As I write this we’re on our way back from 10 days in Devon and Cornwall.
Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Especially the way 2020 has played out so far. A few elements of it were really lovely – a couple of meet-ups with friends and some time with my dad and his wife on the way there and back. We also enjoyed a few pasties, as it would have been rude not to support local businesses while we were there! But these were mere distractions…
The main purpose of the visit was not a holiday. It was to clear out my mum’s house following her recent move to a care home.
I know that house clearance doesn’t sound like a bag of fun at the best of times, but Mum was a bit of a hoarder. On a scale of hoarders, she’s no world champion, but she still had an awful lot of stuff!
One small mercy was that she hadn’t lived there too long. We helped her to move into her bungalow back in 2004, when she could no longer cope with stairs. But this was already 16 years ago…and you can amass quite a lot of stuff in 16 years, if you’re that way inclined!
I’d already been down to visit Mum twice in the last 3 months, and sorted out the bulk of her paperwork during that time. That was when Mum was still in the house, bedridden following a ‘funny turn’ near the start of the lockdown.
While she was aware of what I was doing then, she strangely didn’t try and stop me or even interfere. For anyone who even vaguely knows Mum, this was highly unusual and unprecedented. It was clear sign that she probably wasn’t all there.
House to let
The aim for this visit was to get the house ready for letting out. In my naïve optimism, I’d hoped to get the house cleared and decorated during this time. By the time we left – 8 days after our arrival – the house was 90% clear and we even had time to quickly vacuum.
On the face of it, Mum’s house hadn’t looked too bad, but I think this was mainly relative to her old place. It was still fairly cluttered. She’s had a cleaner in to help for the last decade or so as she wasn’t capable of doing it herself. However, they had been somewhat limited in what there were allowed to actually do, under her watch.
As Mum had become increasingly disabled, she’d set up her house in a way that worked for her, but that would have driven most other people crazy. This included having anything that she might conceivably need out and accessible on a work surface (rather than tidied away) or in low cupboards.
Mum liked a bit of retail therapy. This is a bit of an understatement. She was a bulk buyer and lived for the BOGOF details that the government is now trying to curb. This came from a fear of running out of stuff and covered everything from food, cat supplies, cleaning products, toiletries and toilet rolls (of course).
What took the time?
First and foremost, everything needed sorting.
The bungalow isn’t big, but the two bedrooms were full, as was the garage, kitchen cupboards, 2 fridge-freezers etc. Mum had always been preparing for some kind of apocalypse. It’s just a shame that she’d been bedridden when it finally happened (i.e. the lockdown) so she couldn’t really make use any of it.
We had limited time so we hired a skip – which soon became two – but we wanted to repurpose or recycle as much as possible.
We managed to recycle a load of paper, plastic, metal and glass. Cornwall County Council is pretty hot on recycling, which is great. Luckily this was all fairly accessible.
I became a familiar face at the only charity shop in town that was accepting donations due to the virus. I started off walking down into town with bags and later in the week I was filling the car with heavy boxes of crockery etc. How many dinner sets does one person need?
Luckily there was also a clothes bank nearby and the local Coop had a charity bookstall, so we managed to share out a few more charity donations that way too.
Mum’s food store was always a running family joke, so apart from the pasties and a few fresh items, we were easily fed from the kitchen contents during our stay. Thanks for thinking ahead Mum. There was even some left to go to the foodbank at the end of the week.
There was a lot of NHS equipment that had been loaned to Mum over the years including wheelchairs, walkers, toilet seats and the hospital bed that had become her home. Fortunately, all this was collected for cleaning and redistribution to the next person that needed them. Yes, even the toilet seat got taken back in…
With 36 hours to go before we were due to leave, I put the majority of the remaining furniture on free-sites and it all miraculously went! There are a lot of people looking for ‘projects’ which came in very handy!
Thank goodness for small mercies
Gratitude is a big part of my life. Thank goodness! And I am grateful for the following things.
That Mum wasn’t there – everything would have been so much slower and stressful if she was.
I have a very tolerant and supportive husband and kids.
I am not managing this alone. Although it was mainly us last week, my dad came over one of the days to help and my brother is also part of the team.
The weather was mainly kind – not too wet or too hot for most of the week.
The various charity and recycling options that were available and accessible.
We have access to Mum’s finances to throw some money at the problem – any idea how much 2 large skips cost?!
So, all in all, the house clearance took the whole week. For the most part we were surrounded by chaos but we finally cleared everything up by the time we left. The house will probably remain empty now until some remedial work can be done on it.
The aim is to let it out. Ideally, we love to sell it to give us all one less thing to worry about, but it doesn’t make sense to do this now, with significant care home bills to foot. Maybe more on that particular issue another time…
Thank you for reading! For more on Age Life Balance, browse the blog at www.agelifebalance.com to find out more.