Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Stuff about Stuff..Purging and Cleaning Out

This year my life has changed completely. My mom passed away early in the year and everything changed after that. My 98 year grandmother (dad's mom), who was living alone, fell just a few weeks later and had to be transitioned to a place with more care. A lot of this year has been helping dad clean out my grandmother's home filled with almost 100 years of possessions.

Losing my mom, helping grandma and dad, and turning 50 this year, has given me a different perspective on life. I'm seeing more clearly than ever, what really matters and what doesn't and how possesions can take over your life. 

We have spent so many hours, days, weekends cleaning and sorting through my grandma's things. Like most people of her age, she was greatly affected by the depression and learned not to waste a single thing. That translated to a lifetime of being smart with money, but also gave her a vice grip on just about everything she ever owned. Nothing was thrown out due to the fact it might one day be useable. While commendable and green in some part, living like that for 98 years can be close to hoarding.

My favorite hand colored photo of grandma in the 1930s.

After so many days and hours spent going through grandma's things I've thought a lot about stuff. What I am learning from this is that when you keep everything, it's hard for the things of real value or sentiment to be found. She herself cannot remember where or why things were saved and from whom things came because there is so much.  Sadly many very special items were ruined because they were lost among the masses of stuff and were not properly cared for.  Going through the stacks of mail and papers took a few weeks itself. She never threw out any junk mail with her name on it- can you imagine? She was worried about identity theft, bless her. I blame the news. 

Grandma and her sister Nora.

Grandma's collection of costume jewelry is massive enough to wear a different piece every day for several years. It's like time travel through earrings- Lucille Ball to Alexis Carrington. Seriously!! When I brought her pieces to go through she still adored each one and told me things like. 'Oh that turquoise necklace is perfect with turtlenecks' or 'I wear that with my maroon pantsuit.' or 'Your grandfather bought me that on such and such trip. He loved to spoil me.' You've got to love her passion for life!

Sigh. I faithfully took boxes home to my house to store for her. There is also boxes of dress gloves -white and green and opera length versions. There's a satin box filled with hankies lavished with lovely embroidery and monograms, all perfectly ironed. Those are hard to part with. There are bags, hats, shoes and wraps, fur stoles, and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor era slips in every color of the rainbow. The photographs too are overwhelming. High school yearbooks from the 1930s from both my grandparents and photos from the 1800s and the turn of the century are among the things I really think are precious. 

Grandma in around 1920, Freewater, Oregon. Don't you love her fur muff?

 Grandma and I visit every week. I am so grateful she is part of my life and here at 98, but I get sad thinking how much of her last years were spent living in a very constrained way due to her stuff. It made her beautiful spacious condo like a small bolt hole. It also gave her no end of worry and stress about going through it herself, and keeping it from us. She was hugely independent.

It all makes me determined to live with less! The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo book has been my bible of late and I have it on my bedside. When I need to stay on track and remind myself to let go of things, I reread a chapter. I love her philosophy that each item in your home needs a purpose and to bring joy. Her book helps you let go of items by saying thank you to them and lets you send them on their way to bring joy to another. It really is a positive and uplifting method and book. I've been going through our home and purging things I've had for years, even decades. 



I  remember even as a small child grandma saying things like, 'One day you'll get x because you will appreciate it and keep it.' That has prevented me from ever parting with many things. Not to say I don't appreciate them, but you can only care about so much. I have to choose what really has meaning for our family and things I purely love.


This soup tureen from grandma is in that category of things I love and will always keep. I love it because it's beautiful, but also because it sat on her breakfast table all my life and reminds me of being at her home as a child.

Lately I've spent much time thinking about how you hold onto things just because you have them. I've asked myself so many times in the past months, why do I still have this? Why have I kept it after all this time? What if I'm no longer here? Would anyone want it? The answer is almost always, no. 

Something about clearing out feels great. I'm ready to have only things that I treasure and not a lot else. I want a life with less time caring for things and more time to do the stuff that matters and live a life less encumbered. 

Purging gets you looking at a home with new eyes and I now want a fresh look. I've painted 3 rooms and I've gotten almost all of the things I've added recently from estate sales and that feels nice. I can't wait to show you all. I am super careful now to consider each new item coming in. Do I really need it? Do I love it and what can I donate, now that I've brought something else in?

I'm sure many of you may have been through a similar experience. I'm not the same person I was a year ago. I'm trying my best to take stock, look at the bigger picture and make wise choices. I highly recommend Marie's book for anyone needing a nudge to start thinking less stuff, more life! The massive success of this book in America has really begun a revolution. People are rethinking the consumer centered culture we have become and are seeking more meaning. Retailers like REI who are closing on Black Friday this year so people can get the message to spend time with loved ones not in a store shopping are wonderful. I think this is a good trend!

Kim

 A sweet photo of grandma and sister Nora as young women.

28 comments :

  1. Such a true post, Kim! I've lost both my parents, and when I finally cleaned out my dad's house I was struck by the boxes of stuff my parents had stored in their basement after their parents' death! I still have some things to go through myself and it was the strangest things I found heartbreaking: hair rollers, knickknacks from grandkids, old shirts. Strange Huh? I have made a similar vow as you - that at around age 70 my kids are going to get and om things in the mail from me as I begin to clean things out, but now, 14 years after my mum's death and three after my dad, I'm not so sure. I don't want to die buried in stuff, but in the end, I think going through their stuff was helpful to my grieving process. So maybe I'll leave it all.... 😊

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    1. Wendy that must have been tough. Isn't it curious the things you do find? I mean like the curlers and shirts? Amazing what is saved sometimes. Funny you may be right about going through may cathartic and I have yet to go through any of my mom's things. It is just too painful to even think about. Thank goodness grandma is still alive. It's not painful, but maddening.

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  2. Kim, this is such a thoughtful post and you are such a good granddaughter to help your grandma so much going through her house. I can actually relate to this post so much because I helped my parents go through their place last month. After all my siblings moved, we started using my parents house as storage, and after a few years it really starts to build up! You're so right about keeping items of meaning and I really need to buy that book. I heard about it on the news!

    So much about what you wrote reminds me of the way people seem to live in Europe. There is definitely less clutter here compared to the US. I know it's been a tough year for you and I can see how it could completely change you. Hope you're doing well!
    xoDale

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    1. Dale, This book helps motivate and get us out of the mindset that all the clutter is worth something. I did the same at my parents' home when I moved out. Easier than dealing with it I guess. I bet living in Europe has really opened your mind to living smaller. I love how Europeans seem to need less things, like smaller homes, but live a fuller life with travel, good food and appreciating the details of daily life!!
      Thanks Dale for thinking of me. Keeping busy with this has helped. xo

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  3. Kim, this very topic has been on my own my these past few months as my inlays have 88 years worth of stuff piled in their house and will not part with one thing. I am sad that when they are gone it will all just be swept away because everyone lives so far and will not have weeks to go through it all.

    I have yet to read that book but I am am de-clutering my own house just because it feels good!

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    1. Elizabeth, Wow so both are still in a home with 88 years of stuff? That must be a lot too. I know what you are dealing with. Before grandma had her fall there was very little given away as she thought it all to be worth something. That is the biggest obstacle to convincing that generation to let go of things!!! Good luck with your de-cluttering. It just feels nice, especially in fall!

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  4. I went through exactly the same thing when my Dad died earlier this year. I had to sort out his property which was just filled to the brim with memories of him and my mum. It was such a painful task and there are still so many photos etc I have not been able to go through. But I did find this gorgeous wooden box and when I opened it it was full of love letters that my Mum and Dad wrote to each other when they were younger. I didn't read them because I felt they were meant to be private. But that was one thing I was determined to keep and bring with me to my house. I used to get really angry with my Dad for the level of clutter in the house. But it was only when he passed that I understood that it wasn't really clutter it was his "memories"; every single thing!

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    1. Vanessa, I am so sorry about the loss of your dad. That had to be so difficult. I love the story of the love letter in the box. Sweet you kept them, but not read them. I think those are in the precious category. You are probably right he kept them for the memories.

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  5. Lovely and thoughtful post! I especially enjoy old family photos...they seem to tell stories even if we don't know the people in them. I can relate to the conundrum of inherited "stuff." When my MIL passed away 4 years ago now, all of the "stuff" that her kids couldn't sell and couldn't bear to give away because at one time it was valuable, now resides at our house. In the attic, against walls, in corners. (We have a very small house.) Every few months I bring up the subject of donation with DH, but it's a non-starter.

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    1. Wow you were nice to take on the left behind things. It's very hard. We will be storing a lot of things as well that grandma cannot take with her. You wonder if it is worth the space they are taking up. Will anyone in our family want them in the future? Likely not. That is why I am trying to be brave and let some things go to make others happy hopefully. Each item was at one time very nice and was something they were proud to have. We want to honor that and the fact they wanted family to have it. However do I think I want my kids to feel the same about a chest I bought or glasses and plates in 50 years? No. Maybe some special items, but not a whole household which seems to be the case in a lot of these instances. Good luck with all this. You sound like you were a lovely daughter-in-law!

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  6. Kim, this is a wonderful post. I, too, had to go through my Grandmothers home when at 102 she could not live at home any longer and needed full time care. Just like your Grandmother, living through the Depression shaped what she kept. My Grandma was from Holland and she had a fairly spartan home with not a lot of "stuff". Her motto was "if I am not using it, then someone else can". You couldn't leave her home after a visit without some kind of object and food pressed into your hand. However, we found her collection of rubber bands, bags and microwave dinner type plastic plates when we had to sell her home. I think that while I am not what I would call a hoarder and I definitely wouldn't call myself materialistic,I do like sentimental things and there is too much in my home. I will be taking your advice and purchasing the book in the hopes that it will help me part with what is not needed. Kelley

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    1. Kelley, must have been tough cleaning out the home of a 102 year old! Wow she sounds like a very neat lady. How cute she always sent you off with something! My grandma had the same rubber band, plastic food containers and my youngest couldn't believe the bread ties. Funny how they hold onto those little things. I think you'll find the book super helpful. I just love the way my home feels with less too. xo Kim

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  7. Hi Kim,

    Great post...You are so right about people that lived through the Depression, many of them don't want to toss anything. (I get the mail thing, my MIL is paranoid about their junk mail going in the recycling with their name and address on it. My husband brings it home and we shred that part)

    My in-laws are semi hoarders but not the worst. I am dreading the day we have to go through their stuff. The junk will be easy to get rid of (I think a dumpster will be in order) but they own quite a few valuable pieces of art work so we will more than likely have to hire a professional to help us. It's nice that you were able to keep some of your grandmother's possessions that are meaningful or that you can use.

    I was reading the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and got about 1/3 of the way through before I had to return it to the library. Maybe I would have finished it if I could stay awake reading at night! I'll probably just go buy a copy, like you I need something to keep me motivated to keep up the decluttering.

    Have a nice weekend!

    Linda
    xo

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    1. Linda, I am laughing about the staying awake! That is me every night with my books. I do find reading a bit here and there keeps me going in the right direction with this purging. Your in-laws sound like my grandma. I knew this day would come when someone besides her would have to tackle this. I just wish she let us do it earlier for her as it was weighing so heavily on her. Good luck. Hope you had a nice weekend too! xo

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  8. Kim I can really relate to all of your thoughts on this topic. I read the tidy book last year, twice in fact. It really helped me to clear out and refine all of the items in our own house after our big renovation. What a relief it has been, it is so much easier to clean my house, to entertain, and the entire house just feels more spacious and more like us. I'm not a person who holds onto lots of things but I was able to let go of some things that belonged to my Nana and to my parents that I just didn't need to have. I kept pictures and a very special mohair coat of my Nana's, she always wanted me to have it but even better is the fact that I remember her wearing it at parties, and to the special lunches and theatre events she took me to as a child. Nana was a party person, kind and generous as well as fun... and her coat reminds me of that.
    I've spent some time helping my father-in-law go through his house recently, he's selling it now that my mother-in-law has had to go into care. The closets were packed and though there were some treasures from Europe what I really noticed is how things that weren't stored properly were ruined. No sense holding on to items if they are only going to rot in closets but the older generation really did hold onto things "just in case".
    We'll keep some furniture and a few things that my father-in-law wants to pass on when he moves, some of these items are exquisite but they are also from Austria and are reminders of the family history of fleeing the Nazi's in 1938, history we want our children to remember as well... we'll keep some items to pass on to them at some point.
    I think when looking at these things as a whole the treasures that should be kept for their memories and history really stand out, your beautiful blue and white tureen is an excellent example of that.
    Terrific post Kim and I adore the pictures of your grandma. XOX

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    1. Dani, It's helped to read about your de-cluttering so much! I love the story of the mohair coat. Isn't it nice that you think of her each time you wear it? That is wonderful the family has those heirlooms from Austria and things with stories are so wonderful. Those are the kinds of items to hand down I think instead of a household of stuff. Thank you about grandma. Love all the photos too! That's my next job- tackling those, throwing away those who we do not know are in the photos and trying to make a digital copy of most of the good ones! So much time! Hopefully worth it! xo

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  9. A very relatable post. Beautiful pictures of your family...

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  10. I hear you.

    We've cleaned out the homes of my late grandparents and it is so hard, esp the photos.

    The Depression affected how people who lived through it saw possessions.

    I loved the Kon Marie concept of sparking joy.

    Love the blog altho I am a slack commentor. x

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    1. Dear FF, So sorry about your grandparents. I know you adored them. I hope there were some treasures you kept in all of the work! I need to pop over to see your blog. I am sorry been so behind on my favorites like yours. xx

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  11. i always think - but not so much i na morose sense - what people might think if they went through my things. I am a collector of things and because they are somewhat nice in a general sense it is a "collection" but i wonder if they were not considered nice i might just be a simple hoarder. I read the kondo method but there is something quite brutal about her but i understand the gist. But oddly the last few years have taught me that i am actually a minimalist so i struggle with the two aspects of myself, I went to Japan for a week with one bag and didnt' miss a thing. But I agree that I hate this shopping and black friday mentality. Have you seen the true cost yet? It's on netflix - if you get a chance please watch it xx

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    1. Naomi, I have to watch The True Cost. It's on my list. I agree Marie's methods are not for everyone, but I think you can take the bits that work for you from it.

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  12. Hi Kim,
    What a gift you are giving to both your grandmother and your dad with this major project. I love how you are showcasing these timeless images of your grandmother in this post. She definitely has style! I know it's been a huge year for you with so many changes, Kim. Thank you for sharing your perspective and insights in such a personal way. I'm very much like you--I do think about what I buy, what I save and what I donate--in a thoughtful way. I don't like clutter but I am sentimental, especially with boxes of cards and letters that I've kept. My husbands letters to me are the first thing I would grab in a fire. Thanks for your kind words about Scott's surgery. He is definitely on the mend and it's such a relief to have that behind us.
    Hope you are enjoying this beautiful fall weather my friend.
    xx, Heather

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    1. Heather, Thank you for saying that. Ugh sometimes I am not sure I can get through it all! xo

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  13. Kim,

    I just loved this post! I saved it and hadn't had a chance to read it until now, but I am so glad I did. You and I are so similar, on so many levels. I've read wonderful things about this book, but have yet to read it. However, now reading this post, I'm going to go order it from Amazon as soon as I finish typing!

    I'm not a hoarder by any means, but I am a person who tries not to waste and I try to be "green." And because of that, I feel a little guilty giving away things that are "perfectly good" so they just stack in my garage! Sometimes they are antiques and I feel I should try to sell them (rather than just donate them) but other times, it's more guilt than anything that makes me keep things! My garage is such a dumping ground and frankly, it's crowded and makes me feel stressed so I know I would be better off getting rid of things. I'm going to re-evaluate and see if I can't make some changes.

    On another note, I have all kinds of vintage photos of my grandparents and parents as children and I just love them. It is so special that you have that! I have had some of the better ones framed and I look at them often. It is the people, and the memories, that are important. Not the things. But we already knew that, didn't we?

    Thanks for sharing such a nice post!

    Sheila
    xo

    www.maisondecinq.blogspot.com

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    1. Sheila, Thank you! I think we sound very similar! I do hate to waste things, but it's made purging even harder thinking that way! I agree my garage is like this now and I cannot stand it. It is stressful. I hope to clear that out next!

      I love that you have old photos too. I agree cherishing those and honoring them means more than the objects. You really nailed it !
      Thanks so much for the kind note! xo Kim

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