Memories, Stuff, and Junk…

Earlier this year my brothers and I met up in our hometown and worked for a solid week cleaning out Mom and Dad’s house. Our parents had lived there for over 30 years. They’d been married for 63 years when Mom passed. They accumulated a great deal of furniture, knick-knacks, antiques, and a lot of, well, just a lot of “stuff”. Some we can even call junk. (Dad had a gigantic two bay workshop full of lawnmowers and weed eaters and more) And they never threw anything away. I think that was a “child of the depression” thing. And when they were gone, it was left up to us to go through it all, deciding what to keep and what to chunk. It was laborious and time consuming and more than just a little heart breaking. 

If you’ve ever had to deal with cleaning out your parents’ or grandparents’ house, then you feel our pain. I’d like to share how we dealt with it.

  1. We took our time. We waited awhile after Dad’s death before moving ahead with cleaning out the house. We needed that time for our heads to clear and our hearts to mend a little. Immediately after he passed, my brothers packed most of the truly valuable and sentimental things into a U-Haul truck and drove it to a storage facility where it could be safe until we decided what to do with it. We felt that ensured the safety of those objects, and it’s also given us time to decide if we really want or need those things.
  2. We rented a dumpster. We called the city and rented a dumpster. They delivered it and it was waiting for us when we got to the house. Your city may offer the same service. Call and check! We filled that dumpster three times before the week was over!
  3. We used 1-800-Got Junk. You may have seen their advertisements or website. I can honestly say that they were just as advertised. They were the nicest, hardest working guys I’ve ever seen. We really just had to point at what we needed them to take, and they threw it in their truck. The first load was taken to be recycled, which thrilled us! The second load was taken to the city dump. I was absolutely amazed at what they got done. I highly recommend this service!
  4. We sorted as we went. We each had our own “keep” pile. Even though we had taken things home and placed things into storage earlier, we discovered tons more. Documents too precious to throw away. Love letters and cards. Special items from our childhood were stored in trunks and boxes up in the attic. We had fun with that!
  5. We allowed friends to come pick. I know it sounds weird. But it was strangely comforting to give Dad’s things to his friends. I love knowing that those things have gone to the homes of people who loved him. There were a few folks who were just nosy and stopped by to take a peek. We were selective in who we allowed to pick through the piles. I’ll be honest. Some folks just gave off that “vulture” vibe, and we just turned them away.
  6. We donated what was left.  Their church hosts a large garage sale that benefits Operation Christmas Child, so we were more than happy to donate some furnishings and decorative items to them. We didn’t have time to have a garage sale ourselves, and we believed that donating would have made Mom happy.
  7. We loved each other through the process. We accepted that we’re all different, and that we each needed to work through this process emotionally in our own ways. One brother would get lost in the archeological dig as he went through things. And thank goodness he did, because he’s the one who discovered Dad’s first tax return! A true treasure. The other brother was the strong one, who would make the decision to let go of the things we had difficulty parting with. Me? I cried. Often. And cleaned. I deal by cleaning.

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    The archaeological dig and proof that our parents kept everything.

The hubs and I have been married 35 years. We’ve moved numerous times, as I mentioned before in this post. But somehow, even with all that moving, we’ve managed to accumulate stuff. (And of course, none of our stuff is junk! Insert eye roll here) I used to be a collector. Collecting was a thing back in the day. I collected Longaberger baskets and blue and white china. I won’t mention the beanie babies. (Most of which I’ve donated to Operation Christmas Child). I went on a teddy bear collecting binge for a brief while, and still have some of them, in the hopes that my granddaughter will want to play with them. We collected Precious Moments figurines for my daughter. Our son was really into Legos, and I had a hard time letting them go when we moved. So yeah. They’re up in the attic. I collected Hallmark ornaments and German blown glass ornaments. I was basically a collecting fool.

Now, I have no plans of leaving this earth for quite a few years, but I know the chances are that we will have to downsize one day. I don’t want my children to have to go through what my brothers and I went through. I don’t want to have to make these decisions late in life, if we need to move into an assisted living facility or long-term care facility. I’m realistic enough to know that these are both possibilities.

According to this article, our kids don’t want our stuff. They have their own furnishings. They have their own style and taste. They don’t want stuff they don’t need, and are busy making their own memories and creating their own homes. Your children may want to incorporate some of your things into their homes, so offer, but let it be their choice and don’t be insulted if they refuse. Both my children are fairly sentimental, and were thrilled to inherit a few things of their grandparents. I’m thinking my daughter’s Christmas gifts are going to come wrapped inside a Longaberger basket from here on out! And those Legos? There’s a new grandson coming in December. Pretty sure he’s going to be playing with his Daddy’s Legos one day!

My brothers and I got the job done. We got the old house cleaned up and ready to sell. It broke our hearts and healed them all at the same time. We hope and pray that what we did honored our parents. I happen to think that they’d be really proud of us. I know I am.

Have you ever had to downsize or clean out your parents house? Share your experience with me. I’d love to hear how you handled it. Thanks for reading.

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7 thoughts on “Memories, Stuff, and Junk…

  1. Yes, my brothers and I had to do the same thing! I love that your parents were not badgered to get rid of their ‘stuff’ before they died. My brothers and I expressed on many occasions that we did not want anything and how our memories were enough. THEN, my mom dies (Dad many years before!)… the ‘stuff became treasures and a part of our parents. Some had stories to share with our children and grandchildren. I do wish we would have know more about the pictures left behind though!

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  2. This brought back a flood of memories of when my grandmother passed and cleaning out her home. The Home she and my grandpa had designed and built 52 years before and where we had all grown up. It was just as you described. While I kept very little (I’m not sentimental), it was fun and heartbreaking looking through all the memories.

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  3. I’m so sorry that you have had this happen. My husband lost his dad when he was 20, just a few years ago. Thankfully he didn’t have to do any sorting because everything was left with other family. I think you handled your father’s things very respectfully and in a way that gave the most healing all around. Thank you for sharing something so personal!

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  4. I loved reading this. We were overseas when my grandparents passed away, and I couldn’t take back most of the things that I wanted from them. My aunt packed everything into a storage unit, and little by little it has been disbursed or gone through. When we returned permanently, it was wonderful to have so many of the things I remembered from my childhood waiting for me, and it was also therapeutic to be able to help finish the sorting and getting rid of stuff. It does take time, but it is so worth it and it helped me with the healing process after losing two people that I loved so very much.

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