Keys, Paper Clips and Rubber Bands

My dad passed away last March. His home just sold and the closing is coming up soon. For almost one year, his home remained untouched while it was for sale. His wife, unable to go through all of his ‘stuff’, put a for sale sign on the front lawn and left the state.

Now, we (the children) have three weeks to go through a lifetime of our parents belongings. The majority of items in the home belonged to dad and mom. Walking into dad’s home is like returning to 1993, the year mom died. The same couches, chairs, end tables, pictures, knick knacks, serving dishes, plates, tea set and family memories.

In addition to memories, Dad left a legacy of artifacts from his world travel. He has pictures from meetings with Fidel Castro and Anwar Sadat. He has souvenirs from the USSR and China where he traveled long before diplomatic channels were open to those countries.

The remains of his hard work are stored in rows of boxes. Boxes of carousels with picture slides from countries all over the world. Boxes of speeches that are memorable and inspiring. Boxes of keys, paper clips and rubber bands.

Every night, when dad came home from the office, he would empty his pockets. Invariably, his pockets held coins, keys, rubber bands and paper clips. The coins and keys were understandable. The rubber bands and paper clips? Not so much.

One night I questioned dad on the contents of his pockets, trying to sweep away the trash from the treasure. He told me not to touch anything because those two paper clips were his lucky paper clips. Huh? How do you get lucky paper clips? I was never enlightened.

As I wade through dad’s belongings I am finding small containers filled with paper clips. These stashes are making me pause. Where did his lucky paper clips go? Why are there five paper clips in one box and fourteen in another? What about the Poppycock can full of coins, paper clips and rubber bands? What is the significance of all these paper clips in drawers, baskets and boxes?

What is important? I can’t tell right now so I am sorting and stashing and driving my husband nuts. Our storage room is bursting at the seams.

It took me ten years to let go of my mother’s trash. This time, I hope I can figure out what is important and recycle what is not quickly. Either that or you will soon see me on an upcoming show of hoarders.


23 thoughts on “Keys, Paper Clips and Rubber Bands”

  1. Oh, PW, I feel your pain. It is so hard to get rid of stuff, especially when you’re not sure what is wheat and what is chaff.

    My brothers and I went through our parents’ stuff together. There was stuff that I knew I’d never look at again that I couldn’t part with. I asked my brothers to throw it out because I couldn’t. I had my turn throwing out stuff that they couldn’t part with but needed to. I kept enough, though.

    Good luck. One thing you should keep nearby, though, is a box of Kleenex.

    1. I am going to rely on your wisdom and ask others to help me discard. My daughter is very good at this. She is able to throw things with abandon and since she would inherit it all some day, I am guessing I should trust her.

  2. Oh, I know how daunting and exhausting this exercise is. Dad passed in 2004 and his “shop” still stands as he left it, every tool where he’d used it. My siblings all went through the basement together, and boxes and truckloads of “useful” finds came out … most went to the dump. They had to keep Mom upstairs away from the dust, mildew and mold . She would have saved everything … as children of the Depression, discarding was unheard of and much of that has rubbed off on us.

    Elyse is right .. keep the Kleenex handy. You never know what delight will make you laugh and which will make you cry.

    My “sorting” was helped by the fact that if it couldn’t go on a plane with me, I couldn’t take it.

    Hugs to you … MJ

    1. Thanks MJ. I have boxes, boxes everywhere and am overwhelmed right now and in a state of denial… denying that I am walking around piles all over my house. I am hoping for a snow day this week so that I can stay home and start to wade through these memories and piles.

  3. As my grandmother aged, and as Alzheimer’s claimed her memory, we found ourselves helping her move into a nursing home. My cousins and I spent the weekend pouring through her apartment stumbling upon memories that were priceless. Her marriage certificate, letters from my grandfather, check stubs from 1976, taxes and more. But the one thing we couldn’t get over wasn’t the pounds of paper clips and rubber bands…no. It was the containers and containers of udder balm she had stashed all over. It was like an archeological dig with one of us shouting ‘UDDER BALM!’ Whenever one of us found a container. We, too, were in need of boxes of kleenex however our tears were of a different kind.

    The memory of a parent lives on long after the paper clips, nylons and rubberbands are gone. Hang in there…we’re thinking of you!

    1. I remember the Udder Balm! Makes me smile. Luckily no udder balm for us but I am going to have to throw the rubber bands (they are brittle), your next Christmas gift will feature a key and probably some paper clips!

  4. It’s so hard to part with anything that was important to someone we loved. But THEY were important to us…not their things. Save only what you love, not what they loved.

  5. As I read this post, I am thinking of the past year when my Grandmother passed on…Mom had to go through, so much – it seemed for every item there was a story. A painting that hung over her bed, a shawl knit by her great aunt, her Black Watch plain wool suit, she wore this to every “occasion”..all together it told Gramma’s story. Mom had to choose what to keep and what she passed on; her childhood memories guided her I think.


    1. I think it is the memories that are making me keep everything. Luckily, I have my husband who is not so connected with the memories and will question me saying “And we are keeping this plastic bowl because…?” He is very gentle as he makes me sort important memories from items I really need to let go.

  6. Wow – sounds like your dad had a lot of neat stories to tell! I wish you luck as you go through all that – not an easy job, I know. Perhaps you’ll find you need a lucky paperclip as well?

  7. For some reason that no one living could explain, my father wanted to have a recording of Bobby Darrin singing “Mack the Knife” played at his funeral. My brother charged my niece and I with finding a recording — before iPod days, natch. We found one of those fake fish trophies, that when you pressed a button, played, you guessed it, Bobby Darrin singing “Mack the Knife.” We presented it to my brother who was not even mildly amused.

    I still have the fish!

    Sending you hugs (and a fish if you want him).

  8. Who can blame you? Your dad sounds amazing. Could you share some of these with us? Pictures and stories may help you release the physical items themselves because you’ll always have them on your blog.

    1. Actually, my dad is the reason I started to blog. He taught me all about storytelling and has such an amazing life it begs many years of blogging to share. Can’t wait.

  9. Good luck to you as you work through this task! I dread doing this when my mom dies; my dad passed away a few years ago. She and my dad were also world travelers, and they have a house FULL of stuff. No amount of pleading to thin it out has made any impact. I know my mom loves me, but I haven’t been able to get her to see that the best gift she could give me at this stage of life would be to do her own clean out! Why is it so difficult to clean out and sort a loved one’s belongings? I think because we feel a responsibility to sort with care, to make sense of the things that were saved. I know the small amount of work I’ve done like this is daunting, and it seemed to me that the hardest things to get rid of were the ones I could least justify keeping, and yet wanted the most! Talk about emotional! One thing that has helped me deal with my own stuff is recognizing that I don’t want to do this to my kids! Now that’s motivation to clean out! ~ Sheila


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s