Tag Archives: house

The Things We Carry

I spent much of spring break at my mom’s house in Jacksonville, cleaning out two large storage closets, aka The Twin Pits of Decluttering Despair. They were the final frontiers in the massive undertaking that has been clearing out my childhood home. And while I am relieved to have pushed through to this point, I am also overwhelmed with sadness at the wasted potential I saw as I dug through stacks of paper and boxes.

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(Behind that door: more stuff.)

My mother almost certainly suffers from a mild hoarding disorder. Unlike many hoarders, she does not shop, and does not Dumpster dive, and generally isn’t acquisitive. However, once items enter her house, they never leave. I started cleaning while she was in the hospital the first time, back in May of 2015. I discovered newspapers dating back to 2009 stacked on the kitchen table, a decade’s worth of telephone books, and every bank statement she’d ever received (including canceled checks). I discovered six closets packed full of clothes, in sizes ranging from 14 to 22, in decades ranging from 1980s to today. But she only ever wore the same three pairs of pants and five shirts – which were draped on chairs in her bedroom.

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When my brother and I lived at home, my parents kept things reasonably neat. I left home in 2002. My father died in 2003, which was also the year my brother graduated college and moved out. Our house went from being comfortably full to achingly empty in the space of one year, and I have a suspicion that my mother’s hoarding ramped up as she tried to fill the void in her heart.

The process of sorting and purging and organizing has been, quite frankly, depressing. So much of the clutter is just redundant waste. My mom had dozens and dozens of towels, most of them monogrammed. But the towels, and the monograms, belonged to long-dead family members – my mother’s mother (died 2008) and my mother’s aunt (died 1986). My mother has just a few pictures of her aunt, but 15 of her towels. Why? Why did she feel it was her obligation to carry the dead woman’s textiles? Similarly, she had sheets for full and queen beds, despite not owning beds in either of those sizes. I used the sheets and towels as packing materials, and STILL sent an entire vanload to Goodwill.

Some of the things I’ve had to get rid of were amusing, like the meat slicer my parents received as a wedding gift. It was still in the box. They also had a case of eight track tapes. Neil Diamond. AW YISS.

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I was sad about the items she never allowed herself to enjoy. I threw out pounds of food gifts she’d never opened – jams and cookies and chutneys and preserves. She raved about her friend’s homemade chocolate sauce, a jar of which she received for Christmas every year. There were twelve jars in her fridge. Only one of them was open.

I found landscape plans for the property which had been drawn up for the previous owners. A dresser drawer was filled with old film reels from someone’s world travels. When I asked mom about them, she told me she found them in the house when they moved in. So she kept them. Because of course.

At the back of the large closet, I found three cardboard moving boxes that I’m pretty sure hadn’t been opened since my parents moved into the house in 1983. One of them contained baby shower gifts from 1979, when I was born – beautiful embroidered collars, a sterling cup, hand-knitted blankets, a magic hanky. Each was still in a gift box, wrapped in tissue, with the cards attached. These made me inexplicably angry – not only did she NOT use them when I was a baby, she didn’t even tell me they existed so that I could use them for my own babies. They just took up space in her closet, and her life, for no purpose whatsoever. It’s maddening. I know this is part of a real psychological problem, but it’s hard not to be frustrated.

Most upsetting are things that she’ll never be able to tell me about – photographs of vacations she can’t remember, objects that were carefully packaged and preserved, but now she doesn’t know why or when. If we’re all stories in the end, hers is unraveling.

My biggest challenge was resisting the impulse to keep everything that might be meaningful, that might be useful. My mother kept things that other people found beautiful and useful. She kept things because people told her she should. She kept things because people told her they were valuable. In time, those things began to bury her, and now it is my responsibility to catalog them, understand them…. and decide for myself what to let go. In this endeavor, help me to not be my mother’s daughter.

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Adventure is Out There

So we moved.

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Allow me to introduce you to the R. A. Gray house. Mr. Gray was the longest-serving Secretary of State in Florida history, and he had this house built across the street from the Governor’s mansion in 1928. It was sold after his death and, in 1960, was moved to its present location on the northeast side of town.

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Looks great, right?

LIES.

We were initially outbid on this house, but the winning bidder ran for the hills after they got the inspection back. Every major system in the house needed to be updated – wiring, plumbing, roof, HVAC, foundation.

But on the other hand, the house had beautiful hardwoods, a grand foyer, cut-glass doorknobs, high ceilings, and character.

The house haunted me. We could save this house. We could make it amazing. We can fix this.

Jason, bless him, saw the fevered look in my eyes and agreed to embark on this adventure with me. So we submitted a much lower offer, sold our perfectly adequate, in-good-working-order house, and bought this fixer upper. Then we lit a pile of money on fire in the front yard.

The day after the closing, the electrician got to work. The house had a grand total of zero three-prong outlets, which meant that plugging in anything more powerful than a travel hair dryer was risky. Additionally, the breaker panel was located on the exterior of the house, which just seems like a terrible idea. The wiring they pulled out of our walls looked like it belonged to a nineteenth century electric chair.

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But soon we will have an indoor breaker box, and it’s SHINY.

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We will also have some drywall to patch.

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Because the power has been off in the big house, we’ve been living in the guest house, which was not built in 1928 and which we thought was in good shape.

MORE LIES.

The sink leaked, the bedroom fan didn’t work, and yesterday water began bubbling up here:

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There are many places where water is acceptable in a bathroom, but the base of the toilet is not one of them. Jason took the toilet up, which revealed a previously-broken flange and a poorly-done repair. This was beyond our capacity, tool-wise and knowledge-wise, so we’re calling in professionals.

That sums up our first week of home ownership.

SERENITY NOW!

 

 

 

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A (Farewell) House Tour, Part 2

Part 1 here.

Moving inside, because it’s hot as blazes out there.

Inside the house, we’ve replaced all the flooring (except in the bathrooms) and moved the HVAC from the crawlspace to the attic. We also painted. The sitting room is Behr Fashion Gray, and every other living space is Martha Stewart Sisal.

This is our foyer in 2011, before we moved in.

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We removed the tile, changed out the front door and light fixture, and accessorized.

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The living room circa 2011 was already starting to feel dated, with a high-contrast accent wall.

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After using the living room as such for years, we recently flip-flopped our living and dining rooms, with great success. We also added can lights in the ceiling.

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The old dining room was petite. Since the house doesn’t have an eat-in kitchen, we used the dining room frequently, and it just wasn’t practical for a family of six.

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The old dining room is now a sitting room, home of the octopus chairs.

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Next up: the kitchen.

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We refinished the cabinets, changed out the counter tops and appliances, and added a tile backsplash and enough undercabinet lights to perform surgery in there.

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The family room was perfectly inoffensive in the MLS pictures:

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After the fire, we vaulted the ceiling, which made the room feel much bigger. Recently, we created a coffee station in the corner and added some antique furniture. We added the cat in 2013.

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The previous owners used the sunroom as an office, which I don’t understand, as there was no AC to the sunroom when we moved in.

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The biggest change we made (other than adding a proper roof with AC) was re-vamping the wet bar. I will be sad to leave it.

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In the final installment of this series, we’ll check out the bedrooms. See you then!

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A Toasty Anniversary

Five years ago today, our house was struck by lightning and burned.

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It is an event which has come to shape my worldview in a lot of ways. Experiencing such a trauma taught me a lot about myself, about my marriage, and about my neighbors. I learned so many positive lessons from the fire, the most important of which were about kindness and generosity.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a great experience, though.

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I can still tell the difference between the smell of a wood fire and the smell of a house fire. House fires smell particularly sharp, an undertone of hot metal and burning chemicals.

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It feels a little like we will be abandoning this house when we move. We’ve been through a lot together, this house and the Taylors.

Ultimately, this house is just a pile of bricks and lumber like any other. The memories we’ve made here can’t be packed up in boxes, but they will come with us.

 

 

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