I spent half of October working on big out-of-town projects. First was a return visit to my client with Parkinson’s. She’s moved to assisted living, and I’m helping to clear out her former home. Disabilities make it difficult for her to participate in the work in a meaningful way, but we continue to include her in decision-making—even when the decisions are largely symbolic—to help her cope with the transition to a new living space.
The second project was my mother’s garage. She’s in great health and still fully engaged in her life. But she hasn’t been able to park the car in the garage since she moved to North Carolina 10 years ago, so I went to help dig it out.
She stalled by any means possible—we had to shop, mulch the backyard, and clean her closet—but eventually she surrendered and we got to work. For three days, we sorted through boxes that belonged to her mother and files that had never made it into the house. We discarded broken furniture and old paint, repackaged Christmas decorations, and sorted a huge pile of books.
It was hard for Mom, but she participated all the way. At one point she quietly said, “This process really makes you face your own mortality.” She found herself clearing away old parts of her life, and it gave her pause. But I was glad to listen as she identified photos of herself as a child and pictures of my grandparents as young adults. A great treat for me was her artwork from college, much of which I’d never seen before.
To me, this experience was familiar—I work with many clients to sort through the contents of their parents’ homes. Not knowing why their parents kept what they did makes this tough process even harder. It magnifies the sense of loss to know that there must be untold stories attached to the objects that I carry off to Goodwill.
But working with Mom made the routine process highly personal. I had to admire her for doing the work of sorting and purging her life’s collections now, while she could give the gift of her memories to me. I hope she’ll share more history and tell me why her treasures are special. I’ll cherish those stories when she’s no longer here to tell them.
Mom’s garage a month later—still clutter-free enough to park the car inside!
Mom’s beautiful art, no longer a buried treasure
This article was featured in our November 2010 e‑mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the subscription form.
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