Sunday, September 29, 2013

Misguided Ambition

I drove to New Jersey this weekend, armed with 60 boxes and 6 rolls of packing tape.  Yes, it was time to clean out my dad's house, where he had lived for over half a century.  I thought I was up to the task.  I thought it would be cathartic to go through that stuff, sort it out, and box it all up.

And, yes, it was cathartic - that is, if catharsis is the process of grief morphing into a feeling of resentment toward the dearly departed once the mourner realizes, with a sense of dawning horror, that 60 boxes is NOT NEARLY ENOUGH.  60 boxes is a JOKE.

Woefully inadequate

I had a realtor stop by, approximately 24 hours into this process.  Up until then, I was doing okay - focused on my progress, energetic, hydrated.  And then, as I took her around the house, I snapped out of my illusions and saw the mess through her eyes - the accounting office with papers from 1978 on, the 2-car garage already full of boxes, the laundry room with I-don't-know what-all shoved into it.  It was in this last room that she turned to me and said, in the tone of voice one would use to disabuse a small child of the notion that she can single-handedly dig all the way to China, "You know, there are people who can help you with this.  They come with a big truck and take it all away."

Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn't it? 

On the bright side, I dug up a photo album filled with pictures of my father as a boy and a young man.  I had never seen any candid photos of him from that time in his life - I had assumed, in fact, that none existed.  He looks so young, so happy, with his whole life spread out before him - it's a nice antidote to my memories of him from the past 4 months or so, when he was becoming feebler and more senile by the day.  His physical and mental misery spanned maybe one year out of a total of 87 -- these photos remind me that that single year doesn't define his entire life.

Now to find those helpful people with the big truck...

[Boxes image: enviromom]


  1. This made me think of how in her last years, before she ended up in the nursing home, my grandmother became obsessed with getting rid of things. We thought it was odd at the time, that she was pitching things unnecessarily, but when it came we had to empty her house for real there was still so much.... I wonder if she was trying to spare us some of that work and guilt.

    Good luck with the people and the truck. Hope it helps.

  2. We had to do that with my grandmother's house last year. I, too, found pictures that we didn't know existed, including some of my mom's brother who died 13 years ago. Those were the last straw for my mom. And yes... the truck people. And then the auction people. It helps and hurts all at once. ((HUGS))

  3. What a task, so taxing both physically and emotionally. All the hugs to you. xoxo

  4. What a chore. When I hear stories like this, I am filled with resolve to start decluttering my house and downsizing after my children are off living on their own.

    It took a year to empty my MIL's house after she died and there's a great deal that was never dealt with -- just taken off and stuck in storage to be dealt with at some future date.

  5. Such a huge task. Hoping the truck people can take most of it and leave you with only happy memories.

  6. I am glad you discovered treasure in the middle of that chore. Made it a bit easier, I imagine.
    Good luck with the rest--that's an enormous job for one person.

  7. Perhaps you should consider having an auction after you remove the items you want to keep. The auction company will take care of everything and then you will get a check at the end and a completely empty house.

    So sorry you had to spend your weekend doing this but at least you found those photos.

  8. It took us a year to go through all of the papers in my mom's house. (The "us" was mostly my poor SIL who had also done much of the caring for mom in her last 6 months. Bless that woman!) This was when we discovered that Mom was a closet hoarder. *sigh* It was awful going through every last bit of paper, but we had to, thanks to Mom's profession. Strangely enough, every once in a while there would be a check or money or something super-important stacked in a pile of papers with useless junk.
    The treasures found while sorting through everything helps make the job worthwhile. I'm glad you found those photos of your dad. ♥

  9. My heart goes out to you, and I wish some of us could make it easier. I have a friend who has a business helping people sort through this kind of thing. She has a Master's in Psychology.

    Yes, get the truck, and try not to feel badly. Remember, those boxes have to go somewhere. You probably don't want them to all end up in your house/basement/attic?

    1. NOTHING is going to end up in my house. NOTHING. Except perhaps that photo album...

  10. oh, no. I'm so sorry you're doing that all by yourself! I had to go through my granparents' house after my grandfather died and my grandmother became ill. I lived there for an entire summer and got rid of two dumpsters worth of trash, not to mentioned the metric ton of stuff that was donated. And the house was STILL full of stuff to deal with when Granny died. Me? I have one file drawer and I go through it every year. Same with drawers and closets. I keep offering to help my MIL but she's afraid I'll throw stuff away. Damn straight.
    Please, please, please call in the cavalry. You need to be sure and take care of yourself. Drink lots of water, give yourself lots of time. Let someone else decide if most of the stuff is worth anything. Take your treasures and stand back. Your mental and physical health are the most important thing.

  11. I've been trying to get rid of stuff in our house. I know how hard it was for my hubby and his brothers to clean out his mom's house and don't want my kids to go through that. I'm thinking the baby clothes and small snow boots, gloves, etc. can go now, as Rosalie, my baby, is 4 1/2. ;)

  12. I'm really sorry about your dad. I don't know how one gets through that last god damn circle of someone elses life. My parents have told me to take what I want and the location where I can find a 5 gallon gas tank and matches in their garage. They said to burn that motha down. I have pretty cool parents I think.

  13. I emptied my mom's house myself and it was a big job. But my husband was rehabbing it over a long period of time so I did not have to do it all instantly. Room by room, I took what I wanted, and dumped or donated the rest. Papers went in the garage and I slowly winnowed through them. If I had to do it in a hurry I would definitely hire a service.

  14. You're so right that a year doesn't make a life. I'm glad your father had 86 good years.

  15. What a great find!

    My mom is a bit of a hoarder but TG she's been lightening the load a bit lately. Every time she says something is too pretty to use I tell her someone will like it when we sell it on Ebay. Such a nice daughter ;)

  16. Cleaning out my mother's house was so very hard. I was luck to be able to do a bit every day as she only lived a mile from me--that did mean, though, that I might have saved more than I would have otherwise. I could open a cookbook bookstore with her books alone--those are hard for me to part with.