The Move – Lesson 3: Declutter NOW

Day 3 of The Move (90 year-old-parents relocating from Florida to Pittsburgh to live with daughter), the stagers returned. They began cleaning and needed me to remove the items from the master bathroom so they could clean in there. Again I scooped things off counters, out of medicine cabinets, etc. into boxes and piled them on the counter in the guest bathroom. When we finished there were – I kid you not – 10 boxes of varying sizes of opened shampoos and mouthwashes, old Rolaids bottles (empty) that might be useful someday, obsolete dentures and eyeglasses, half-used perfume bottles.

I say this with no contempt and freely admit that I have (not 10 boxes but still way too many) of the same in my bathroom closet. We all do. So before you point and laugh, go look in your bathroom cabinets. And think about what your caretakers will think when they have to clean it out, and get to work.

But now they had to go through them. “We’ll just take them and work it out in Pittsburgh,” My FIL said, tired of arguing with his wife, who wasn’t arguing that they needed them. She was just arguing because she didn’t want to leave her dream house that had been built to her spec’s and that she had decorated herself and that she had filled with things she loved that meant something to her about what she wanted to believe about who she is. About her identity. And this move meant she had to give up that identity and become someone else. Someone who lived in a cold climate, with her children, in a house that wasn’t decorated in mauve, peach, and seafoam, and wasn’t filled with memories of the friends they had made when they retired, friends who were, for the most part, gone now. Gone to live with children or in assisted living or just gone, and remembered by her through the many things she had purchased from their estates. Things that won’t fit physically in her new space because it’s not a three-bedroom, three living room house, with a formal dining room that was rarely used but was a great place to display things. Think about that the next time you think, “What a great deal” while you’re shopping at West Elm’s end of season sale.

I took my FIL by the hand and showed him the car. No room for the boxes. So he continued waking up early, and sorting through things, picking out things to throw away and making gift bags for all the neighbors of giant, hardly used bottles of mouthwash and expired spaghetti. My MIL chided him for giving things away, things that were good and useful that had cost money. Then she sighed, “Maybe we need to buy less, and buy less often.” A step in the right direction. Then she looked at the bud vase that the stager had placed a pretty little unused sponge-on-a-stick shaped like a flower in. “That vase has to come with us,” she said, removing the sponge. Then she looked around. “Where are all our kitchen sponges?” she asked me. The old, grey, dried out kitchen sponges? I had thrown them out. “They’re useful,” she replied gently.

I left the room to continue my other job: finding someone to clean the pool while the house was on the market. In Florida. In August. Wow. Niche market, guys. We were not in anybody’s territory and, if we were, they were booked solid. Finally my FIL borrowed the neighbor’s car, went to a pool store, bought an automatic robot cleaner thingy (which runs on suction, not robotics, the installer informed me) and signed up with them to service the pool each week. “I should have done this years ago,” he said. Lesson learned for the next house with a pool he buys in Florida.

That night we ordered Mexican takeout and had another picnic. “You know,” my MIL said, “These [mismatched airplane giveaway] forks that we’re leaving here. These are good forks.”

When I returned to my home later, I found that my husband had restocked paper towels, buying a giant Costco-sized package. We live in a tiny little NY apartment. Time to rethink our approach to purchasing and holding on.

Here endeth the third lesson.

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