by Susan McCarthy
When I started cleaning out my parents’ house, several years ago, I knew it would be a lot of work. They were hoarders who couldn’t get rid of anything that was potentially useful … even if they never used those things.
So, although I knew they had a lot of stuff, I had no clue as to exactly what they had. When I went up into the attic, I was flabbergasted by the number of sets of dishes I found. I found bags filled with blankets, bedspreads, sheets, curtains, and towels, many which I could never remember us using. I realized that my parents had allowed their home to become a repository of other people’s stuff.
Every time a relative moved, my parents received all this “useful” stuff. Perhaps the relatives decided that since my father was one of those frugal New Englanders, those pink blankets, curtains, and towels would be useful. (I have no clue whom the ‘pink’ relative was but these items didn’t exactly coordinate with the 1970s color palette of the house.)
I also found three tea sets, numerous sets of flatware, enough glassware to stock a bar (my father drank beer from a can; my mother didn’t drink), numerous serving platters, and ten or so sets of dishes. Oh, and there were tchotchkes galore. Were any of these things more special that the others? I had no clue.
One afternoon, I returned to my apartment and started chatting with a neighbor about the dishes and knickknacks, I said that I didn’t know what to do with it all.
She suggested that I wrap up everything and move the boxes to my storage space in the apartment’s basement until the day when I had my own house.
That comment snapped me out of my doubt about what to do with all my parents’ stuff.
Yes, transferring boxes of stuff from my parents’ house to my home would save me from making decisions. But, I’d found items wrapped in 40-year-old newspaper. My parents had obviously moved the items into their house and never looked at the stuff again. If my parents felt any of these items were important, I couldn’t tell.
If I boxed up these items to take to my own home, I would subjugate the items to another forty years in a box. Leaving it to whomever had to clear out my estate to wonder if this stuff was important to me.
I decided to break the cycle.
I wish my mother had heard of Swedish Death Cleaning, but her idea of organizing was to put things in boxes until walls were literally lined with boxes … and then complain about the small house.
The experience of decluttering my parents’ house led to a personal decision. Except for holiday decorations, I refuse to put anything in a storage box. If I have it, it is on display or it’s in active storage - in a dresser, cabinet, or closet, ready for use. I constantly revaluate the things that I own and know that useful doesn’t mean used.
For me, storage is about keeping things available - be it jewelry, clothing, or craft supplies.
I realized that I had to make the decisions my parents hadn’t been able to make with the piles of stuff stored in their home. It took four 20-yard Dumpsters, a yard sale, and countless trips to the local donation center to make those decisions.
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