Trailer Park Archeology – Let the games begin…

After 20 years in the same house, my recent excavations have been daunting.  A “category 2” packrat, i tend to hang onto things that may have future utility, but toss out newspapers, broken things, many “sentimental” items and donate any knick-knack that is ugly or useless (or both) to charitable thrift stores.  Periodically purging things like college class notes, financial info and unused clutter.

Mom has lived in the same 1500 square foot home since 1960, and is a world-class “category 5” packrat, a true child of the Great Depression, unwilling to throw out anything.  That would be nearly fifty years of newspapers, plastic flowers, church bulletins, family heirlooms, desiccating school projects, collectible decorative items (ie: bells, eggs, plates, spoons…).  Co-mingled — wheat, chaff and goat hair macrame – and randomly stashed into boxes, bins, bags, piles and every available space in a 2 car garage.

Over the years, we’ve tried to help her de-clutter and organize, but she has an unhealthy attachment to “things”, even at the expense of human comfort and dignity.  Mom will be 80 next month, and is fiercely independent – to help maintain that independence, i got her a “Life Alert” system last January.  After bypass surgery she’s accepted that she is very dependent on others for her daily activities – primarily my niece, DQ and her husband BJ, who live next door to her. 

DQ and BJ are planning to move.  In an on-going series of discussions, i’ve been going over options with Mom:

    a) Stay in the house, deal with the solitude and make do as the house falls down around her.

    b) Stay in the house, invest in repairs/excavations and be willing to allow professionals in to assist her (cleaning, medical, etc).

    c) Move to an assisted living community, where she can dial-up additional support as needed and take more time with the excavations/repair of the house.

    d) Take DQ and BJ up on their offer – to build a “mother-in-law” suite on a new home in the country, and bring her with them.

She’s sick of her cluttered, messy house, and is terrified that it will collapse around her, so she’s ruled out option (a).  Adamant about not allowing “strangers” into the house*, she is not willing to invest in the repairs and cleanout required for option (b).  Getting back to that “strangers” thing, she doesn’t like the idea of being in an apartment alone – even if she has friends nearby, so the assisted living option is out of the question. 

That leaves one choice – and she has thrown the dice, offered to purchase the land in the country to get the ball rolling.  And away we go… 

Looking out for Mom’s best interests, including the financial side of the enterprise, will be squarely in my lap.  Managing the “family” perceptions with siblings – assuring that there is no exploitation, real or perceived as DQ and BJ build a house from the ground up, with Mom as the financial “underwriter”, buying the dirt and securing construction loan.

My recent “purge and move” adventure was just the teaser for the main event.  In this case, however, my first stop will be for legal consultation to make sure Mom’s interests are protected.  Then we can get on with the fun of wading through soul-crushing piles of plastic butter tubs, partial decks of playing cards and fossilized christmas decorations***. 

There is hope that she can get out from under the rubble, have some peace and tranquility surrounded by family and nature**.  This is the “future” she’s been squirreling away funds for most of her adult life… let’s hope she gets to enjoy it!  If she does this right, her last check should bounce…


* After it was clear that he was making the final circle of the drain, Dad’s preference was to be at home, rather than in the hospital.  Embarassed by the clutter, and protective of her privacy, Mom wouldn’t allow “home health care” staff in the house, so it wasn’t possible to bring him home.  She also ruled out “hospice” care.  She was under the incorrect impression that in order to get hospice support, one had to sign over all personal assets…

** even though she’s a bit anxious, she is looking forward to being out in the country, having a vegetable garden, and riding around the property on a golf cart!  better warn the critters and drain the pond… or get her new glasses.

*** not to mention spiders.  oodles of leggy, hairy, juicy spiders.  did i ever mention that i HATE spiders?

18 thoughts on “Trailer Park Archeology – Let the games begin…

  1. daisyfae,

    You are inspiring the shit out of me! I’m seeing me here “tend to hang onto things that may have future utility, but toss out newspapers, broken things” and here “things like college class notes, financial info“, but I don’t think I’m a category 5. (My Mom, however, is and we had the “talk”. Fortunately, she pared down quite a bit when she moved from Regina, SK to Penticton, BC downsizing in the process. Unfortunately – sigh – some her shit…uh…stuff wound up at my house.

    Glad to hear your Mom is coming down on the side of what I see as the best alternative for her, for you, for everyone. Win-win-win!

  2. A friend of mine just finished a “mother-in-law ” house on their property. They are just settling in, but seem to be happy that they are all together (and out in the country – wine country).

  3. I made this archeological trip with one set of grandparents, managed to miss it with the other set and my Dad. I don’t envy you. We found report cards of my Dad’s from grade school. Grandma was 89 when she died, so you can figure how old they were. Of course, I snagged some of this detritus to take home, being the family historian. Good luck.

  4. KJ – Yep. Sandwiched… When Dad was dying, it was a bit more challenging – i had two teeny-boppers, was driving 120 miles a day, etc. Trying very hard to keep Mom as the “Decider” in all things – just highlighting options, letting her work through them. Even though i’d like to just take a bulldozer to it all…

    rob – not meant to be inspirational. i’m just whining! 🙂 Moving is a great “forcing function” – you are driven to decide “is it worth the effort to review, pack, carry, unpack, store or does it belong in a landfill?” i’ve been pretty brutal with my own goods – but it’s got to be Mom’s call on her stuff… she’ll be going to about 850 square feet — with limited storage…

    annie – as you probably know (having pared down your possessions to what would fit in a trailer), there is great therapy in letting go of stuff – liberating! i find it harder when the stuff isn’t mine… and prefer to do Mom’s triage while she’s still around to go over it – there be family treasures in the piles of crap.

    don – “Wine Country” will be nicer than “Goat Country”, but we’re optimistic that this will be a happy situation for all! To keep the property zoned “agricultural” (and save on taxes) they will build a goat pen…

    kyknoord – nah. we’ve buried enough animals in that back yard that we’ve more than done our part. if one were to excavate behind the garden, there would be a mound of animal bones: a dog, several guinea pigs, birds (roadkill and pets), snakes, and perhaps a few dozen fish (all receiving “proper” burials, with “officiation” by one of the kids in the neighborhood who could sound like a minister…)

    silverstar – those are the treasures! on a prior dig in the garage, i found a small, beaded purse that belonged to Mom’s Grandmother. it was in a paper bag, mixed up with dusty, faded plastic flowers… we can’t just rent a dumpster… (sigh)

    nm – those are the coolest finds. not sure who will step up as family historian – probably be a half-assed job by me at best.

    alex – on the last major “dig”, my oldest sister worked an inside closet (my old bedroom), which has tons of the ‘big hairy’ spiders. i worked the backyard shed, which had tons of field mice, a few assorted snakes and other critters. those don’t get me… wear gloves, have a broom handy, and it’s manageable. Spiders freeze my soul, and i’m virtually helpless…

  5. it sounds like some giant karmic moving van is driving through all aspects of your life… glad to hear your Mom is making a break to a more tranquil and less cluttered life… i can relate! good luck and keep digging!

  6. About a year ago I started to study Buddhism and they are right about many things, but none more so than the philosophy of detachment. Let go of all that “stuff” and don’t cling to material things. You load will be much lighter both physically and spiritually. It took a while to pound that into my thick head but it really has made a difference.

  7. gnu – damn skippy. boxes, trash bags, piles, baskets… everything in my life is uprooted and on the move. but it’s onward – just like you are moving onward. and that kinda change? good change…

    unbearable banishment – yes. less is more. i still have way too much stuff. there’s a gentle tug of self-loathing driven by the things i plan to buy – pool table, wet bar, dart board, home theater, whole-house digital sound system… all in the spirit of “play” rather than “show”, but still…

  8. just wanted to let you know my little excavation project with ben went smooth as ice cream,, he is 78 and had an inner hoarder,, but he willingly parted with all the junk and we now have a manageable even somewhat organized woodshed.. glory be!!!!

    here’s to hoping mom is equally as pliable… i used a magnum of cheap zinfandel as lubricant,, and found it quite effective…….

  9. paisley – GREAT news! love the idea of alcohol lubrication! Mom’s got a soft spot for frozen margaritas… My niece started excavations this week – and apparently things are going very well!

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