Sharing what was cluttering our lives

Jun. 28, 2014 @ 06:49 PM

My mother suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for an unusually long time, and it took her away from us in small and large pieces that led up to a final physical departure from this earth.  In the early stages her disease exhibited itself through a loss of organizational skills, often manifested by an obsessive re-arranging of her extensive wardrobe.

My parents were savers.  Though they passed on the childhood apparel that I outgrew, adult clothing held the potential of a future wearing.  Though my mother’s weight fluctuated, such that she sometimes outgrew her clothing, too, her garments were classic; they didn’t go out of style.  She never gave up on fitting into them again, and sometimes she did. 

The house I grew up in was historic and cavernous, with enough space to hold our family plus my parents’ photography business.  Ivey and Morvene worked together on the portrait end of things, while my dad did the commercial shoots and my mother later took pictures for a newspaper. 

The big house contained all of this, with a studio downstairs, and upstairs the darkroom and larger “finishing room” where I helped my dad complete his prints when I was old enough.  After I went off to college my parents retired, and the finishing room became my mother’s overflow closet.

My dad built hanging racks—long bars like you’d find in a clothing store.  The excess apparel hung here, in that space that was next to my old bedroom.  When I visited I’d hear her shuffling in there, late at night.  She’d make piles to give away and piles to keep, then get them mixed up and start all over.  In the waking hours her frustration was palpable, and it was hard to get her to quit.

Last week this memory hit a bit too close to my current reality.  My daughter and I excavated the small attic space off of her bedroom.  We dragged out dusty boxes and bags of kids clothing and toys (worth keeping, we had thought at the time.)  Jessie helped me with the first round of sorting, and we filled big black bags to go to the thrift shop.  The second round of stuff was good enough to sell on Ebay.  But there was an in-between category that I didn’t know what to do with.

Jessie went back home and I kept sorting.  I opened other closet doors, including the walk-in that Peter and I share.  Daughter Amanda’s bedroom became the staging area because the light is so good.  I made piles and, like my mom, sometimes I got them mixed up.  But finally I’d filled Peter’s truck with another load of black thrift-shop bags, and posted most of the eBay things online (a tedious endeavor).  That third indeterminate category led me to discover

It feels good to clean out our spaces and take things to the thrift shop.  Good comes to others when we share what was cluttering our lives, and the anonymity of thrift shop giving can make it easy.  But I have discovered a lot of fun by sharing things on Yerdle and communicating with the receiver.  The exchange would be even better if it were local (I guess you call that a yard sale), but for now this is easier and quicker for me.

Seeing the vast number of bags and packages I’ve sent off from this clean-out endeavor is reassuring about the state of my own brain.  I had no problem organizing the liquidation, and I am quite happy to wave goodbye to the bags and boxes as they roll down the driveway to the thrift shop and FedX.

My mother was a beautiful, gracious woman, even in the face of her disease.  But she couldn’t organize her wardrobe or part with unused items.  I thought of her as I completed those tasks in my own home this week, all these years later.  I am grateful to be like my mom in the ways that I am, but thankful that I could finish this job and move on.

A CHH columnist since 1998, Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and has served as executive director of The Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill and previously of Orange Congregations in Mission in Hillsborough.  Currently she manages a horse barn and a home business on the Orange County farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at, or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.