MINDING OUR ELDERS: Hoarding can leave children with formidable task

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Dear Carol: My mother has Parkinson's disease but still lived alone in the family home until she took a bad fall. Now she needs around the clock care, so we've moved her to a nearby nursing home. The care is good, so that part is fine, but her home must be sold which means that I, the only adult child nearby, must clean it out. This is a large home with four bedrooms, all of which have somehow filled up with "stuff." The basement is packed. The decisions about where to start are overwhelming. Sometimes I just want to dump everything, but this is the home where my parents lived and where my brother and I grew up and there are things of value buried beneath the junk. I know that I need to hire help but I also know that I must make many of the decisions myself. Where do I start? — DG

Dear DG: Your initial feeling of being overwhelmed and just wanting to dump everything is normal, so allow those thoughts to surface and then go with your common sense. Accept that whatever you do, you'll have to be involved enough to decide what you want to save.

Many people in situations like yours hire someone to come in and help weed through things. I'd suggest that you consider this option. There are companies that specialize in this and they are used to dealing with emotional adult children.

Going online may be the quickest way to find local companies. Interview the ones that seem promising and ask how they approach such a project. Then, even if you feel comfortable with them, put them on hold. Follow up by contacting estate sale businesses in your area. Some may be able to start from where you are and help all the way through the sale. If that's the case, and you like them, you'd save some steps by using one company. Others will want a more orderly beginning which is where the first business comes in.

It may seem like too much trouble to check out several agencies but in the end you'll be happy that you did. You'll be working with these people for some time, as well as paying them a substantial amount of money, so you want to be as sure as you can that they are right for you.

Before you bring in any company, though, take time to wander through the home. Allow memories. Allow tears if they come. Allow grief if you feel it. I know from personal experience the pressure that one can feel to just get it done, but attending to your emotional needs is important.

Everyone is different. You may feel strong emotion throughout the process or you may feel numb until the project is completed and then get hit with grief. Either way, this will be hard, but you'll get through it. Best wishes.