What to keep when emptying parents' home

I'm in a weird spot, standing in the home I grew up in surrounded by presumption, superstition and more memories than the Smithsonian.

The year-long week began four days earlier when I flew to California from Orlando to sort the homestead's contents. I put trash in the driveway, donations in the garage, items for sale in the house and what I wanted to keep in the back bedroom.

Then shoppers came through like a Waring blender and swirled it all back together. Seriously, if you ever want to clear out a house, label everything trash, donation or off limits. That's what goes first.

After two days of dismantling the house a piece at a time — mom's costume jewelry, dad's tools — the letting go actually does feel like a hundred small deaths. It's the end of an era and that is taking its toll.

As the last buyer leaves, she thanks me and says, "I'm sorry for your loss."

"Me, too," I say. Condolences, I decide, are in order.

I shake that nostalgia off, however, because I need to tackle my next task, which is my "keep" pile, a mocking pyramid of sentiment that's far bigger than it should be.

To draw the line between what to let go of and what to keep, I need to find that sweet spot on the continuum between nothing and everything. I consult my stomach lining and two experts, and come up with this formula:

•Need, use, love. Those are the key words Mark Brunetz, Emmy-award winning host of Style Network's Clean House, tells me he uses when helping folks figure out what to keep. Do you need it to live your life right now? Would you use it today? Do you love how it looks? If you answer yes to any one of those questions, it might be a keeper.

•Add your own filtering questions. This is not a one-size-fits-all exercise, but these additional questions served me well: Does it mean a lot to me, and why? Will it go beautifully in my home? Is it worth shipping? Do I have a place for it? Am I keeping it out of guilt? Will it burden my kids?

•Choose meaning over value. "Don't grab the most valuable pieces," said Gary Sullivan, an antique appraiser for PBS's Antiques Roadshow, who for years did estate liquidation sales for families. "That's what people do, but that's not the right decision. Keep what means something. If you have an antique that a dealer is willing to buy for $5,000, and you decide to keep it. You just bought it for $5,000."

•Choose small over large. I loved some of my parents' larger furniture items, but shipping costs were prohibitive. I get just as much resonance and connection from the pearls Dad bought Mom. They are easier to pack and store. Don't underestimate the cost of housing and maintaining an item, said Brunetz.

•Get your story straight. Everything has a story, and that's what makes letting go hard, said Brunetz, also the author of "Take the YOU Out of Clutter" (Penguin, 2010). Ask what the story is that you attach to the item, not the story your parents endowed on it. "The minute an item transfers from a parent's house to yours, it's no longer about the meaning they endowed it with," he said. "Once you're clear on your story, you can cut what you decide to keep in half; that becomes a really great touchstone for determining what to keep."

•Remember the present. Living your life for a day in the past (but it meant something) or one in the future (I might need it) robs you of today, said Brunetz. Live in and for the present.

•Check your sentiment. How you love someone lives in your heart not in an inanimate object, says Brunetz. "Your heart can never be too full, but your home can."

Join me next week as organizing guru Peter Walsh weighs in on what to do with the really tough stuff like letters, photos, wedding dresses.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).

Copyright © 2018, CT Now