You might have been wondering where I've gotten of to this weekend since Josh has been posting for me since Saturday.
On Sunday I took off to Asheboro, NC, where I've been helping my dad clean out a huge house full of junk.
Well...not really junk...most of it is just plain trash.
The house is my grandmother's, who lived in a ram-shackled farm house until she was 87 years old. She's still alive, just moved to Texas to live with family because this house is anything but accessible. For one thing, there was no bathroom on the first floor, and to reach the second, you had to climb an impossible set of steep wooden stairs, which I know for a fact she fell down several times over the 50 years she lived in that house.
Now the house is empty, except if you count a lifetime worth of stuff accumulated in every nook and cranny.
What makes this already huge mess even bigger is the extra load of stuff my Dad brought over from his house, the house I grew up in. There's another lifetime, or at least a 30 year marriage and 3 daughters worth of stuff to add to the pot.
When I'd spoken to Dad on the phone about it all, I thought I knew how much stuff it was. In truth, I had absolutely no idea.
Every single room of the sprawling two story farmhouse was filled with bags and boxes of china, silverware, pots, pans, pyrex dishes, stuffed animals, coat hangers, keys, light bulbs, and lamp shades.
Going through all of this today, I'm struck by so many different things.
The first - is this really all that is left behind?! Seriously, I'm struck by just how much volume and space this stuff takes up, but just how little all of it means.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about my grandmother over the last two days, how many days I spent hanging out at her house in the summer because even though both our houses were not air conditioned, Grandma's house was partially underground and always 10 degrees cooler.
She also always had the best peanut butter cookies in a bin next to the refrigerator, and when I got older ice cream sandwiches and Pepsi Colas, all treats we never had at home, or if we did they were inhaled so quickly it didn't count.
But none of this is left behind in the stuff of Grandma's house.
All I'm learning from cleaning this out is the fact that Grandma never threw ANYTHING away.
Judging from the number of keys she changed her locks once a week, but never threw away the older keys, she bought every gimmicky TV kitchen unitasker (veg-o-matic, eggstractor, citrus fresh), and apparently loved to vacuum, considering the number of vacuum cleaners (some that look like they date from the 70's) that are left behind.
It was amazing just how many multiples of things I found like 10 identical 9 x 12 pyrex baking dishes, 5 Tupperware dome cake bins, and a countless number of mixing bowls.
From the kitchen alone, you'd expect my grandmother was feeding at least a ten member family for every meal, when in fact the last 15 years, she rarely cooked for more than two - herself and my ailing grandfather, and for the last 5 years, just herself after he passed away.
I just found it shocking that the kitchen was never downsized. That she never took a look at all of it and picked her favorite items, and laid the rest out to get rid of.
Keep in mind that it was during this time that she stopped cooking much, my two sisters and I all moved out and started families of our own, a time when we could have really USED a solid 9 x 12 Pyrex baking dish!
I hope I don't sound selfish with this rant. I'm not begrudging the fact that my grandmother didn't hand her kitchen items over when I went to college, I'm instead marveling at why a woman with a 5,000 piece kitchen set would buy me NEW silverware and a new pyrex set for my wedding, when she had great pieces she wasn't using and could have given me for free!
So that comes to the point of this whole ramble - are we so obsessed with new things that we don't even think about the old? We don't even remember we have it?
This actually happened to me the other day. I was in Mary Jo's Cloth Store and saw this gorgeous print fabric. I HAD to have it! I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I knew I would regret it if I walked out without it.
And what did I find when I got home? 2 yards of that exact same fabric. I didn't even remember I'd bought it earlier this spring. Oops!
The other thing I'm wondering about is space. My grandmother's kitchen was unusually large, taking up more than 300 square feet, possibly more. She had huge cabinets and long counter tops to fill to the brim with every possible kitchen item in existence.
Had her kitchen been smaller, had her cabinets been narrower and better organized, would she have stocked away so much?
The reason this bothers me is that if you lump together the two rooms I have devoted to quilting, I have a really huge space, and just like my grandmother's kitchen, it is filled to the brim with stuff.
If, god forbid, something happened to me, it would be left to Josh and James to try to figure out what in the world to do with 5 years worth of accumulated quilting supplies.
While my excess is easy for me to explain, how can I expect them to possibly understand? Will they be shaking their heads at my multiple machines just as I shook my head about the pyrex baking dishes?
I now know the reality of dealing with a left over estate. I was sad to see my Grandmother's house so very different from the last time I'd been in town, but this emotion easily turned bitter as I began to see all that she left behind for my Dad to deal with.
It was simply overwhelming, and it has been overwhelming him since she left a year ago. When I finally realized how bad it was, I decided to make a special trip and organize help to make a dent in the mess.
First I found a local consignment store in Asheboro, Consigns & Finds, whose owner Cindy was willing to look at the estate and make an offer for the items she could take in her store. Together we agreed on prices while her helpers hauled each piece to the truck.
As far as the cash went, yes, we could have probably made more if we'd held a yard sale, but yard sales are really time consuming, a pain in the neck to prepare for, and with this volume of stuff, absolutely impossible to consider. Selling directly to the consignment shop was far easier, and it worked well for both of us.
After a long day of work, we'd made a 16 ft trailer sized dent in the mess, but what to do with the rest of it?
There were still some decent items - nice china, indestructible metal baking dishes, my grandfather's hand turned wooden bowls - all these will be donated to the Salvation Army.
But for the most part, the house was still filled with bags and bags and bags of garbage. The house was still very full and very overwhelming. I decided to stay an extra day to see if I could put a bigger dent in the mess.
The trick was finding a garbage service that would do what's called a One Time Haul. This is where the guys come with an empty truck one time to take everything they can in one go.
Before yesterday, I didn't know this service even existed! After this experience, I know a company could easily be employed full time just doing this type of work. After a lot of calls and some negotiating, I managed to get an awesome company called M&M Garbage Disposal to come over after their usual run.
The owner Mark and his son came out and hauled away everything - over 60 bags of garbage, four full sized mattresses, several pieces of small furniture, a washing machine, and a couch!
This photo was taken before Mark arrived and this is only 1/4 of the stuff he hauled away!
After the dump truck pulled out, we went back in the house and I could really see the difference this time. Two solid days of work, and the house is now manageable. It's cleaned out to the point that very soon my dad will be able to close the door, lock it, and hopefully pass the keys on to a buyer.
While we don't like to think about these things, chances are you will either have to deal with a left behind estate at some point, or you may leave an estate behind yourself. Having a plan is essential for dealing with this situation.
When she lectured for my quilt guild back in February 2010, Pepper Cory advised everyone to bequeath their quilting stashes to someone in their will.
Having just watched two sewing machines go into the back of that garbage truck, I can definitely see her point.
Note - I know I just admitted to committing what is probably a grievous quilting sin, but I just couldn't take on these two sewing machines - they were in terrible shape and I was hot and super tired by that point and didn't stop my dad when he threw them down the front steps. By then, it was WAY too late.
Your family may have absolutely no idea or desire to deal with $1000 worth of cotton fabric. If they don't know anyone that sews, they might make the mistake of donating fabric to Goodwill. This is a mistake because all items that don't have an immediate use get thrown away. Fabric doesn't have an immediate use, and it's hard to price it properly. When in doubt, most places just throw it out.
Also consider the confusion and heartache created by UFOs. I remember a chapter in Mason & Dixon Knitting where a photo of a half finished Aran sweater was shown, along with a lament about what to DO with this project, which had been left behind when the original knitter died. Finish it? Throw it away? What? The daughter was left with questions her mother certainly couldn't answer anymore.
Your machines may stay in the family for sentimental reasons, stuck away in the attic or the closet (unless you really luck out and get a kid or kid-in-law that actually sews), but aren't machines meant to be used and enjoyed by people who know how to take care of them?
So consider making a plan for your stash. I know I'm not only going to start making a plan, I'm also going to do some serious downsizing on my own home.
I have unfortunately large closets in my house. It's unfortunate they're big because they just get filled with lots of junk that really only sticks around because I have the space to store it.
There's so much stuff that I keep because "I may need this someday..."
Well, someday has come and gone, and if I haven't used it in a year, it's obviously not needed!
So that's it for this random experience post about cleaning up my grandmother's estate. It was sad and exhausting, but in the end I feel like I made a huge difference for my dad, and that's what matters. Hopefully I've lightened his load.
Let's go SLEEP!