Thirty years ago, I lost my mom.
Oh, she didn’t die. She just disappeared behind a mountain of stuff she had saved in a back bedroom.
That might seem like a lame joke, but it isn’t exactly made up. My mother was a packrat. And her packrattiness was so bad, a person could go missing – or hide a fugitive – or start a secret colony – beneath any number of stuff-mountains she erected throughout her house.
Sadly, in 2007 we really did lose her when she passed away. My dad grieved so hard he didn’t want anything in their house to be touched, so we continued to navigate through and around (and over) her assortment of stuff until three years of accumulated dust finally got the best of him. That was when my sister and I began sorting.
We started spending a few hours each Wednesday with Dad, popping open box after box after unbelievable box and pulling out tens of thousands of objects. Some were delightful. Some were distrubing. We cleared one bedroom that was packed from floor to ceiling, wall to wall with boxes, and then we attacked some other rooms that were packed full of furnishings and all manner of weirdness and awe, and then we started on the sixteen-by-twelve-foot shed. After three years of this, we were ecstatic to realize we had passed the half-way mark!
Yes, you read correctly. Three years. Half-way done.
It goes without saying that my mother was a bit of a hoarder. She never quite reached the point of becoming entombed in all of her stuff, but I contend that she singlehandedly kept the corrugated box industry afloat for decades.
I could make the argument that she was a product of the Great Depression and therefore felt compelled to save everything with a ‘waste not, want not’ mentality, but her sisters never seemed to have any trouble cleaning out their closets, so that excuse doesn’t fly. If she and Dad had been dirt poor, I could have argued that she wanted to save the stuff for fear that she would never be able to purchase more, but that wasn’t the case, either. The bottom line was that Mom was sentimentally attached to almost everything because she somehow found value in all of it. In her eyes everything was worthy of the cubic inches it occupied…and obviously the countless hours her daughters would spend sorting it in the end. (Thanks, Mom!)
But this isn’t a story about the insanity of hoarding (although hoarding is a pretty messed up practice – and one that I’m trying to break myself of before it’s too late…You’re welcome, my children!). This isn’t a slam against my mother, either. The message I want to share is that during the six+ years that we sorted my mother’s little, big, and all-sizes-in-between treasures, we sometimes found them perplexing and disturbing, but they also had value.
Her countless gems triggered my dad’s memories and produced stories from his youth that we had never heard before. They brought back memories that had been dormant within us for decades. They produced laughter and tears, and they sent two tiny undead chickens on an epic adventure across the country and abroad. (And yes, we have photographic evidence of their escapades.)
From the beautiful to the bizarre, Mom’s stuff has been an endless source of entertainment. It has spoken to us as only our mother could and brought her closer to us than ever. As I share this story, I hope you will find our journey through her belongings to be as entertaining as we have. I hope our newly found discoveries will jog sweet and humorous memories about your past and your loved ones. And above all, I hope you benefit from the eccentricity and the affection that was Geneva.