My aunt was married for the first time when she was 42 years old. She married Uncle Fred who treated her like a queen but they were only married for five years before he died. A year later she married a neighbor man whose wife had died at the same time as Uncle Fred.

They were happy together for four years before his life was cut short from a botched operation and she was left alone. Her and her widowed sister then shared a house together until her sister died.

She had no children of her own and she was almost as close to me as my own mother so when she got dementia my daughter took care of her in my aunt’s home for five years. After she died we inherited all of her things. Fortunately her niece continued to live in the home so no furniture was removed but there were many other things that had to be given away or divided between family members.

As a professional organizer I have seen many families agonize over what to do with loved ones belongings when they no longer need them or can use them. This can be because of death, a move to assisted living, perhaps a move to a nursing home or even to a smaller home.

Family members are often charged with the responsibility of cleaning out the home before during or after a move. They look on this task as both daunting and sometimes as a waste of their time as they don’t see beloved treasures but look at them and think “how do we clear this clutter”.

It is hard to decide what to keep, what to donate, or send to the trash when dealing with what other people have accumulated. I know from personal experience. My aunt knit afghans for all of her nieces and nephews, step grandchildren and great grandchildren. I can remember the happiness it gave her when she would get one done and place it in a cloth bag she had made to protect it; storing it until she gave it to them.

Our family inherited several more afghans than we have people to give them to. As I was clearing clutter and getting rid of things in a closet recently I found two of them that I didn’t know what to do with. I want to respect her and her hard work but we don’t need them and I don’t want them to just sit on a shelf where no one sees them or uses them. I agonized over what to do with them. I offered them to a family member and they didn’t want them so I made the decision to donate them. I think she would be pleased that someone who can use them will ultimately have them.

As someone who has had to disseminate personal belongings of close relatives I don’t look at what they loved and cherished as clutter. I took photos of some things for the memories, gave many things away and donated much more. We all have our own homes filled to the rafters already and we don’t need to burden ourselves with what others cherished.

Some things to ask ourselves when accepting memorabilia from family or friends are:

1. Do we like whatever it is? If we don’t then don’t keep it. It will just become clutter in your home.

2. Do we have room for it? If we don’t have room for things then we don’t have to keep them. If they are more valuable to us than what we own then donate, sell, or give away what we own to make room for “something new”.

3. Is there another way to honor the memory of the person without having to accept or keep the items? Perhaps take a photo and put it in an album or even have it framed.

4. Does an entire collection need to be kept? For instance could just one set of their salt and pepper collection be displayed on a shelf in your home? You don’t need it all to bring back the memories.

5. If you have a particular memory of a family member using something all the time and it is practically worn out (an apron, gardening shoes, a table cloth etc.) and you have to keep it; honor it by packing it away so it won’t get ruined by heat, cold, humidity, water or bugs or find another creative way of using it.

Decisions have to be made but we don’t need to burden our homes and create clutter when accepting memorabilia. The people who the items belonged to are the ones who enjoyed them the most and used them. We don’t have to be the keepers of all their things just because they don’t need them anymore.

Marilyn invites you to visit her website for more organizing ideas for your home and life.

Author's Bio: 

Marilyn Bohn is the owner of Get it Together Organizing, a business dedicated to developing practical organizing solutions that help individuals and business professionals live clutter-free and productive lives. She is the author of “Go Organize! Conquer Clutter in Three Simple Steps” and is an experienced, enthusiastic public speaker, a member of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) and the author of hundreds of articles covering various organizing topics.

Marilyn takes the often stressful subject of organizing and breaks it down into a simple, easy to understand system. Her methods are both eye-opening and encouraging! She has a passion for helping others reach their personal goals and living a better, clutter-free life!

Marilyn invites you to discover her one-of-a-kind video workshops and organizing ideas at