a lot more willing to let things go. Is there any way this stuff could just be stored and then revisit the topic later on? Maybe you could store the items and then in a few years tell him that you have to get rid of some of it and you want to give him the chance to take it before you sell/ give it away.

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#18 of 24 Old 12-04-2011, 12:25 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Adaline'sMomma, I'm sure he is upset, but that doesn't mean that he gets to act like an @ss. My sister and I are upset, too. I suggested renting a mini storage unit or my brother or sister taking some stuff to store because my garage is full (mainly of my Mom's stuff from when she moved out of her house). He didn't like that idea because he's too cheap to pay for storage and he doesn't want stuff he doesn't want in his garage (which is quite huge and doesn't have cars in it). 

 

Serenbat, I think you've got some typos. I can't follow what you're trying to say. My sister can only come at a certain time and there's too much to do to be able to do it all in those few days.

 

Stik, I agree wholeheartedly. 

 

The thing is — have y'all ever known someone who, say, loves something that's an acquired taste, like black licorice or something, and goes on and on to you about how wonderful it is and how you should really have some too because it's so great and everyone should like it? He's narcissistic like that, although he sees it in a well-meaning way. He really just can't see that some people aren't interested in the same things he thinks are so important. And the flip side is that he doesn't see that other things that don't have importance to him might be important to someone else.

 

Case in point—I went to see my mom yesterday and she mentioned that she had already given away her sewing machine. I was a little taken aback. I mean, I don't need a sewing machine, but I would have happily taken her sewing machine because that's the machine I learned to sew on and I have a lot of fond memories associated with it. She gave it to my brother's wife. Probably, Mom insisted that SIL take it, but because my brother can't see beyond his own nose it didn't occur to him that maybe he should insist that Mom wait and offer it to me or my sister first. I'm pretty sure SIL already has a sewing machine, too. I'm sure my brother was present at that time because SIL wouldn't go see my mom w/o him. In fact, SIL, may not have even been there. Mom may have offered it to my brother to take home to SIL. And, it's okay, I don't NEED it and I'm really overrun with stuff so I need to not take on too much more stuff, but I know if I had been asked I would have taken it. I don't want the d@mn books, though!

 

Anyway, so far no big confrontations and he is agreeing to the suggestions my sister and I have made so I think things may not get too out of hand. 


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#19 of 24 Old 12-04-2011, 12:36 PM
 
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I know these times can be really painful. Honestly, if you have already suggested renting a storage place and he said no, and he doesnt want to take all of it to his house, then he is SOL. Im glad he has been agreeing with you, and I hope no major conflict arises, but I would just say I dont want it, Im going to donate it, Im going to sell it, or whatever applies to each thing. The only thing you can make sure to do at this point is to make sure that he knows full and well what your intentions are so he doesnt feel like you screwed him over.

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#20 of 24 Old 12-05-2011, 08:19 AM
 
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I accepted tons of stuff over the years, family treasures, that never even made it into the house, stuff that went straight to resale shops and charitiable organizations.  I understand that something you can't just say no.  Or the fallout over saying no isn't worth the battle.


 

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Case in point—I went to see my mom yesterday and she mentioned that she had already given away her sewing machine. I was a little taken aback. I mean, I don't need a sewing machine, but I would have happily taken her sewing machine because that's the machine I learned to sew on and I have a lot of fond memories associated with it. She gave it to my brother's wife. Probably, Mom insisted that SIL take it, but because my brother can't see beyond his own nose it didn't occur to him that maybe he should insist that Mom wait and offer it to me or my sister first. I'm pretty sure SIL already has a sewing machine, too. I'm sure my brother was present at that time because SIL wouldn't go see my mom w/o him. In fact, SIL, may not have even been there. Mom may have offered it to my brother to take home to SIL. And, it's okay, I don't NEED it and I'm really overrun with stuff so I need to not take on too much more stuff, but I know if I had been asked I would have taken it. I don't want the d@mn books, though!

 


 

OP - I feel your pain and the above describes the type of thing that went on with my dad.  We were "forced" to take things we really didn't want only to watch things we wanted be given to poeple that really didn't want them but merely accepted them to keep the piece.

 

What would happen if you did take the books but then donated or sold them later?  Would your brother even notice or care? 

 


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#21 of 24 Old 12-05-2011, 09:54 AM
 
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I can't follow what you're trying to say. My sister can only come at a certain time and there's too much to do to be able to do it all in those few days.

 

 

she is going to visit but not take things back for herself? isn't that a waste of your time and your brothers?

 

she could take what she wants and pay for you to take care of the "stuff" no one wants (your time and expense of getting rid of the things)-seems fair to me


 

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#22 of 24 Old 12-05-2011, 11:32 AM
 
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Oh I can really relate. Dh was the official keeper of all things his family didn't want for many years. He was lugging around tons of stuff just because he was told he couldn't get rid of it. He finally had to just straight up say no more. He offered stuff to his family first. They had X amount of time to get it otherwise it was gone. They pitched a fit at first, but then really no one cared about X item enough to actually come and get it. The big clean out was a few years ago and not one person in the family has mentioned the tossed items since. Realistically if it means so much to your brother he takes it. If he doesn't care enough to take it, the stuff is free to go.

 

The book hang-up is really true for my mom. She sees book as having personalities and can't get rid of them. Especially old books. One thing that really stood out for me was how easy it is to find old books. There are books from the 1700's sitting in my half price books. I typed a book title into eBay once that I though would be hard to find. Loads of copies of that book can up. If I liked the book I'd keep it otherwise it can go. Getting rid of books is not some kind of sacrilege.

 

Finally people have individual tastes. My taste and grandma's don't always match up, it's not a crime if I don't appreciate her things (and therefore don't want them). MIL once made a big deal about some nicer, expensive items to give me from Dh's grandmother that Dh didn't want(more girly type stuff). It was made very clear that I had to keep them, but these things were not to my taste. I said no thanks because they would have been shoved in a drawer and never used. I personally would rather have a stranger appreciate my things than a family member just storing them. It sounds like you have plenty of things coming from your mom so you can keep things that are sentimental to you or you want to pass to your children without having to keep the whole lot.


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#23 of 24 Old 12-05-2011, 12:36 PM - Thread Starter
 
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serenbat, I think I haven't been very clear. Sorry for the confusion. My sister will take things back when she comes, but all of us agree that there is too much stuff to go through to wait until after Christmas (which is the only time she can come) to do it, so I'm going to try to take some photos of items and we'll make the decisions via email. And no, I don't need to get paid for anything. I don't have any disagreement with my sister. What I'm worried about is my brother insisting I take items I don't won't. 

 

Quote:
 MIL once made a big deal about some nicer, expensive items to give me from Dh's grandmother that Dh didn't want(more girly type stuff). It was made very clear that I had to keep them, but these things were not to my taste. I said no thanks because they would have been shoved in a drawer and never used. I personally would rather have a stranger appreciate my things than a family member just storing them.

 

Yes, this is how I feel, too. I'd much rather put the old books back out into the universe so someone else can potentially be excited about finding them than have them take up shelf space in my house about which I would potentially be resentful. I think sometimes we (as in both my family and the general public) sometimes hang onto things just because our parents and grandparents, etc, did. The things take on a perceived value simply because they're old and it's always been in the family. We do have some stuff like that which really is interesting — old records from the farm, even really old receipts from the 1800s — but an old book that I could find easily on eBay, eh...not so much for me. 

 

What I really need to do is get my personal space organized so I can deal with this influx of new items. I know I will be able to redirect much of it, but some of it will probably end up coming here (hopefully no books) and I need to have somewhere to put what I do want. That's another thread, though!!


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#24 of 24 Old 12-09-2011, 04:07 PM - Thread Starter
 
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FTR, my brother did not go to the bad place on this after all. He told me to take what I wanted on the old books and he'll sort the rest, so I took about 8 that had personal comments in the flyleaf and left the rest for him. Whew. Now it's just on to the rest of the stuff and all the assorted crap that's in my house!!

 

thanks for the moral support.

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