Step One Organizing
We recently sold the house my parents had lived in for over 30 years. Make no mistake, it was no small clean-out project. We were fortunate to have lots of time for the process. Which allowed my mom, my siblings and me to take our time deciding about what to do with things. Mom downsized to apartment living and we took just enough of just the right things there to make it feel like home for her. Friends and family were invited over to grab what they wanted, and many did. My city-dwelling sister took a pass identifying favorites to put in storage for the future country cottage of her dreams. My brother took small treasures he loved, but as he has very different style sensibilities than my parents, it wasn’t much. We’re proud Army brats, accustomed to moving with frequency. Every move involved a purge, so you just didn’t get too attached to stuff.
As the professional organizer in the family, I was at the forefront of this process and my approach was intense and somewhat merciless. I made frequent passes through the house to make decisions about things. I defaulted to letting go more than keeping, though I waffled often. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to toss hundreds of photos into many trash cans. I tore apart picture frames and plaques. I took knitting supplies to senior centers. I gave a future fashion design student two very expensive sewing machines. I sent pictures of funny items and notes to friends and then let them go.
The hauler needed five small trucks to take the rest away.
Also as a professional organizer for over ten years, I know all to well what it’s like to take too much of your parents' stuff. I can’t count the number of clients whose initial call with me includes the phrase “...oh and I’ve got a bunch of things in my basement that came from my parents’ house that I need to figure out what to do with…” That was a burden that I did not want for myself. I was very deliberate about what I chose to keep take home with me.
I made myself picture any item’s future location in my own home before taking it. Furthermore, when I did take items to my home they either went straight to that new location, or into my dining room until it was piled high - giving me a constant visual reminder to deal with the items. I also gave myself a ‘clear the dining room' deadline. It didn’t happen overnight, but the dining room is clear and everything has a home. Later, I called a hauler myself for the items I changed my mind about, and also the things of my own I started to realize no longer served me. Clearing your parents’ home has a unique effect of making you look at your own things differently too.
Six months later, I wish I’d kept the Craftmatic adjustable bed. Me and the spousal unit are starting to appreciate a little elevation or padding under the knees for sleeping. A few times I wished I had the very high quality clothes steamer we let go. I definitely wish I’d asked my mom one last time about that winter coat.
Oh well. Could have had a free Craftmatic.
Oh well, could have gotten those fancy tablecloths I did keep nice and crisp with the steamer.
Wouldn’t have to find mom a new coat.
Do I need to elaborate the point here? The highest emotional regret I can come up with is "Oh well.” I have a small number of treasures from my parent’s home. I took some furniture that was practical to put in my newly finished basement. I replaced a cheap-ish console table of my own with a beautiful antique my mother loved. I put art of theirs up on my own walls. I wove special bits of their home into the fabric of my own - and now they are my treasures. They enhanced my house, did not overwhelm it. Not a single item is stored in a box in the basement. In my office is one box of photos that will take me some time to scan and store and learn about.
The process isn’t easy, even for a professional organizer, but it’s so important to remember — THINGS are not your memories, your memories are your memories. A few items can go a long way for sentimentality. Saving ‘just in case’ is quite often not the best course of action. If you do find you’ll need something, you may have some regret, but it won’t probably won’t be a huge deal. Letting go is liberating in so many more ways.
Also, the Craftmatic was over 15 years old. Who knows how much life it had left in it? The steamer probably was too and is huge.
I really should’ve checked with mom one more time about that coat.
For more information, contact Anne Lyons.