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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trash or Treasure? Junk or Jewels?

Losing our parents is heartbreaking enough but when faced with a deadline to clean out a house to settle the estate, it can be overwhelmingly exhausting, emotionally and physically.

Our parents were raised with the belief that to throw anything out was wasteful, that everything will have a use one day. Children of the Depression era, they knew how to make due with what they had and taught that way of living to their children. We are proud of that part of their character but now that we are suddenly faced with such an array of  treasures accumulated over a period of fifty years, it can feel like drowning, and there is the very real temptation to just heave rather than take the time to sort through everything.

 I am certainly not wasteful but in managing my own home I cannot tolerate clutter and want to live as though if we had to move quick it wouldn't be overwhelming. I rarely actually throw things out, I donate to our local thrift shop. Most of my things are secondhand anyway so rarely feel guilty when I get tired of something and subsequently come out of the thrift shop with as much as I took in. 

We already had the walk through of the home with a realtor to give us a real estate appraisal. She had so many pointers for us it made my head spin. To say we have a lot of work to do is putting it mildly. But one very important thing she made clear was to not be in too much of a hurry to throw stuff out. There will be an upcoming auction and we were told many of those things we may consider trash are a prize find to someone. People get very creative in their homes and gardens with gathering "stuff" to use as planters or in craft projects. Cooking pots, tea kettles, tea cups, flower pots, mens' work boots, baskets, even if cracked or chipped
are reused for such things as planting containers or bird baths and feeders.
If it was just the main rooms to sort through it wouldn't be so bad, but once you throw in the attic, basement and garage it is enough to send one over the edge. However, once we sorted through all the stuff that really was worn out trash we began to visualize the potential treasure cove. So many finds are either great for collectors, valuable as antiques or sought out by those who take vintage jewelry and clothes and repurpose them into amazing ideas of creativity. 

Pictured above are ways I took other peoples' trash and turned them into my own treasures. The wrought iron arch was brought to me by my sister who found it set out for the trash truck. The cement mushroom is really a flower pot and a bird bath stand my creative father had put together for my mother at one time years ago. The metal frog was found at a flea market and fit right in with my husbands passion for music. And the flower collection pictured below is my way of utilizing a bunch of old galvanized pots and buckets I retrieved while sorting through my parents' possessions.

The things that we've saved from the homes of our parents are not always those pieces of financial value. My mother-in-law's cross stitches are precious to me. Knowing the work that goes into needlecraft, it breaks my heart to see those pieces end up at thrift shops. Not a fly fisherman himself, my husband now treasures the beloved fly rods and hand-tied flies of his father. My own Dad had quite an assortment of tools and gadgets amassed over the years. Pocket knives, watches, favorite books, so many things that suddenly hold sentimental value. He was very creative at taking pieces from either the farm equipment or scrap yard and coming up with something very unique for the yard or garden.

So as we children approach that period in our adult lives where we are the older generation, we have attained a new level of maturity. As long as we had our parents, a part of us always felt a tad childlike in their presence. Not that they did anything to warrant that in us, but I suppose that is normal. If anything, the roles were reversed as our parents' health declined and they needed us to make decisions for their welfare.

Now aware more than ever of how our behavior appears to our own children, many deep seated issues can be put into perspective. Our parents did the best they could with what they had at the time. Whatever tensions were between parent and child should be put to rest. Everyone walks their own unique path in life and deals with things at that time. We may never understand why a person was the way they were. Not many people are an open book to be able to read the details behind their story. We are all faced with the good times and challenged with the bad. We make decisions and later deal with either the rewards or the regrets.

What I do know about our parents, and probably most people, is that their biggest fear with death is that their lives hadn't enough meaning or that their memory will be forgotten. How reassuring for them to be told that to have the blessing of being someone's son or daughter, sister or brother,  husband or wife, Mom or Dad, and finally Mom Mom or Pop Pop, there is little chance they will ever be forgotten. Their spirit lives on through every one of those lives they have touched.


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