Cleaing out parent's collections takes patience, persistence

PITTSBURGH What do you do when you're stuck with your mom's cherished collection of 150 rooster fig
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



What do you do when you're stuck with your mom's cherished collection of 150 rooster figurines?

Or your parents' more than 850 gumball charms? Or hundreds of your dad's pocketknives?

Many Depression-era parents were big collectors, and when they die, they often leave behind wall displays of bottle caps or souvenir plates, albums of baseball cards, shelves full of teddy bears or miniature cars and other knick-knacks that are seemingly useless or even bizarre.

Children who clean out the house confront their parents' mementos as well as relics of their own childhoods. Layered on top of this emotional minefield is the daunting question of what to keep, sell, donate to charity or drag to the curb.

Before his death in 2005, physicist Simeon Friedberg spent Sunday afternoons visiting flea markets and buying pocketknives for a few dollars. His collection exceeded 2,000 of them.

"We used to joke that there were no more pocketknives in Western Pennsylvania because they were all in shoe boxes under my parents' bed," said Susan Friedberg Kalson of Squirrel Hill, who hails from a clan of compulsive collectors.

During Sunday dinners at the Friedbergs' home, "He loved to show you the pocketknives he had found at the flea market. He knew the history, knew how they were manufactured and what they were made of," she said.

Two years after her father died, she and her two siblings helped their mother clean out the family's home. Most of the pocketknives were sold on e-Bay.

"I took one. Each of my children chose some. I have a son and two daughters. They all associated the pocketknives with their grandfather.

"It was hard going through stuff," Mrs. Kalson recalled. "It brought back a lot of memories."

Harry L. Rinker, who has written more than 20 books about antiques and collectibles, knows how hard it is to sort through a lifetime's worth of objects. He was in his early 20s when his mother died and the sole heir to her estate.

"Nothing divides a family more than settling an estate," said Rinker, author of "Sell, Keep, or Toss? How to Downsize a Home, Settle an Estate and Appraise Personal Property."

Rinker of Vera Cruz, Lehigh County, has collected 50,000 objects during his 66 years. He loves jigsaw puzzles and fraktur, the elaborately decorated birth, marriage and death certificates created by the Pennsylvania Germans.

Today's collectors have different tastes.

"Too often, people who have grown up with this stuff say, 'How could this have any value?' If it belonged to your parents and they furnished the house in the '50s, '60s or '70s, you probably have some goodies," he said.

The key to getting the most money for an object, Rinker said, is to find the right market, and that takes time. Consulting price guides for collectibles and antiques as well as finding clubs of collectors are helpful.

Do not throw anything away until you have looked at it carefully.

"I wouldn't throw out a piece of clothing without shaking it out," Rinker said, adding that he often finds jewelry and cash stashed in old socks in drawers, under drawer liners, in the pockets of old bathrobes and in hollowed-out Bibles.

In an ideal world, you have siblings who lend a hand and agree on how to divide furniture and mementos. But if you live out of town, you may hire a professional organizer, an auction house or an eBay broker. Otherwise, years can pass as you slowly clean out a house.

Amy Sidelinger grew up in Indiana County with two sisters. This trio completed an Olympian trifecta of tasks by cleaning out the homes of three relatives in one year.

On Labor Day weekend of 2005, the sisters finished cleaning out their maternal grandmother's home in Marion Center, Indiana County. Two weeks later, their own mother died of a heart attack.

A security manager at McGraw-Hill, Sidelinger lives in Hightstown, N.J. She, her twin sister, Emily, from Tennessee and their older sister, Pam, from Maryland began cleaning out their mother's four-bedroom house shortly afterward.

There was so much stuff they had to rent three Dumpsters.

"It's the most difficult thing to have ever gone through," Sidelinger said. "You stand there and everything means something,"

Among the items were the 150 roosters in the kitchen.

"They were everywhere," Sidelinger said, adding that her mother had even taken a chicken coop, varnished it, had shelves made for it and hung it on a kitchen wall to display some of the rooster figurines.

"There were roosters that had never been unpacked," she said. "It just became a joke."

She kept two roosters for sentimental reasons. Her mothers' friends also took some home.

This collection, however, would have been a hit on eBay.