Sunday Speculation: Weeding Your Life

Today, I spent the early afternoon at my grandparent’s house helping my parents move furniture and items around, do some yardwork, and load undesired items into an antique dealer’s truck. Prior to moving out this July, my wife and I had lived at the house for over four years. We had moved there after graduation from Clarion with our Masters in Library Science. My grandmother needed someone at the house to cook dinner and do housework and we needed a place to live while we found work. It was an excellent arrangement in the time after my grandfather’s death a few years before that. 

In staying at the house, I would ultimately bear close witness to the decline of my grandmother through dementia and other health ailments. When she needed more care than we could provide, she went to an assisted living place. On New Year’s Eve of 2008, she passed away. We continued to live in the house as it was rent free and the housing market was particularly lousy in 2009. But, like all things, that time came to an end when my mother and uncles wanted to place the house on the market. So, we moved out this past July.

The house has since sold and so it brings me to today to help move or remove the things that remained after my grandmother’s passing. A good portion of the furniture and furnishings had been removed from the house prior to today; there was a big push to empty the house in order to stage it for the sale. But with the contract in hand and the closing within sight, today was the penultimate preparation day for the last of the objects still left.  

The hardest thing for me to see leave the house was my grandfather’s bed. My grandparents maintained different bedrooms later in life due to their own idiosyncrasies and different sleeping schedules. It was the bed he was born in, of all things, though it was not the bed he would die in. It was also not a standard size, falling somewhere between a double and twin. My grandfather liked his mattress notoriously hard which felt like something slightly short of sleeping on the ground. After he passed, the bed was given more cushion. I would stay there on nights when I had a hard time getting to sleep; something about the bed just knocked me right out after hours of frustrated attempts.

That was one of the items that went with the antique dealer today. Having lived among my grandparent’s personal affects for a time made me relatively unsentimental about a majority of them, save for certain pieces. This was one of those pieces. It was hard to see it go, but I knew it was the right decision to let it go.

Save for that brief moment, I can’t say the same for the rest of the items in the house. My grandmother liked to collect, well, everything. We are not talking Hoarders level amount of crap, but there was certainly a large amount of things that they accumulated in their lives. In moving in the last few months, my wife and I have discovered items in boxes that we had not seen in over six years. They had been stored when we were out in Clarion and later stored again at my grandmother’s house. Since then, we have parted with a good amount of items that we simply don’t use or need anymore. It’s been nice to clean out and unburden ourselves of items that have no place in our lives.

This brings me to the question of the post: how do you ‘weed’ your own life? Do you weed your own life? What is the criteria for donating and/or trashing? For a profession dedicated to a constantly evolving collection, what do you do when it comes to your personal affects?

9 thoughts on “Sunday Speculation: Weeding Your Life

  1. What a fun question! I have two primary methods for weeding my personal belongings.

    The first is for clothes: I don’t add any new hangers to my closet — I stopped adding them when I reached a reasonable amount in college, about six years ago. If I want new clothes, I have to give old clothes away first to make room.

    My second method of weeding my stuff is moving. I am at a point in my life when I change apartments and houses about every two years. I finally have all of my stuff in my apartment, with nothing at either of my parents’ homes or in storage. Packing is a huge hassle, and I get rid of a lot of things each time I start that process.

    My biggest struggle is weeding the books that I own, ironically. I do try to weed them, but I usually can only choose about one or two a year that I don’t “need”. It’s ridiculous.

    • That actually sounds pretty sensible, Jenny! The fun thing I forgot to mention about unpacking everything is that the one thing we had to go out and buy for the apartment over and over again were bookcases of different sizes. It’s the one kind of space we needed constantly as we unpacked. Otherwise, I’m proud of what we pitched.

  2. What a beautiful and poignant post. Perhaps I feel this one especially since my own grandmother (at 91) is starting to decline quickly. I cannot imagine a life without her or the huge task someone (not me, she lives 6,000 miles away) will have to go through all the of stuff in her house.

    I go through clothes once or twice a year, getting rid of anything that hasn’t been worn in a couple years. I am not a huge “stuff” keeper, so I don’t need to weed my junk too often. Books are another story. And, weeding at work is kind of fun since the books in our library are VERY old and definitely need weeding!

    • Thank you for the compliment. It can be a huge task as you go through a lifetime of stuff. We did not have that ordeal with my dad’s parents; they gave away stuff as they moved into smaller and smaller places till eventually it was just a wardrobe full of clothes, a CD player, and a television. It was a bit sad till I realized (years later) that they really had everything they wanted when we were there with them. That’s a hard reality in a materialism world.

      I’m sorry to hear your grandmother is on the decline. Having experienced the fast and the slow, fast is better for those left behind.

  3. I agree with this Helen, this is a beautiful and touching post. I’m especially amazed by your grandfather’s bed especially being able to touch a tangible place where your great-grandmother labored so..!

    I remember when my great-grandma died. I was only seven years old, just tall enough to peek over the edge of the coffin and look down at this old woman whom I never recalled seeing before (there’s a photo of me at a couple months of age visiting her). Turns out she was someone wonderful whom my mom still misses terribly, but for me, she’s just this woman in a box. :-/

    Afterwards, my grandma took me to her mother’s house and I was shocked by what I saw. Dozens of relatives (also strangers to me) were ripping everything out of the house! People fought and argued over the slightest thing. Here there is no will, no attorneys, just a small coal town in western Virginia.

    It has left a bad taste in my mouth. I feel fortunate at my age that there is very little or few people who would be interested in my belongings. I have a running list of whom would appreciate what, but I have not sat down to make a will yet.

    • I dislike funerals for that very reason; I prefer to remember people as they were, not as they were made up to be or how they looked after a long disease. After seeing my grandmother at the end, I told my cousins that they could come if they wanted, but advised against it on that reason. I wasn’t going to stop them, but as she was very out of it at the end, I thought it was better to remember her as she was.

      I’ve heard about the mob scene at a house. That sounds pretty awful.

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  5. I try to keep a handle on how much “stuff” I have around but inevitably the best thing for me is moving. I moved every year for ten years–it was the best thing I could do to keep down on excess stuff. I would get rid of things before I moved and I would get rid of things after I moved. I’m currently in the unpacking process yet again and I’ve got a box already set to go to Goodwill.

    The hardest thing for me to weed is books. I have over 600 now and even clearing out a couple of shelves and taking them to the public library for donation was difficult. I have a very visceral connection to most of my books. To hold them is to recall passages or where I was when I bought them or read them for the first time. I have a set of small B&N classics that will forever be my time in graduate school, a couple of books from a professor in undergrad when struggling through my thesis. And this doesn’t count the short paperbacks that I read and turn over to friends with regularity. If I keep one of those–it’d better be good.

    My mom does professional organizing and such and she’s much better at it than I am. She likes to remind me a) not to purge too fast b) shoot for 10% when you’re paring down a collection c) if getting rid of things, try for one thing a day and put it in a closed container that you can’t see. If you really miss it–that’s one thing but most of us don’t.

    • In thinking about this afterwards, I realize how little stuff I could own and be happy. I’m not a giant movie or book collector, but I do make it a point to own it if I really like or I want to lend to other people. Since music is all digital now, I’m not lugging around CD cases or whatnot from place to place. The funny thing that we have is VHS tapes since I’m pretty sure we will never, ever watch anything on them. But my wife wants them, so we keep them.

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