Clearing Out the Family Home

I had made the conscious choice to not be involved with the sale and move out of the home that my grandparents purchased in the early 50’s. After they left the home to a care facility due to illness, parkinson and alzheimer’s, it was rented briefly until their deaths. At that point my parents moved in, my mom purchasing the half that had been left to her sister going on to make this their home over the last nearly years. With their arrival came the vast amount of stuff my dad has hoarded over the years, and when his mother passed away all the items from her house were loaded into the rooms of this house as well. To add to the difficulty of the move out, my brother had also been using the location as his home base over the last two years, his piles of hoarding layering on top of the existing clutter.

There is no way to describe the vast wasteland of belongings piled and crammed into every corner of the property and home. I have been working on the decluttering project here and there for a couple years in anticipation that my parents would eventually need or want to move to a retirement facility, previously loading two large dumpsters with debris from the yard, barely being allowed to touch items from within the home. I knew the drill, go through things, toss it only to have someone traipse over to the dumpster to go through its contents, berating under the breath the idiot who thought it was appropriate to throw away a bag of old rusting nails.

I wasn’t going to go near the project this time around, too explosive added by the fact my parents had accepted a low offer on the property prior to it going on market, an offer brought to them by a friend of mine who was privy to too much private information having previously been the realtor who represented my parents in selling their condo as well as receiving earfuls of family drama via me over the years. The moment I hear she had shown the house to friends of neighbors up the street I called her up to say, please, tell me you are not the realtor representing these potential buyers, the risk of conflict of interest runs high and really, you know better than to bring my parents such a bad offer. Her response, well I’m sorry, I really am, but it’s a done deal, your parents have signed a contract. Okay. That was super shitty of you, not happy, and after a day of calls between parents, brothers, listing realtor and her, I made the decision that the healthiest thing for me was to accept my parents had missed out on the opportunity to get a higher sales price and avoid a potentially very messy sale, it but there was nothing I could do and trying to right the wrongs would only result in much misery on my part. (And just some FYI on why this sale had trouble written all over it, my dad had told the neighbors up the street what they were thinking of listing the house for, but that he didn’t believe it was worth that price. Oh you have friends that are interested? We know a great realtor, she helped us sell our condo, here’s her name. Next thing we know here comes a lowball offer from friends of that neighbor, via the realtor my dad suggested, my friend, their past realtor. Ugh. People. Think. Before. You. Speak.)

So, I’m rambling. Fast forward a few months. It was a long protracted sale with lots of going back on forth on endless issues, many on the petty side. I stepped in for a meeting only once when my older brother came into town for a short weekend, a meeting my parent’s realtor asked for to come to consensus on how to resolve a particularly thorny issue that threatened to derail the sale from moving forward. I was impressed and approved of the solution he put forth, it worked, and again I got myself uninvolved. Until the day before my parents were to be vacated from the home. I had wondered how they would actually meet that date, on the couple occasions I had swung by due to requests by my mom to pick up a box of photos or another item she had set aside for me, things to do with my kids, I had been shocked at the condition of the house. Piles of everything were everywhere. It looked like the house was months away from being packed, cleared and emptied. I came over the day after movers had come to transport my parent’s belongings to their retirement home and I literally could see no difference from the last time I had been at the house. But I stood strong and didn’t offer to get involved. Oh, until my mom called crying out for help when the church crew promising help of clearing out junk had shrunk to a barely effective size. I sighed a yes, until retracting my yes a few hours later when I saw how stressed I was becoming over the idea. I’m not your free labor when you get into a bind. They had had months, and I’d tried very hard on previous occasions to get them to sort through and dispose of their clutter, namely my dad’s hoarding to no avail, so I was okay in staying out of it this time around for self preservation.

Then on Halloween night I begin getting SOS texts from my younger brother, then calls, panicked with the warning that if he had not removed his truck, tiny house, van and belongings off the property and from the house the next day at 5, the deadline, a junk team would arrive to haul away everything left on the property. Okay, we all knew this date was coming, but he was freaking out, claiming that he had helped the parents to get moved with the promise that they would then have a week until the deadline, during which time they would help him move. But that had not happened. They would come back to the house and putz around gathering up more of their belongings, but mostly fighting with my brother. And if the realtor would show up, he would get embroiled in the fights as well. Hence, again, my staying away. The last time I had swung by to pick up boxes of photos as fight commenced that had both my brother and I standing down my smirking dad, each of us echoing the other’s words, “you will not sit there and laugh at me when I tell you how your actions have hurt me over the years.” “Oh, are you going to get out your belt and wipe us now, for not doing your bidding?” It was an ugly scene with my mom looking on, and one that felt sad given it might be the last time I stepped into the house that had once been my safe haven, my grandmother’s home.

But back to the SOS’s, no one had taken my brother’s warnings that the vast amount of crap remaining on the property would make meeting the deadline virtually impossible. And the fact that it just wasn’t his stuff remaining – my parents had only taken their few choice items of furniture, clothes and belongings leaving a lifetime of accumulated crap behind them – went ignored by everyone involved.

I saw both sides of the issue. He was blaming the parents for him not getting his sorting, packing and loading complete, but at the same time my parents had left a tremendous amount behind and even their returning over the last week had not put in dent in the pile. The problem, and this is key, one could not just call up 1-800-GOT-JUNK to have it tossed into the dumpster in the driveway. No, my dad could not allow that, and neither could my brother. A “precious” item might lay alongside an item to be tossed and without going through each and every box and pile and corner, how could anyone know what was what? And that takes tremendous time when the volume is virtually endless. So I texted and then called my friend, the realtor on the other side, asking if it was at all possible to get an extension, knowing the buyers were out of town for the rest of the week. I asked for three days, suggested to my brother he get another truck to be able to quickly load things and find a place to haul or store it to go through in more detail later.

At first no one was having any of it, the realtor, the buyers. It was up to me to slow things done for a second so that everyone practice a little patience and most importantly, foresight. Listen, I can tell you with certainty that if you think you will be able to arrive with a crew to haul off  his belongings without incident, you need to pause and rethink that position. The brother needing to vacate the property has the propensity and disposition to go off on rages, there are firearms on the property. This junk you think can just be tossed into a dumpster he sees as the means to his future, take it away from him and you are threatening his life. The police will be called and really no one can guess where it will all go from there. So perhaps we all need to think this through to chart a path to a calm and successful conclusion.

I asked for three days and we got 7, as the buyers were leaving on a short trip and had not planned to move in right away anyway. With the offer of a $100 a day, apparently it made sense to them to extend the deadline until their return. This all under the condition I be there to oversee and be responsible for the project. But I had my own conditions: the parents, realtors and buyers were to stay off the property, and if for any reason they thought they needed to show up, contact me beforehand. I had been around enough and been on the end of enough phone calls and texts to know that the presence of any of these parties would result in my brother going into a rage, and it was my job to keep him calm, in a good positive state of being, focused on the good in the future and getting the job done!

The next seven days I logged 10-12 hour days and we still came up 3 hours short of the new deadline with the buyers friend from up the street arriving at 5 on the nose to inform us we were trespassing, as he put a call into the non emergency police line. “What are you doing?! Are you calling the police?! Please hang up!” Shit dude. We are 99.95 percent done and now you walk in here threatening to undo the calm exit I’ve been busting my ass to achieve? Thankfully I was able to work it out with a quick call to their realtor, and a group text message to her and my parents realtor, but that was just too much drama. We did get a little leeway, a half hour to clear out of the house and a couple more hours to pack and load the belongings hauled out to the street to “legally” vacate. I finished throwing the last bits of crap into the dumpster and within three hours we were cleared out. With the one exception of the 20′ van parked on the street, it was dark and my brother was exhausted. Please, my last ask, can he come by tomorrow to negotiate its move off this one way street (with the van headed in the wrong direction) in daylight. All the neighbors will be thankful, limiting the risk for damage to driveways, telephone poles, cars and the like lining the narrow street. Yes? Okay good. Thanks!

But what did I learn over the week of labor and negotiating? A lot. And it’ll probably take awhile to fully process and understand all of it. But being involved in the last days at the house had a blessing in disguise. As each layer of debris was removed from the rooms space opened up for me to recall all the times at this house, to be thankful for them and to give the house a final hug. There were outbursts of anger on the part of my brother to wait through so that he could be calmed by being heard, I had to subtly keep him on track as any direct reminder of the deadline would only bring forth another outcry on his part, full of blame on what everyone had done to him. Sometimes I had to just roll my eyes or flip him off behind his back, because it was always all about him. Hey mister, this house has been my family’s house as well, I have a lot invested here as well that I am sorting through emotionally and mentally. But I did that in private, keeping my process to myself as I worked outwardly on his.

What else did I learn? I learned my mother lives by the rule of fear. I learned my dad has put the value of his life into hanging onto seemingly inconsequential and worthless items, and has passed that way of seeing one’s life onto my younger brother. What can you say about a bucket of sand scooped up from the shores of an arctic beach several decades ago, shipped here 25 years ago only to be forgotten in a corner until the youngest son deems it value high enough to pack it back up into a truck that will return it to Alaska once again. Why? To me that is utter insanity. So much of this effort made no sense to me, at one point I said to the buyer’s realtor, my friend, “I’ve never been involved in something that makes less sense.” I don’t get this attachment to stuff. Get this, I was actually allowed to toss out the rusted nails my older brother and I pulled from shipping pallets over 40 years ago so that the boards could be used to frame in a quonset hut, the nails keep as they might be needed some day in the unknown future. Guard against that unknown future! But I failed in my attempt to throw away the rusting railroad ties gathered from that same town to be shipped down in a 40 foot container from Alaska decades ago, also forgotten in a box, to be resuscitated and packed into a 20 foot truck for a drive back north. I don’t get it. To me it is a complete and utter waste of all one’s energies on all levels. But not for them.

All I wanted to do during the process was to get home to seek out any waste that needs to be removed from my property. I don’t want my life to be a life spent caring for things while people go ignored. All this made me think of my mom’s constant refrains from over the years. She kept the upper level of the house clear and organized, but the lower level and yard only become more polluted with debris year after year. It caused her an extreme amount of anxiety, with another refrain of hers being how lonely she was, all my dad ever did was putter around with his stuff all day long, leaving her alone upstairs. There’s a lot behind that, including he was probably escaping her nagging, control and complaining, but at the end of it all it paints a sad story of belongings – regardless of value or having little value – dictating the quality of the lives that lived the last twenty years in this home. Sorting through boxes of photos from the past 65 years was a stark reminder it hasn’t always been this way here at this property. It was once a lovely home, simple, full of the necessities and an occasional splurge, but the focus seemed to be on other things: holiday celebrations, having friends over for a game of cards, a bbq, gardening, polishing the car, prepping the camper for the annual trip to death valley, fundraisers and events with the Lion’s Club and activities with the church, visits by family, grandchildren and brothers and sisters. That was how my grandparents lived their lives in this house, in contrast.

I hope in time that is how I remember this house. How it was before, when it was the most special place on earth for me to visit. Here were my most precious and loved people and I’m thankful I had this beautiful home in my life as I grew up. I came across pictures that showed visits with my best friend in grade school, then high school, my first boyfriend, then my first husband, my second husband and then my kids. I makes me feel as if I’ve already lived a dozen lives, arriving at this moment where so much is coming to an end. This move damaged many relationships while also reminding me of how many relationships are gone forever. My marriage is also ending, I’m looking to sell my own house and start fresh in the city with the kids as they wrap up their years at home. I feel the responsibility of getting it right, or at least more right. I have to take responsibility for how I got to this place and the way in which I will move on to the next. It’s all on me. Even with all my stories, I have to take responsibility for what has been and what will be.




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