Parting ways with a childhood home
March 24, 2015 1:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble letting go of my childhood home that I inherited, and the lifetime of stuff inside it. I could use some advice about how to move on.

So here's my situation: Both of my parents passed away in a relatively short period of time. They left me with the house I grew up in, and a lifetime of stuff inside. I don't have any siblings, other family members are distant, and the house is the last major connection to my past.

I've been slowly going through my parents' stuff, picking out what I want to keep and saying good-bye to the rest. It's emotionally taxing, it's keeping me from moving on with my life, and yet I don't want it to end.

When I spend time in the house, it feels comforting and warm. I get to be around all the things that remind me of my past. I get to go through my parents' stuff and understand them better, and that brings up all sorts of unresolved issues that I've been working through.

But the house is also emotionally overwhelming, and I've spent plenty of time there avoiding doing any physical or emotional work towards my goal of moving on. It's a roller coaster with sudden highs and lows.

I saw a grief therapist for over a year, about the deaths in general and about this issue. After I got to the point where I didn't feel like I was progressing in therapy anymore, I discontinued the sessions.

I feel like there's only so much progress that a person can make in the aftermath of a death, and that at some point the rest of the grieving needs to come after a period of moving on. And so I think about the stories of siblings who will get together over a few bottles of wine and reminisce about their parents, many years after they've passed. But that particular way of grieving isn't in my future. And the uncertainty about how I'll continue to grieve in a few years, or decades, is making me cling to the connections to my parents that I do have.

Another complication is that, apart from the deaths, my life has been going through a transitional period that hasn't settled down yet. (And focusing on the house is preventing my life from settling down.) So the memories in the house are a symbol of stability that I'm missing in the rest of my life.

My parents' hometown is a nice place to visit but I wouldn't be happy living there, so moving in isn't really an option. I'm going to rent out the house, and keep some of my parents' stuff in storage. But going back to an empty house and a storage unit won't ever compare to the richness of the memories the house evokes today.

I've also tried writing down some of my memories, and bringing my boyfriend over for visits where I tell him stories of my family. But, like the physical stuff I'm hanging on to, it doesn't seem like enough.

So I guess what I'm looking for is both ideas for other perspectives, activities, rites, etc. to help me get to closure, and also ways to be more satisfied with the amount of closure I'll be able to get.
posted by Banknote of the year to Human Relations (28 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a video camera, or can you get access to one? Go and take a good quality video of every room in the house. Make it like you're giving yourself a tour. That way, you'll always have the house "as is" to visit when you need to.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:06 PM on March 24, 2015 [31 favorites]

I imagine that some personal organizers have experience, empathy, and tactics for dealing with the emotions that come with the richness of memories of the house, and getting through that.
posted by aniola at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss, first of all.

One of the things that kicked my mother into finally buckling down and cleaning out my grandparents' house was having someone finally wanting to buy it (okay, it was my brother who did, but still). She had always been cleaning it out with some vague idea of "we'll sell it at some point" going on, but having the definite reality of "oh, THESE are the people who will be buying it" kind of lit a fire under her and she went into overdrive and got it done.

So I wonder if maybe trying an approach like that may help: you say you want to rent it out to people. Try picturing those new people. Who are they? What's their story? How old are they? When did they get married (if they are married)? How did they meet? Do they have pets? Where'd they each go to college (if they did)? What annoying habits do they each have that drive each other crazy? Are there kids? How many? What are there names and what's the most gross-yet-funny diaper story from when they were babies?

Think about all those details until they're clear in your mind, and then start picturing them in your house. Imagine how they'd decorate it. Will they keep the walls the same color? Will they keep that window or want to cover it up? Will they get annoyed by that same sticky bathroom door and how will they cope with it? Will the kid bump her knee on the same thing you always bumped your knee on when you were little? Will she discover some thing you lost behind the toilet when you were about five?

Really imagine their life in your house, the highs and lows and all that, until it starts to feel like they're a real family that has a life it's starting out with in your old house - so it's starting to become "their" house.

And then start cleaning that house out to make way for them. Roomthreeseventeen has a good idea with the filming, but keep that family in your head as you clean so you're not just "cleaning out my house", you're also "getting THEIR house ready".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:10 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Seconding a video camera, and taking your time. Perhaps you might also think about how the house will play a part in new lives in the future and passing it on for that to happen.
posted by nickggully at 2:10 PM on March 24, 2015

Banknote of the year: "I'm going to rent out the house, and keep some of my parents' stuff in storage. But going back to an empty house and a storage unit won't ever compare to the richness of the memories the house evokes today."

That seems like a recipe for disappointment. Can you not sell it and have a clean break? Going back every so often to deal with tenant issues or to clean the place up after they move out and leave a mess (and maybe not treat the house with the respect you would) seems to me like it would open up fresh wounds every time. At the very least, hire a property manager to handle the day-to-day stuff.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:11 PM on March 24, 2015 [22 favorites]

My condolences for your losses, and my sympathy at the overwhelmingness of the task. I'll let others weigh in on how to tackle that, but just wanted to share a thought on the idea of trying to move forward when you have such intense feelings about your childhood home.

My parents moved away from the house I grew up in almost eight years ago, just after I finished college. I suffered no loss in their move, didn't have to assist with logistics, and my parents are both very much alive - I visit them in their new home in a different state regularly. But in the years that followed, I have grieved that house. It has - and probably always will have - a hold on my psyche that I find astonishing, as a person not overly prone to sentiment. I have these recurrent dreams about it: that my parents sold the house with a clause in the sale that said we get to go back every Christmas. That my parents sold the house but left stuff there, and we really need to get it out. That I need to go through the stuff that's still in the house and see if I can find my set of childhood wooden blocks to give to my friend who just had a baby - and on and on. I have these dreams about once a month, still, even though they moved in 2007. (Writing out this description has even made me a tiny bit misty eyed, which I find a tad ridiculous, but there you go.)

In the past year or so I gave up trying to fight or resent the dreams. I expect I'll have them always - the house was the setting for almost my entire childhood, and there's nothing I could have done - no amount of preparation, memorialization, or preservation - to defuse it of that emotional resonance. The same may be true for you: it may be easier to move on logistically than emotionally. Don't feel like you have to bookend your feelings on your childhood home by finding some kind of defined closure, but do work on moving forward towards a good future, instead of just wrapping yourself in the comfort of the past.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:21 PM on March 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

I like the impulse of the video camera, but I would take a slightly different track. Actually hire a photographer for a day to come out on a nice, well lit day and take as many photos as they can during golden hour, or whenever else the house is in a good light. I'm sure you could find an appropriately talented photographer to walk the house with you and reminisce about the spaces and stories you hold dear to help inform the photos that might be important. You could then take the photos and get them blown up and framed, or put into a book as a keepsake.

Personally, I find a nice, compact and tangible memento is almost as valuable and evocative as the real thing, especially when the real thing is a bit of a millstone. I've taken polaroids of childhood toys, empty apartments on move out where large chunks of my life happened, certain clothes I've worn to threads…stuff like that. It's a little bit of clutter, but much more manageable than the actual items.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:24 PM on March 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

I have a kind of quirky perspective but...what I want the most for my kids is their own rich, deeply joyful lives. Yes, a connection to me and their past - but one which lifts them up, not weighs them down.

You might best honour your parents and your own past by moving into your future wholeheartedly, and maybe taking that perspective will help with your decisions. Best of luck.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:36 PM on March 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm going to suggest that you let go of the house and most of the items in it.

You seem to want to both hold on and let go at the same time. I'm here to tell you it doesn't work that way, you can't have it both ways.

Embrace your future and let most/all the stuff go. Use professionals to organize and take care of the parts process you get stuck on along the way. Let the stuff go. Face it head on.

Once you start moving stuff, your emotions will start moving towards closure, too.
posted by jbenben at 2:36 PM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

I can add, 5 years ago my mom died and left me the house I grew up in. Dad had died long ago, no siblings, no close family much like yourself.

I held on to the house for a short time but I could still see the "ghosts". Tossed around the idea of selling our house (the one my wife and I live in) and moving back to the old neighbourhood but more ghosts seemed everywhere. So 4 months after mom died, I sold the old house. Once I made that decision I took a ton of pictures of the old house the old yard and the old street. Six months later the house was gone-demolished. A year after that a new house sits at my old address.

Closure? Definitely. Had I kept the house the cracks to the past would have stayed open and leaked into the present. With the house sold I began to find my equilibrium. When the house was demolished - as hard as that was - going forward was the only option left.

Tough? Sure it was, but I started to see that, as trite as this may sound, it was impossible to move forward while I was looking backwards. So I made a clean break.

Regrets? You betcha, but in the end there was no way to get on with my life as long as I felt like an orphan. And I have those pictures.

As we are all different, Your Mileage Will Vary.
posted by Zedcaster at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2015 [10 favorites]

The winner of the Charles Taylor prize this year was a memoir of a similar situation. Maybe you would find some comfort or insight there.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:47 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can really relate to this, though my parents moved out of my childhood home quite a while ago (I still miss it). For me, it was helpful to take a lot of photographs. Maybe you could even hire a photographer. Ideally, photos with family belongings still inside the home, rather than something you'd use for selling it. I also think it's better to sell than to rent, unless you think you might change your mind about living their yourself.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:48 PM on March 24, 2015

Having always been someone with roots during your developmental years, you're now attempting to deal with the myriads of transitions, which a specialist in third culture kids refers to as "liminal space". She defines it as that threshold time "when what was is over and what will be is not yet".

This is the space you're in right now and its providing you with a moment of stasis and stability as your life goes through its transitions and your emotions through the loss of your closest family.

Here is a longish article on this transitional time that may help you navigate your own path forward in your life's journey. It doesn't have to be linear, time (and healing) doesn't always work that way.

Living in Liminality by Bobbi Schaetti - a longish excerpt follows

Living in Liminality
As we have seen, global nomads make up a population whose developmental years are marked by frequent geographic transitions and multiple cultural influences. At the heart of this experience is the social-psychological construct of "liminality." From the Greek limnos, meaning "threshold," liminality describes an in-between time when what was, is no longer, and what will be, is not yet. It is a time rich with ambiguity, uncertainty, and the possibility of creative fomentation. How does liminality serve as a connecting thread in the global nomad experience, weaving its way through each of the four central themes? And what particular advantages does living in liminality offer?

Remember first that one of the defining themes of the internationally mobile childhood is frequent change. Consider, then, that for every experience of change— by their own mobility or another's— nomads experience a parallel process of psychological transition.

William Bridges has written extensively on the three developmental phases that compose this internal process: the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning. Movement through each varies from individual to individual. Different members of the same family, engaged in the same change process, may have different transition experiences. It is influenced by the individual personality, the kind of change precipitating the transition, and the broader environmental support (or lack thereof) offered the individual in terms of both the change process and the transition experience.

What Bridges called the "neutral zone" is what we are calling liminality.
When a person is in liminal space, he or she is on the threshold, no longer part of the past and not yet part of the new beginning. For many global nomads and their families, in particular for multi-movers, the experience of liminal space becomes the most constant, lived experience.

posted by infini at 2:54 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I vote for selling the house sooner rather than later.

My dad was responsible for my grandfather's house when my grandfather moved into a nursing home. I think he had the house for 2 years before finally selling it. In the meantime, oh my goodness it weighed on him and was not a good thing. He would go through the house multiple times with a little notebook writing down who wanted what, but not enough detail to actually follow through on it. He found all these weird things from my grandma (who had died 5+ years earlier), like brand spanking new steak knives from 1960. He checked on the house all the time - a vacant house is hard to keep up with.

Please do not make it harder on yourself by dragging this out.

I also vote for hiring someone like a personal organizer, particularly one who specializes in senior moves because they will likely have the perspective to help you the most.

I wish you luck.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:55 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your parents wanted you to have a lifetime of purpose and happiness. If this house and the items inside it aren't supporting your purpose and happiness, it's OK to let the house and the items go.

The KonMari method (metafilter thread) has been pretty helpful to me because it's teaching me that it's OK to let go of things. Kondo does this thing where she picks up an item, considers it, and if she decides not to keep it, she will THANK it and put it aside to discard. She says that things want to be wanted, and if they're not wanted then you need to give them away so they are free to satisfy their purpose or throw them away to rest if they have already completed their purpose.

And it sounds kind of bonkers, right? Saying thank you to things. But I started going through my closet and actually talking to some of the items and acknowledging them, and I have to say it's a lot easier.

Your items are not your link to the past. The real link is your memories, your love for your parents, and your sense of purpose in making the most of the life they gave you.
posted by mochapickle at 3:27 PM on March 24, 2015 [19 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss; I know how much losing your parents hurts.

I think that the biggest thing you can do to get out of this rut is, let go --- stop dragging your feet, stop moping over every single artifact. Give yourself a deadline to have the house cleaned out (say one more month, until May 1st) then sell it. Maybe get a friend or two to help you with clearing everything out: someone without an emotional tie to your parents and their stuff.

I'm not saying this to be cruel; believe me, after cleaning out years of stuff from my own parents' house, I understand the emotional impact. But you say it's been over a year already; at this point, holding onto the house and it's contents is preventing you from healing from your loss.

Take photos if you want, but get rid of the house and most of its contents: your parents are in your heart and your memories, they aren't in their leftover property.
posted by easily confused at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good ideas above but I might also think about a souvenir(s) of the actual house and property. When we were still in my childhood home, my dad put a wall of lovely grey alder in the living room. He still had some of the leftover wood 40 years later. (I got his packrat gene apparently.) I got some from him a few years back and I'm using it for decorative garden signs, picture frames, etc. It's a great memento of my parents and that house. But it's evolved into something new. I also have a few vials of sand from that property. They sit on a shelf and I don't look at them much but every once in a while, I'll move something around and see them.

Is there a stone from the front yard you can take with you? Can you pick and press a leaf from a tree in the backyard? Or pick and dry some flowers that you all grew there? A loose brick you can put in your current garden maybe with your old address painted on it? Mom has several bricks from her childhood home that she's going to pass along to us eventually.

I agree with the professional photographer but I also think something tangible that you can pick up once in a while might be nice, too.

I'm sorry for your loss. Sending you good thoughts.
posted by Beti at 5:05 PM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

My advice for these kinds of things is like the whole ripping off a band-aid thing. You just have to do it. Hopefully you will like the new family that will be moving in, and that will help.

That being said, I bawled like a baby when my parents sold my childhood home. When I'm in the area, I drive by it. I see that the new owners changed some things. There's new paint, a white picket fence, etc. It makes me feel strange, but also brings me comfort to know someone else has made that home their home.

I just wanted to post and let you know that you'll never really lose that house. I moved out of that house about 9 years ago. When I dream about being home, I still dream I am in that house. You'll always have your memory.
posted by kbennett289 at 5:21 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

"my life has been going through a transitional period that hasn't settled down yet."

The reality is that very often transitional periods take up most of your lifetime. I haven't felt settled down or secure in 15 years because things keep happening that wipe out my savings and prevent me from creating much of a safety net. Therefore real security hasn't been there and much of the time has felt like me trying to transition from a wobbly place to a place that is more settled and secure. But if I tell myself that I must reach that point before I can feel safe and happy, then I set myself up for years and years of misery... not to mention that it may never happen. And even if it does happen there can always be the fear of something coming up that completely takes it all away again. It is better to try to find an inner sense of security that you can always rely on, rather than on depending on something that may never even happen.

Eckhart Tolle has this exercise that he recommends for this sort of thing. He says that whenever anything at all happens in your day. No matter what it is, say out loud: "Thank you so much. I have no complaints whatsoever." The next time you find yourself ruminating over where you are and feeling upset, stop and say this. It actually helps you notice the good things that you are experiencing right now. When I find myself worried over not having financial security I say to myself, "Thank you so much, I have no complaints whatsoever." And then I find myself feeling grateful that at this moment I have enough financial security to eat a good, hot meal and have nice shelter. He says the more you do this exercise the better you become at accepting what is and feeling fine with it.

Also, if you decide to rent it, Take a bunch of pictures of what the house looks like right now so that you can always look at them and feel like you have a physical access to those memories. People I know do this with Artwork that is too big for them to take with them in a move. They'll just take a photos of the piece and save them. Sometimes they'll put a bunch of photos together into a large frame creating a collage that they can hang up in their new house.
posted by rancher at 6:02 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

My condolences. My mother died in 2005, my dad in 2007. Both of them lived thousands of miles away from me, and I had to close down their houses. This may not seem relevant to you because, as you can tell, my childhood home hadn't existed in fifteen years, but it is pertinent because even though I have since moved to Australia, we still have a storage unit full of stuff that includes some items of my parents' that I can neither use nor part with, stuff that I can't and won't bring to the same continent. It's okay, though. I still grieve my parents, but it's not because I kept their stuff. It's because they were my parents and I will never stop missing them. But I am okay with where I am in terms of mourning. I find that I can get rid of more stuff every time I go back to the storage unit, and that I can even part with some of the stuff I felt the need to bring with me overseas (at staggering cost).

I don't think you need a museum of your family to keep your memories. What matters isn't the spoon but the memories you have of the spoon, which aren't going to vanish just because the spoon has moved on to new life at Goodwill. You will never forget what your parents were to you.

But if you want to hang onto the house for a few more months, or you find that literally the most you can do is throw EVERYTHING into storage and not touch the boxes at all for another year - well, if you have the money, do it. Take your time to grieve. It takes the time it takes, and it takes those moments where you're just kind of wallowing in between the moving-forward moments.
posted by gingerest at 8:17 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not much new to add to the advice above, but since I went through the same experience of losing both parents quite close together, and then having to deal with their stuff, I thought I would just share my own experiences. I had time pressure to sell the house, and I have a naturally ruthless streak with regard to "stuff" but maybe that will suggest things that will help you move forward with the physical process.
I went room by room and divided things into 3 basic groups:
- "generic stuff" - this is going to differ by person, but there were a lot of things that had no value and no sentimental associations - old clothes for instance, or old appliances, cookware etc. I got rid of all this as rubbish or to charity shops.
- "sentimental things I don't want" - mum had lots of collections of things - eggcups for instance. I photographed these carefully, but unless they looked very valuable, they also went to charity shops.
- "valuable things/things I might want" - I started to gather all this in boxes in one room. I found that the act of moving things from where my parents had kept them started to change my view of the house from being my childhood home to being a set of "stuff" that had to be managed.

In the end I had an essentially empty house + a few boxes of things I really felt I couldn't let go of. I packed those up and brought them home, and I've slowly divested myself of some of them since then, or incorporated some into my daily life (I use my mum's bottle opener for instance, and I know she got it from her mother).

As others have said, it was an emotional experience, but when I think back on it I feel it was a kind of final job I was able to do for my mum and dad, and that because I did it myself I have the satisfaction that I handled pretty much every object in the house and made a decision about it, so I feel a sense of closure.

Best wishes for whatever you decide to do next. It's not easy.
posted by crocomancer at 5:59 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Ten years ago my parents sold our family home of 30 years and moved a whole two blocks up the street. The house has changed hands several times since then, getting expanded and changed every time; last year it went on the market again, with a web site featuring 100+ photographs (mostly ghastly HDR). We all passed around the URL and then checked it out -- and the collective response was horror. Very J.-Geils-Band-"Centerfold" material here. (Whenever I am in town I have to drive past it several times per day; the rest of my family sees it daily, too. I have to look into the windows every time, and I wonder if it's as bad for them.)

I tell you about this because renting will cause you every headache of ownership without the comfort of proximity. And continued possession isn't bringing you any joy, either. Looking backwards at the house is keeping you from healing.

I now live 1300 miles from my hometown, and I am powerless to throw out physical objects from my first 20 years simply because they are the only tangible connections that I have to it. I would suggest that you select some parts of the house and bring them to where you are. (A few pieces of furniture? A sapling or cutting from the tree in the yard? A small stained-glass window? Some stones from the patio? Whatever has the strongest or happiest or most vivid memories.) This will offer you a physical touchstone whenever you want it.

Then take pictures of the whole thing, when it's messy and again after you clean it out. Make a fat scrapbook, and feel free to look at it often.

But do clean out the possessions that you aren't going to use. (Consider giving them a new life by giving them to an agency that will pass them onto someone in need who will be grateful for them. ) And then even throw a party in the place, but let the house pass on a whole new family who will write a brand new story there.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:01 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

After my father died (my mother had died years earlier), my brothers and I were in your situation. Two of us wanted to sell the house and move on; my youngest brother was very attached to the house and its contents and wanted to somehow hang on to it. We finally talked him around, but he was reluctant and resentful until the dumpster pulled into the driveway and we started throwing stuff out. Somehow the physical act of tossing things into the dumpster did the trick; almost overnight he became enthusiastic about cleaning out the house, saving some stuff he had emotional connection to but chucking the rest with gusto. You might see if that works for you.

In any event, I agree with those who say sell the house, don't rent it and revisit it—you really do need to move on with your life, as hard as it seems now. Good luck!
posted by languagehat at 7:06 AM on March 25, 2015

My mother died when I was in college (parents had long since been divorced), so I inherited the house and all of the stuff. Then my grandmother who lived down the street died a few years later, at which point more stuff was passed down to me.

I lived surrounded by all of that stuff, reminding me of their absence, every day for years. I wasn't able to move past my grief. It kept me from moving forward in several areas of my life. Even when I met my husband and he moved into the house, I very stubbornly clung to those objects, and the past that they represented.

Finally we decided to do a major remodel, and we put everything in the house in storage. Some details of the remodel were even directly related to where those items would go in the house once it was time to move them in.

But having not lived with them for several months, and seeing this new, fresh, clean house, what I discovered as I attempted to move those old items into the house was that they did not live there. They no longer fit. They did not fit this new life. Just seeing them was depressing.

I decided then and there to get rid of everything - everything - that triggered a sad memory or reminded me of someone who was no longer in my life (including old boyfriends or friends who I was no longer talking to) or did not somehow fulfill my wishes to move on with my life. After so many years of living with these things, my husband was astonished at my purge. He'd say "do we really need to get rid of this coffee cup?" and all I had to say was "bad memories" and that was the end of the conversation, he knew we'd be buying new coffee cups but that it would be worth it for my mental health and therefore our relationship.

The point being, I completely understand how untethered you must feel in your world right now, and why it's so hard to let go of these ties to your family and your past.

My advice would be, get rid of whatever doesn't hold an emotional attachment for you, and the put the rest of the stuff in storage until you can deal with it. As for the house, if you won't be living there, seriously consider selling it, and use the money to buy a different rental property if you really want to have the rental income. Don't set yourself up for more bad feelings because a tenant is not treating the house with the same care that your parents would have. That will cause undue resentment on your part and difficulties with your tenants. Hard as it is, try to make the break now rather than have physical reminders of the grief hanging over your head for years. You won't believe the weight off your shoulders if you can do this for yourself.
posted by vignettist at 8:35 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

I also have done the photography thing, and found it really useful. In my case, I was emigrating from the US and leaving behind a city (Seattle) that I loved and where I'd been very happy. I gave myself a lot of time during the last month I was there to visit favorite places and photograph them. I got portrait shots of local friends, too. Then I edited the best shots into a book (pretty easy to do with iPhoto or various services), which allowed me to kind of build out the narrative that I wanted to remember.

Obviously, Seattle didn't stop existing when I left, but making the book was a cathartic process and helped me deal with my feelings about leaving and acknowledge how much that place meant to me. In a way the process of making it mattered more than the keepsake that resulted.

In your position, I'd do the same with the house, then empty and rent it.
posted by shattersock at 10:25 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found it easier to purge my childhood artifacts when I realized that I was maintaining a museum to prove that I was worthy of love. I've come to understand love as something I am given in the present, and unconditionally. Also, perhaps, it would help to imagine that the love your parents had for you and your love for them is something that will never end, and is, in fact, still happening, outside the confines of time. Your house does not hold a place for this; instead, it has something to do with the nature of the universe. You can let go and still be loved and loving.
posted by macinchik at 7:04 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I spent the last two years cleaning out a 4000+ square foot loft full of 40 years of pack-ratting parents (my dad died in '13).

Almost anything i wouldve said has been said upthread but, i wanted to say a few things

1) It is probably the 'this STUFF in this physical CONFIGURATION that I am used to' that is triggering your attachment stuff. Take some pictures. The further I got into the project (which ended up requiring 300 black garbage bags and 6 trips with huge trucks to empty), the less attached i got to the place, because as the 'this stuff lives in this location' got dismantled, so did my attachment.

2) Do you have friends who love you and can be objective that can come over for a weekend and help you dismantle the on-the-fence stuff? I would certainly compensate them for their time, be it with food or cash (which you can recoup once you sell the place).

3) Although its weird to think of the place i grew up in in someone elses hands and nothing being there (i did end up keeping a small storage unit's worth of stuff, but its probably .1% of what was there and consists of stuff that's either valuable or super emotionally resonant), I'm glad the space can be reset and restored and will hopefully bring happiness to the new owner.
posted by softlord at 8:22 AM on March 29, 2015

Crazy how much your story sounds like mine. Everyone seems to have covered the basics. Sell the house. Get rid of as much of the stuff as you can bear to part with. Yeah.

Closure can be hard with unexpected death. So many unasked questions. You don't say but I know I got a lot of comfort from being with them a lot in the weeks before they died. I told them I loved them. They knew I would be ok. Now I tell people I love them more often. That's all the closure I've found. Our parents are now alive only in the world of our memories. I read something once about how we rent our head space to different ideas and people. Try to let your parents occupy a positive space in your head. Don't waste brain resources on useless fear or negative thinking. Don't dwell. Smile and move on. Take the good memories now and set the rest aside for later.

Keep the things you dwell on. It will only be a small portion of the entire house contents. Keep them in a storage unit until time does it's work and you can part with them.

Good luck
posted by irisclara at 1:50 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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