Two years ago today my Mom passed away at age 83. Who would have thought the cancer she fought so valiantly would come back with a vengeance 12 years later and travel to her brain. Who would have thought that so gracious and vibrant a lady would spend the final three weeks of her life (and her 83rd birthday) in a nursing home unable to speak or walk or take care of herself. Who would have thought that only 60 days would pass from diagnosis to death. Two years later I am grieving a bit less but I do miss her
immensely. And I am coming out of the funk I slipped into – I had been doing just enough to get by – but now I am starting to fly.
However, the point of this letter is to relate what I (and my brothers) were faced with when my Mom died after being a widow for 8 years. My parents bought our family home in 1948 and never moved. They were raised during the Depression, and as we are shaped by our experiences, they never threw anything away. My mother was a fastidious housekeeper and her home was lovely, filled with antiques and “near antiques” that she and my father spent time over the years choosing and incorporating into their home. She did tole and country painting, beautiful theorems, and reverse paintings on glass. Beautiful stuff – she won awards and belonged to a prestigious group. She created a lovely home and easily it could have graced the pages of Country Living magazine – she never lived in CHAOS (unlike her only daughter . . .)
However, the pristine and orderly visible home hid a “behind the scenes” that was another matter. Did I mention that my parents never threw anything away? So when they bought a new “whatever” the old one was put somewhere. Stuff accumulated in cupboards, desks, closets, the attic and in the workshop area (“the shed”) above the garage. Some items were carefully boxed and labeled, other stuff was just there. Some was just junk that they never got around to throwing (i.e. empty paint cans from 1968, three old adding machines from my Dad’s accounting office, etc.). Other stuff was curious – 50 or sixty black picture frames(?) plus the Skippy jars of unidentifiable screws, nuts, bolts, etc. Mom had also saved every report card, Iowa Test results (remember those), and miscellany from each of her three
Besides the emotions involved in selling the only home I ever knew growing up, it was an overwhelming task to clear out the house when it was sold. We hired an auctioneer to come and empty the house of the furniture and other stuff (lamps, mirrors, tin sconces, pewter, glassware, dishes, etc) that we weren’t keeping, but everything had to be touched and a decision made about it. Once the auctioneer was gone with his two truckloads of items (he had to call for a second truck because even HE underestimated), it was up to us to deal with the rest.
My older brother was between jobs at the time, and he did a lot of flinging of stuff – the pantry was an adventure with its vintage canned goods (must be the bomb-shelter mentality) and the old cleaning products (put aside and taken to a hazardous waste collection event). In a desk drawer we found a pile of original local newspapers printed during the several weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy. The shed had a cache of old lumber and moldings, lamp parts, and lots of other stuff alien to our lives today as well as some treasures. A true find (by the auctioneer’s crew in a corner of the unheated shed) was a box containing photographs and the photo albums from my Dad’s high school, college years, and World War II, as well as my parent’s wedding photos. I wish these had been shared with us by Mom and Day when they were alive.
We rented a dumpster and filled it FOUR times. It got to the point that we just flung because time was running out. I don’t even let myself think about any treasures we might have tossed because there was just SO MUCH stuff we just couldn’t give it all our attention. We became numb to it all.
So now that the pain of loss is subsiding, I have started to fly around my own house. Besides decluttering for the peace of it all, my other objective is this: I don’t want my two sons to have to deal with anything like the situation I handled when I am no longer here. I have started to examine not only what I have and what I want to have visible everyday, but what I am choosing to store away. I am keeping just the stuff that means something to me. I am compiling a “Treasures” album with a picture and the story behind some significant items, so the boys will know why I kept certain things when I am no longer here to tell them. It’s a project, but a fun one, and using baby steps, I am taking one bite at a time.
Did I mention that my parents never threw anything away?
Thank you for your encouragement.
FlyBaby S in CT
FlyLady Here: We all will have to deal with this one day. You cannot organize clutter; you can only get rid of it. Are you going to be leaving your clutter for your children to have to deal with after you are gone. Why do we turn our homes into landfills just because we might need it one day?