Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Before my mum and step-dad passed in 2008, they would often have discussions about the stuff in their farmhouse and outbuildings.

My mum would always say "we need to consolidate", to which my step-dad would reply "you mean throw out".  Yep, that's exactly what she meant.  But he just couldn't do it, so it never happened and it was left to my sister and I to sort through.  The amount we've subsequently held on to is still considerable.  So I had all this hanging over me when Ian died, and 15 months later, his mother died.
Over the weekend I removed the visible portion of Ian's clothes from our walk-in closet. I've done a few chunks here and there, mostly a year ago, but I've not removed, or even sorted anything for about a year. Anything that has been touched has really just been put into boxes. There's still a few drawers full, but apart from a selection of items I've left hanging, all his business shirts, suits and pants, that he wore regularly are now donated to a charity linked to both him and his mother.

I was surprised, even though they've been left to the open air and the shoulders were covered in a film of dust, that even close on 3 years since he wore them, they still held his smell.   I'm more surprised this didn't trigger anything major for me - more surprise it was still lingering.  Maybe it's an indication that it's time to clear out many of those physical items he left behind.

There is so much stuff cluttering up the house, it's reached the point of it being there is driving me more bonkers than the thought of removing all the things tied to people who have passed makes me upset.  Ian's stuff, my mum & step-dad's stuff, Ian's mum's (and three quarters of this list hoarded to some degree or other!) plus all my pre-existing stuff and now John's things. I only have a little house!

 As others have said, Ian's not is his clothes or the items he kept (that quite frankly for the most part I have no idea what the meaning of them are).  Doesn't make it too much easier, but I am able to work in fits and starts when I can get through the question of 'what if this is important?'.  I guess, if I don't know the story, I can't pass it on to John, so it's significance to Ian has passed with Ian.  They held memories for Ian, but I only knew him for the last 3 years of his life.  Much of the stuff from Ian and his Mum don't signify or represent any memories for me.  It is just stuff.

But if I'm in the wrong mood, it's still difficult to go through and part with it.

One thing that's helped me at this point is doing a bit of a sort through my stuff as well, so donations have included stuff I no longer wear, read or need.   It's helping me to consider the process as an overall household clear out, not just removing the bulk of Ian's remaining things.  Although they did make up the bulk of the donation I just made, the balance will vary each time depending on what I tackle.

So I plan on spending the rest of my summer holidays chipping away at the piles, a little at a time.  This time it was 3 foot of hanging space.  Next time it may be a box, or a shelf, or a drawer. 

I'm slowly consolidating Ian's life and our life together to the key, significant items I can use to tell John about his dad.
Two piles in my study (that was John's nursery - I really like the giraffes, so they're staying) - boxes of books and my study stuff, some of Ian's 63 catalogued photo albums (our relationship starts in the late 50s), as well as his Mum's stamp collection.  I can just get into the closet, and to my desk.  Hence the going bonkers.


  1. Hi, I havent given away any of my wifes things (She died 1 and half years ago). My sisters moved them to another room and spared me doing it myself. Also her stuff that was shipped back home is still in the boxes (she was an expatriate killed working abroad). I just cant bare to look at them as when I initially did I would hug her clothes but it wasnt HER! anyway...I guess I shall one day have them sealed so my little daughter may have a connection with her mum if she wants when she grows up.

  2. I too live in a small house packed full of dead people’s things.

    My husband died unexpectedly last summer. All I have gotten rid of so far are his old work clothes that he didn’t care about much anyway. It was difficult because I remembered buying most of them, and the circumstances. I still have all the rest of his stuff, half done projects, tons of tools that I don’t know how to use, and can’t bear to part with any of it.

    Shortly before my husband died, he had brought home a lot of his long gone grandparents’ things that his mother didn’t want anymore. His brother died two years ago, so he had brought home a lot of his things. I don’t necessarily want most of this stuff, but his family has no interest in any of it, and it was important to my husband so I can’t just get rid of it. Several years ago my mother died, and I still have a lot of her boxes to go through.

    I am starting to think that the easiest thing to do is to pick out what I want, move, and have a service remove the rest of the items from the house. Of course I don’t really see myself doing this, either.

    If anyone has any ideas on how to deal with all this….

    1. Anon, I, too, have a lot of dead peoples things, my inlaws, my parents, my husbands. I ended up selling my home last fall, and had to part with a lot of it as I downsized. It was brutal, but once I started it got easier. It is just "stuff". Yes, it may have been important to them, but they are no longer here, you are the one that has to deal with it. I had many tools, too, my husband was a builder, and he kept all tools, those that worked and those that didn't. I ended up donating to Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill, who recycled tools that didn't work. I mostly did it all myself, everyone that offered to help always bowed out when the time came to help. So be it. I had a deadline, which made me do it, after 4 years of looking at it all. Your last statement re: a service to remove things is an option, my sister in law did that when her folks died. Got it done, even the stuff in the cupboard under the kitchen sink. It's ok to go that way, do whatever works for you. I wish you luck in this endeavor, I know how hard it is. Lots of triggers going thru stuff. By the way, now that I am moved, I have many boxes and large plastic bins still loaded, all the stuff I saved no longer is important either ! Haven't got it unpacked and probably won't. Trying to simplify so my kids don't have this issue in the future.

  3. Cathy-
    Thank you for the thoughtful response.
    I think it is just too soon for me to deal with this, but I need to make some space. Maybe I can work on the items that are less significant to me; a few at a time. I can take photos of these things before I donate them. I couldn’t take care of his vehicles, so I took photos and gave them to his friends who will maintain them. I was sad to do it, but its ok, and I look at the photos sometimes. I don’t have any help either, so it will take as long as it takes. I guess the tools can stay in the tool room for now. As I use them I will figure out what I need and what I don’t need.
    Good luck to all of you.