Emptying the Parents Home with Harmony and Guilt-free
Submitted by community member Susan M., Torrance
Sadly, both my husband and I lost our sets of parents in the last 5 years and had to perform the physical and emotional tasks of dismantling their homes. In part because each had its own set of circumstances, the presence of siblings, and the emotions of the moment, our two experiences were handled completely differently.
Clearing out the house – a final distribution
With my husband’s family, everyone was local. The parents had owned their four-bedroom home for 40 years, after owning three previous ones. There was a lot of stuff. And I don’t use the term stuff lightly, because as we were going through the various items, some were true heirlooms and keepers and others were just stuff. And that’s OK.
We had to go through every drawer, cabinet, and the garage. There were holiday cards from 15 years back and pictures of people we did not know. We had huge recycle and trash piles.
Items that were family treasures were put in one room. Items that could be sold went in another. We contracted an estate sale company to get an idea of material value of some of the items.
The sons each pulled a card from a deck; aces were high. The high card got to choose an item from the heirloom room. The holder of the next high card followed, and then the other two. Then the second round, third, fourth and so on went on. Then the daughters-in-law got a couple of rounds, as did the grandchildren until everyone was satisfied. A request was made that “if you picked it, you display it” for other family members to continue to enjoy when visiting.
Anything now left over was shipped to extended family members or moved to the “sale” room and if anyone wanted or needed something, always exercising respect, it was available for grabs. After that, whatever was left went to the estate sale. Anything that did not sell was donated.
Four years later, everybody is still talking to each other.
Clearing out the house into a storage unit
When my mother moved into a Senior Living facility, it was completely different. She was still with us and could need access to any number of things, so we emptied everything that was not recycled or trashed into a storage unit.
When mother’s needs escalated and she had to be moved into a skilled nursing room, and again later when she passed, we eventually put everything in the storage unit, and since the three sisters lived in three different time zones, we didn’t have time for true sorting. Our time was spent together before we each had to part to our respective homes.
Storage is costing $175 per month. When someone remembers something special, or a trivial item like knitting needles are needed, the local sister ships them out. Our closure is on hold and indefinitely delayed.
Emptying out a home is as unique as the family that lived there, their relationship and circumstances.
The needs of each family are different. There is no right/wrong way to do this outside of applying sensitivity and respect and treasuring the gifts of family. Avoiding conflict should be goal #1.
Although the exercise with each of the two homes was different, my emotions were similar. With both I realized how strong our attachment to material things can be. These items support us through low times, but they also trigger them; they create comfort yet anxiety, and an undue responsibility to respect each item with the value our parents did, creating assumed/inherited emotions that were not my own.
As I was emptying each of the parents’ homes, I proceeded to go through every drawer and cabinet in my own house and made huge trash and donation piles. I would later gather my children as I told them “Everything in this house is owned because your father and I felt we needed it, wanted it, or respected getting it from someone else. These were OUR needs and emotions and YOU do not have to own these. I hope someday you will treasure the memories and lessons we left, not the stuff. Dispose as you wish.”
I wish I had felt this emotional freedom when emptying my parents’ homes. I hope this may be a celebration of liberty and may I gift my children with my new-found minimalist virtues. May I leave them nothing to fight or fret over.