Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sorting, Discarding, and Donating

Four years ago this August my parents moved out of their home. At 89 years of age, they could no longer  safely manage the challenge of independent living. They left behind their home largely intact, taking only the clothing and other things they needed for day-to-day living. The house became a guest house for out-of-town family and a place to host family gatherings. The committee of five (Mom, Dad, and we three grown children) decided that selling the house and downsizing their belongings to the bare bones would represent an enormous and wrenching undertaking at a particularly vulnerable time. In fact, in order to encourage the move, we told them over and over again that should they be unhappy in their new surroundings, they could always consider coming back.  The house was a positive counterweight to the scary, looming prospect of loss that came with declining mental and physical health.

Over the years, Mom and Dad enjoyed coming back to their old home;  familiar furniture, artwork, cookware, and views of the backyard provided comfort of the familiar. Lately, they talk less about the house; the four walls may contain a lifetime of memories and things but I sense they've pulled back emotionally. Dad certainly knows that he'll never live there again.  Mom asks less frequently about once valued personal belongings left behind.

Yesterday my sister and I put in several hours of solid, good work going through a large closet and chest of drawers in my parent's former bedroom. We weeded through clothing, shoes, belts, underwear, socks, handbags, and boxes of knickknacks, making  decisions about what would STAY and what would GO.  Most is going.
Why now?  I guess the answer is the undeniable fact that we'll eventually, and probably sooner than later, need to go through the entire household and make disposition on every single item. Why not start now?

We took lots of photos, especially of Mom's clothes. She always took pride in the way she presented herself. She wore very stylish, colorful outfits to church or to family gatherings and on their last big trip in 2001 when they cruised the Caribbean and Panama Canal.

Was it hard?  Not really. We both took comfort knowing that Mom is still with us. She may not be "all there" mentally and would certainly look askance at us discarding clothing even though it would never fit her now. We did save all the wonderful outfits she wore to our weddings and the weddings of her grandchildren. For now. What in the world does one do with all these things?????

Dad had fewer items; mostly shoes and shirts/ties.His style has always been to pitch stuff out.

 Mary Margaret found this Kit Kat bar in an old purse belonging to Mom and hidden in the back of the closet. Unfortunately, no cash. Not a bill in sight!  We did find another set of car keys though.

I shudder to think what it will be like to go through the entire 3 bedroom house and garage when the time comes. Maybe we can continue a slow and steady approach; a bit here and a bit there so that when we need to sell the house, we'll be "ahead of the wave".


  1. When my mom decided to leave her home, we faced the same daunting task. The realtor who listed her home introduced us to a small business (run by 2 women) that offered to host an estate sale in the house. They sorted and priced every single thing in the house, displayed it for sale over a three-day weekend. When the weekend was over, they removed everything remaining and cleaned up the house. They took 30% of the sales proceeds and gave us the rest. Our share was $8000.

    Mind you, this was after we'd already gone through and chosen the things we wanted to treasure, and shredded mom's personal financial papers.

    It was a total relief. Before we met them, we'd despaired of being able to deal with it. I had visions of hiring a dumpster and throwing everything in it. It was a heartbreak to think of throwing away things that I really didn't want but that held so many memories. This way, I know someone got some pleasure out of it.

  2. I love this post. We need to keep at this task. It's feels OK.

  3. This is a huge task, and I don't know anyone who has found it to be an easy one. You are doing well to get started and do it over time.

  4. wow this post made me kind of sad... I think its funny about the kitkat though. :)


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