Subtitle: "Take a Picture - It Lasts Longer"
My father made the difficult shift from living in his home to assisted living several months ago. I'm betting this event is a rite of passage familiar to many of you. In fact, I've heard about it so much from clients and friends that the process, and it's accompanying stress level, seems almost cliché. Making the decision to put his home on the market was delayed a bit, but gradually Dad came to the decision that the stuff left behind needed to be dealt with, and the house prepared for sale. For any of you who've been through this with a parent, you know that there are many overwhelming details to address.
I figured I'd be ideally equipped to help with everything. First, the house is not the one I grew up in - so no sentimental attachment there. Second, my parents moved a LOT in their adult lives, so clearing out excess items was fairly routine for them. It's not like the house had 50 years of greeting cards, receipts, and Better Homes & Gardens to go through. Third, my father was quite easygoing about not keeping much stuff (not a materialistic man). Finally, I do this for a living, right? I help people sort, purge, categorize, and organize lifetimes of acquisition. I SO had this...
Once he was settled into his new digs, Dad encouraged all of us (kids and grandkids) to go through the old house and pick out whatever we wanted. Furniture, mementos, paintings my mother had done, whatever. Stickie notes with names were placed on items until they could be collected, and we were fortunate in that no one quibbled over anything. Still a very smooth process, but way more was left behind than was claimed (are you listening, those of you hanging onto stuff "for the kids"??). I talked with my brother and father about the possibility of an estate sale, and Dad readily agreed. Again, smooth...a decision made. Piece of cake, this transition thing.
Until it wasn't. Shortly before the sale, I insisted that we (my siblings and I) go through the house one more time. My mother had a fondness for hiding things she thought were valuable - these things could be anything from a pair of gold earrings to a list of the expenses for a home they built in another state forty years ago*. Perhaps meaningful, perhaps not. I just wanted to be sure that we weren't overlooking anything, so armed with trash bags and boxes we went in for the attack. And that's where I got totally stuck. The first stumbling block was an ancient suitcase extracted from the attic, which contained pictures I'd never seen, my mother's autograph book from the 7th grade, and my list for Santa from 1971. Oh. My. Gosh. I won't bore you with all of the things that continued to come out of that attic, but my brother and I just got lost in it all for a while.
And then there was this gem:
I used to stare at this book for hours as a kid. It had synopses of all of the famous operas, plus music for the most popular arias in each. Maybe I was just a weird little girl, but I thought it was fascinating. Given that memory, I must really need to hang on to it, right? Rescue it from the horrid fate of being sold at the estate sale for $5.00 by giving it a place of honor in my home? But as I held it, I came to a critical realization (my "aha" moment): I didn't want to own it. I wanted my mother to own it again. In her own home, with her other books, the way it used to be. With me sprawled on the floor trying to make sense of Italian lyrics.
Which of course, friends and neighbors, can't be. We can't go back into the memories, although we can hold them close (and often that's enough). I kept a few pictures, and the Santa letter, but I let the book go along with many other things that didn't need to worm their way into my home. The sale was successful, my father was pleased, and I have spent very little time thinking about what went away.
What has been your experience in letting go of things that represent your family history? Did you have any "aha" moments?
*p.s. I did find something my mother hid - two video copies of Cats (VHS and DVD), which someone in the family had been hoping to find. I'm pleased to report they are now happily reunited.
Sara Skillen - I'm a Certified Professional Organizer®, wife and mom, and serial list-maker. I'm also an Evernote Certified Consultant. I love to help people from all walks of life get organized and productive - and I'd love to help you, too:
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