I’ve been experiencing a lot change lately. Mostly within my family. The past few months have been full of family health emergencies with grandparents on both sides of my family. While everyone is—thankfully—okay, this has expedited a couple big moves and with that, the need to clean out two of the family homes all within a short time period.
That’s why I spent my past weekend down in my hometown helping clean out my grandparent’s house. My grandparents, much like everyone else from their generation, got ride of nothing. So their fashionably 60s home was still full of some surprising gems from when they moved into the house. We found everything from actual cleaning supplies from the 60s and 70s, to spices from the same time period and even bottles of tonic water from the 80s, all of which had long expired. Seemed like every 5 minutes or so someone was finding something that would leave us wondering, “Why??? Why would they still own that?” We learned very quickly to stop questioning my grandma’s reasoning and just get on with the massive amount of work that laid in front of us. I’m not sure if you’ve had the misfortune of packing up a family member’s home without them there to weigh in, but figuring out where to start and what to do with everything is an overwhelming endeavor.
For me, the hardest part about boxing up my grandparent’s home in a timely manner was how easily distracted I would get by all the things I never knew existed. I knew that my grandmother had owned some very iconic orange and yellow tupperware containers (after all, she’s been using them my entire life), but I had no idea she still had original Pyrex mixing bowls, casserole dishes, and containers. As someone who puts a lot of work into not using plastic, these products feel amazing to me; however, as a 30-something with specific taste, I am a little hesitant. Would taking my grandma’s original Pyrex’s become cool items that will get another lifetime’s worth of use or am I committing to a 1950s/60s esthetic in my kitchen that I’m not entirely sure I want to commit to? In the end, I took home the Pyrex as well as a few other kitchen tools (it’s been my experience that a lot of the kitchen tools made in the 50s are of much higher quality than many of the more plastic-based products in the store today).
Honestly though, the absolute most interesting finds for me were all items of more sentimental value than monetary value. My grandma has always been huge into taking photos and organizing them in albums. Flipping through old albums from when she was in high school and college were some of the most fascinating photos in the entire house. I’ve only heard a small handful of my grandma’s stories from that time period and recognized very few people in those albums, but the were still very cool to see. Another gem was the boxes of handwritten recipe cards and notebooks full of newspaper clippings ranging from house keeping advice to even more recipes. Some of the recipes are now family recipes, meals that I remember my grandma cooking when I was a kid. Other’s boarder line on amusing, similar to the recipes seen on the 70’s Dinner Party twitter account (which is amazing, check it out if you’ve never seen it before). I plan on sorting through all them at some point and sorting the good recipes into a family recipe book.
The absolute best thing I saved from the house was a box of old letters (ranging from letters that were sent during the 1800s to letters written by my grandma when she was in college) and my great grandmother’s diary from 1934. I’ve flipped through only a few of these so far and they are already amazing. My Great Grandma Rose passed away when my grandma was 5-years-old and until this weekend, that was all I knew about her. My grandma never talk much about her mother. I feel like my mother’s side of the family shares old stories all the time, but my father’s side has a tendency to share only the same set of stories over and over again. I had no idea so much of their history was sitting in old shoes boxes at the bottom of a steamer trunk in the guest room this entire time. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll learn about my family from all these letters and journals (so far there is quite a lot of talk documenting the weather in Seattle in 1934—shockingly it was rainy), but I’m really excited my grandma saved all theses and a part of her family’s past has been preserved throughout all these years.
This is the second family home my family has had to clean and sort through this summer. We did something similar in my mom’s childhood home in late May/early June. Fortunately in that case my sister’s family is taking over the family home so while we did need to clear out quite a lot of old stuff and junk, we didn’t need to completely empty the house out. The whole ordeal, though, has seem to inspire a wave towards becoming more minimalist in my family. My mom is actively going through my childhood home to clear out junk so when my parents eventually move out, there won’t be so much clutter. My dad even bought a book, “The Swedish Art of Death Cleaning.” Apparently it’s all about organizing and cleaning house so your children won’t face a giant mess once you pass away (facepalm emoji). Coming home after the long weekend, I’ve even found myself looking at all the things I’ve accumulated over the years, mentally sorting out what I can donate (I feel a big end-of-summer clean out might be in my future).
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.