This year my life has changed completely. My mom passed away early in the year and everything changed after that. My 98 year grandmother (dad’s mom), who was living alone, fell just a few weeks later and had to be transitioned to a place with more care. A lot of this year has been helping dad clean out my grandmother’s home filled with almost 100 years of possessions.
Losing my mom, helping grandma and dad, and turning 50 this year, has given me a different perspective on life. I’m seeing more clearly than ever, what really matters and what doesn’t and how possesions can take over your life.
We have spent so many hours, days, weekends cleaning and sorting through my grandma’s things. Like most people of her age, she was greatly affected by the depression and learned not to waste a single thing. That translated to a lifetime of being smart with money, but also gave her a vice grip on just about everything she ever owned. Nothing was thrown out due to the fact it might one day be useable. While commendable and green in some part, living like that for 98 years can be close to hoarding.
My favorite hand colored photo of grandma in the 1930s.
After so many days and hours spent going through grandma’s things I’ve thought a lot about stuff. What I am learning from this is that when you keep everything, it’s hard for the things of real value or sentiment to be found. She herself cannot remember where or why things were saved and from whom things came because there is so much. Sadly many very special items were ruined because they were lost among the masses of stuff and were not properly cared for. Going through the stacks of mail and papers took a few weeks itself. She never threw out any junk mail with her name on it- can you imagine? She was worried about identity theft, bless her. I blame the news.
Grandma and her sister Nora.
Grandma’s collection of costume jewelry is massive enough to wear a different piece every day for several years. It’s like time travel through earrings- Lucille Ball to Alexis Carrington. Seriously!! When I brought her pieces to go through she still adored each one and told me things like. ‘Oh that turquoise necklace is perfect with turtlenecks’ or ‘I wear that with my maroon pantsuit.’ or ‘Your grandfather bought me that on such and such trip. He loved to spoil me.’ You’ve got to love her passion for life!
Sigh. I faithfully took boxes home to my house to store for her. There is also boxes of dress gloves -white and green and opera length versions. There’s a satin box filled with hankies lavished with lovely embroidery and monograms, all perfectly ironed. Those are hard to part with. There are bags, hats, shoes and wraps, fur stoles, and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor era slips in every color of the rainbow. The photographs too are overwhelming. High school yearbooks from the 1930s from both my grandparents and photos from the 1800s and the turn of the century are among the things I really think are precious.
Grandma in around 1920, Freewater, Oregon. Don’t you love her fur muff?
Grandma and I visit every week. I am so grateful she is part of my life and here at 98, but I get sad thinking how much of her last years were spent living in a very constrained way due to her stuff. It made her beautiful spacious condo like a small bolt hole. It also gave her no end of worry and stress about going through it herself, and keeping it from us. She was hugely independent.
It all makes me determined to live with less! The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo book has been my bible of late and I have it on my bedside. When I need to stay on track and remind myself to let go of things, I reread a chapter. I love her philosophy that each item in your home needs a purpose and to bring joy. Her book helps you let go of items by saying thank you to them and lets you send them on their way to bring joy to another. It really is a positive and uplifting method and book. I’ve been going through our home and purging things I’ve had for years, even decades.
I remember even as a small child grandma saying things like, ‘One day you’ll get x because you will appreciate it and keep it.’ That has prevented me from ever parting with many things. Not to say I don’t appreciate them, but you can only care about so much. I have to choose what really has meaning for our family and things I purely love.
This soup tureen from grandma is in that category of things I love and will always keep. I love it because it’s beautiful, but also because it sat on her breakfast table all my life and reminds me of being at her home as a child.
Lately I’ve spent much time thinking about how you hold onto things just because you have them. I’ve asked myself so many times in the past months, why do I still have this? Why have I kept it after all this time? What if I’m no longer here? Would anyone want it? The answer is almost always, no.
Something about clearing out feels great. I’m ready to have only things that I treasure and not a lot else. I want a life with less time caring for things and more time to do the stuff that matters and live a life less encumbered.
Purging gets you looking at a home with new eyes and I now want a fresh look. I’ve painted 3 rooms and I’ve gotten almost all of the things I’ve added recently from estate sales and that feels nice. I can’t wait to show you all. I am super careful now to consider each new item coming in. Do I really need it? Do I love it and what can I donate, now that I’ve brought something else in?
I’m sure many of you may have been through a similar experience. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I’m trying my best to take stock, look at the bigger picture and make wise choices. I highly recommend Marie’s book for anyone needing a nudge to start thinking less stuff, more life! The massive success of this book in America has really begun a revolution. People are rethinking the consumer centered culture we have become and are seeking more meaning. Retailers like REI who are closing on Black Friday this year so people can get the message to spend time with loved ones not in a store shopping are wonderful. I think this is a good trend!
A sweet photo of grandma and sister Nora as young women.
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I’m a native Northern Californian who lives for travel, books, fashion, and design. Exploring the joys of a greener life and showing the natural beauty of Northern California and it’s fabulous destinations are a few of my passions.