How to Let Go of Inheritance and Gift Clutter

I have spent the past 12 years helping clients let go of unnecessary items in their homes, offices and lives -- one area at a time. This post focuses on clutter busting inheritance and gifts.
03/19/2013 12:19 pm ET Updated May 19, 2013

I have spent the past 12 years helping clients let go of unnecessary items in their homes, offices and lives -- one area at a time. This post focuses on clutter busting inheritance and gifts.

Inheritance and gifts are both things that come in to your life that you didn't ask for. They are given to you and you are expected to take and appreciate them. Sometimes they fit into your life well and they support you. Sometimes they are not something you want or care for and they become a burden. It's worth taking a deeper look.

1. Inheritance. An inheritance is really someone else's left-over stuff that is now yours. Along with these inherited things and/or money comes sadness because someone close to you died and you got their stuff. The person and their stuff are linked. You see this person's stuff as them. You're too vulnerable and don't want to have to let them go again, so these things stay in your life.

You may feel all this even though you don't actually care for the stuff, or you might not want the money. For most of us, we would probably never buy most of the things we inherit.

Make a list of the things you've inherited. Consider each one and ask if you're enjoying this thing in your life, or if it is best to let it go. If you feel some sadness rise up, that's okay. It's normal. You're missing the person who gave this thing to you. For most people, if they knew that you don't care for the inherited item, they would want you to let it go. The great thing about letting go of something that's so strongly linked to a person who has passed on, is that their memory passes from the item and goes into your heart, which is a much more fulfilling feeling.

There are some people who leave behind "gifts" that they know you don't want, people who were sad and abusive during their lives. That kind of relationship is something to let go of as well, and you can let go of it by letting go of this person's things.

Sometimes we may hang on to an inherited item we don't care for so as not to upset family members who we think want us to hang on to these items. I worked with one woman who was holding onto a changing bench in her bedroom because she felt if she got rid of it, her family would think she was "The evil destroyer of her family's history." I had her call her family and ask them. They said they didn't care if she let go of the changing bench. She was stunned. We put it out on the curb and someone came by and picked it up within a half hour.

2. Gifts. Sometimes you're not going to like a gift. When you don't care for a gift, it's natural to not want to hurt the giver's feelings. But if you keep the gift, you take the hit by hanging onto it. It's okay to let go of a gift.

There are different ways to say "no." If you have a healthy relationship with the giver, you can say, "I appreciate that you got this for me, but I'm sorry, it's not for me. Would your feelings be hurt if I return this, or even donate it?" Another approach is to thank the person, and then donate the gift without telling them.

What gifts do you have in your home that you don't care for? Go to one, pick up the gift and ask, "Do I like and use this or not?" If you find yourself saying, "No, but what if get rid of it and _____ comes over and asks about the present?" or "No, but I think I'd rather just hang on to it" you're hurting yourself and the person who gave it to you. You hurt the giver because hanging on to something you don't care for makes you resent the giver for creating this situation.

Please write and tell me your experiences clutter busting inheritance and gift items; it helps inspire people when you share.

Brooks Palmer is the author of Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back (New World Library, 2009) and Clutter Busting Your Life: Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter to Reconnect With Yourself and Others (New World Library, 2012). To schedule an over-the-phone clutter busting session, go to