Tuesday, September 21, 2021

On Decisions About And Dispersal Of Things

 The sorting of my parents' items has begun.

This task has hung over the head of my sister and myself since February of this year, when it became blatantly apparent that neither of my parents would be returning back to The Ranch to live.  We were now in the situation of having a house full of items to  examine, catalog, and disposition.

My parents had gone through one large purge almost 20 years ago, when they had relocated from my hometown to The Ranch so some things of my childhood, like fifty 4-record albums of "Reader's Digest presents"  were no longer our problem.  But that was 20 years ago, and other things have accumulated in that time.

Fortunately my parents did not have a problem with hoarding things; that said, they did have a great many collections.

My mother collected books, hundreds of them, with paperbacks going back to when I was growing up to books recent purchased.  She had various sewing and photo album supplies.  My father, on the other hand, collected antiques.  We have a rather extensive collection of a great many different old things, bottles and old kitchen items and furniture from the late 1800's and old fans (two, to be precise).

The problem, of course, is knowing where to begin.

It is perhaps doubly compounded by the fact that I impart emotion to items.  Things have memories and value to me beyond their simple functionality - and not just memories for me, it seems, but memories of my children with them to, or memories of the generation beyond my parents with them.  In some cases, I am likely now the last person that possesses those old memories, of knowing why we have a violin when no-one in our family ever played one (it belonged to my Great-Uncle, who used to live at The Ranch. I can remember him playing it when I was a child).

So how does one go about make a start of sorting two lives?

We are fortunate in that 1) There are very few items which are perishable (and thus had to be immediately handled) and 2) We are not on a "We have to clean the house so we can sell it" clock.  This can be done at our pace.

I have managed to move through my mother's entire books collection, two bathrooms, and a sewing/craft closet - with some ground rules to make it easier on myself.

1)  Anything that I or a member of the family might want, I keep.

2) Anything that has emotional value or I am unsure about, I keep for another round.

3)  Anything that has some reason to be preserved, I keep for another round.

4)  Everything else gets put into the give away pile or the throw away pile.

I have to confess that giving myself the freedom to not have to make a decision on the first round of consideration has been freeing.  Instead of agonizing over what to do, I simply put it to the side and move on.  This allowed me to sort all of the books (which have not yet moved from the house, and I keep pulling volumes out and putting them in the "To Keep" pile) and most of the sewing and craft items.  The bathrooms were much easier of course; only a minimum need to be kept in each, sufficient to support me on my regular visits or a larger group for shorter visits.

Of course, as I go through things, I am constantly surprised by the amount of stuff in closets and cabinets and drawers (which is why I hate all of them; it just makes it easier to hide things).  My mother had at least 20 handbags which appear to never have been used.  I know my father literally has hundreds of baseball caps.  And the number of small tissue packages and handkerchiefs is staggering.

But the progress, if slow, is now constant.  Each time I leave, something else becomes a "organized" area, one less area on my mind.

For one brief moment I opened the drawer at my father's nightstand, which was filled with birthday and Father's day cards - then closed it.  I find myself far less up to such things than I imagined.

But one thing at a time.  Today the bathroom drawers and non-personal items items easily decided on, tomorrow the personal items that hold far more in memories and emotion than they do in substance.

22 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:23 AM

    This method was used by my boss in regards to his parents.

    After removal of items of monetary value were given back, each familymember were allowedto go through houshold and select two items having particular value to them. All remaining clothing was donated to Salvation Army. The remaining items were put into hole dug by back hoe and burned, then covered with earth. Home and property were soldm proceeds split evenly.

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    1. Anonymous - I will say that the thought of taking all of the personal memorabilia (the cards come to mind) and burning them for inclusion in some sort of memorial has occurred to me as well. I do think, if I can get to the point of getting rid of most of the donatable items, we will only be talking items that have some kind of residual value.

      Thank you for stopping by!

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  2. There is no good time to do this, of course, but not having to work against a deadline is a positive. That way you have time to ponder and deliberate, and should have no (or fewer) times when you second-guess yourself as to what you should have kept. It sounds like you have a good system.

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    1. Bob - I am grateful that we do not have a time clock in the sense, although the danger of course is that things will never get done because there will never be a "need" to complete the process, so I do have to be careful to do that.

      In terms of good timing, the time to do this is actually before one needs to do this. I am trying to keep this in mind in my own life now by acquiring less and sorting more. One of my great Aunts was a model in this: by the time she passed away, she had literally given away or sold everything that she owned and thus her heirs did not have to resolve any of these issues.

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  3. When my grandmother died, my mom couldn't bear to get rid of her stuff. She ended up packing it all in boxes, renting a truck, and hauling all of it from CA to WA, where it was deposited in her garage. There it sat... for decades... My brother and I went through the stuff during a visit to her house. Most of the stuff was JUNK. I can understand holding onto pictures, antiques, and heirlooms, but most of this stuff was ordinary... crap... that everyone has or used to have. My mom saw that salt & pepper shaker on her mom's table, so it had to stay. The same went for the napkin holder, various glasses and mugs... you get the idea... This stuff wouldn't even sell at a yard sale. It's value was purely sentimental. We went through the stuff while Mom was out and about, squirreling stuff into boxes and spiriting it to the dump before she got home. When she saw all the empty space, she panicked. We told her that we had merely consolidated the stuff into fewer boxes, which, in part, we had. Fast forward to last year. She sold her house and all the stuff needed to go. She ended up calling in a thrift shop to take it all away. She had packed that stuff, loaded a truck, moved it all to her house, dumped it in the garage, and lived without all that usable space for 25 years... just to have it hauled off by strangers...

    My suggestion; if it isn't an heirloom and isn't intrinsically valuable, get rid of it. It's not your parents. It's just STUFF!

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    1. While I agree in principle, I have to add a caution. An old saying on the internet: Never throw anything away until you check it out on Ebay. Some parents of friends threw a box of Edison wax cylinders in the trash. You could likely retire on what that box was worth.
      There is much, as Peteforester says, that is of obvious zero value, and that can go. For anything questionable, get a professional opinion. I detest garage sales, estate sales, etc. and cannot abide them. But I would network to those who relish such things.

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    2. Pete - One thing I am desperately trying to fight is the need to "bring it back". Fortunately, there is a huge distance between here and there, so it is inconvenient to do so. But yes, there is a lot of stuff that can be let go of without issue.

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    3. Greg - Yes, that is a concern for me as well, and yet another reason to be methodical about how we review and eliminate things.

      Most of the actual good stuff is not garage sale material, but the sort of thing that a collector would value. So that is something we will have to investigate.

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    4. Anonymous5:08 PM

      Having to do this twice now and being a long time seller on Ebay also a buyer of estates has taught me the value of "old" stuff. Check everything before selling, burning, donating or just giving away. Check both ebay and Worth.com for what items like yours sold for. Worth prices are last 12 months and ebay is 3 months. Those salt pepper shakers sometimes sell in the $1K and we think is worthless is often not. I offered to my Aunt's immediate family some items only to discovers later that I had gifted $5K to people who couldn't be bother to come see her for over 20 years. I bought an estates and once found a gold custom bracelet worth $7K and they thought was costume jewelry. You have time on your side and remember some postcards your parents didn't send are of value.
      Margi

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    5. Margi - Very good advice and thank you. I will definitely keep these in mind. Really, what I need to also start doing is creating a list of what we have and begin track Ebay.

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  4. I'm with you TB. I impart emotional ties to things as well. "I remember when Squirt held that..." It's a tough thing. Emotional surgery of a benign memory. I don't like it at all.

    The lack of time limit is a freeing thing. And that inspired idea of put it aside for round two is now shamelessly adopted by me. Thank you.

    As I've worked into the recovery phase, I've been thinking more and more about these very things. The lack of physical ability has kept me very slowly making my way through the museum to my life, but there is progress....

    And regress... I have a small place, and the huge family size kitchen implements are space eaters. I find an old blender from the 60's ("we had one like that when I was a kid") and it follows me home and the big one goes on to someone who needs it's capacity. At least that's the fable I tell myself....

    I'm proud for you that you are tackling this. Some wouldn't. Some can't.... Your strength and honor are apparent, as is your commitment to family history. I missed out on the walking stick my multi-great grandad used walking home from prison camp in Ohio, back to Missouri. I wish I'd gotten it and a letter from my aunt documenting it. He was in the 4th Missouri Infantry, captured at Corinth, MS. There are some things worth keeping, I suppose.

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    1. STxAR, that is exactly it - it is not the thing per se, but what I remember associated with it.

      At home, too, it is making me think. We are on the relative cusp of being by ourselves - will we, as you say, need all those family sized implements? I doubt it.

      There are some things worth keeping - like the violin I wrote about above. Who knows - maybe I can pick up one more hobby...

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    2. My niece showed up with one when she was in elementary school. I got to hold it and had Smoke on the Water's intro running in 5 minutes. She was amazed. I don't think her instructor was thought. heheheh.... If you got a bit of music in you, you can pick up almost anything. Just mess around with it, and starting picking out jingles. One of the best guitar players I ever met learned like that.

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    3. STxAR - One of my great aunts had the ability to play piano songs merely by hearing them. I am not anywhere near that, but I can figure things out from listening to them, given time.

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  5. I think you and your sister are definitely on the right track. It is a gut-wrenching job that is best done without having to rush through. There were multiple clean-out days following my mother's death. There's a pair of her earrings that I wear often and some things that I kept for a time before donating them. Point being: you and sis can do this in whatever way works for you!

    On a related note, I recently learned about Swedish Death Cleaning -- you clean out your own stuff, i.e. junk, so nobody has to do it after you die. Now if I can only get my husband to do it...

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    1. sbrgirl - Thanks. I do think that over time, more of it will go as I become willing to part with it (I am sure I am the largest offender).

      I like the concept of Death Cleaning. It is something I am trying to think of - or at least, slow down my current purchases.

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  6. A workable solution, TB. Good luck, be safe and God bless.

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    1. Thanks Linda - it is going better than I had anticipated.

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  7. Take pictures of everything and store on a flash drive. Show to family and let them pick what they want. It will always be there for you to look at or sell.

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    1. Oh, that is a lovely idea Tewshooz - and easy enough to accomplish. Thank you for it.

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  8. I'm fortunate in that I have thus far had a more gradual process with my father still alive and of sound mind. He just says he is ready to purge these things and I do it for him. Things have been getting whittled down over these last few years and it hasn't been a lot of work at any given time.

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    1. Ed, that would be glorious. I am trying to think like this going foward.

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