Sorting the past & finding the future

A year and a half ago, my husband Jeff and I bought his parents’ house.

We had been house hunting for a number of months, had put in a few offers but were getting nowhere. Then, realizing she could help us, Jeff’s mother asked us if we’d be interested in her house. Jeff’s dad had died six months earlier, and she was quickly discovering the house was too big and too much for one person to manage.

After thinking long and hard about what we were getting ourselves into – as well as considering what it would be like for Jeff to own and live in his childhood home – we agreed and moved in.

Since we were almost “inheriting” the house in some weird way, we suddenly found ourselves the owners of much of what the house contained. Old clothes, unwanted sporting equipment and numerous pieces of artwork became ours to deal with. Cleaning out a garage filled with stuff was our new weekend project along with finding space for a boat, canoe and ATV.

For reasons I won’t go into in this blog post, we made quick work demolishing and renovating the bottom half of the house almost immediately after taking possession. That was over a year ago. Our basement is a beautiful, new, clean space that I love spending time in. Upstairs is a completely different story.

We could only renovate part of the house at once, so walking in our front door is a psychedelic time warp. You look down the stairs and see colourful walls, white trim and hardwood floors. You look up, and are assaulted by ancient carpeting, wallpaper and 60s-inspired light fixtures.

It is the most schizophrenic house you’ll ever visit, and the time has come to tackle the rest of the renovations.

Our two upstairs bedrooms have mainly served as storage over the past year. My stuff, Jeff’s stuff and the remaining items his mom didn’t want fill the space in disordered chaos. We’ve all tried to pretend the boxes don’t exist, but if we want to finish the house we know we need to deal with them.

Last weekend, I stopped procrastinating and started on my boxes. Initially it was fun sorting through my treasures. In some cases, I found items I thought I’d lost. My knickknacks and pictures gradually joined Jeff’s on shelves and walls as I opened box after box, and I have to admit it was a cool experience we enjoyed tackling together. The last remnants of our lives as separate, single people were being joined together in our first home as a married couple.

Gradually, I started to find sentimental items. The candlesticks from our wedding ceremony. A Barbie doll my grandpa bought before he died and asked my mother to save for me. A half-finished scarf I was knitting with my grandma’s help before she got sick. Why had I put these things in boxes? Didn’t I care about them?

To be completely honest, going through those boxes was hard. In fact, at times it was devastating. It might have been harder than it needed to be because I was also surrounded by items belonging to Jeff’s late father and aunt. Things the people we loved had deemed important enough to save were relegated to boxes, bins and dusty shelves.

My initial, lighthearted attempts to clear a few rooms and get them ready to paint took on new meaning to me as I sat on the floor with Jeff and cried about the people we had both lost. Nothing cuts a person as deeply as the loss of a loved one, and our house is filled with the echoes of important people no longer with us.

The funny thing about grief is that it can be a powerful motivator. Instead of allowing our sadness to swallow us, Jeff and I started making plans about how we can incorporate the items we found into the renovations. Old antiques will sit on special shelves, and important keepsakes will be framed and mounted on walls. Our goal is to fill our new space with reminders of those we’ve lost, in the perfect marriage of past, present and future.

It’s funny how the simplest thing can knock the wind out of you and kick you back into reality. That something as simple as unpacking a box can turn into a deep reminder of the past. It might sound silly, but this experience has inspired me to pause, remember my loves ones and, most importantly, pick up my pen and start writing again.

I’ve been struggling with the topic of my second novel for a few years now, but there, amongst the cluttered boxes, I found it staring me in the face…


About Amanda Hope

Communications professional. Book lover. History nerd. Runner. Tea drinker. Musician. Proud 'Pegger.
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4 Responses to Sorting the past & finding the future

  1. Kay L. Chornawka says:

    It is so bizarre that you are feeling this way as you start your life as a first time home owner. I find myself with struggling with some of the same feelings as the mother of a empty nest. Cleaning out the room of my last son, finding his little trophies in life not to be important enough to take with him. As a mother knowing one day he will ask for these and I must keep them for him not being able to throw them away.
    As I get ready to start the next chapter of my life as a grandparent, I find now my daughters (daughter-in-laws) are asking for items that belong to my boys when they were little. I thought long and hard to find that when my last son was born I had purchased little Gund stuffies for them all and kept them over the years. So I glady handed them over to find new homes and lots of love. The night before the family baby shower for Johanna , I remembered that I did in fact have something that belonged to the boys before they were even born !!
    Their great-grandmother Chornawka had given both the older boys handmade quilts. That I had kept in a large bin under the stairs. I was so excited to have remembered that and quickly went to get them. I had washed and warped up the quilt with such pride and love.

    Busting with excitement I could hardly wait for the gift opening, for on the gift tag I had wrote
    From:Great Grandma Chornawka
    With such pride it still brings a tearful feeling just writing this

    So therefore I’m so very glad you have found a place in your new home for so many very special items.
    I have totally loved your last book had a hard time putting it down once I picked it up, and shared it with family and friends. (That’s why Mac kept asking for more copies) Looking forward to your next book.

  2. amandasjhs says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, Kay! And I am so glad you enjoyed the first book. I’ve been struggling with the next one – as I mentioned in my post above – but I finally feel like I am getting there…

    I never thought it would feel so strange to start making Jeff’s childhood house mine, but the experience is teaching me a lot about what is important in life.

    Congratulations on your lovely, growing family! I am so thrilled for you and Mac 🙂

  3. Tammy. Graham says:

    Hi. Amanda , I enjoyed your article and find my self in a similar situation. I have had boxes packed away since we moved into our “old” farm house as well. It’s amazing how much treasures and junk we find at the same time, isn’t it.

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