Less Mess: Organizing Under The Pressure Of Death In Family


Organizing is hard work. But it gets even harder when there is death in the mix.

In October of last year my mother died in her home, on her couch asleep, the way most of us want to go. She was 87 and left me a home filled to the brim with stuff.  She was a young girl during the depression and living though that made her keep things I would toss.

Leslie Jacobs

This lead to me organizing at a young age.—when my mother would travel for her job I would stay home with my father and organize the bathrooms and bookcases. “ I only tossed things in the bathroom drawers that had dust on them” was the excuse I used when my mother would ask.

My mother was one of those very fashionable women:  Gloves that matched purses that matched shoes that matched the rest of the outfit.  For Christmas dinner she was always in red and for Halloween was in black and orange.  She could have been on Bravo’s housewives but my father died in 1976 which took our family into a dark and sad place for a time but slowly we emerged understanding each other. I would ask if I could organize something and she would say yes. But in the last years of her life, when I asked she would say—wait until I die.  So when the end was in site, I started going through mom’s stuff and selling lots of items to pay for her health care. Then, she died. It was so easy to sell her stuff before she died—and then I hit a wall.  This is the wall I help my clients climb and I knew I would have to hire a professional organizer to help me.

I could have hired someone to run an estate sale-but it would have been too easy to hand over the reins of my mother’s life.  I had to do it. I promised her I would.  So for the past few months, one of my  best friend and her daughter have been my life line to organizing.

It’s still hard.  But I have a terrific network of friends. Anne, the mother of a future professional organizer Lia and her  boyfriend John who is great with electronics and the heavy lifting part of organizing.

When someone close to you dies, you need to grab your friends and ask them for help.  These are the ones you will rely on and who will help you get through all of your parents clutter.


Have an Organized Day!

Leslie Jacobs



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3 Comments on "Less Mess: Organizing Under The Pressure Of Death In Family"

  1. Dear Leslie,

    You seem like a lovely person with a lot of good advice to offer. Your web site looks great as do the products and services that you offer. But ‘jeez louise’ is this article a let down. I am faced with a house absolutely jammed with everything from my parents life, in completely disorganized state. After my Mom died a decade ago, my Dad would not let me move or sell or throw away anything out of his home, much less, sell the home itself, even though he had moved into an assisted living apartment almost six years ago, before his death at the age of 91, this past December. He visted the home only about three times in the past six years.

    It would be so wonderful if I (now unemployed, related to my father’s end of life issues and the time I had to devote to them) had a collection of local friends, with the time on their hands to come help me with this enormous mess. But all of my friends are strapped down with family and work commitments and even if they were independently wealthy with no daily job and all the time in the world, I doubt like all heck that they would relish helping me with going through the mountains of stuff in this little house. It is hard enough to get friends to help you when you just move from one small place to another. The job that confronts me is like that only about 20 times as big a project. Every box, every chest, every drawer must be thoroughly inspected and have junk separated from treasures, or at least the meaningful family heirlooms and historically relevant stuff. In addition to this, I am paying $240 a month for two storage units that contain the excess (which cannot be fit into his already overstuffed house) that accumulated at my fathers assisted living apartment.

    My friends for the most part have jobs, spouses children and their own long lists of projects they are frustrated to never seem to get to. They are great people, but they have their own world of crap to deal with.

    I think my friends are good friends, but apparently they are no where near as giving and helpful as yours. I have a huge mess, and I will end up paying more than the stuff is really worth in terms of my time and the hours of labor I will need to pay helpers this Spring and Summer, to help me with this.

    Your article posits a very real and common problem that many of will face from time to time in our lives, but I was reading and waiting for the payoff, the solution, the secret door out of this. And you suggest just calling friends who will devote a lot of their time to my dilemma? That is 100% ideolgy and 0% pragmatism.

    The solution you offer is unrealistic. Either that, or I need to find better friends with a lot more free time on their hands.


  2. The hoarding thing is quite common, Curt, although not bad enough (or staged enough) to make it onto the TV show: Hoarders. There are lot’s of people stuck with this task, as well as uncooperative parents.

    There is a support group for the children of hoarders, and this can help when you feel really helpless about the situation. Google Children of Hoarders

  3. This is a good heads-up to we older parents everywhere. My husband and I frequently laugh that we’re going to leave all our junk for our kids to clean out but really, we know it’s time to start clearing it out ourselves. One or the other of us will probably be left alone so cleaning out the junk is a service to the partner left as well as any other family members remaining. I helped my mom move after my dad died. That was the first clean out. Then she moved to a smaller space, second clean-out. When she passed away, it took us 1 day to clean and distribute the rest of her belongins. I’m glad we did it in bits and pieces and didn’t feel over-whelmed. We were able to make better decisions when when we went through things a little at a time than if we had to do all quickly and while mourning too.

    My sincere sympathy to you on the loss of your mother.

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