The Pine Bluff Commercial

Mom staying put; dumping house stuff on ‘someone else’


DEAR CAROLYN: My widowed, healthy, vibrant mother lives alone. Selling her huge house and the furniture, and going through my parents’ belongings, will be a massive undertaking one day. She says that “someone else” can take care of it. That it’s too painful for her.

The “someone else” is me and a semi-estranged sibling. My sibling lives far away and has been absent for decades. I live in the same town as my mother.

I don’t want her things or her house, only special letters and photographs. I can’t understand why or how she could saddle me with this. I feel like I have for much of my life: that she doesn’t consider how her actions directly affect me.

Still, it is her house, her life and her choice.

I feel trapped, and I can’t enjoy the present with my mom without feeling anger over the future.

— Home, Alone DEAR READER: I am sorry, that is a heavy emotional saddle.

I’m not sure the house is as physically burdensome as you think, though. As long as you’re OK with handing over control of where the stuff ends up, you can hire a company to clean out the house. All the paper, all the clothes, all the toxic cleaning solutions, every stick of furniture. It’s not cheap but can be cheaper than you’d expect, especially if the projected sale of some contents can offset the final price. Get a few estimates — ask real estate agents for names — pull those treasured photos and letters out for yourself, then drop the proverbial match.

I do wonder, though, whether the other mom burden — that “she doesn’t consider how her actions directly affect me” — is even heavier than you think? A nagging, lifelong sense of not mattering to your own mother is much harder work than a houseful of unwanted stuff. And it would make “the present with my mom” a mixed-enjoyment experience at best.

I sincerely doubt her thoughtlessness is something she intends personally and does to you; from here, it looks like self-absorption, which would be, aptly, entirely about her and her emotional limitations. If you haven’t gotten to the point of accepting this as who she is — and, consequently, treating her as unable vs. unwilling to engage with your feelings in a meaningful and restorative way — then that is the unpacking I suggest you do.

Finally, I’m not sure where your sibling fits in, and whether the issue there would be under- or over-involvement in your mom’s eventual estate. But maybe that’s something your mom would be willing to address in your favor now. “I understand your choice to age in place. If you have an attorney draw up papers for _____, then that would help me help you.” Your own appointment with an estate attorney to determine what _____ looks like, given your family’s circumstances, sounds like money well spent.

I meant what I said about being ready to let go of your mom’s stuff, though. Meaning can seep into a junk pile when you’re adjusting to the death of the person who chose it, used it, washed it by hand. Sending it on a dumpster ride is not for the faint of heart, even when you know it’s the only way to keep Mom’s possessions from owning you.

Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Friday at Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or email