I’ve been quiet these past few months, but busy, and a bit overwhelmed. I flew back to the US at the beginning of March to face the life I had left behind. It was inevitable I suppose, but daunting, nevertheless. After both my parents were gone (2012) my brother never let me back into their house. He was living there, and he was in charge of their trust.
I never quite understood what was going on or why he was acting that way, but I didn’t want to fight about it. He seemed paranoid and stressed. I wasn’t interested in fighting over material things or money, and I had my own problems to deal with. But I was sad for my family because we were close to my parents, and it was an abrupt end to never be allowed back in their house where we had enjoyed so many lovely holidays and fun times. Communicating with my brother had become difficult so I let it go.
I Moved On – And Far Away
Life goes on and things change. My kids graduated college and my husband and I move to Australia to be near his family. Then my husband passed away; then COVID happened. I had lost touch with my brother because he never answered my calls or emails. In December 2021 he passed away, but I was able to talk to him twice before he passed, and we said goodby with no hard feelings.
I suddenly had a lot of responsibilities in the US but was living on the other side of the world. I had to go back and face whatever it was that created this situation and what I was left to deal with.
Staying Open to Understanding
I arrived to find a complex mess. My brother had been trying to take responsibility but had been overwhelmed. He had been suffering from several illnesses and so his life had become one of isolation and hoarding. He was known and well liked in the small town, but no one was aware of how he was living. In the mess that was left in the house I gradually found clues, patterns, and answers of what happened and why. I feel no blame or regret, only sadness that his pride wouldn’t let him ask for help.
A friend of my brother told me that my brother wouldn’t let my family back in the house because he was ashamed of how he was living. One of the people I hired to help clean and disinfect the house told me that hoarders often have OCD, usually triggered by trauma. They can be paranoid and controlling, but also very intelligent and likable people. I saw how all of that was true. As I’ve been working through the process of cleaning up the house and getting rid of things, I’ve grown to understand a lot about myself, my parents, my brother, and past generations.
Letting Go Can Be Complicated
I’m not one to hold onto things too tightly. I’ve always found it easier than most to let go of things I don’t need, probably because I like to travel and I’m not a homebody. Even so, when settled in one place for a while we tend to accumulate stuff. We also collect treasures and document our lives with photos. Now I’m dealing with four generations of that.
I’ve found photographs and diaries from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Also, furniture and decor from those time periods as well. You might think that these things are worth a lot of money but they’re not. Antiques are a funny business catering to a limited consumer group. The internet is full of online antique warehouses and current trends have brought prices way down because people are more interested in new trendy styles than old quality furnishings. Although I find the historical photos and documents interesting, I’m not one to build a museum with them.
I totally understand why my brother was overwhelmed. I certainly don’t want to leave this much stuff for my kids to deal with. Knowing a bit about your family history is valuable but being tied down and held back by the accumulation of artifacts is not. Imagine if every person on the planet built a museum for their family history – the earth would implode! Humanity is already dealing with the negative results of over consumption and accumulation, and now I’m spending months dealing with it on a family level.
Time and Money I Wish Were Better Spent
For the first two months I was here I had to stay in a motel because the house was not livable. All four toilets needed repair and there were rodent feces everywhere. I was using a rental car so eventually I had to buy a car. I planned to be here for three months, but I’ve rescheduled my return flight twice already. After three months and seven yard sales I’ve only just put the house on the market, but there’s still a lot of cleaning out to do.
I hired Servepro and filled a two-ton dumpster. I hired a rodent disinfection company, and they threw out a lot of contaminated stuff as well as disinfected the whole house. My kids and other volunteers have helped me pack, unpack, organize, donate and throw out a lot of stuff. I’m getting another dumpster next week and will hire labor help. I’ve been selling stuff on Craigslist and FB Marketplace, as well as having garage sales. But there is still an overwhelming amount of stuff to deal with here.
My parents and grandparents accumulated things that they thought were valuable and would transfer wealth to their children. I think those were values of the past, but we live in a different world today. The things they thought were so precious didn’t hold their value. Some of it has sentimental value but there’s not necessarily a place for it in our lives. My brother died trying to take care of this house full of accumulated stuff, and now it’s all on me. I’m having trouble even giving it away because Goodwill and Salvation Army don’t send a truck to collect anymore. I’m even having trouble hiring help. I’m spending a lot of time and money dealing with the past. I would not wish this situation on anyone, unless they like doing yard sales.
Valuing the Process
I like to live a simple life enjoying time with friends and family. I like to contribute to worthwhile causes. I like to travel, live creatively, and help enrich the lives of others. Having a lot of physical stuff makes me feel weighted down and stuck. This clean out process has helped me see that my values have always been a little different from my parents – and that’s okay.
I’d like to see the world become a more equitable place, where everyone has enough, and we live in harmony with the earth and each other. I’d like to see people valuing one another more than accumulating yachts and expensive cars, diamonds and expensive homes, and trips to outer space. I’d like to see people enjoying life and learning to love rather than fighting wars.
Even though this process of getting rid of stuff and preparing the house for sale has been difficult, I do still value the process. I value the opportunity to understand and even confront my past decisions, my family’s way of life and history, and things that didn’t work out well. I’m grateful to look at old photos and reminisce about all the good times. I value this time to grieve, and to see my own limitations. I value all the good people I’ve met, new friends I’ve made and old friends I’ve reconnected with. I’m really grateful for all the help I’ve received.
I am humbled by what I’ve learned about people and life in general during these past few months. I value my family, my ancestors, and myself in a new way. For better or worse, we are who we are, but the most important thing is what we do because of love.