Why Our Parents Hold On To So Much Stuff

Last week, I wrote about cleaning out my parent’s house after my dad moved to assisted living and my mother passed away, in 5 Steps To An Empty House.

In that post, I mentioned how I tried to get my mother to declutter her house but had no luck.  What I omitted was that, I wasn’t the most sympathetic or kind daughter when talking with my mother about clutter.  In my defense, at the time of these conversations, I was working for a magazine about simplifying and organizing your life.  And, I totally drank the Kool-Aid and lived in a über-organized house and wanted my mother’s house to be the same.

But, I should have known better before I engaged in the first conversation.  My mother and I were very different women, who lived very different lives.  And, after reading this information from Caring.com, I have a much better understanding of my mother’s attachment to her things and how I could have handled the topic of clutter with more empathy.

“Whether you’re helping a parent safety proof or reorganize a home, or move altogether, the process can be more traumatic than you’re prepared for.  And the ramifications can last longer than you might think, making adjustment to a new living situation more difficult than it would be otherwise, says Mary Kay Buysse.  “Kids look around and they see all this junk, and they want Mom’s new apartment to look pretty and neat and be easy to get around, and that’s totally understandable,” says Buysse. ” But it might make a huge difference to Mom to have that junky dresser and all the little doodads, even if the room seems cluttered to you.”

What helps in dealing with this situation, Buysse says, is to have compassion and understanding for your parent’s sadness and reluctance to part with her things.  “By the time a senior is making this move, they’ve already experienced so much loss.  They’re moving because they’ve lost a spouse, their sight, their mobility, the ability to take care of themselves,” Buysse says.  Keeping this in mind may help you relinquish some of your need to take control and let your parent keep things that don’t make sense to you but that may make a difference in how she weathers the change.”


  1. Greg Mstsunami

    Thank you for that perspective.


  2. I end my book, “What to Do about Mama?” with the following:

    In the light of my caregiving experience, and with the hope that my children will not have to face avoidable stress, I pledge that: 1) I will not leave my children the burden of my messes; 2) If my children become my caregivers I will not to be stubborn and dead set in my ways; 3) I will relinquish control (at least some of it) to them; and 4) When, in my old age, if I do the things I’ve said I won’t—they may, as I’ve told them, “Just show me the book!”

    I do not require a caregiver at this time–and I hope that is a long way off. But I have accomplished #1 already. In the year after my MIL died (I was her primary caregiver), my husband and I managed to downsize and organize all of our storage areas. I also put together a number of picture books (some of course on-going) so that my children will never have to face boxes and boxes of old pictures.

    I don’t think we need to protect our children from all caregiving responsibility, but we can certainly make their path a lot easier!


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