Chirped by Cass
The last few months, my weekends and some weekdays have been at my parents’ home, not only working on the business side of my dad’s estate, but also going through my parents’ stuff, cleaning it out. They lived there for 45 years, raised three kids there, and you can imagine the 45 years of everything that goes along with that. Not only has it been my dad’s belongings, but my mom’s as well, since he really didn’t get rid of any of her stuff, except her clothes, since she passed five years ago.
It’s a task, of course, figuring out what to do with everything…donate it, yard sale it, keep it, etc. And it’s so time consuming. Some people hire an estate auctioneer to come in and just get rid of everything. Some handle the estate clearing themselves. My brother and sister and I are doing it ourselves, slowly going through the house. I think what makes it take so long is the associated memories. For example, just going through dad’s clothes, we stop and remember his favorite flannel shirts, or his favorite slippers, or the silly t-shirts he had. So a task that might have taken an hour, takes about three hours. Going through the Christmas boxes took all day, because each item that we unboxed had a story or memory to share.
What to keep…there is an overwhelming amount of stuff. Everything from tools to jewelry to books to dishes to furniture, etc. Sorting through all of it is no easy task. If you have siblings, it’s dividing things equally. There are some items that my siblings need more than me, like some extra pots and pans, or a bedroom furniture set, etc. In addition, the home that you grew up in is being emptied. There is an emotional attachment to certain items. It’s hard to remember that letting go of the “stuff” isn’t also letting go of the memories of your parents.
So I’ve got a few things to pass along that I have learned from this experience that might help someone else dealing with a parent’s estate – and even things you should keep in mind with your own belongings.
Take pictures. Before we even starting cleaning out a single closet of my Dad’s, I went through and photographed each room of the house as well as around the outside and yard. Before it becomes an empty shell and someone else buys it and fills it with their things, I can remember it the way it was, the way I would see it every time I visited. Having it documented in photos, I can always look back and remember, or someday show my kids or grandkids the house I grew up in.
Since there are three of us to divide up belongings, there are some things that have a meaning to all of us, but only one can take it. My dad and my grandmother were both artists. And there were several of their paintings in the house that we had to divide between us. If you aren’t taking it, take a photograph so it remains with you as well.
You can’t take everything. Of course there will be items that you will want to take because your household actually needs them, like a piece of furniture, or silverware, etc. It’s easy to just start taking things solely because of that emotional connection, that it was mom and dad’s. But ask yourself – do you really need it? Will you use it? Is it something that you want to pass along to your kids? Or are you only taking it because it reminds you of them? My basement is now inundated with stuff – china, dishes, baskets, holiday items – you name it, it’s piled down there. Now I’m faced with the task of going through it and organizing it and storing it along with my own things.
Passing along to the next generation. There were a few special things we did for our own kids so that they would have something from their grandparents. We put aside a flannel shirt that Pappy used to wear for each of the grandkids to have. We also divided all of my dad’s tools (some of which were his dad’s tools) for each of our kids. Now they each have a starter set, when they are ready for it, and they will know that these tools came from their Pappy.
Label items. There are some items of Mom and Dad’s that I know specifics about: where and when they got them, etc. My mom and dad were good at labeling things. Like an old antique bottle that my grandfather found, the date it was found, and the history of the bottle. But going through some other things like old jewelry, china, crystal, etc., a lot of it was unlabeled. My brother, sister and I would just look at it and wonder whose side of the family it was from, was there history behind it, why was it important? It really made me want to take the extra time to make my own labels for important items of my parents as well as items of my own, so my kids will also know why they were special.
Keep it real. Yes, it makes all of us sad, going through the house and cleaning out, but we always try to remember all the good and happy memories. My parents had this stuffed Santa they got from my grandmother. He isn’t the best looking Santa, hence we call him “Creepy Santa”. My dad would always pull it out at the holidays, and tease the grandkids with it. Now, either my brother, my sister or I pull it out and hide it in the shower or elsewhere around the house to scare each other, or we place him near us while we are sorting. Whenever I see it, or if I get to the house before my brother and sister to place Santa in a different spot….it just makes me laugh….keeping it all real.
Cleaning out the nest, but keeping the memories…
This is why I’m clearing out stuff already. Don’t want my kids to have to sort through my junk.