“It’s so sad when what you leave is just a mess.”

I received an email this week from a reader, J.  I wanted to share it with you, as it’s so poignant.

“It’s so sad when what you leave is just a mess.

My MIL thought she was keeping the family’s history safe, storing heirlooms for generations and keeping the stories and traditions alive for each item’s use. But there are only 2 grandchildren, neither of whom really grew up knowing of those stories, traditions nor caring about these items. And my SILs aren’t into the family history nor into any inherent value the items might have for ‘retro fashion’.

In recent years, my in-laws were increasingly reluctant to throw anything out or rationalise any of their space. Everything is crammed in – dried flower arrangements from the 80s (amalgamated from those given for meaningful occasions now forgotten) stand among the photos on top of the entertainment unit full of videos no-ones watches, CDs no-one listens to, cassettes no-one remembers…the glass and china cabinet, the linen closet, her wardrobe, all are the same: full of memories no-one can unlock any more because my FIL has Alzheimers and most of the last 50 years are a blur.

We have scraps of notes for a family history, never followed up. Scraps of anonymous photos and handsewing, kept because ‘someone’ made them or was in them, we’ll never know who. My SILs aren’t interested in helping me clean up. FIL wants to sell what he can, and there’s little that’s saleable because of how it was all kept, jammed in with the plastic bags and the pantyhose, the handcreams and tissues.

I keep thinking we’re dealing with losing her just 2 weeks ago; we shouldn’t also have to deal with 20-year-old misshapen Tupperware, 10-year-old takeaway containers, 6 bags of old medicines; 2 cupboards of chipped kitchenware that are 40 years out of date and not used for the last 10………..

It’s heart-breaking. “


7 responses to ““It’s so sad when what you leave is just a mess.”

  1. You are not alone J. I have struggled with a similar situation. Possessions once meaningful for my Mother are of no interest to other family members. Today’s generation do not seem to save things the way we needed to. My daughters look at something and tell me to throw it out, you can buy them for a dollar if you need one again. Consequently I continue to chip away at Mum’s treasure trove – a cathartic process that helps me understand her and brings me closer to her. Values change with each new generation, we are caught in between and need to find some balance. I empathise with you. Jan.

  2. Very poignant…

    I went around with my MIL & FIL as they told stories about objects/paintings etc & I wrote notes, leaving a note about their history tucked inside/ under/ behind each item.
    Some years later my SILs thanked me as they went through their parents’ possessions (after one had died and the other slipped further into dementia).

  3. Helping families who are faced with this sort of physical burden, relieving them of it, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job as an organizer.
    This is a lovely letter, even in its sadness.

  4. Cleaning up a house, shed, backyard, after someone dies, or moves into care, which I have done twice now, is like tearing apart a life. Each item represents a part of that life – a thought, a preference, a favourite, a hobby or activity, a lifestyle. No matter what the quality of the items, or quantity, or nature, it reflects on that person. Not an easy task, but one that can also have its rewards in the wonder if what you might find, and why it was kept.

  5. So – an update: Heartbreak over the way some members of the family hae chosen to handle the (non) sorting through MIL’s fashion-heritage wardrobe – worth a small fortune in some retro circles, yet merely tossed into garbage bags. As I wrote to Lissane, the emergency “cold cash” kept in a recycled frozen food box thrown out as the Home Help cleaned outdated foods from the iced-over freezer (we think it was a couple of thousand, in notes); precious jewels hidden similarly in old pantyhose amongst underwear tossed out with the underwear when the drawers where just emptied out, not sorted through.

    So it’s been an expensive exercise even before we’ve been able to get in to start an Executor’s valuation. Forget the scrapbookers and the quilters – no-one in the family seems to care for anyone who might be interested in these arts, even though she had devoted years to her arts and crafts and had many projects on the go.

    You know what’s funny? No-one wants the crocheted clothes hangers – but they don’t want to throw THOSE away!! 🙂

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