What it finally took...

netlaSeptember 3, 2007

There's nothing like going through another person's accumulated stuff to get you to get rid of some of your own.

For about 6 years, ever since I last moved, I have been telling myself I really need to clean out some of the stuff in my storage room. After weeks of sorting through the effects of my great aunt who has moved to a nursing home, leaving behind most of her things in her apartment, I finally got going with my own junk.

She hoarded stuff. Never threw out food, even if it expired years ago, never threw out clothes even when they didn't fit her any more. Some of this was no doubt due to her having rheumatism and not being able to lift things, and Alsheimer's that made her forget she had bought something. My aunt, grandmother and cousins have been sorting through her things and everyone has kept something they know she loved and would have hated to see thrown out, but most of her useful stuff is going to a charity shop. Of course, in between we have thanked her for her hoarding. We found telegrams my great grandparents got when they were married, old letters, photographs and birthday cards belonging to family members long gone, things that are part of our family history and we wouldn't get rid of for anything.

I washed 6 loads of clothes to take to the Red Cross clothing collection container, and soon I will be taking a number of boxes full of books and ornaments to the charity shop.

All of this got me thinking that I don't want my relatives to go through this when I am either dead, or too weak or too out of it to sort my own things. I made a start this weekend: I emptied 5 boxes of broken toys, old school notes, books I no longer have use for and other stuff, threw away half of it and took the useful stuff to the charity shop. I still have a number of boxes to look through, but it's a start.

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Several years before my aunt died, when she was still healthy but could foresee the inevitable, she began giving away a lifetime's accumulation of things. They'd been in the military and she loved her collections from all over the world. Since the military paid to move her, she kept it all. In her later years she took up wedding consultation and made cakes. More stuff got acquired. Then my uncle told her whatever she didn't get rid of was going out on the curb when she died. She began the purge.

Everyone on the receiving end was happy to get to pick what they wanted and glad to be getting it under happy circumstances. She was able to experience the joy of seeing their faces and receiving their thanks for her generosity.

It's never too early to start that. Are we really going to use all this stuff we have within our lifetimes? The junk needs to be trashed. The treasured needs to be given with love. The in-between can go to charity with the knowledge that we're creating jobs for those who process it and a bargain for those who buy it at an affordable price.

Carry on!

    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 9:46AM
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My sisters and I had to clear out our aunt's house after she passed away. Auntie had never married and, even though she moved a couple of times through the years, she had never thrown anything out in her 76 years. Six months later, we had to dismantle the only home we had lived in while growing up - 34 more years of stuff - after our last parent passed on.

Today my sisters and I are about the most efficient of housekeepers - if it's not used, it's out. Yes, certain things are saved for the next generation, but in general, our local recyclers love us.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 2:30PM
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Maybe it's my age but in the past few years I've decided that it's not that important to hold onto everything. I've started small, giving one of my dd's kitchen supplies and have decided to give her my Time Life Cookbook series that I purchased before the internet. Growing up, she used those books more than I ever did. It's sad but there is only one recipe from those many books that I make over and over again. However, it's not easy to give away items that are part of your own history.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2007 at 12:09AM
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I had a similar experience as patser - clearing out the house my mom had lived in for 33 years. What a chore. The house was in Colorado, my brother lived in Atlanta and I lived in California at the time. We had to take long weekends and fly back home to sort and pack up things. One time my brother, my husband and I all used up a week's vacation working on the house.

Almost all of it went to Goodwill. We just kept taking them stuff. We couldn't do estate sales or Ebay since neither of us lived there. Plus there were the big black garbage bags ... each time we'd set out 30-50 for the trash haulers.

It took us 18 months of sorting, tossing, recycling, and sending to Goodwill to get the house ready for selling. I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone. At first it was very, very sad, going through all of her things, but then at the end it was just frustrating and sometimes hilarious. When we cleaned out the refrigerator there was a jar of pickles at the back with an expiration date of 18 years earlier!

So many times we had to laugh to keep from crying.

In contrast, my dad had died suddenly a few years earlier and his things were spare and organized and easy to pack up. His papers were in order and he'd only kept things that really meant something to him or were useful. That was a great gift he gave us. The grief and shock of his death were enough to deal with - what a blessing that we didn't have to deal with clearing out junk too.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 3:02AM
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