Clearly, the state of this dresser top does not fit in with my minimal living and decluttering goals.

All the while I was cleaning out closets and boxes and throwing things out this summer and fall, my dresser looked like that.

Since JULY.

Teacher, I have an excuse!

In July, I flew to Texas then drove back with Weston and Morgan in the Ford Explorer (that he later wrecked). My mother had been slowly putting piles of things together that she would send to me every so often. Sometimes she would send things home with the kids after their summer trips to Texas because it would save mailing. My mother had already given me many things that were of more tangible value, such as her china and things of that nature. She had been working on a pile of other things that she had intended to send home with the kids to me this summer. Instead, these things were given to me after her funeral and I took them home with me.

The pile of bags and boxes included things like framed photos of me as a child, framed photos I’d given to her of my children, extra copies of smaller photos of the kids that I used to always get for her, cards the kids had sent her in their babyish scrawls, old photos of her, snapshots of me as a baby and some of me as a teenager, and even my grade school report cards.

There was also this construction paper-covered tin can pencil holder Ross had made in kindergarten. There was a note tucked inside from my mother telling me she had set it by her telephone all these years and kept her pens and pencils in it.

There were other random things, like one of those origami-style folded paper “fortune teller” things, you know, the things kids make in grade school that ask questions and you can move the flaps back and forth and inside it has answers about which boy you like or it might tell you that you stink and so on. What was inside, though, was this “persuasive paper” I’d written my parents when I was 15 explaining why I should only go to high school half-day the next semester. (I finished high school in 10th grade, and apparently, I thought not only should I finish high school in 10th grade, I shouldn’t even go full-time the final semester.) I had valid reasons such as homework was cutting into my TV time. I can’t even remember now if I went to school full-time that last semester or not, but my mother must have thought the paper was so (unintentionally) amusing, she kept it.

Receiving this pile of things after her funeral was creepy in a way. These things were different than the things she had given me before. These things were of no particular value other than sentimental, mostly pieces of paper and pictures. These were mementos, little personal treasures. Pictures she kept on the wall or on tables, and other things she enjoyed having near her–much of it being things I had given to her. And she was giving them back to me.

I was so creeped out by this pile of things that I came home, stacked it all up on my dresser, and didn’t touch it for months. However! That is no way to live or to honor those things, so I finally got tired of my mess and cleaned it all up over the past few days.

I had to find a place to keep what I had brought back, and that meant taking another swipe at my closet–this time, not at the clothes hanging up but at the things I had stored on the shelves and on the floor. I took my own advice and judged whether what was currently in there meant anything to me and when was the last time I used it, judging everything against what my mother had given me. When trying to minimize, holding something of value (whether tangible or sentimental value) up against other things taking up space in your home is a good way to make decisions easier. I piled up a “trash mountain” of things to get rid of and by the time I stored the things I’d brought back from Texas, there was less stuff in my closet–and the stuff that was in there was more meaningful and worthy of taking up storage space.

I also kept out some things to display and enjoy. Hanging a few of my childhood photos makes me feel like I’m in my parents’ house, which is a cozy feeling.

And now my dresser looks like this.

Much better.


  1. IowaCowgirl says:

    Looks beautiful! It’s hard to go through some of those things. Thank you for sharing all this.

    I love the oval-framed portrait. I have three of those hanging in my old farmhouse, great-grandfather, great-grandmother, and great-great-aunt.

    Did either side of your parents’ family have an Civil War stories or artifacts?

  2. kellyb says:

    This really stikes a cord. My mom has been gone almost 23 years and I just went through a box of her things in October of this year. I just could never bring myself to going through that one last box. It’s done and I saved what I wanted and donated the rest knowing that would make her happy.

    Will you come and help me clean my dresser?

  3. Lynda Swink says:

    I have an accumulation of 30 years from my Husband and I, and more that we inherited from his folks… We moved across country and took too much of it with us because it was “Family Stuff.”

    I am currently in the process of weeding it out. Our lives have changed, there are things that we love and will keep, but the rest of it is OUT!!!!! Some to friends, some to Goodwill, and the rest to EBAY…and if we’re honest some of it is just plain trash!

    Somehow making room and clearing out is a refreshing exercise to get you through the winter blues!

  4. Urbanite says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It was very touching. I am fortunate to have many family treasures, including a whole series of Civil War letters, that record the minutia of daily life. I would have more if my great aunts hadn’t thought thousands of glass photography negatives belonging to their late father were trash of no interest to anyone – negatives that today would be worth a fortune to any university or historical museum and certainly would have meant a great deal to our family’s current generations. I’m so glad you are preserving your family’s history. And your dresser looks great!

  5. Amy Buchanan says:

    Your mom would be so proud of you… for having a clean room! LOL
    Such sweet memories that your mom treasured, I’m sure you will have so many of your own to pass along to your children and they will be just as ‘creeped out’! ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Nancy Stickler says:

    So very nice. A job well done.

  7. Ramona says:

    I’m sure you feel a weight lifted having finally gotten it cleared away. That was great to me that your mother saved all those things.

  8. joycee says:

    So many precious memories. This was a very difficult year, I’ve walked the same path as you Suzanne and I know just how hard it is. I still have Mom’s house to clean out and I put that off, it’s the same thing as a “pile of stuff on a dresser,” just BIGGER! Your Mom was so proud of her family and you can see she loved you all so much. Sweet, sweet memories…

  9. texwisgirl says:

    I don’t fault you at all for leaving it piled for these 6 mos. You needed that time to be ready to go thru it. Like you said, loaded with treasures that she held dear and that she gave back to you, knowing her time on earth was ending. Not an easy thing to face. But it sounds like you did really well. I enjoyed seeing some of those old photos – could recognize your young kids right away. Loved your report card. ๐Ÿ™‚ You were destined to be a bright, talented writer even then… ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. JOJO says:

    What a nice way to start another year, memories can not be bought nor sold, you have then forever.
    Now–I need to go clean my closet or I will feel guilty. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Sue Nugent says:

    :snuggle: My Mom has been giving things to us 9 kids for awhile now,clearing out her drawers amd closets. She will be 85 as of January 2011.I guess that’s what we all will do as we reach her age. And people do tend to save similar things.Looks a lot like the things my Mom saved from our younger days.I don’t have natural children, but I know I miss those days of when my grand children were very young.I guess it is a way of holding on to those precious days when they were so small and you could hold them in your arms. I do miss that and mine are only ten and six.

  12. Shelley (eastern Roane County) says:

    I lost my Mother just a few weeks ago and have found many of those treasures that she saved as well. Definitely a bitter-sweet time.

  13. Tammy says:

    Dang, Suzanne. Did ya have to go and make me cry in my hamburger???

  14. lavenderblue says:

    Wish my mom had done things the way your mom did, parceling out a little at a time. She has been gone for four years and my sister and I are still working on cleaning out her house. When we would ask about helping her sort some stuff, she’d say “I have my things around me because they are things I want to have.” Couldn’t argue with that logic.

    For some reason, what I wanted most from her house was all her old unused material and yarn. Most of it is still sitting in my cellar, it takes so much washing and airing out to get rid of the musty, basement smell before I can use it that I often just go out and buy new stuff. ๐Ÿ˜•

  15. Jenn says:

    Your home is so lovely! Your mother and Ross are such spitting images of each other that I was startled. Your other two children look so much like you but he is your mom. You must be so proud of yourself and all that you have accomplished….you are a true inspiration. Thank you

  16. thunja says:

    wow. I commented earlier that my vanity looked the same for months. Well it was all things that I had carried back from my fathers funeral in Charleston.

  17. Sheila says:

    My grandma used to do the same thing sort of , if we sent her something she’d keep it for a few years then sent it back to us if she felt her time on this earth was nearing it’s end , she passed on almost 2 years ago at the age of 95 and even though we never spoke much I still remember her teaching me to crochet when I was a little girl , something I still do to this day some 30 years later :).

  18. holstein woman says:

    Oh Suzanne, you have hit a cord with me. My husband and I have been married for 3 years. He inherited his folks place and ALL the stuff. I brought mine and he has his. We are still NOT cleaned out and yes LOTS has gone to his brother and his 8 sons. I wish it was over, but BO only does a little at a time and he does it because his parents left things that he needs to keep. They NEVER threw anything away. He recently found the building permit for the house built in about 1977. Sometimes it just pays to keep things.
    My sisters and I are ones who try to keep photos and school papers from our children, so we made collages with some of the things.

  19. Zusiqu says:

    My mother used to solve the ‘too much paper and pictures’ problem by making a collage out of them and framing it.

  20. Mother of a ROCKSTAR says:

    Maryland schools do not teach or grade organizational skills,,,just ask my teenagers…they attend Maryland schools too.

  21. Tracey In Paradise Pa. says:

    :snoopy: BEAUTIFUL!!!! :snoopy:

  22. Yvonne says:

    Suzanne, this is totally off subject, but I was just at Farm Bell and noticed the upcoming birthdays section has gone a bit nuts! (There was about three with the word “naked” in the name – I swear!)

  23. Linda Segerson says:

    You have done a great job! I have been going through lots and lots of old photos for a video I am putting together for my in-laws. The pictures bring back so many memories. I am almost done with the video, just adding the last few songs and touches to it.
    I have a new “Blog” now, hope you get a chance to check it out.

  24. Darlene in North Ga says:

    Yeah, sometimes hanging on to those pieces of paper and childhood gifts is a way of hanging onto the little givers’ childhoods. I have piles of stuff from moving from a 4 bedroom house to a MUCH smaller 1 bedroom duplex. I’m having a hard time getting rid of all of the stuff my kids made for me or bought for me with their hard-to-come-by money. I’m having a hard time “purging” those things. 2 of the 3 are, for right now and for different reasons, estranged from me. So it’s all I have of them – at least for right now. As they mature, they will come to see the lies that were told them and realize that it was mama that did the grunt work and was always there for them, while dear dad (my exhusband) got to play around. He’d see them when/if he wanted. I had them all the time. He had the temper issues, mama was pretty stable and quiet. (not to say that mama didn’t ever fuss, just she doesn’t have a short fuse and bad temper or potty mouth.)

    So I’m glad you were able to go through your mama’s stuff and get it sorted and stored. I’m about to go do the same with the stuff here. I guess I can use the scanner on the papers, cards, and notes they gave me. That will cut down a lot on some of the clutter I have here.

  25. lizzie says:

    Oh my Suzanne, My Mom died almost six years ago and she lived in our inlaw unit down stairs, so when I rented it out, I boxed everything up and packed it away in the garage, well this fall we cleaned out the garage and I am STILL going through box’s of things, Mom kept a newspaper of the day each Grandchild was born, so there are five of them, all the art work of each child, lots of pictures, me and my siblings, grandchildren. Now my brother inlaw is going through all of my sister’s things and giving them to us, some are family heirlooms, some are just sentimental, probably spelled that wrong, oh well, the problem for me is what to KEEP! It is hard to make that decision! I have one bedroom full of stuff that is not being used, and four box’s on the front porch to go through and organize, these include xmas stuff, old photos, I could go on! I do know what you mean by the fact that it is kind of creepy!, I actually told one of my best friends of 30 yrs, I should start a blog called Living With Dead peoples Things! I don’t mean this to be unkind! its just hard sometimes to know what you would like to keep and what you don’t really need, when there is so much emotion and memories behind all the things that are left behind when people pass away. Hope I don’t offend anyone, and I was just kidding about the blog. :fairy:

  26. Edie says:

    So do tell…just how did you graduate in 10th grade? :shimmy:

  27. Yvonne says:

    Glad I could help. I felt like I had to tell you, and knowing you always read comments, I knew it was the only way I could let you know! BTW, is Ross still home with you or has he already went back? I’ve really enjoyed all of your posts!

  28. Snapper says:

    That picture of your mom is just stunning….

  29. Gem says:

    A beautiful and funny-at-the-same-time post!

  30. Carrie says:

    I’m sure you’ve made your mom proud.

  31. bonita says:

    Good for you. A bittersweet task well done. I “solved” the problem by putting all those family pix and report cards etc in a foot locker when my mom passed. Done (?!) For 20 years now…Every now and then I realize I need to go through what’s in there. Although, there’s no other family member who might be interested in the stuff, I just can’t see photos from the ’20s, ’30s, and even ’40s going in the trash pile.

  32. heidiannie says:

    I think this hit a lot of people very close to home.
    I have my mother’s and sister’s boxes of papers and pictures saved over a lifetime, as well.
    The good thing is that we don’t have to keep them on our dressers once we get the nerve up to sort through them.
    Thanks – good post before the New Year!

  33. B. Ruth says:

    My Mother died in June at 93..I feel your pain..My Mother saved every scrap of meaningful paper, photos and clippings that came to her…and then some…LOL…Being from the depression era and Appalachia she learned to make do….
    I am making a scrapbook of her 40’s, 50’s Christmas cards…found gift cards from baby showers, for her, the year I was born 70 years ago…amazing..Also receipts from (what I call) her Ra Ra, Sis Boom Ba fur coat, it was a long (probably fake) mink…her first car, that she made payments on, and a kitchen cabinet (Hoosier) she purchased for her first apartment…quite an accomplishmnent for a hard working woman in the 30’s….
    Also we found many childhood pictures, our old report cards, crafts, and of course pictures of all her grandchildren..etc..
    Handwritten recipes by the “gazillion”…..
    I don’t think we will ever get thru it all….

  34. JOJO says:

    Suzanne–wh is the Gentleman holding the baby dressed all in pink (I assume that is you) he and Georgia resemble each other a bit.

  35. JOJO says:

    The fanily resemblence is there.

  36. Cousin Sheryl says:

    @JoJo – Georgia and Ross (Suzanne’s dad) are not related by blood. They are first cousins-in-law.

    Suzanne – I am so glad that Norma had these things ready for you. I know how much this means to you.


  37. Joykenn says:

    Oh, Suzanne, I had tears in my eyes when I read this posting! Unfortunately I wound up with the “stuff” of two beloved aunts and my mother and motherinlaw. A basement full of memories! My husband couldn’t bear to go through some boxes for 10 years! We gave beautiful art books from the last 70 years, first edition novels from the 40ths and kept tons of glass and family treasures. (We donated them and they’ll find great new homes and benefit our local library.) I still have too much “stuff”. My kids and nieces are too young and getting started and aren’t yet interested in family stuff. What do I do with original art by my aunt a wellknown artist? I miss the days of big attics and families that stayed put–or crooked little houses owned by family. What will happen to these–I guess ebay might be best for most of it and see it go to someone who really wants it. Letting go is sad, sad but time passes and it comes to us all. Glad you are able to start the New Year fresh. God bless!

  38. Remudamom says:

    Wow. Your mom was beautiful.

  39. KatieQ says:

    I, like so many others who have commented, found myself in the same situation after my mother died 10 years ago. I still have some of her boxes that I can’t bring myself to go through. This year when we unpacked the Christmas ornaments, I was finally able to throw out some of the broken ornaments that belonged to her.

    On another note, I used your recipe to make cinnamon rolls for our New Year’s Day breakfast. They were fabulous! Thanks for helping me look like Super Mom. I was so proud of myself, I posted the pictures and a link to your site on my blog.

  40. Kacey says:

    Ah, your mom. Loved her. Great photos. She was so pretty.

    Oh, and I love your sleighbed!

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