Today, my sister and I finished clearing out our family home of nearly 40 years. It wasn’t the home we grew up in — we moved out of that apartment three weeks before I graduated high school. But it was where we introduced our parents to the men who would become their sons-in law; where we brought our children to play with their cousins; where we mourned our mother three years ago and helped my father reestablish his new life, which ended two months ago.
It was the place where I lived for a brief time when I separated from my first husband. When I told my parents my plans, my mother insisted that I move in with them. That was what family did — gathered around you in your time of need. I ended up staying for two years and forging a new close relationship with my parents as a grown-up.
My parents lived in a 3-bedroom, 2-bath rental apartment, not a house with an attic and a basement and a garage. So I was surprised at how much they had been able to pack away into their 7 closets and various pieces of storage furniture. You can accumulate a lot in 40 years. At some point, I offered to help them move to a smaller place. But my mother, who had been chronically ill for many years, said she didn’t have the energy for it. So they stayed.
In deconstructing my parents’ lives over the last two months, we faced the dilemma of wanting to honor their past and treat their treasured belongings with respect, yet not incorporating all of it into our lives (and apartments). I made the choice to bring home just a small amount of memorabilia: photos, cards, letters my daughter wrote from camp, and a couple of creative masterpieces from my own childhood! I also brought home some photos that I plan to send to other relatives, and a few things that I will donate to specialized charities.
In the end, the task proved too overwhelming for us to handle ourselves. We hired Michal Landor, who specializes in tag sales. Last week, she ran a sale in the apartment in the morning, then arranged for the Manhattan-based Vintage Thrift Shop to come in the afternoon and pick up whatever they felt they could sell in their shop. Michal also provided a clean-out company, who came over today and cleared out everything that was left. It was surreal watching the rooms empty out.
As a Professional Organizer, what lessons did I derive from this exhausting and emotional experience? As is often the case, it reinforced my resolve to continually review my possessions to ensure that what I keep in my home are those items that I still use or from which I still derive pleasure. I want to make sure that when my daughter closes down our family home, she doesn’t have to scratch her head and wonder why we still owned these things that we haven’t used in years.