Letting the Stuff Go (or Not)

Sitting on the steps of my Grandma’s house circa 2002.

I spent the past three days with my family in Maple Heights, OH at my mother’s childhood home. She told us her family moved into the house in 1949 when she was only two weeks old. The house became a home to four children and later a respite for visiting grandchildren. A comforting place full of love, laugher, tears and countless memories and overflowing with lots and lots (and lots) (and lots) of stuff! And no, I’m not exaggerting (not even a little).

The task of cleaning out the old house was daunting, but we made a lot of progress as we sifted through its memories and treasures. The house has built in drawers and cubbies every where and each was filled to the brim with trinkets, letters, books and photos. The history it held was incredible. My grandfather’s army uniform from World War II, a spelling book from 1917, an old Victrola, TV’s stacked one on top of the other from the very first one they ever owned, old cameras and radios, newspapers and magazines dating back to the 1960’s, dolls and toys from my mother’s childhood, stuff spilled from every room from the attic to the basement. My grandmother and my uncle did not throw away anything. We gathered boxes and upon boxes of  items to my mom to sort through.  It was exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally for all of us, but especially for my mom. She had to decide to throw it away, give it away or keep it. It sounds easy enough, but not so much.

Look…we found your great-grandma’s old bible! What should we do with it?  What about this christening dress we found? Here’s another box of photos! I could see the distress in her eyes and her “keep” pile growing (although to be fair compared to the enormous amount of stuff that went to another family member or friend, Good Will or the dumpster, her pile is minute). I feel for her. No one wants to make the decision to toss another person’s treasures into the trash. In throwing it away it feels like you are throwing them and their memories away too. I get that. While it is just “stuff,” emotions are tied to it. And so, I know that all the stuff in the “keep” pile will migrate to her basement. Someday, hopefully in the very distant future, I may be in her position. Would I be willing to throw away my great-great grandma’s bible? Probably not. My daughters can look forward to storing the stuff in their basement someday.

On the bright side, my daughters and I are motivated more than ever to purge some of the stuff we no longer need or use from our home. I made it through one junk drawer tonight. I see one or two trips to Good Will in our future.

And to my mother…you did good this week. Remember the stuff is only stuff and the now empty (well almost empty anyway) house is just a place. The memories and love will always be in your heart (ours too).  I love you.

One thought on “Letting the Stuff Go (or Not)

  1. We had to do that last Fall, at my own mother’s house when she moved into a retirement center. She had only lived in that house for ten years, but it was still so very hard for her to have to watch so many things being given away and other things thrown away. Still, we did uncover plenty of treasures that we kept in the family and she loves her new apartment!


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