Once I inherited my parent’s now empty house, I resisted for a while. I found all sorts of reasons to hold on to the house, but in the end, I knew selling what had been their home for 31 years was the right thing to do.
What an adventure. First, I recruited a real estate agent who gave me invaluable advice. Then, I started the clean-up-and-out process. It was a nostalgic, sad exercise, punctuated with many funny things. It’s rather remarkable what our parents can accumulate.
Me, a pack rat?
Thankfully, I had the lady who had been helping for several years at the house to help me. She stood by me throughout the exercise, challenging me with, “If you keep putting all those things in the ‘to keep’ boxes, you’ll have kept just about everything.” I thought that was a bit harsh, but I realized after the first day of cleaning that she was right. That’s when I became more ruthless!
Okay, so it was easy tossing the roughly 3,500 coat hangers. Then came the bags. I don’t know why, but for some reason my parents seemed to have thrived on keeping stashes of plastic grocery bags: thousands of them, in boxes, in cupboards, inside other bags in drawers. I found boxes of mothballs probably 20 years old, and the retired old wringer washing machine that I remember from my childhood.
And clothes. Clothes they hadn’t worn for at least a decade. Clothes even the charities wouldn’t want. And furniture stored in the basement that no one in his or her right mind would take for free. So I cleaned. For more than two weeks, for several hours most every day.
A twinge of guilt
I have to admit that, as the piles of old furniture mounted outside and as the dozens upon dozens of large, black, plastic garbage bags accumulated in the garage, I did feel a sense of guilt.
It was as if what I was doing was irreverent or somehow disrespectful; it was as if I were somehow tossing away very real bits and pieces of their very lives. After all, every item in that house was theirs, a part of them, a part of their personal histories.
Don’t look back
When the job was done, there sure was a lot more open space in the house. The “for sale” sign went up, and anonymous people poured through for days.
Suddenly, it was done: their house was sold. After the closing, I was never able to go back, to touch their world, to feel their lives, to poke at memories. And that’s a shame.
Even though I believe I did the right thing not hanging on to the house, it’s something I’ll miss. After all, there were some lifetimes of memories lurking in that home: theirs and mine.