After many years of good times and happy memories, my 81-year old dad decided to sell his summertime lake-side New Hampshire home. For several decades it had been a gathering place for 9 daughters (my 8 sisters and me), 8 sons-in-law and 17 grandkids (“Grandpa, take us tubing around the lake one more time!”) He has new girlfriend and they were planning on spending the warmer months in Michigan. It was an emotional yet practical decision, full of potential new adventures.
Now it was time to deal with all the stuff that people collect after a lifetime in a home. My dad had lost his wife of 30 years a few years back. He had put off sorting and purging many personal items that they had acquired. Many of the items were personal stuff of his late wife, my stepmother. Not surprisingly, Dad was reluctant and resistant to the task at hand. Thankfully, he has many daughters and sons-in-law that were there to help or at least prod him.
My youngest sister and I, separately made the first pass over the home, knowing that a realtor was on the way. I did the best I could in 7 hours without him being there. Many decisions were easy: trashing check registers from the 90s; some were moderately easy: unnecessary but neat stuff that could be donated or sold on ebay; some a little more emotional: artistic pieces from my late stepmother (sisters, please choose what you want). I could have spent another 7 hours there but called it a day since I had a long drive back to Boston. Thankfully, others chipped in and did more sorting and cleaning out. Even my aunt eventually helped Dad go through the closets and clean them out. We have a great family BTW.
But my big discovery is that my dad is a bit of a pack rat. He just hates throwing anything away that might be useful–one day anyway. Let’s just say that he is also very frugal. And light hearted, gregarious and compassionate. But he needed to let go of that stuff.
Finally, my father came home to NH and sold the house to a young family. Luckily, the new family agreed to buy the home furnished. (Dad, you don’t know how lucky you are!) Dad now had to do the final purging of all last personal items. I did some coaching over the phone, but he had to drive that train home so to speak.
I was particularly concerned about his workspace in the basement. Dad has always been a handyman and likes to do many repairs. He is also a skilled stained glass hobbyist. Needless to say there are many items down there in that space, some of them useful and some not so much. And then one day he called me after I inquired how the sorting/purging of the workspace was going. He said “Honey, I saw all those cabinets that I hadn’t gone through in years and realized something. If I haven’t used any of that stuff in years, I probably don’t need it. I think that I’m just gonna put everything on a bonfire and let it go.” (Burning unwanted stuff is a common tactic in rural areas where a trip to the dump is a pretty big chore. Not generally something we do in urban or suburban areas.) All I said was “Wow!” I thought it was funny and amazing that my pack rat dad was LETTING GO OF STUFF in the most dramatic way. Hallelujah! I let the rest of the family know. We were all relieved.
In a funny side note, I retold this story to a new client who was trying to simplify her home and streamline her possessions. Whenever we would come across something that was probably superfluous, she would yell out “Bonfire!” which was hilarious.
I was there with Dad on his very last day in the lake house. It was a pristine early summer day: the sun was shining on the water and the trees were gently swaying to the breeze. Of course there were some last minute purging to do: cleaning out the fridge, some drawers and some little items in the bathrooms. I threw them in a trash bag, even though Dad said not to worry about it. I had other notions about leaving that kind of stuff behind. I was assigned taking the trash with me when I left.
Dad left many notes for the new family who were to arrive in a day or two. And the last thing he wrote was “I hope that you have as many wonderful memories here as I have had with my family. All the best, Bob”. I was touched.
We said an emotional goodbye as he got in the car with his girlfriend to drive back to Michigan. I turned and said goodbye to the lake and the house and then I packed my car with the big bag of trash of the last of the stuff from Dad’s house. Turns out, we both needed to let go.