by Susan McCarthy
Overwhelmed by all the decision you need to make when you’re emptying your parents’ house? The following techniques can help you clarify your thoughts so you feel more confident about the choices you make for their belongings.
One of the reasons that sorting through the contents of your parents’ house is so exhausting and overwhelming is that every item requires a decision. Even something as innocuous as a container of paperclips can elicit a range of options from “toss it” to “oh, these are so practical I should just keep them.”
And even these small decisions wear on you. Decision fatigue is what it sounds like, the more decisions you make, the more difficult it is to continue making decisions. It’s like each day you start out with so much decision-making ability and a little bit gets used up with each choice you make.
This is why deciding some things in advance – where you’ll donate clothing or books or which app you’ll use to sell household items - can save you when it comes to actually doing the work because you’ve already made your decision.
Below you’ll find a variety of techniques that can help ease your struggle with indecision while developing your decision-making skills when you’re sorting through your parents’ lifetime accumulation of stuff.
Hot Decisions, Cold Decisions
If you have difficulty making decisions while clearing out your parent’s home, then chances are your choices lack decisiveness. You decide, but then question your decision, which is the same as not choosing what you’ll do.
Decisions can fall into two groups – hot and cold.
Hot decisions are those which you need to decide upon now now now NOW!
If you’ve made decisions like this in the past, depending on the situation, you may appreciate how quickly you could think, or you may have regretted your impulsiveness. Tossing a box of old clothing inhabited by mice, great decision. Calling the junk hauler out of frustration, maybe a less than helpful decision.
On the other hand, cold decisions are those where you dawdle making up your mind after considering too many elements. You’re burnt out from over-thinking, and you make a decision for the sake of having made a decision.
Unfortunately, by the time you make that decision, it may be moot – someone else has made the decision about what to do about your parents’ dining table.
Build Your Decision-making Skills
So, can you become more decisive when making decision? Maybe you realize that you can’t take your mother’s entire teapot collection into your home. You hear the suggestion to keep a few items from the collection, which seems reasonable.
But now you must decide which to keep and which to let go and you feel stuck.
Determine What’s Important to You
Instead of debating between all the options, consider what is important to you in a specific situation. Yes, you’re starting with that all important question, why? Why are you making this decision?
Maybe you’re acknowledging that you can’t keep something…or a group of somethings. You may then have to decide what to do with the items – donate, sell, or give away.
Is it important to simply remove the items from the house, then you may want to donate the things. If you need money to cover expenses, then the time it takes to sell things will be more worthwhile. And if you want to hand the items to a recipient, you may prefer to give away the items to individuals instead of groups.
Listen to Your Intuition
It isn’t necessary to focus only on the logic of one choice over another. Notice how you feel when you consider your options. If you aren’t used to paying attention to your body’s responses to different thoughts, this can take some time getting used to.
When you think of an option, do you feel as if something or someone is pressing down on your shoulders or pushing against your chest, or do you feel as if it is easier to breath? What choice brings a smile to your lips?
Is this an irrational way to make a decision? If it isn’t going to harm you or someone else (and if it was, chances are you wouldn’t be feeling the happy, sparkly bubbles), then why not listen to what, deep down, you know you want.
Find a Quiet Space to Think
It can be difficult to choose when there is a lot of visual or auditory noise and clutter surrounding you. Also, too much movement around you can also be distracting. Some of these things grabbing your attention might not have anything to do with the situation but they’re distracting you and making it more difficult to see what really matters.
Take a deep breath and find a quiet space to decide. (Yes, the bathroom is an acceptable option.) If you’re sorting through the contents of a jampacked room and are overwhelmed by all the stuff in the space where you’re working, drape sheets over the stuff that aren’t part of your current project.
Temporarily covering the piles of paper stacked on a table allows you to focus on the stuff on the desk in front of you. You aren’t ignoring the other stuff but instead acknowledging that you aren’t working on it right now.
Set a Deadline
If a task or project doesn’t come with a deadline, you’ll want to set a due date and put it on the calendar so decision-making doesn’t become a never-ending, open-ended process. With a due date, you’ll be far more focused and motivated to decide than if there is no timeframe.
And don’t go crazy trying to decide on the right due date! If this is becoming a sticking point, ask a friend, coworker of family member what they suggest and go with that.
Get Others Involved in the Decision-Making
As the previous tip suggested, sometimes you can ask for help in choosing what to do. Depending upon how important the decision is, you could ask one person or several.
However, and this is the important part, you are simply getting the opinions of others – they aren’t making the decision. So, it’s still your responsibility for making the choice that’s right for you. There’s no complaining that everyone told you to sell the hutch when you wanted it for organizing your yarn and knitting supplies.
List the Pros and Cons
A tried-and-true method for making decisions is creating a pros-and-cons list. Grab pen and paper, divide the page down the middle and list the benefits in one column and the disadvantages in the other. Think about what you’ll gain by making a particular decision.
And, really, write this down instead of allowing the thoughts to bounce around in your mind. Writing things down forces you to get clearer in ways that simply thinking of something doesn’t.
Ask for More Time
Does this decision need to be made in the next two minutes? Two hours from now? In two days? Two weeks? Two months?
If you aren’t certain how to respond…or know that you usually regret what you say initially, then ask for some time. Understand when an answer is needed. If an answer is needed quickly, know how you best make decisions…in a quiet space or by talking to others.
Determine When You’ll Stop Gathering Information
Whether you’re thinking over a decision or gathering information to make an informed choice, at some point, you’ll need to stop collecting data, and make an informed decision based on what you have learned.
Remember, it’s impossible to look at every option. You might base how much research you’ll do in relation to the value of an item. For example, you spend two minutes researching the value of items if your first search shows that the item is worth less than twenty dollars and up to ten minutes if others are selling the item for more than a hundred dollars.
In fact, giving yourself too many options will only make it more difficult to choose what you want. Consider some of the other tips already covered here to help you stay focused, like determining what’s important or establishing a due date (even an arbitrary one.)
Practice Your Decision-making Skills When Emptying Your Parents’ House
Emptying your parents’ house will give you a lot of practice making decisions. A technique that helps you decide what to do with items in the kitchen may not help you with more personal items. Be willing to try the different techniques in this article.
Get in the habit of writing down your options or even talking out loud. While your thoughts can swirl around your skull, all demanding your attention, you can only write or speak one option at a time. This helps you focus.
Some research suggests that we make 35,000 decisions a day! You aren’t indecisive about every choice that comes your way so don’t worry if some decisions take more time than others.
Decluttering is a great way to practice decision making (just stay focused on things that belong to you). You’ll create some extra space while becoming more comfortable with judging what works for you.
Other helpful resources:
Hi, I'm Susan
Emptying my parents' overpacked 800-square-foot house left me popping handfuls of peanut M&Ms and doing a WHOLE lot of comfort-crocheting. The experience of sorting through mom and dad's stuff also encouraged me to become a professional organizer...so now I can offer techniques that work much better than chocolate.