When my parents died, it really wasn’t so bad to take care of their belongings. My three sisters and I did it in a couple of days.
My parents lived very simply. They shared a single closet that was maybe 12 feet long for all their clothes. They had a collection of about 20 CDs, and five shelves about 3 feet wide for books. There were a few knickknacks and mementos from their travels, and some from my travels that I had given them. They had one set of simple dishes, and just the basic furnishings for a one-bedroom house.
They had very little paperwork. A few file folders of the usual banking and insurance papers; the important stuff was all locked in a fireproof safe. A drawer with memorabilia from us girls, including some newspaper clippings of stories I’d written as a young reporter. They had a dozen or so photo albums from their travels and from us growing up.
There were no valuable antiques or expensive jewelry, except for a few small pieces that Mom had long ago marked with the name of the daughter who was to inherit it. Dad had his workshop with tools, but Chris’s partner gratefully took those.
And that was about it.
So the job was not that difficult for us. We were able to quickly sort everything into piles: give away, leave to sell with the house, or Ann, Chris, Maggie, Lisa to take.
I thought about this when I walked into an estate sale at one of the neighborhood condos a few days ago.
I love a bargain. So you think that I would spend a lot of time going to yard sales and estate sales. But I don’t.
And having gone to that estate sale, now I know why I don’t go.
It’s depressing to look at someone else’s used stuff when it is all sitting silently in their vacant home. Even worse to watch a bunch of strangers picking it over like vultures.
This estate sale included everything, I mean everything. Even bottles of cleaning fluids, even pillowcases, even kitchen utensils.
It seemed so bizarre, even macabre: She was touching these dishes, wearing these clothes only a week or so ago, and now they’re being rifled through by people who just want more stuff.
This person’s things were the most generic imaginable – except for a few nice pieces of art, which were the only sense I got of her as a person. Those too were for sale.
Did no one she loved want them?
I got out of there fast. I couldn’t stand it.
It reminded me of my own mortality, and Tom’s mortality. If either of us died tomorrow, we would leave behind a mountain of stuff that someone else would have to deal with.
Someone else would have to discard my photos and journals, sort his mail and clothes.
There are companies that handle this, of course. Since we don’t have children, I assume that it would be up to some estate sale company to pick through our things, sort the useful from the un-useful into piles, send a check to our inheritors.
Today when I was walking back from the gym, I saw a big truck pulled up to that condo where the estate sale had been. I watched a guy carrying a big box out from the condo and stack it in the truck.
This is our final exit – someone carrying our crap to a truck to get rid of it.
I may not actually finish a book and publish it before I die, though I really hope that I do. Meanwhile I have this blog, so that I leave behind something more than a pile of stuff.
Today’s penny is a 2010, the year that my sisters and I cleaned out Mom and Dad’s house.