On Tuesday, my parents will move out of their home of 43 years into an apartment in a senior-living complex. This is the home I grew up in from the age of 5, and even though I’ve lived in Chicago for more years than I lived in that house, it’s still the “home” I go back to and feel connected to. I spent a week there about a month ago, helping my mom sort through 43 years of boxes and closets and cabinets and drawers, deciding what to keep, what to donate to Goodwill and what goes to the trash.
As someone who has moved at least 7 times in the last 30 years, I’ve had a lot of experience with culling and packing and being merciless at getting rid of stuff when necessary. At best, moving is a frustrating, chaotic experience, even when you’ve only been in a house or apartment for a year or two, or five. Imagine living in the same place for 40+ years and then having to eliminate about 50% of your possessions because the place you’re going to just isn’t big enough to hold it all. Imagine having owned your home outright for over 20 years and having to start paying rent all over again.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re doing it. My father has Parkinson’s Disease and is having more and more difficulty getting around. The narrow hallways and cramped rooms are hard for him to navigate now that he’s using a walker most of the time. They have a neighbor who mows their lawn in the summer and shovels the driveway in the winter, but it’s still a thing that needs to be taken care of, and they’ve earned the right not to have to worry about that stuff anymore.
The basement of their home became the storage space, where everything that wasn’t in every day use came to live (or die, as the case may be). Christmas decorations (and Valentine’s Day decorations, Halloween decorations, 4th of July decorations. . . Mom’s a decorator.), boxes and boxes of old family photos inherited from both sets of grandparents after they passed (along with our own family photos, which include several carousels of slides), extra pots and pans that there was no room for in the kitchen, boxes and boxes of cancelled checks from the beginning of time . . . and let’s not even mention the piles of seemingly random junk that collects with no apparent rhyme or reason, and the deep freeze whose deepest recesses hold food that was made during the Carter administration.
So box by box, my mom and I went through as much of it as we could. We took a vanload of boxes to Goodwill. We generated (I’m guessing) probably 15 bags of trash, and I shredded enough paper to fill 5 or 6 more trash bags. I burned out the 2 shredders they already had and we went out and bought another one. We went through all the kitchen cabinets and cleared out decades of saved plastic food containers and pie plates. I could’ve curated a comprehensive exhibit of Cool Whip Bowls Through the Decades. Jars and jars of old spices and food coloring and cupcake papers for every holiday, and enough Bisquick boxes to feed pancakes to a hungry army.
I went back again this weekend for the final packing push. My brother came down from Minnesota to help and we got a lot done, but much more remains. He’s still there, still packing. I had to come back to Chicago to go to work tomorrow, so I’ll miss the big move on Tuesday. (Honestly, I’m a bit relieved that I won’t be there, because I know it will be an extremely stressful day for everyone, and I don’t mind missing out on that.)
There’s something else I have to keep reminding myself about this process — Imagine that you were getting ready to move to a place that will be the last place you ever live (if you’re lucky). My father is 75 and not in good health. My mom is 71, and aside from a few minor health problems she’s generally okay. But in making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of, that has to be a thought that goes through their heads on a regular basis — “Is this something I will need again at any point in the rest of my life?” “Will I need to make another bundt cake?” “If I give up all my tools, that means I’m admitting I’ll never fix anything again.” Those are pretty heavy thoughts to consider, and I know it’s not easy for either of them.
I was so busy thinking about how it was effecting them that when I realized last night was the last time I would sleep in my childhood bedroom, I was surprised at how weepy I got. That bedroom has no traces of my life in it anymore — different furniture, different carpet and paint color, all my stuff has been gone for years. But at its most basic level it was still “my room.” Granted, I know I’ll be going back to the house to get rid of the last odds & ends and cleaning it up for future buyers, but I’ll never sleep there again.