Sorting out a lifetime of stuff was never going to be easy...

There could be some gems among your clutter
There could be some gems among your clutter

I can scarcely believe it but 50 years ago this month I met the man I married.

Yet far from sitting around today reminiscing – well just a little – about that momentous event which, in effect, didn’t seem that momentous at all according to my diary entry that night, I find myself wondering what on earth we’ll do with all the stuff we’ve accumulated as a couple half a century later.

Sandra Chapman

Sandra Chapman

We’ve tried to get the children to take what they want but none of it, I suspect, is really their scene.

We have friends in much the same boat, married about the same time as us, whose children also refuse to commit to lovely old mahogany and oak furniture, fine china, the best of Waterford crystal and a lifetime’s collection of this and that.

Of course auction houses nowadays are full of what we regard as treasures at prices which bear nothing to what we paid originally.

It may take another half century for them to regain any kind of antique value.

Former government representative for the elderly Dame Joan Bakewell admits to living in a house valued at £5m (bought for £12,000 in the Sixties) which she says she may downsize when she stops earning enough to pay the running costs. A magazine implied she was not going to leave anything to her children, something she has denied, good parent that she is, though she does approve of inheritance tax.

She says she has made her will and what’s left of her estate will be divided among her family and the charities she supports.

A black cloud descends on me when I think that one day we may also have to downsize. Having a large garden is wonderful when the children are around, extra bedrooms are handy when your son brings home half a dozen sailors one evening all needing somewhere to sleep, high hedging around the place is great for privacy and to keep out the wicked westerlies but the devil to maintain when energy levels are reduced with age.

And, of course, there is all that stuff. A friend has taken all her children’s baggage and stored it in the attic intent on letting them deal with it when she’s passed on because they want her to store it for them rather than clutter up their own minimalist homes.

Trouble is, I’m so sentimental about all those toys and school books, even old uniforms, of my own children that I can’t bear to part with them, not even to the attic. Every cupboard door I open has a memory for me. Himself accuses me of trying to hang on to my youthful years. So what’s wrong with that? I’m losing them rapidly.

I have a mountain of books which have been used over the years for reference and my enjoyment. Where do I start with those? And there are the family photographs, thousands of them. The children will select a few and probably burn the rest, something I don’t want to think about. It’s got to the stage where downsizing may not be an option after all.

What happens if I have to go into care? Is it not better to have a forward plan to take in all the possibilities in the future? An NHS which claims it’s skint tends to want to lay claim to every knife and fork you own to pay for that care.

There are horror stories where they’ve laid claim to family homes to pay care bills. Children who might have expected to enjoy some kind of inheritance may be sorely disappointed.

Surely the best plan is to bite the bullet and downsize despite a dearth of suitable homes for the elderly unless, like Dame Joan, your house is worth millions which would enable you to take out an equity release plan

The children will get over your decisions and move on. I fear mine have moved on already so that series of bonfires may not be too far off.