Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Moving Dad

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm in upstate New York today, tasked with a job everyone has either done or will do at some point: cleaning out a parent's house. It's not for a bad reason, but a good one: my 84-year old Dad is moving into a senior residential center, one of those places that has apartments, an attached nursing home if necessary, and a memory care unit.


Dad's kids are delighted he's made this choice, because the closest kid (sorry, I'm going to refer to people in their 50s and 40s as kids) is an hour's drive away. My sister and brother and I are all eight hours away, so when Dad fell (for the fourth time!) and wound up in hospital, and THEN was transferred to rehab, there was a great deal of phone calls, long-distance research, and consultations over the internet with his caretakers. It's hard enough dealing with an aging parent from a distance; doing so in the time of Covid is doubly difficult.

Fortunately, Dad had already chosen a senior living center before he actually needed one – in fact, before he was really ready for one. Green Point (they always have names like Green Point or Piper Shores or Fox Hollow) is like a senior citizens college crossed with a cruise ship. They have gourmet cooking, activities, movies, lectures, and little buses to take you on errands and outings. Dad has a one bedroom apartment with a lake-view balcony; and along with his meals, he also has weekly laundry service (which includes someone changing his bed linens,) a cleaning lady, and medicine service. They have a library, a beauty shop, a small store, physical therapists and an in-house nurse there 24/7.


As my sister said, “I want to live there!”


Having made the decision, however, there's the matter of Dad's house. He's taking an apartment's worth of furniture, art, and personal effects, which leaves a LOT of stuff behind. There are things that are already designated for one or another of the kids. There are things that need to be professionally assessed. There are items that maybe one kid or another or one of the grandkids could use? And the remainder, which need to be boxed up for Goodwill. There have already been five large bags of garbage!

Finally, there's getting the house ready for sale: engaging a Realtor. Having the plumber in. (My sister, over the phone, said, “Dad, we need a plumber. The master bedroom toilet runs and the guest shower leaks.” Dad said, “No it doesn't!” Barb: “There's a bucket full of water under the tap.” Dad: “Oh, that's because it leaks.”


Does this sound familiar to any of you with older parents? Honestly, I'm not that far from there myself.


The wall-to-wall carpet will need to be steam cleaned. The walls could use a paint job. The kitchen is clean and well-laid out but hasn't been updated since it was built in 1995. We're not going to do the work ourselves, but we need to hire reliable folks who can.


Barb and I agreed we were the logical choice to take on the job, as I work... well, you know what I do, and she's a Realtor and can keep up with her clients by working remotely. The superhuman issue is that we need to get everything done in one week. We're both headed home on Sunday.


I know if we don't get everything crossed off our project list, we'll be okay. The Realtor will pitch in. We can leave items in the garage if the other kids haven't had time to pick them up yet. The important thing is to get Dad settled with everything he needs in his new place. But even so... it feels daunting.


So tell me dear readers, have you had to pack up a parent's house? How did you manage? Any and all tips will be welcome!

25 comments:

  1. We’ve never had to deal with something like this; it sounds positively overwhelming, particularly with a one-week deadline. Good luck to you and your sister . . . .

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  2. I have done this, in several waves. All my mom's daughters lived either on the opposite coast from her in southern California or the-thirds of the way there. First we moved her out of her house into assisted living, and in her last year, from her comfortable little apartment to a single room. We always had that Sunday! kind of deadline.

    I will say I am grateful that my two older sisters and I, while being as different in personality, temperament, and even religion as three girls can be, got along so well in the disbursing of stuff. We didn't fight about a thing, we were good at being ruthless, and we all worked our butts off to get the job done. A man with a truck we'd hired who was helping cart some stuff away from her storage unit marveled at us. He said the week before three adult children were clearing out their parent's unit. He told us they fought about everything, and they were either doctors or lawyers! He couldn't believe it.

    I wish you the best this week!

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    1. We've located the man with a truck, so we're well started!

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  3. Best wishes, Julia. It's a hard job, all by itself, and filled with emotion too. Be grateful, as I know you are, that your father is lucid and on board. Yes, I've been there. My parents were living happily in assisted living,with my sister nearby, but had been slipping downhill for some time, mentally and physically. When both of them ended up in rehab, (Dad post-surgery, mom after a fall and fracture) their three children barely needed to discuss it: they could not go back. Rehab and then the very good associated nursing home. (they soon forgot they had ever lived somewhere else) My brother and I spent a weekend clearing out the apartment: the giant industrial size jars of OTC medical supplies; the excellent music system never hooked up after the last move; the Scandinavian modern furniture we remembered so well, now in bad shape. And the relief that they would now get the care they needed, mingled with a lot of sadness that it was necessary.

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  4. Oh, Julia, yes indeed. I have been there and done that twice when my Dad moved, first from Florida to Maine where he was an able participant in the move and then when he went into a care home in Maine from his apartment. In the first move Dad had divided his possessions between my brother and I, but the second move entailed more personal belongings and memories that he was unable to take with him to the care home. It was a very difficult time.

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  5. I haven't had to - yet. But when my father fell last winter and broke his hip, my sister and I agreed (as did my one brother) that it was only a matter of time. Fortunately, the plan is for Dad to sell the house to my sister so she can downsize, but even still, there will be the Packing of the Stuff for both Dad and my step-mom. None of us is looking forward to it.

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  6. When my father-in-law died 14 years ago it was the end of a process that had begun when his wife had died years earlier. They'd been in that house for 67 years, all told, and he had slowly been doling out possessions, but in tiny dribs and dabs. It fell to me to wrangle the rest, since neither my husband nor his local brother could deal with it.

    Thank goodness I had longer than a week, though. We offered the furniture to the six grandkids, but only two wanted anything. One granddaughter had just bought a big, rambling house, and she came and picked out half the furniture, lots of antiques. She had a moving company come the next week to cart it all off to her home in Lawrence, Kansas. The rest went to friends of the family, and what was left went to an estate sale. At the end of the sale a guy with a big truck and three hefty helpers came and gave me a couple hundred bucks for what was left.

    I still have some of their stuff packed away. Someday I guess my own kids will have to figure out where it goes, but I have tried not to keep as much stuff as they had. It was stuffed into every conceivable nook and cranny, including every utility bill and bank statement they had ever had. I took two entire carloads, full to the windows, to the shredder.

    Good luck, Julia, and good luck to your dad in his new adventure. I hope he thrives in the new place and has a wonderful time making new friends.

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  7. Julia, if you haven't already, get down on your knees and thank all the gods that be for your siblings. I had to move my mother from Albuquerque to Rochester. Fortunately she wasn't a pack rat, but she had lived in that little house for 30 years and she had a filing cabinet with every single receipt from every single purchase for every single year. We got her here first, moved into the guest room while waiting for her independent living apartment to open up, and I flew to Albuquerque and started packing. It's all a haze to me. My only advice is that if you are wondering if anyone wants or can use X, donate it. You will have forgotten about it in a year.

    My mother had a great cleaning lady who helped me with this, and who was happy to haul off tons of stuff, including opened boxes of flour, sugar, etc. And she bought the car, an 20 year old Olds with about ten thousand miles on it!

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  8. I was very fortunate -- my mother lived with my sister for the last 30ish years of her life, so when she passed, we didn't have to go through a whole house worth of stuff. (My dad had died when I was 13.) My sister had a close friend who had the appropriately ruthless nature who pushed her to get rid of a lot more stuff than she would have on her own, which was also a blessing.

    My mother-in-law still lives independently in the house where she raised all eight of her children, but the family has been purging the basement and attic for years, and the house will go to the only daughter when she dies (as requested by the seven sons) so we will probably never have to fully go through every single item. Perhaps my sister-in-law's kids will get that duty some day, but I hope I'm long gone before then.

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    1. That is fortunate, Susan. My mother sold her last home about seven years ago, when she moved in with my brother, where she has her own apartment, complete with kitchen. Next year she will have to get rid of even more of her possessions when they move into a much smaller home and Mother will only have a bedroom with a single closet. It's not going to be easy for her.

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  9. My partner and I did this for/with my mother when my dad died five years ago. We did it in about 10 days by being razor-sharp focused on the objective: getting mum safely into her new senior's apartment. Mum picked out what she wanted to take with her, the rest she simply let go of both emotionally and practically; that made it so much easier than it might have been.

    Family friends came by and took the furniture they wanted, neighbours took all the young-kid toys and books, the local library received boxes and boxes of books we packed, I shipped home about five cartons of various items for our own use, and a man with a truck took what was ultimately left over. Then a cleaning woman came to bring shine to the stove and fridge, which turned out to be a waste of money, as the new house owner chucked them both for modern versions.

    My advice is feed yourselves well, be clear about what you truly want to take home yourself, and be absolutely ruthless with the rest. You can do this, Julia and sister!

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  10. My parents both died in 2005, so we were spared both the "downsizing to independent/assisted living" part and the guilt-induced "you have to take this" part. I'm so glad your dad had a new home picked out ahead of time.

    It's hell. Realtors have a roster of workers and know how to update a kitchen for resale--usually, new countertops, backsplash, sink and faucet. Maybe painting the cabinets white. A fresh coat of paint, blinds and shades in the "up" position, screens off the windows, and have a handyman freshen up the caulk around the bathtub. Top priority is getting the house and garage emptied.

    I kept (and at great expense, shipped) too much stuff, which I'm now handing over to my kids or donating. Go easy on yourself. After your dad settles in, you'll have the time to order him a new lamp or bed quilt or coffee maker/electric kettle.

    Nothing gave me more joy than giving my daughters their grandmother's jewelry before the older daughter's wedding. I had clip on earrings reset as short drop earrings, and had the rings cleaned and repaired. Their grandmother was with them in spirit.

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  11. My mother died in a car accident several years ago so my west coast brother and sister flew in to do what they could. We agreed to sell her house as soon as possible' her church was willing to take most all of her furniture and even groceries out of the cupboard. But there was still a lot to deal with. Neither my brother nor my sister could take much with them and my sister's attitude was "that's what dumpsters are for" and proceed to pitch almost everything out the window into the dumpster. My brother's idea of helping was to stay out of the way and look at all the old photographs he found. As the surviving local it was up to me to do what needed to be done to get the house sold. It took about a year and a half, with my sister constantly urging me to "light a fire" under workers who weren't doing what she thought they should.

    The lesson I learned from all that is to try to get rid of "stuff" now. I also have written pages of "final instructions" which I update every so often. Things like account numbers, passwords, where to find tax and other documents, pet med details,etc. Whether that will help anyone or not, who knows, but I feel somewhat better for having put it down on paper.

    That's the thing, Julia, doing this with your dad will teach you more about what you want.

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  12. We're in discussions about this right now. My mother died 3 years ago and my sister and I have finally convinced my father to let us get rid of most of her stuff. More yarn and fabric than 40 people could use in a lifetime or 6. It's a huge house packed to the rafters.
    This year may have also convinced my father to think about moving closer to one of us. He's about an hour from us.

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  13. My sister, may all the gods bless her, has been the one to shoulder this burden in my family, not only for our parents and our aunt, but for her mother-in-law. She got the job because she didn't have a high-pressure, 12-days-a-week job that was all that kept the lights on, like I did. But she has paid dearly for adding three households worth of stuff to her own, already adequately furnished household. I salute her. It has been years since the last elder died, and she's still clearing away stuff.

    All I have had to deal with is Warren's stuff, but Warren was a packrat. Worse, there is an archive of his literary papers at his university library, so I have to go through each scrap and tiny artifact to decide what to keep, what to toss, and what to send to the archive. He had a habit of dumping everything into a box so I find old bank statements, credit card receipts, and personal correspondence with Poul Andersen all piled up together. It's emotionally draining.

    I recommend bringing in a good friend who has no sentimental attachment and a ruthless streak. He or she can cut straight to the keep/donate/toss decision and hold you to it. Priceless!

    Good luck, Julia!

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  14. Oh, Julia, my heart goes out to you. I moved my parents twice; first from the house they'd lived in for thirty years into an apartment, and then from the apartment into assisted living. When my dad died, I moved my mom into a senior complex, then into assisted living (very briefly!) then into a memory care unit. My brother was in Australia or New Zealand for most of this. You are blessed that you dad wants to do this--my parents were extremely uncooperative with every move. My best advice to you and your sister is to go out for a good meal and a martini at the end of every day of packing and sorting!

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    1. You are my woman Debs, can't wait to meet you, who knows where, who knows when!

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  15. I have done this multiple times. The first time was when my mother moved to a condominium from the house where I grew up and where she had lived for over 50 years. The good news was that a lot of her furniture went with her as the one bedroom condo took most of her living room furniture and all of her dining room furniture. Then her sister, my childless aunt, died. Once again having been in the house for over 50 years. I have two sisters, mind you, but one lives elsewhere (overseas, NJ or CA at various times) and the other is an international flight attendant for Delta so it mostly fell on me and on my husband. Then my husband's parents moved to assisted living in Knoxville where their daughter lives. So my husband and I drove up to VA to deal with the house. He spent days shredding endless piles of paper. As with my mother and my aunt, his parents kept all papers including check stubs from 50 years age. I cleaned and washed and staged the house with the furniture left after they moved what they wanted to Knoxville. Fortunately one of his high school classmates was a realtor and was happy to deal with us. Good neighborhood with good schools so on the drive back to Atlanta, she called us to say that we had a contract at the asking price. Then we just had to go back up to divide up what was left. I forgot to tell you that in cleaning out the house to put on the market we hired a man to empty out the garage and the attic. It took two dumpsters. My father in law was an inveterate fixer-upper. Both places were full of parts, saved just in case. The 50 year old dryer still worked because he would fix it. Then my mother moved from the condo to assisted living so another clean out and finally when she died, we did it again. It's not a project for the weak but it can be very soothing sometimes finding remnants of your childhood or their young married lives. Good luck!

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  16. I’ll try and limit this to what might pertain to your situation Julia! First, the senior community my folks chose had a realtor you could use who had resources to help with the move. She had good movers and kept at Mom to not bring a lot of kitchen items because she wouldn’t need them. As Mom admitted later. She also knew charities in the area that would come in and take everything not moved. And using this realtor gave you a rebate of a couple thousand dollars. I was it as far as family nearby. We’d already gone through a big downsizing purge with my parents a few years earlier so no one was jumping up to take more stuff. My local niece was getting married and did take the china happily. I gave and donated a lot of stuff away which made my parents cringe. The serviice cleared the house and cleaned it and it was put up for sale quickly. It was a fairly new house that my folks had been in for just a few years and they had kept it up despite their ages. When Mom had to move to the medical facility my brothers and sister all helped disburse what was left in the apartment. By then some of their kids needed furniture. The community ran a thrift shop and would send a gang of seniors to pick up furniture and knickknacks to sell in it. So the upshot is donate and give away. See if the new community has relocation services to help. Good luck!

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  17. Julia, I'm not going to rehash my memories just to say that been there done that! My thoughts are actually it's easier to do it with a tight deadline. I know that doesn't make sense but no time for procrastination, for what if's, for, "no! mother said I was to have it". It's all 'stuff'. My professional name for it. If I had the energy to start another professional organizing biz, I think I might call it, "Its only Stuff". Living in the USA, made me realize that I could live without a couple of items from my mums and grandparents houses. My memory is good enough. Good luck to you and Barb, you've got this one.

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  18. I recommend everyone read The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Very helpful to do a lot of this before it is the last minute.

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  19. Oh dear, I have been there with my mom and my father in law. You and your sister are doing yeomans' work and I wish you all the best.

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