I spent a week sorting through the remains of what my mom already sorted through: 52 years of life in one house, 59 years of marriage. We had an estate sale, my brothers and I, not because of death, but because my parents moved into a brand new, one level, smaller house, and didn’t take much with them. The majority of their stuff lay in neglected piles in the echoing rooms of my childhood home.
I found some cool things, burrowing through a house which still carried so many remnants of our life. I found pictures of my grandmother as a baby, posing with relatives we never knew. I found “the stick” which we all felt on our bottoms at several belligerent moments of our lives. I found the hated bowl that was set by our bedsides if we were sick. Of course I emailed a picture of that to my siblings who responded with “Disgusting!” “Gross!” “Just the picture makes me want to hurl.” Followed by a quiet, “thanks for sending the picture.”
I crawled far back under the stairs where no one was allowed when I was a child and discovered a love letter from my dad to my mom, written just a week before they were married. I sorted through special knick-knacks and ran my fingers through the container full of buttons I played with while mom sewed nearby. I found forgotten boxes of slides and home movies and came across souvenirs from family vacations. I cleaned up toys from the toy-box; Toys left from our childhood and passed on to our own children.
My brothers went through the garage which held an astonishing hodgepodge of projects dreamed of, half-finished and left-overs from accomplishments.
Each new thing we found brought us out of our corner to show the other, or to email our sister and tell the story, or ask “Do you want this?”
Our responses were the same, “I don’t have room for more stuff,” or “I would love that, but what would I DO with it?” or sometimes a “If no one else wants that, ma- a-aybe I’ll take it…”
Because while we all cherished the memories, it was rather sobering to see 52 years of stuff bought out by strangers in a matter of hours as the town descended on the Estate Sale. All the things my mother had lovingly cleaned and guarded against four rambunctious children, all the different projects my civil engineering father had carefully documented and developed, all the memories hung on the walls and handicrafts from when we were kids and things we’d sent home to mom and dad from travels abroad as we flew from the nest – all gone in 2 days of estate sale.
The painful realization after a week sorting more than 52 years’ worth of memories: in the end, it’s all just STUFF. No matter how much it originally cost, no matter how many memories it triggered, no matter how many times I played with it, no matter how beautifully it looked hanging on the wall for years; it was just stuff.
You would think, coming to this realization, I would leave empty-handed. But none of us did. No matter how many times we declared we did not need any more stuff, someone would quietly tuck something away. Different things touched us each in different ways.
It’s true, I now have a little more “stuff” than I did before I went back to my childhood home. But it’s just stuff.
More important to me is the time I got to spend with my brothers and sisters-in-law, with nieces and my nephew and their children. The fun of my sorting came from taking an old black and white photo to my dad and listening to the story behind the picture. The closeness came from the emails between my sister and I, allowing her to be part of the process from far away. The importance came from the relief mom felt because SHE didn’t have to go back and sort any more! The joy came from hanging out for hours with my brothers and really getting to know them in new ways as memories were triggered, laughed at, cried at, and let go.
The stuff didn’t matter all that much, but the love will always matter! (click to tweet)