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I had a conversation with one of my neighbors recently and I just wanted to give a warning to children of elderly parents. I know you all mean well, but I want to share what happened to my friend and how upset she is.

Here is what happened. She was in the hospital. While she was there, her kids decided to help clean her house. Unfortunately, they were thinking clean it out, not clean it. And they didn’t ask permission regarding what to throw away or get rid of.

Here are some examples: She likes to sew. They got rid of her 2 sewing machines and all of her fabric. For non-sewers, that seems like a great way to clean out, but for a sewer, it takes a long time and a lot of money to collect all that fabric. The other piece of information is that sewing machines are very expensive! Before you get rid of a sewing machine, double check with the owner!! A good machine is very expensive to replace.

Then, they cleaned out the kitchen. They got rid of many of her small appliances and most of her groceries! In addition, there were many sentimental items they didn’t pay any attention to!

It is understandable that you want to clean out clutter and mess. But the way you do it can make the difference between having a good relationship afterward and not having one. Click To Tweet

Decluttering for parents or other older relatives, without their input is not a kindness, not is it honoring to them as people, if they are alert,

I understand that children of older people are dying to get their hands on the stuff and clutter that is sitting around. I get it. But there is another situation you need to consider. You need to treat your parents or other older relatives with respect in terms of the interests and preferences they have. They don’t have the same interests and preferences you do. That’s really okay. They don’t have to. They may even be getting a little confused and forgetful. (This lady wasn’t.) But they own those things whether you value them or not.

Personally, I’d be glad for help getting rid of some of my stuff, and I have gotten it and some important times. But having someone go through it without me to be there to tell them what I don’t want thrown out? No. I wouldn’t want that. Now, this woman of limited means, can’t replace some of her kitchen appliances. She no longer has some pieces of jewelry that had special meaning to her. She has gifts given her from friends who are now dead, that she has lost for good,

To you, our things look like a mess that needs decluttering or getting rid of. But to many of us, it represents many happy memories from the past, a way to keep busy with hobbies and keep our brains alive.

After she got out of the hospital and discovered what happened, she was extremely upset! She is calmer now, she says, but that is still not very calm. Speaking as an older adult, I can tell you this is a stage of life when we are experiencing loss on many levels. It is a stage of life where we are constantly saying “good-bye” to things and people we don’t want to say “good-bye” to. It is hard. We don’t need our kids coming in to tell us that everything we have is worthless. Or to be treated as if we aren’t smart enough to figure out what we like and what we don’t like. It is a very disrespectful way to be treated.

Sadly, a lot of this throwing out was done by her daughter-in-law with whom she did not have a good relationship. For husbands out there, bear in mind that it is not a good idea to have your wife do this job for your mother, especially if they do not get along! This is a warning to protect you from a lot of problems in the future.

The fastest way to declutter does not always maintain the relationship.

I much prefer the way my kids helped me on our last move. My one daughter came and went through a lot of things she was pretty sure didn’t mean a lot to me. For the things she wasn’t sure about, she put them in a box for me to go through, but by then, they were in categories. Books were in one box, photos in another, etc. That gave me the chance to go through less items. But she knew the things I preferred, etc. It wasn’t the fastest way to do it, but it was an honorable way. I felt respected and honored, not dumb for keeping some things that were silly or seemed frivolous. She has moved often enough to realize it’s okay to be sentimental about some of your things. It’s not silly or dumb.

It’s not wrong to declutter for your parents. Just be sure to do it in coordination with them rather than without their input.

So for the few of you who may be affected by my words, stop for just a minute before you go to clean out your parents’ stuff unrequested. It may be necessary, but be careful how you do it. You want to continue to show them that you respect them, that they are valuable to you…and that you value their preferences. It is all part of honoring your parents.

 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed,
respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:7-8 ESV