The Mom Stop column: Putting time to good use, clearing clutter
My mom, who retired a year ago after a long career as an occupational therapist, is putting the quarantine at home to good use.
Although we have not seen her in months due to the pandemic, my sister and I get regular pictures of random objects our mother has cleaned out of her four-bedroom home where we grew up. First it was the closets, as she texted me pictures of glazed pottery figures and lopsided thrown pottery vases I made in high school, pictures of old high school boyfriends, or a binder from 11th-grade AP English she found on the top shelf. Yes - I’m 38-years-old and my childhood closet hasn’t been touched much since I moved out to go to college in 1999. That is, until the pandemic. It was beyond time. We’ve also gotten photos of random furniture.
“Do you want this?” my mom will ask, about a winged table she once used as a changing table when I was an infant. Or old empty photo frames that once hung in my grandparents’ RV. “What about this?” she’ll text.
The answer is almost always “no.”
When she sent photos of her 1960s striped swimming suit Barbie and her original, first edition Skipper doll, it brought flooding back memories to childhood when my younger sister played “salon” and chopped all of Skipper’s hair off.
Luckily, the reminder came right in time, as we bought a replacement 1960s Skipper doll for our mom for Mother’s Day - one with the original hair. Thank you, eBay.
I come from a long line of “collectors.” And while my late dad and grandmother truly were hoarders, my mom is just a sentimental collector of “stuff.” But after she flew out to California with us last year to help us empty out my dad’s house, we had a conversation with her. The gist of it was this: We aren’t going to do this twice.
And now in retirement, she finally has the time. For the first time in likely two decades, my mom cleaned out and organized her garage. In the last two months while she’s been sheltering at home due to COVID-19, she’s cleaned out all the closets and her junk drawers, documenting her efforts to us remotely since we live hours away.
“Need your great-grandmother’s sewing machine?” she once texted me.
“No thanks, Mom,” I responded.
“What about these men’s shirts?” she asked. She wasn’t sure who they belonged to, but apparently thought maybe my husband might want them, even if they weren’t really his size.
I guess it’s the thought that counts. But as we live as a family of five in a very small house, it strictly limits how much stuff we can keep - which can be a very good thing, considering that hoarding can run in families.
When my mom sent her old laptop to us for the kids to use for homeschooling during the pandemic, she couldn’t help but send down a few extra things, namely some old children’s books, a collection of rubber turtles that once belonged to my sister as a kid, and a snorkel. Because we will obviously be going snorkeling really soon.
But I am thankful. I’m thankful for the laptop, and for the fact that my mom currently has the time and the energy to go through the last 40 years of things she has acquired as she’s stuck in her house. I’m glad that, as items are donated, they will find new homes with people who need them. And I really appreciate the fact that my mom is decluttering things now, while she is still relatively young and in her 60’s, because I saw firsthand how difficult it was for her to clear out her mother’s home, and I’m still exhausted from clearing out my dad’s.
But it also makes me very glad that, during a pandemic when so many people are falling ill and dying, especially people who are 60-plus, that my mom is healthy and still here. Even if that means getting random pictures of old high school memorabilia found in the back of a closet or 60-year-old Barbie dolls.
Now if I only had the time to clear out my attic, sometime between working from home full time and homeschooling three kids. One of these days ... maybe.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.