Friday, August 14, 2015

A not-so-happy task

by Lorraine Bartlett / Lorna Barrett / L.L. Bartlett

When I was 12 years old, my parents named me the executrix of their estate.  Wow, that's a LOT of responsibility to put on a kid's shoulders. But of course, I wouldn't need to do that sad duty for decades. But I was always rather proud that they trusted me to take care of things for them.

I didn't have to do a thing when my Dad passed away almost six years ago. Everything went to my mother (and my younger brother got his tools). My Mom handled everything. Now that she has passed, it's up to me.

Our first task was the funeral parlor. The last two times I've had that sad duty it was ... sad. My younger brother came with me this time and he handles death with humor. So he had me and the funeral director laughing like crazy, which was certainly better than crying. (And I've cried buckets these past two months.)

We've had to deal with insurance companies, and pension plans, and banks, and a black-sheep family member who has thrown stumbling blocks in our path, but the hardest thing for me has been the job of clearing out my Mum's house.

My mother had hobbies.  She was a quilter, a knitter (both hand and machine) and sometimes she did needlepoint. Or at least she thought she might LIKE to do needlepoint, because I've found bags and bags and bags of projects that I know were somebody else's unfinished project that she thought she might like to finish one day.

I've found unfinished quilts, sweaters, doilies, socks, afghans--some she started, some she bought at yard sales.  But most of all there's her quilting material and her yarn.  We're not talking a few skeins or a few cones of yarn, and we're not talking about a few fat quarters of quilt material. We're talking hundreds of skeins of yarn, scores of cones of yarn, and about 15 LARGE tubs filled with quilting material, all stored in a damp basement.  (The dehumidifier died some time ago. Guess who went out and bought a new one on Wednesday?)

I've been finding yarn and quilt material scattered all over the house.  So far I've got four HUGE (leaf) bags just full of hand knitting yarn.  I've got bags and bags and bags of unfinished projects. I've got boxes and jars filled with nothing but buttons.  I've got a BIG shoe box just filled with over 100 packages of seam binding.  I've found at least 14 pairs of scissors; 10 or 12 pin cushions. Six quilt rotary cutters (and tons of plastic quilting templates). Hundreds of spools of thread.  She had 8 sewing machines and 5 knitting machines.  There are dolls.  Lots of dolls.  I knew she had a collection in a glass case in the living room, but I've been finding more and more dolls squirreled away in closets and boxes.  Some of them are wearing clothes she knitted. Baby dolls, Barbie dolls. Unfinished cloth dolls.  Dolls in cradles. Dolls still in their original boxes.  And scores of teddy bears, too.

Trying to sort like-items has been a Herculean task. All I've seemed to accomplish so far is make the house a total mess.  We're going to have a sale soon, and perhaps after that first sale, we'll be able to better assess what's left. 

Sadder still:  After my mother passed, I brought the mother's day balloons back from the hospice home.  That was two months ago. They still have helium in them and I can't bear to pop them and toss them away.  They're starting to sag, so one day soon I'll have that unhappy task, too.

It's just me doing all this (for reasons we won't get into, because I don't understand them myself), plus trying to write, plus trying to keep a house of my own. Some days I just stand in my mother's living room and cry because I'm so overwhelmed. But I've got to get the job done.  They trusted me to do it.

Have you ever had to clear out a loved one's home?  Did you come up with a system to make it easier?  I really would like to know. (Thank you.)

14 comments:

Diane LaBrie Leverson said...

Lorraine, I know how hard all this is for you. I had to arrange my father's funeral, uncle, aunt and last so far, my mother's. My mother and father had downsized so that was not so bad to clean out. My Aunt and Uncle was another story. I had to put them both in a nursing home and sell their house before they died. In the end, I just rented a large dumpster and put a lot of stuff in it. I gave what I thought was good to their grandchildren. A lot to the senior center, You could call them to see if they want the craft things that don't sell. Also Church groups that make things for the soldiers. After cleaning out and selling their house, I went back to mine and started with all my junk. Had a man come and take a lot of things away with him.. He came twice and had a large dump truck. I had decided that I didn't want my son and daughter in law to have to clean my house. As a result, when I sold my house 2 year ago, it was not so bad to empty it out and take only what I could fit into my 5 room apartment. Good luck with all you have to do. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you deal with this and the loss of your Mother. Much love, Diane.

Diane LaBrie Leverson said...

Forgot to say my husband's funeral too. How could I forget to put him in the list?

Maggie Sefton said...

Lorraine, my heart goes out to you. I know how hard all of that is. My dear mother was already in a skilled care healthcare facility when she passed at the end of May, so there were only two walls filled with pictures and plants and a small closet of clothes. Back in 2011 when she moved into the healthcare facility, I had to clear out her condo apartment in the Worthington independent living. I had to devote an entire month (no writing) to the job. And I gave bags and bags of clothes and household items and blankets to Salvation Army. They use everything they receive to take care of families. They don't sell anything. They give it to people who need it. I also checked around and found a husband-wife team who came in and packed up and shipped pictures and items on the wall that were being sent to other relatives. And they had a moving van to take selected furniture and antiques to a storage unit that I had rented (AC & heat). It took the entire month. It's a HUGE job, Lorraine. Treat yourself to a good dinner each day and then kick back with Lord Calvert. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear All, we connect together as women who deal with the sad and the belongings left behind. My Dad and his family were packrats and he wouldn't let go of anything - all the "somedays" and "memories." I had three generations of "stuff." The things I and no one else close wanted were easy to mark - I don't like, I won't use, I won't finish. You know those. So I went room to room and ended up marking the items to keep and moving small items to one room of only "keepers." Then I hired an auctioneer and after five hours, the furniture, most of the to be fixed, and the rest were gone. Harder were the piles of newspapers and magazines which he would top with money or photos and then top again with papers. Those I boxed and made myself go through them one box a week. Hardest were the treasurers I wanted to keep and would never use - memories - and for which there was no place. I invited friends to tea and when they arrived told them to take whatever and as much as they wanted. It's a joy to see them wanted and used when I visit. The rest of the treasurers went to the second hand shop at the recycle center. I asked the woman to see that they went to young people who would treasure them and would not be able to afford them. The big dumpster was very useful too.
Zena Weldon

Lorraine Bartlett said...

I can't bear the idea of throwing away useful items, which is why the whole sorting thing is so hard. But even so, trying to juggle real life while doing all this has been a tremendous challenge. I feel very much alone.

Lorraine Bartlett said...

That's a lot of heartache, Diane. You are a very strong woman to have managed it. ((((((((((U))))))))))

Lorraine Bartlett said...

We downsized Mr. L's mother from a whole house, to an apartment, to assisted living, to a nursing home during the span of about 8 years. I thought that was hard ... this is harder because of the memory factor. I remember this. I loved this as a child. My mother loved this. How can I part with something she loved so much? (And did I mention her love of books and books on tape. Oy!) I've already got a big box of sock yarn that's going to my sister-in-law (who knits all her own socks because she can't find any that fit), and it makes me happy to know she will not only enjoy making the socks, but using them for years to come. There are still treasures for the grandchildren and cousins - but black sheep family member kept the probate ball from rolling for seven weeks. We are not allowed to do ANYTHING until the letters of testamentary arrive. So all I can do is sort. I'm not even allowed to throw anything away at this point. (Except moldy magazines and the stuff in her fridge.) One day there'll be light at the end of the tunnel. I sure hope it comes soon. (And thank goodness for Lord Calvert, who makes this struggle just a tiny bit easier.)

Anonymous said...

When my dad died, Mom was still living in the house so we only had to clean out his stuff. My mom and sister took great pleasure in giving one of my cousins who often hunted with Dad the lamp made from an elk leg. They had been the ones who went all over Portland with the darn thing trying to find a lamp shade that fit. Still we found lots of junk (gifts for entering contests or subscribing to mags) and a hand gun which we decided he had brought back from WWII. Mom sold the house after she went into the assisted living facility so we (sister, brother, and I) didn't have a lot of stuff to go through when she broke her pelvis and couldn't live there again. We only needed to work on it for a day and weren't completely emotionally distraught because she was still alive (although she was gone by the end of the month). I agree with Maggie about Salvation Army and some veterans groups will also come out and pick up furniture and small household goods. Garbage companies will usually bring out Dumpsters for you. Talk to a good local craft or fabric store to see if they will or know someone who will go thru all that fabric, yarn, etc. Don't try to do it all yourself, and GOOD LUCK! Cordella

Lorraine Bartlett said...

Oddly enough, she didn't have a lot of furniture. She gave away her guest bedroom set several years ago (which made it hard when she needed help and there was nowhere for anyone to sleep at night). A lot of the furniture left is stuff my Dad made, so it's going to me, my brother, and the grandchildren. There's just the dining room and bedroom set and that's about it. Trying to get people interested in looking at the yard goods etc. has been a problem, and we're hampered by NOT being able to legally do anything. What a mess. Literally.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I can certainly identify... down to the black sheep in the family. My mother collected music boxes and knickknacks that some went to family members, others to Goodwill. I still have some of her Thomas Kinkade plates and pictures. I am waiting on a niece and a brother to go through them and claim what they want. it has been more than a couple years now.

Miss Merry said...

I have spent years in your shoes. When my grandmother moved to a nursing home, I was the only one in the area. We sold her 3 story house and most everything was moved to my house/attic/garage to sort. But I was the only one sorting. And the memories are the hardest. I almost had a handle on it when my mother passed away. My father called me at work the day after the funeral and wanted all her belongings out of the house. So again, boxes, piles, stuff invaded every square inch of my house. We had just built an addition and I was using it as a freshly drywalled storage locked. Then my dads health problems started, a legal battle with his girl friend, eventually I moved him to an assisted living facility and put the house up for sale, hoping to sort from there and have a few sales. Well, again, sold the house the first month, just as he started a six week critical care situation in another city - so it all moved into my house. Walls of boxes. I have sorted and sorted and every box must be gone through. One box might be coupons from 1985, old magazines (and this is true) a photo of my grandfather from 1893. I have had tubs and tubs of fabric and craft supplies that could surpass yours! At first I could not part with projects started by my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother. I let go a little at a time. Sometimes it is sorting six boxes into three boxes. Senior centers will usually take the craft and fabric. I gave up on the idea of sales and donate to charity shops. I just want it out of here. I am downsizing my own home, too. I cannot leave a mess like this for my own children.

Peg Cochran said...

So sorry you have to do this, Lorraine and that you've lost your mother. I'm so lucky because my mother is a "minimalist" in that if she hasn't used it in awhile, she throws or gives it away. She has no hobbies other than reading and most of her books come from the library so no collection there. The only thing she really collects are Herendt figurines and I could fit all of those in one shoe box. Are there any services you could hire to help you sort through things (like those people that run estate sales?) Or perhaps a local charity would volunteer to help in exchange for being able to hold a sale of some of the things you don't plan to keep?

Adrienne said...

Oh Lorraine. I'm so sad that you feel very much alone. All of us who have written here wish we could be there to help you or at least keep you company. Indeed, do you have friends who might come just to spend an hour or two helping. I know it wouldn't be much given all that you have to do but at least you'd feel the lessening of the burden for a while. A friend wouldn't be as emotionally connected as you are either so could sort with more objectivity!
Reach out not only to groups that take these items but also to those who'll come in and get them from you, perhaps even sorting the craft items. And certainly treat yourself to a good dinner with a good friend every night! You don't have to be alone....we all send our support and love.....Adrienne in Minnesota

7LucyP said...

A home organizing company helped me with my clean-out task. Not too expensive and they did a wonderful job of sifting through my long abandoned hobby materials, clothes, etc. so I could quickly sell, take to Salvation Army, or throw away all my clutter.