I didn’t think my parents were hoarders.
And to be honest, they weren’t. Their house was neat and organized. And for the record, it had been Mom’s house alone since Dad died in 1985.
What I’m trying to say is, a casual visitor would never think that hoarders lived there. But after looking deeper, after opening the cedar chest, and digging into closets and other out-of-the-way places, my sister and I were surprised by many of the things we found — things tucked neatly away and left behind for us to find. Things that neither parent needs, now that they are in their heavenly home.
Countless photos we didn’t know had been taken. Stacks of letters — perhaps even every letter — their grandchildren had sent them. Documents from the 1940s when Dad was in the Navy during World War II, when Mom was in a women’s college in South Carolina, and later that decade when the two of them were courting.
Most folks might never appreciate how hard a task clearing out your parents’ home can be, not until they must accomplish it themselves. It’s a lot of physically hard work, sure, but it’s also just… hard.
It’s an experience emotional enough to convince us that we should never force our own children to go through this, at least not to this degree. Even the neatest, most organized households contain a host of things accumulated over the occupants’ lifetimes. What makes the task so difficult is deciding which items of that collection are valuable enough to save for this, and for future, generations.
We all have good intentions, I know, but it probably won’t happen. It seems the next generation is always faced with the task of deciding what, among all the things their parents consider important, will be kept or will be let go.
The thing is, people can never predict what their children will consider treasure, and what their children will deem trash. It’s a needle in a haystack proposition. Truth is, it’s sometimes tough for any of us to make such decisions. That’s why stuff accumulates in different areas of our homes throughout our lifetimes.
Meanwhile, my sister and I continued working, and those three stacks — keep, donate, toss — continued to grow.
The bedroom that had been assigned to me was literally a time capsule. Since our family moved into the house only days before I started college halfway across the country, I actually lived there only one summer, the months between my freshman and sophomore years at Howard Payne.
My first camera, a Brownie Starlite, was still in its box in the bottom drawer of the bedside table. Keep.
The results showing my SAT and ACT college exams scores were in a desk drawer. Keep.
On a wall hung a framed, color portrait of me taken around my first birthday. Keep.
Inside the cedar chest in the master bedroom was the outfit I had worn in that photo. Now, that’s a tough call. But still, well, I don’t know… keep.
This makes it sound like not much was being placed in the “toss” and “donate” piles, but that is not accurate. In that city, there’s a service called “Junk Doctors” my sister found, and for a fee they will arrive with a large truck and haul off anything that’s not somehow attached to the house. I’m told they made their third and final visit this week.
Those things that we tossed simply didn’t rise to the level of “remarkable.” Some required tough calls. Those are things I would prefer to forget ever having, and to forget ever having to make the decision to throw away.
Possessions are just things, even though each one we kept — and even those we held briefly before choosing to discard them — prompted happy memories. But regardless of whether we kept them, donated them, or tossed them, the memories are what we treasure most.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.