One of the (other) stresses of 2015 has been that of an elderly relative who despite the onset of dementia had been living relatively independently. I say relatively because she did have a care company visiting daily, although my relative had a knack of locking them out and generally seemingly trying to undermine all our attempts at keeping her safe whilst being independent.
Things came to a head when she fell, and after a stay in hospital it was universally agreed between family and professionals that there was not a chance in heck she could return home. As such, a local residential home could fit her in. One might think this would be unsettling but in fact my relative is seemingly unaware that she even has a house that she hasn’t gone back to. A sad situation, yet the result is positive for everyone, as she is getting the care she needs, she’s in a safe place and she’s happy.
The net result has been the emptying of her house of all her belongings. All the personal stuff has travelled with her to her new home. However there’s a lifetime of ‘stuff’ left behind. And it was very reminiscent of having to clear out Mark’s house following his passing in 2012.
I’ve had to deal with deaths both from a personal and a professional point of view. And whilst as a professional one is generally unrelated to the deceased, the sense of loss is still very strong and for some reason I get this through belongings more than anything.
When a person is there, all these items are ‘belongings’; treasured possessions with a story, a history, a knowledge and a personal reason for being there. Once that life has moved on, these treasured possessions are reduced to ‘stuff’. Lots of objects which have no contextual or emotional meaning.
After Mark passed away there was an unnerving feeling about the house that he was ‘just out, and would be back any moment’. Yet knowing this wasn’t the case, the bungalow (which I still refer to as his) was now only full to the brim of ‘stuff’. Over time he had gradually crossed the line from collector to hoarder.
Having to clear through a loved one’s belongings is hard enough, but made worse when they have started to hoard as it becomes difficult to distinguish between personal and non-personal items. I know it made me acutely aware of hoarding as an illness and the fear of becoming a hoarder myself has resulted in me having multiple decluttering exercises in the 3.5 years since his passing.
My relative wasn’t a hoarder, but still, a lifetime of belongings is a lot of stuff which takes time to go through. And ultimately, furniture is old and most ‘useful’ items are surplus to requirement as we’ve already all got them. In the end I gained a sideboard which has taken some of my ornaments. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a tangible part of my relative’s life at home, and so it’s nice to have it.
The net result is me coming home and having another clear out here. eBay probably doesn’t know what’s hit them, although I’m sure they’ll gladly accept the fees generated by my activity.
First of a ll was the old tech. I seem to accumulate tech without really knowing how or why and usually by the time I come to think about it, the British Museum is ringing me up to enquire about it. So various generations of phones and cameras, and boxes, and cables, and things with connectors on for devices unknown, they all went.
The wardrobe was raided and contents delivered with thanks to the Cancer UK shop in the village. I then started on the collection, which has itself been thinned out significantly in the last 3 years and have started removing duplicates.
I’d like to suggest that the house now looks like a minimalist’s paradise. I’d like to. But alas, I can’t!
Until the next clearout…….