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After many months and literally hundreds of hours of sifting, sorting, cleaning and distributing, my mother’s house is finally cleared and emptied, and sold to another family.

It’s a pretty huge job, this cleaning out the goods and chattels of your parents’ lives and emptying a house. Enormous. And it seems there are several ways to approach the situation and the process:

  • get rid of everything without qualm or hesitation
  • leave it for others to do
  • do it with painstaking care and thought, one tiny item or piece of paper at a time, inching forward bit by bit with excruciatingly slow progress, and constant pause for reflection and consideration.

Guess which camp I fall into? Of course, that last one – the most exhausting one, physically and emotionally. Self-appointed keeper of the faith and the memories, and of way too many of the things. Thank goodness a sister was sharing the load – and likewise  the distribution and retention of earthly goods, with several willing helpers and recipients of belongings. And praise lord for hard working and patient husbands.

The more invested you are in capturing the past, the harder is the task. Some things were very easy, and others too difficult, so decisions kept getting deferred, and the piles of ‘to keep’ or ‘to think about’ kept growing.

When there was a home where no-longer-needed goods could go to do some good, that provided a respite. Like glasses to optometrists to use for those in under-privileged countries. Another life.


But how do you discard books dating in the 1800s inscribed to your great grandfather that no one else wants? They’re falling apart and speckled with the brown spots of age, but are they worthy only for landfill? No doubt they’ll get there eventually, but not just yet. As for some of the furniture? While it’s much appreciated and of a quality that’s now difficult to find, a happy, loving home just can’t be found for some of it. Yes, there may be a few bits still lurking in a garage somewhere, gathering dust and awaiting further thought.

And it makes me consider how fleeting is our existence on this earth. Unless we are world changers or somehow famous for doing something extraordinary, within a hundred years or so perhaps all or just about all vestiges of our lives will have disappeared, and the things we treasured and loved most may be discarded to the rubbish tip without the blink of an eye. Perhaps only in the memories of our children and grandchildren, and the dearest of friends, will we linger for a while for what we were, did and loved.

Just a tiny, insignificant blip in time.

I’m constantly grateful that we’re going through this process while my mother is alive, and happily ensconced in a new and better environment for her. Dealing with death at the same time as cleaning out would be so much more difficult. Grief is bad enough on its own.

One of the last things left in the house was the container of my Dad’s ashes, which had  sat quietly, tucked away in his chest of drawers for five years, awaiting a decision.

‘Throw it out’ said Mum. ‘I don’t want that.’ Simple. (And yes, they were a devoted and loving couple.)

No, I can’t do that. Instead, at some point, we will go to Dad’s golf club of days gone by and play a game in his honour, tell a funny tale of him or a joke on each hole, and have a few laughs. He did love a joke. We decided the winner on the day will take home one of his retained golf trophies as their prize, which meant that there was just one less item to make a decision about.

After all of this, perhaps an even more frightening thought is that I know my house is worse. Much bigger and also full, not just of my stuff collected and kept from decades, but now too of some of the passed on collections from generations before.

I know I must start some of my own clearing out. Right now.

And I must also go and thank my daughters and sons-in-law right now, in anticipation of the efforts they will undoubtedly put in for us, decades down the track.