Mom told us: “Just sell it or give it to the kids [her grandchildren] and they can sell it.” She had promised that I would inherit her home, the house I designed and supervised in building, ordered the cabinets, installed the tile backsplash and the tile floor and walls in the bathroom and the entryway floor. I lost several months of paying work doing that, and the house was my favorite of all the ones I designed.
But when Mom finally accepted that she could not live there alone, she decided to sell the house. She preferred cash in the bank and did not “want to fuss” over renting. It sold quickly to a realtor who wanted it cleared out by closing. We had to wait till my brother took what he wanted before we could empty the house and the stuffed attic. In the end, Gary and I and our sons and one of our future daughters-in-law, emptied the house in two days and we have been loaded down ever since. [Gary says I am wrong about this, that he went back and forth for two weeks or more. He’s probably right.]
Mom wanted me to put all her things into storage and I refused to do it. The expense and the unlikelihood that I would find time to visit a storage unit made that impractical. I knew I would never go through a storage unit. So instead we moved it into our home, until Mom told us to just sell it all. After she died, we looked for charities.
There was little that was genuinely marketable, because the market crashed for a lot of items. Mom and I both collected: dolls, china, glass, prints and photos, books. Fewer people collect these day, and with Ebay, you can find whatever you want anywhere in the country. My mom and I used to hunt antique shops all over western Washington, searching for specific things we often could not find, and buying wonderful objects we did not need simply because they were rare. We had great fun doing that, and the items I have kept are the ones where I recall that search, our discussions about price and value and so forth. Reminders of time spent with Mom.
[In the mean time, antiques stores and malls are failing. Now, people can find anything, anything! they are looking for online. I recently bought two discontinued dinner plates on Ebay. They came from Finland.]
We stored boxes Mom brought to Oregon from Seattle, boxes of my school materials from grade school all the way through decades of teaching, boxes of Mom’s collectibles and recent purchases she’d never bothered to open. Cardboard boxes cluttered our rooms and stuffed the attic that already had my own accumulated clutter. I resisted going through Mom’s boxes, but at least I was not paying for a storage unit, I reasoned.
Looking back now, maybe that was a mistake. If I’d put everything in storage, I think we might have just walked away from it all—and maybe that would have been better. Finding places for my mother’s possessions was a nightmare that went on for over a decade. What left us before this past summer went to our sons or charity. My brother was angry not to have received money from sale of the pile, but we didn’t sell much of anything from Mom, just gave stuff away. We would have welcomed any attempt on his part to take things he wanted or to deal with the mess. Certainly, I would have preferred to do what he did: cherry-pick what I wanted and leave the rest of the mess to someone else.
Instead it is a chore that we find both onerous and painful. We are closing in now. The six boxes of books Gary wants to take to the GoodWill truck are my books, not Mom’s. The last sorted banker’s boxes were all my stuff that needed to be dumped. The north attic is finally empty, and only the one room still contains clutter—the Thonet chairs I bought while I was in high school, bedding and linens destined for charity, six more cardboard boxes of books. It has been emotionally and physically challenging to discard the accumulations of several lives. This has been our primary occupation in retirement: getting rid of stuff.
This is a common experience, I have learned. No one wants our stuff.