The Purge


The Purge

faith-1053104_640Tomorrow will be a month since Dad passed. I blogged a lot while he was with me, but since he passed I've only managed to squeak-out a couple of blogs. Thoughts and emotions have swirled through my mind over the past month, but it's been hard to get them to settle into a theme...or a complete sentence...or at times, even a single word. I truly have enjoyed blogging, so I have been patiently waiting for the swirl to settle so I can get back into it. I have an old, tattered envelope in my purse on which I write random thoughts, memories and words as they come to me, with the hope that at some point they can be formed into blogs. I feel like a giant oak tree, shedding my leaves in preparation for winter! And today, a leaf finally landed on the ground, so I'm going to get this story out before it turns to mulch!

Over Thanksgiving, I traveled back to Illinois to spend several days cleaning out Dad's house. Most of my family lives in the area, and it was an "all hands on deck" kind of week! My brother, sister-in-law, niece and her husband, my in-laws, my husband, our teen daughter, our young adult son and his girlfriend, and some random cousins and friends all rolled up their sleeves and helped tackle the beast known as Mom & Dad's house. Mom and Dad lived in that house for over 40 years. It is a decent-sized three bedroom, two bath ranch with formals and a full basement. And boy do I mean full basement. We had quite a task ahead of us!

Prior to my arrival, my brother, sister-in-law and niece had spent several days pulling everything out of every cabinet, every drawer and every closet, then sorting items into piles around the house and discarding any obvious trash. Their theory was that sorting & purging might go faster if we could see everything, and if we could get 'like' items all together. When I walked into the house, I honestly thought I was going to have a panic attack. There was stuff EVERYWHERE! The little OCD voice in my head was screaming in agony! The kitchen table was loaded down with old pots and pans, mismatched Tupperware, stained cookie sheets and small outdated kitchen gadgets. On the kitchen counter were hygiene and personal items--at least six pairs of nail clippers, a dozen sets of eye glasses, a multitude of random ink pens and complimentary number of small note pads.

The dining room table was overflowing with random dishes, cheap vases, and tired figurines. In the corner was a huge pile of half-completed quilts and other incomplete sewing projects. There was a huge pile of old books, including a full set of 1970-something encyclopedias which my teen daughter found fascinating and horrifying. ("Mom, you mean when you had to do a research project in high school, this is ALL you had??")  My son was amused by the huge pile of random cassette tapes and VHS tapes perched precariously on top of the large console "tube" TV.

Then there was the mountain of clothes, the small electronics section (I swear Dad never threw away an old phone or tape recorder!), small appliance section (Anyone need a broken toaster or coffee maker? There are three or four to choose from!), and so on. Mustering my courage, I headed downstairs to the basement. Wow. Half a ping pong table was full of old tools and gadgets. The other half held old sporting goods--fishing rods, tennis rackets (Mom and dad played tennis? when?), roller skates, ice skates, an old skateboard (that came back with my son!), hunting gear--you name it. A large stack of yard tools, shovels, rakes, weed eaters, hoses were lined up against the wall and piled on yet another table. More stacks of old books and magazines (why did people hoard National Geographic magazines?). Sadly most of the books and magazines would have to go straight to the burn pile due to mold, dust, critter and water damage. Old broken toys, ratty plastic floral arrangements, broken picture frames, shabby Christmas decorations, dusty glass jars. Oh my gosh, dozens and dozens of dusty glass jars. One treasure I found was a weathered cardboard box full of china coffee cups and figurines, all neatly wrapped in newspaper. Why were these banished to the basement instead of being allowed to live upstairs with the rest of the china? I'm sure there's a story here! So. Much. Stuff.  At one point years ago, each and every one of these items was deemed necessary, useful and desired. And here it all sits now, in organized piles--leftover, old, unwanted stuff. And sadly, both upstairs and down, a great deal of it has either been damaged by being kept in the damp basement, or has been gnawed on or otherwise "loved" by various critters that evidently chose to cohabitate with Dad in the house these past years.  Well, at least that was going to make sorting and purging decisions easy.

As I wandered through this chaotic explosion of STUFF, I concluded that the "unload everything so we can see it" approach really was a great idea after all, despite the initial shock. After walking through the house, I became less overwhelmed and the little OCD voice in my head became eager to jump into each of the categorized piles and begin sorting & tossing. And, although I did suspect I would uncover a few treasures here and there, for the most part I did not have any emotional attachment to the items surrounding me. Over the past several years, Mom and Dad had insisted that if there was anything in the house we wanted, take it. They didn't want to make a big deal of out picking "who got what" and didn't want us to wait until they were gone to have it. So, I already had possession of the things that meant something to me, and my brother had removed things of real value out of the house back in the summer when Dad first went into the hospital (just in case the house was broken into--fortunately it never was!). So, there wasn't much left that we were going to want to keep. Most of the stuff that still had value was either going into an upcoming auction (tools, furniture, appliances, etc.) or would be donated to charity (clothing, eyeglasses, bedding, etc.). So the main goal was to remove anything that could not be sold or donated, have a "last call" on anything we personally wanted to keep, and get the remaining items organized for sale or donation. I can't believe we did it, but we actually accomplished all of this, and a lot more, in just four days.  Through that time, we laughed, and hugged, and laughed some more. I never would have predicted this would be a fun family project, but it turned out to be just that.

In addition to the purge of material items, this also provided my brother and I the opportunity to purge a lot of old negative feelings as well. All families have their imperfections, their hurts and their disappointments. With the passing of my dad, a chapter of our lives closed behind us. Similar to tossing old, worn-out items that have minimal value, we can choose to try to do the same with negative memories.  We can keep old photos, funny memorabilia, and happy memories, and let the rest go. The Purge became more than just a mission to get a house for sale. It also became a mission for us to move on.

I left Illinois with a renewed sense of love for my family and a huge feeling of accomplishment. But during my flight back to Texas, that bratty little OCD voice in my head started chirping again, and as much as I tried to ignore her, I knew exactly what she was nagging me about: I have too much stuff in my house! So this past week, The Purge moved from Illinois to Texas. Fortunately, my husband was on the same wavelength and he once again rolled up his sleeves and jumped in beside me. I think I donated somewhere around 13 or 14 dusty glass vases. Gee, I guess that apple didn't fall far from the tree. And, I had to eat a slice of humble pie when I found a can of green beans in my pantry with an expiration date of 2011. I had laughed and laughed about a canned good in dad's cabinet that expired in 2008. Oops!

After a couple of pickup truck loads of donations to charity, and a bunch of cleaned-out, neatly organized closets, I am enjoying that sense of accomplishment again. And eerily, a connection to my parents as well. I don't think hoarding is something we would consider a positive genetic trait, but it is interesting to see how we unknowingly carry on many of the same behaviors and tendencies as our parents. My hope for my own children is that they don't have to tackle a project of this size when I pass away. Or if they do, I hope they come away from it with the same love, peace and satisfaction that we experienced.

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Jan Larsen-Fendt, RN, BSN

I was so thrilled to find this post. My mom died 2 years ago, and my Dad just died in April. They were lucky enough to have been able to stay in their home until their death. Well, sort of. My Dad had a stroke in December (2015) and was doing well in rehab. My husband and I moved from our apartment and moved into his home. My husband built a ramp, to make getting into the house easier. Luckily, the rest of the house was already handicapped accessible. So, when we moved into the house.....we were essentially moving an apartment's worth of \"stuff\" into a house that already had years and years of \"stuff\" in it. \r\n\r\nUnfortunately, my Dad had several complications and passed away in April....never having made it home. We had decided early on not to unpack all of our stuff and get too comfortable in my Dad's home. We had enough of his stuff to get rid of. So, we are now continuing to cull through his - and my mother's - stuff, all while trying to go through our own boxes and donate or throw away so that it's not so bad when we move out of my father's house.\r\n\r\nI really empathized and connected with the author. My own siblings have said that they have taken anything they wanted. But, I keep coming across things that I feel I should ask them about. This has not been, and will not be, an easy task. I'll be glad when it's over.


Loved this post, TBD, for everything you and your family have accomplished and how eloquently you were able to capture that and communicate it here. Good for you, good for all of you for embracing life in all its forms. Good for you for not getting stuck in negative thoughts, but using those niggling voices to move ahead in your own life as well.


<a href='' rel=\"nofollow\">@tiredbutdetermined</a>, I so relate to this in so many ways. I have memories of doing this at my parents house. They had moved into it just 10 years earlier, a new house they built on the farm down the road from the farmhouse. (in central Illinois). So it wasn't too bad. But I took a couple things after checking with my siblings... my dad's pocket knife and my mom's cake knife, the one for angle food cake (my fav). Strange pick huh? but reminded me of her. She wasn't much for things, and had nothing that really reminded me of her. I loved holding dad's pocket knife in my hand. About 10 years after his death, I finally passed it along to my son, who remembers cleaning fish with him and his pocket knife.\r\n\r\nI relate to finding \"memories\". The most came from going through my mom's sewing things and scraps of fabric. I could remember so many outfits I made or my sister or mom made when seeing all those scraps. Prom dresses, and more....\r\n\r\nBut... the house we live in now, my MIL, we are still purging a year+ after her death. Major hoarder. I so related to your reaction to the stuff and OCD comment. When I moved in here (not knowing how bad it had gotten after FIL's death) I had anxiety for months... Still do when I go to the basement (our major area to finish). I get anxety thinking about it tonight, so won't even describe!


TBD, I am so glad this was a positive family project! I am walking a similar road,except that Grandma is still living and asks me to write down what everyone is taking LOL!!! I think it is valuable for us to look at our own \"stuff\" and decide to purge now rather than later when it's harder. You have really encouraged me in your blogs. Please continue as you are able :)


Oh how your post resonated with me! When my mother died it became my father's task to clean out their house so he could put it on the market. My dad never really hung on to a lot of stuff, but my mother kept everything and then some. I could not believe some of the things he excavated during his \"archeological digs\" Things that not only had belonged to my mother but to my grandmother and great grandmother. I brought home more of those items than I should have and like you realized that I have more in common with my mother's pack rat ways than I cared to admit. The last time I moved I gave away or donated loads of stuff but since my father cleaned out their former home, I've probably taken in more than enough to replace what I gave away lol.\r\n\r\nIf I had my wish, the next clean-out on my list would be my MIL's house. The house is getting to be too much for her and I wish she would at least let us do a few dump runs with the really crappy stuff. Among her treasures she currently counts two broken sewing machines, a broken piano, at least 100 plastic containers, a Nativity scene covered with mold, a chair with a broken back that no one can sit in, rusty pie pans, a broken wheelbarrow, and a box containing roughly 15 old phones from the 80's. That's just the stuff you can see. I don't even want to think about what lies beneath the surface!