The estate agent rang me this morning to let me know that the For Sale sign will go up next week, probably Wednesday. So that’s a strange feeling, putting your family home on the market. Especially since my two parents are still living. It feels wrong to sell it out from under them, even though I’m not doing that at all: my father is selling his own house, I’m just doing the donkey work. He signs the cheques. I sign for my mother, because she can’t do that any more, when we get to the actual legal documents part, assuming that’ll happen in due course.
It all seems very sudden, even though it’s been on the cards since last May, when Dad looked at me and said “I suppose we’d better sell the house.”
I loved the estate agent. He looked around the house in wonder and awe and probably some internal consternation, and said “It’s really hard to value” but also appreciated all the work that had gone into it, from the very beginning, all by my dad himself.
He saw an old photo upstairs – actually, a photocopy of a photo, that my dad had framed – and audibly goggled at how cool it was – my father’s uncle in 1913 posing with his swim team. Like something from another world, really; one we can’t begin to imagine in spite of all the pictures and films and books we’ve seen. These were real people; a little bit of their DNA runs through my veins. I pulled the photocopy out of the frame and kept it with all the other old photos.
When I got back from Ireland I was very productive for a few days, writing thank-you cards and feverishly sorting through the loose photos, writing on the back, trying to put them in chronological order, despairing when a random wedding picture had no names, no faces I knew, not even an indication of which side of the family it had come from. I went to Ikea, made a lovely photo collage for the wall, hung it up, even. Such industry, in a house otherwise crumbling around me (crumbling at least in terms of undone housework and un-put-away toys, constantly on the brink of running out of milk and bread).
Here’s a list, in two parts.
Things that were easy to put in the skip: (That’s a dumpster, Americans.)
- Garden waste.
- Very old pillows.
- My bank statements from 20 years ago.
- A nasty rolled-up rug.
- Used makeup, old hairspray, battered shoes without mates.
Things that were hard to put in the skip:
- My mother’s cushions. (You can’t donate cushions. They’re like pillows, nobody will take them.)
- The last bits and pieces from each room, the things I couldn’t decide about, the things I left for my friends to remove because I kept wanting to leave a little something, for character, to make it look at least a tiny bit personal.
- The photo albums that weren’t old enough to be interesting – the ones of my parents’ trips or travels over the last twenty years or so, visiting people I don’t know, or people who have their own pictures of that day.
- The Hummel figurine that someone knocked over on the way out to the garden; probably one of the very helpful people who were giving up their Saturday afternoon to help me out; they didn’t even notice. I shouldn’t have left it there, so close to the door. But it had survived so long, and now it was in three pieces. Poor little boy in the apple tree.
It’s weird being entrusted to get rid of other people’s stuff, even two people as uncaring about material goods as my parents. I kept the things I wanted. I kept a few things I thought other people would want. I gave away as much as I could to friends and family members who wanted them, who would take them and keep with them the memory of the place they came from – or even who would say “A lady gave it to me one day when my parents went to her house. I don’t know who she was, really. A friend of Mum and Dad’s who they hardly ever see, I think.”
My best friend told me I had no sentimentality, as I shot down her suggestions of things I might want to keep. I had two suitcases, mostly already full of photo albums, and a house full of junk over here already. I have no space for sentimentality. She left with a shelf that we unscrewed from the wall along with its curly brackets, and some of my mother’s jewellery, and the Dyson. Sentiment and practicality right there. I was happy about that.