What We Leave Behind
What do we do with the stuff our parents left behind? And what about our own stuff? A year ago I wrote a post on this website about cleaning out my parents’ house of more than fifty years (a condensed digest of an ongoing series on my other blog). I’m still at it. Because I’m living in the house, there’s no sense of urgency. And yet, as I consider options for what’s next for me, I’m held back by all the minutia that isn’t mine, from an overstock of paper clips to an antique organ, from nuts and nails to my father’s enormous desk.
A friend wrote about cleaning out her mother’s house after she died—that generation of savers, oh my—and of the saved bits and pieces of her own life.I often write the word “excavations” on my “things to do” list, or a I use this phrase “I am a miner” to inspire my efforts. I couldn’t help be fascinated (and somewhat repelled) by all the little boxes, jars and containers full of doodads, screws, & miscellaneous parts that your family saved. I went through the same thing too at my mom’s. She had saved dozens of snus (snuff) cans from her father, filled with every screw, nail, bolt, curtain hanger, drape hook, and carpet tack of his, as well as my dad’s stuff in baby food jars, cat food cans (the last cat died in 1966) and cigar boxes (his father smoked cigars, and he always brought home empty ones from “The Club”). But, I think maybe I had it somewhat easier going through some of those things compared to what you are faced with now, because my mom moved to a different house twenty years ago, and she was an obsessive organizer and labeler (probably the librarian thing).
Now I’m making myself face the harder stuff, things with family memories. I whittled four boxes of antique piano music from my grandmother down to one. Some of it was so old and shabby, I had to throw it out, but I took two boxes of it to local antique/collectible shops. But I can’t keep it all and I tell myself “four minus three equals one—at least I’m trying.” [Then I set to working] on a list of books (about theater and the New York stage) to offer my local theater company. I have saved six books for myself and I hope that they will accept about sixteen. My mom loved the theater.
On the horizon, waiting for me, are boxes and boxes of 78 rpm records. That may be a challenge. The thrift stores won’t take those. I might put them off for later. I actually remember some of those old records from when I was really little.
One of the hardest things about all of this is that I am recognizing my own hoarding instinct. I’ve saved many of the same things. It scares me to think that I might pass all of this stuff (or my own treasures) on to my daughter. But I know to a certain extent that I will. She tells me not to worry about it.
Oh, I am with you on this one! I think that my folks grew up in the depression era where their parents tended to hang onto everything. EVERY thing. I catch myself saving things too, only to realize that if I were suddenly gone tomorrow all of it would get pitched into a landfill. It’s up to me see that all that can be re-used, re-purposed or recycled find a proper landing spot. Going through our parents things at any stage is an eye-opening experience and I’m grateful to get to hold the things and hear the stories. I know that so many aren’t so lucky. I never take for granted how fortunate I am that my folks are here to help me direct their belongings (and them!) to the right soft landing. Thanks for sharing your story. -BN
Oy vey. I pat myself on the back for the good progress I’ve made in the “hoarding room” where I, and my parents before me, stuffed things. Then I think about the things like paperclips and the drawer full of greeting cards my mom collected and never mailed and my dad’s workshop. It doesn’t have sentimental value, but there is just. so. much. And then there are the file drawers and slides.
And don’t even get me started on pens, pencils and years and years and years of old statements, carbon copy checks and bills … 😁
I shredded decades of bank statements before my mom moved out. Got in trouble for it too. Tax returns back to my dad’s first filing, in 1938 or something, are still here. They feel kind of historical now. I think I’m going to tackle some minutia soon, or a second round of it.