Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Staying Focused

A little less than a year ago, my husband’s mom moved into an graduated-care facility in Northern Virginia, leaving behind a two-bedroom home filled with thirty-five years of memories and a lifetime of possessions.

Last week my sister-in-law Mary and I traveled to Camden, South Carolina to clean out the place.  Needless to say, it was a big job.

To add to the enormity of the task, my mother-in-law collects nick-knacks the way nylon collects lint. Every room was crammed with tchotchkes and trinkets.

If we’d had unlimited time, perhaps we could have packed without a plan, but we only had three days.  But rather than getting overwhelmed, Mary and I stepped back and asked ourselves: “What categories of items are taking up the most space?” We figured that if we could identify a few areas and divvy them up, we'd make quick, visible progress.

We also decided to reward ourselves each evening with a pitcher of margaritas.

Doing a quick walk-through of the house, we determined that books, linens and clothes were the largest groups of items. I took on the first two; Mary tackled the latter. The knick-knacks were easy to deal with once we’d emptied the house of everything else. (The photo at the top of this posting is of the living room after all the major stuff had been removed. The two smaller photos are of Mary and me in the living room once we'd finished with it.)

As Mary and I boxed and bagged, it occurred to me that our triage technique not only prevented us from getting mired in minutiae but could be replicated to achieve almost any dream or goal.

Margaritas are optional.


  1. Oh, I've been there, done that. I think you stayed amazingly positive!

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Tweeting at www.twitter.com/frugalbookpromo

  2. Anonymous3:14 PM

    What a great way of tackling the challenge. My brothers and I had to clean out a house my Dad and Mom lived in for 40 years. Oy!

    It was the emotions that made it hard. Every little thing had a memory attached. Someone had loved it, and who were we to toss it? So it took a long time.

    Your calm, practical approach would have helped.

    And welcome back!

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