Dividing Up the Family Home

Ms Soapbox and her sister Elle are on Vancouver Island visiting the folks.  (Elle is not her real name but she values her privacy and bites and throws things if she doesn’t get her way–or at least she did when she was five).

Ms Soapbox’s Mom and Dad moved into their respective seniors care facilities this spring.  That means Ms Soapbox and her sisters, Elle, Roxy and Jay (also not their real names but Elle got a fake name, now everybody wants one) have been making regular pilgrimages to the family home to clear out 40 years of stuff before the house goes on the market. 

Mom and Dad issued instructions about who should get what.  Elle and I weren’t convinced the grandchildren wanted the golf clubs so we told them we had it covered…and we did.

Jay took a teeny weeny art book (no bigger than your palm) and a little wooden apple that opens up to reveal a four piece tea set.  Roxy took two ruby red goblets and the brand new crock pot that’s been sitting in its box waiting for “a special occasion”.  Elle took the world’s smallest sewing machine and the photo albums (she’s making copies for the rest of us).  Ms Soapbox scooped up the silverware and a 50s era chair that she’ll cram into the back of Elle’s car and store in Missy’s apartment.       


No one claimed the 15 pairs of reading glasses wrapped in saran wrap and secured with elastic bands or Roxy’s brunette wig that was last worn by Dad to a Halloween party.  We took a pass on the complete set of Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia and the canned goods that have been under the stairs for as long as we can remember.

These, like the rest of the stuff, will be sold, donated or binned. 

What’s interesting about this exercise is that after 89 years on the planet, Mom and Dad don’t want much stuff.   

What’s even more interesting is that their children don’t either.  Consequently the process of dividing up Mom and Dad’s stuff turned into an act of joy not misery.     

Jackie French Koller is right:  There are two ways to be rich:  One is by acquiring much and the other is by desiring little.   

The Soapbox sisters are rich beyond their wildest dreams!

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26 Responses to Dividing Up the Family Home

  1. Rose says:

    Roxy took the two ruby red goblets because she remembers the look on her mother’s face when she gave them to her for mother’s day many many years ago and the brand new crock pot because she broke the lid on hers and if you can’t cook it in one pot, Roxy can’t cook it.

    Makes me wonder what my children will keep of mine?

    • Roxy my dear, you’ll be surprised at what your children will keep of yours. Elle and I went back to the house after I wrote this post. I came home with a brass topped table with folding legs, dominoes and dice. Who knows why, they just sang to me.

  2. Lovely post Susan, Let me just say that (surprise, surprise) emptying a home of 40 years of “stuff” is no way similar to selling a home and transferring 40 years of “stuff” from the old home to the new home. So much work! But I have found a few things that are an absolute delight – the Johnny Cash albums my daughter loves, the old compass that has my son’s interest, the Abbott and Costello DVDs my husband laughs over… The antique sewing machine I admire… But nothing makes me happier than seeing my parents safe in a retirement home where they are settling in, happy, and being well cared for… I also will never forget the time I have spent with my sisters, quality time we haven’t had for a long time, laughing, talking and solving problems. I hope that lasts longer than the possessions we have taken. Love to all, Elle

    • Elle, your comment sums it all up…our parents are happy and safe and the Soapbox sisters are closer now than ever. We have lots of funny stories to tell–the hotels we’ve stayed in (poor Roxy got stuck in a dump and I ended up in the resort by the lake), you thought you’d found a dead rat under the stairs, it was Dad’s wig, Jay showed up the day after Dad moved out and thought he’d been abducted. We’ll be talking about this experience for a long long time. It’s magical.

  3. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,

    Too much stuff is exhausting.
    It is interesting that your parents also keep a cache of canned goods as you have stated here:

    and the canned goods that have been under the stairs for as long as we can remember.

    This brings up some memories. I don’t want to segue shamelessly into your fond reminiscing of too much stuff held onto for too long by your parents, but I will.

    My parents are like your parents. They have stuff. Too much stuff. They don’t mind this situation as they have us to clean up after them just like your family is doing for your parents.

    Like your parents, my parents keep food for emergencies.
    My dad keeps a stash of canned goods in the storage room of the house in Lac la Biche. He has jars of pickled stuff and honey-masses of honey. I have seen this cache of food for as long as I can remember. Maybe someone told him honey lasts forever. In any case, all through the years that dad worked at Lac la Biche I used to take my sons to the lake and every year the cache of stuff would be there. I will probably inherit this stuff.

    One day my job will be a recapitulation of what you are doing. I will have to dump these jars of food and honey. We’ve already got rid of many years’ of ancient stuff in this house but we are still working on the stuff in the basement.

    Love and hugs, Julie

    PS I like the idea of fake names for family.

    • Julie, I love your story about the masses of honey. I wonder what’s behind this. Does honey last forever? Is it a wonder food for after the Zombie Apocalypse? Parents develop strange ideas as they age. My dad went through a phase where he thought it was better to rinse your dishes than wash them in dish soap because dish soap could cause cancer. We cured him of that idea pretty quickly!
      You and your sister are very close, I’m sure you’ll find clearing out the house as much of a bonding experience as we did.
      PS Fake names are fun…it was easy to go with Elle for Linda and Jay for Jo but Rose was a bit of a challenge, I settled on Roxy because I called her Rosy when we were children.

  4. jvandervlugt says:

    Hello Susan. Been thinking about Mom and Dad’s stuff. Their possessions are such a reflection of the times and their upbringing. They grew up with nothing and during the war, so you never threw anything away. They taught us to appreciate the little things. A lesson I hope I’ve passed onto my children.

    Although I don’t want them, there was a time when I used those encyclopedias to do my homework.

    The only thing our parents want is time with us, and the only thing I want is time with them. 😊

    • Jo you’re right about Mom and Dad going through hard times and consequently not getting rid of anything. I wonder if it’s genetic and your experiences shape what you keep. I still have the muumuu I bought eons ago when Mr Soapbox and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon. I wouldn’t dream of wearing it anywhere but I can’t bear the thought of throwing it out. We had such a lovely time in Hawaii. 🙂

  5. ronmac says:

    The trouble with stuff is you need to find a place for it.

  6. John Gulak says:

    Susan, I love the line:

    Jackie French Koller is right: There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much and the other is by desiring little.

  7. Liane Sharkey says:

    Susan, you have expressed it all so well. Any of us who have been down this road are nodding vigorously in recognition. My mom always said she wouldn’t leave me with scads of old stuff to go through so she said she had weeded out a ton. Then when she died and I opened her desk drawers I just laughed. I understood that the masses of stuff she had not weeded out were because, well, it they were still good things and just might be useful! (Like every packet of cards that charities sent her since 1962 to solicit donations……) — oh, er, don’t look too closely at your Christmas cards for the next 53 years, Susan. But J’s last poignant line really captured what is important and heartfelt – I would give up all my stuff to have more time with mom and dad. But since that isn’t possible I enjoy their silverware.

    • That’s exactly it Liane. My Mom saved everything. She’d cut open envelops and use the inside to make grocery lists. She had hundreds of pencils, all worn down to nubs. Her junk drawer lived up to its name. We just count ourselves lucky that she wasn’t as much of a horder as the mother who saved everything. Her kids found a box labelled: “String too short to save”.
      And yes, what really matters at this stage is time. If we could horde time so there would be more to spend with them, that would be perfect.

  8. Katie Pearlman says:

    That is lovely! So many of us are experiencing this now.

  9. Leila Keith says:

    Yes less really is more as we get older and wiser…..besides no-one can take it with them…..
    Leila Keith..(I use my real name)

  10. Carlos Beca says:

    I have also gone through this process and I do not have great memories about it. Judging by the comments, it seems most people did. I wonder if I am in the minority? 🙂

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