by Susan McCarthy
If you’re feeling guilty about not wanting to take more things from your parent’s home, know you’re not alone. Determining how meaningful items are to you can help you clarify what to keep and what you can let go. This is my story.
When my family moved from an apartment into a house, a lot of relatives decided to help us out by handing down curtains, furniture, towels, sheets, bedspreads, dishes, and other sundry items. If we weren’t using it at the time, a lot of these things got moved up into the attic "in case we needed it someday."
As a kid, I don’t think that I noticed that we were acquiring more and more stuff over the years. In some cases, we got shelves, freestanding cabinets, and bins to store the things we were accumulating. We had a house now, and more space, and so it just made sense that we had more.
But at some point, more became MORE. We held onto everything. Relatives retired and moved out of state and gave us more stuff. When other relatives died, we inherited more. I don’t that my parents said “no” to anything.
When I was old enough to notice that other people’s houses weren’t as crammed full of stuff as ours was, my mother responded that if we didn’t live in such a small house then our house wouldn’t be so cluttered.
This did made sense. So I decided to help by organizing things. I learned quickly (and with more than a little frustration) that my parents wanted to keep everything, even if it didn’t seem to make sense.
For example, when a toaster stopped toasting or started burning the bread, my parents would buy a new toaster and then packed up the old one to store it just in case the new one ceased to do its job. Old clothing (and most embarrassing, old underwear) was kept for cleaning rags. Yet even when we had a trash barrel brimming with rags, we started a second collection even though it should have been clear we already had more than we used.
The Shift to Cleaning Out the House
After my mother died and a couple of years later my father went into assisted living with dementia, I started to clean out the house. My initial thoughts drifted to the relief of getting rid of the stacks of newspapers and magazines, bags of junk mail, bags of shopping bags, those broken toasters, medications that had expired a decade ago, and so much more.
What I didn’t account for was the stuff I had no clue existed because the items had been packed into the attic from the moment it had entered the house. In some cases, this included things my parents had probably received as wedding gifts. Other things I could only guess that they’d inherited from their parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles.
All these dishes, knickknacks, cut glass bowls, silver-plated trays, tea sets, and other items were a mystery to me. I unpacked all these things, becoming more and more baffled. And overwhelmed. Had these things been so special to my parents that they hadn’t wanted anything to become damaged? Did they think these things were valuable items that could be sold? (Unfortunately, everyone my age has inherited these types of things and is trying to get rid of them at the same time. They aren’t in style, so no one really wanted the things.)
Hi, I'm Susan
Emptying my parents' overpacked 800-square-foot house left me popping handfuls of peanut M&Ms and doing a WHOLE lot of comfort-crocheting. The experience of sorting through mom and dad's stuff also encouraged me to become a professional organizer...so now I can offer techniques that work much better than chocolate.