How Hoarding Can Affect Your Beneficiaries

The case for leaving them less

Many people worry about not being able to leave their children an inheritance. But what happens when your life’s accumulation of belongings is actually too much?

My sister and I inherited our childhood home when our mother died. It was a large heritage home on a half-acre property, with a rental suite and outbuildings. Though the upstairs was immaculate, furnished with Victorian-style antiques and floral curtains my mom made herself, the basement was full of stuff.

Like many people of their generation, my parents held onto things that might come in handy in the future. Bags of nylon stockings, extra paint, more tools than we knew how to use, an industrial carpet cleaner, boxes and boxes of books and records, jewelry, makeup bags and milk crates filled one room to the ceiling.

When we ran out of something upstairs, we could head down and usually find a replacement. When I left for university, I took a chunk of the household supplies and extra furniture. It was a big help to a broke student setting up house for the first time.

Part of owning a larger property meant the outbuildings had machinery and tools for maintaining the yard. Contained to certain rooms, it wasn’t a mess that bothered anyone. But it became a big problem when she died and the task of selling the house fell to me.

A parent’s death is one of the most painful losses that can occur. With them dies stories of your childhood, unconditional love and support and ties to family heritage.

Family heirlooms and special belongings become laden with sentimental meaning and it can be difficult to throw things out. But keeping your space clear has many important benefits for your own peace of mind, and can help you pass on the gift of special memories — without all the junk mixed in.

Most people will have to clear out their parents’ homes at some point in their lives. But in the throes of grief, this task is devastating. It feels like you are throwing out a part of them. Like you are rejecting a part of them, at a time when you want them more than ever.

The more stuff there is in the family home, the more your beneficiaries will have to go through the gut-wrenching pain of deciding if it’s worth keeping.

Two years after her death, I went through each artefact that belonged to my mother with surging grief. This was the grief of having to make big decisions, grief with an impact. It wasn’t possible to keep it all. I didn’t want to keep it all. But I didn’t want to throw out items that were still worth keeping, even though I didn’t need them.

You don’t have to have outbuildings and a large property to acquire too much stuff. Lots of people, after the course of a life, find themselves surrounded with the trappings of that life.

Having too much stuff is a real problem for many folks. But it’s hard to determine which things are useful and wanted, and which are just junk.

Leaving behind a big mess harms your beneficiaries and makes the grief process even more difficult. (Shutterstock)

It’s hard to let go of things that are useful and still in working order, but there is no need to hang on to objects that are unlikely to be used within the next two years.

Clearing out 30 years of my parents’ life was a second horrible loss — and one that I could have done without. Nobody needs that much stuff. Not you, and not your bereaved children.

Talk to your beneficiaries about the things they would like to inherit. Sell the stuff with value. Donate usable items to charity. Purge regularly. Your children will still have to go through your things, and it will be harder than they can imagine. But you can make it easier on them by planning ahead, and keeping your space organized.

Originally published on

Editor, blogger, orphan, grief analyst and plant parent.