My Mum is in hospital at the moment. Given that she is 87, diabetic and a heart patient, she's had a great run and hasn't been in hospital since her triple bypass ten years ago. This visit was courtesy of a gallstone stuck in her bile duct, compounded by a fall which left her weak and lying on the kitchen floor for hours until I, worried that she hadn't answered the phone, raced over to her place and found her there.
So now it's a convalescent home for a couple of weeks until she gets the strength back to walk around again. Until now she hasn't needed a stick or a walker but at the moment can't walk unaided. The fall weakened her physically; her confidence has taken a dive too.
G and I have been staying at her place at weekends since she's been in hospital. Firstly it's been closer to the hospital than where we live; secondly I can collect any clothing, cosmetics and other things she may need.
It's also an opportunity for us to get stuck into maintenance and cleaning around her house while she's not there watching us.
Mum, you see, is old enough to have lived through the Great Depression and WWII; she has experienced hunger; she has experienced having nothing and living in a boarding house with her entire family in one room and shared facilities on the next floor. This has given her the mentality that you HAVE to hang onto everything in case there's another war or depression and things, in general, just aren't available.
So the cupboards in Mum's place are full of stuff from the forties and fifties right through to cheap tat from the $2 shop last year. An old metal Esky that she hasn't used since I was a kid as it's so heavy even unladen. But it's still 'good' so you can't get rid of it. An old electric frypan which I believe is broken but who knows, gosh, it could be fixable. My grandfather's damaged Gladstone bag (now on eBay but don't tell her). My great grandmother's carpet sweeper, a real collector's item (also now on eBay). Suitcases, the type made without wheels, that are totally empty but in the cupboards just in case. I'll never use them. I use the wheely kind. G and I snuck them out and off to Vinnie's where they may find a home with someone who WILL use them. Old toys from my childhood. I'll flog some of those on eBay too; tin toys and believe it or not the free toys you got in cereal packets are quite collectable.
Then there are the pillows. Mum is sleeping on pillows from the 1950s and won't replace them because they are still 'good'. If lumpy and disintegrating is 'good' then let me know. We had similar pillows forced on us for our bed when we stay over. They went in the bin ages ago - we didn't tell Mum - in favour of new ones from Big W. I have now replaced Mum's pillows. In case she freaks I have put, to my regret, her original ones in her linen press.
Mum uses the area under her house - earth floor, under the floorboards, rather like a cellar but you can only crawl in there - for storage too and on Sunday G and I unearthed (almost literally!) an old rusting electric heater circa 1965, three rusting birdcages, a broken electric instantaneous water heater and the racks from her old dishwasher (kept in case of handiness but not used in 20 years). There was also a bag of ancient ugg boots. Jesus. This lot is going for council cleanup.
So far, aside from the above, we have filled two big bin liners with stuff she doesn't use and won't miss, stuff which is totally useless or broken or mouldy or manky.
The issue really is that at some point we may have to move in with her to be carers rather than let her go to a nursing home. Leaving her home permanently would kill her off; she designed the place, she built it.
In order to move in though we'll have to have room for our own stuff. Stuff we actually use on a daily basis as well as keepsakes and ornamental stuff. At the moment there's no room for us if we have to move in. So we're doing some surreptitious cleaning and sorting while she's not there to tell us what can go and what can't. It sounds cruel but we're working on the cupboards where she stores the things least accessed and useable, the cupboards she can only get to via a ladder and she won't be going up ladders any more.
If we do have to move in we'll have to compromise on furniture. Mum has a leather lounge suite which we'd use instead of ours. She has a bigger dining table too, although it's ugly 80s whereas ours is old with French provincial charm. G has a lovely old desk of his Dad's he wants to keep. We'll have to sell some of our stuff I guess and we'll have a surfeit of beds between us. I'm dreading it. As Mum doesn't like to give anything up without a fight, when we move back the house will be even more cluttered. The idea is making me feel ill.
Facing junk and clutter in Mum's house has had one good effect on me though. There was a giant fair at a local school last week. It always has good quality bric a brac. But I didn't want even go. I don't want to buy more stuff, no matter how tempting. We have more than enough.