Inertia: that force which prevents man from shedding his stuff – one of the most powerful forces on the planet. For years Pat and I talked about downsizing. Yet for years we never moved past talk. Then the housing market crashed. Most of our friends decided to hold on, await the inevitable return. We transitioned from inertia to self-flagellation; still immobilized – somehow mistaking our things for our life.
At that time, in addition to our home in Colorado, we owned a house in Michigan. Post housing and auto industry crash, selling our appropriately small, well priced gem in Northern Michigan seemed a fool’s errand – a coals to Newcastle boondoggle. For eleven months, we careened through the ups and downs of showings, second showing, this could be it showings and they bought something else realities. On the cusp of the anniversary of our listing, we received an offer. A month of sleepless nights and crossed fingers later, Pat flew out to disassemble our house into their house. As frustrating as the process had been, hope began to flicker.
During that year, back in Colorado, I cleaned out, sold, packed away keepsakes. I earned power seller status on ebay; shedding electronics, a handful of designer items, piles of why did we buy this(es), who will ever want that(s). I discovered long forgotten treasures tucked in drawers and hidden in dark closet corners. Not deterred by nostalgia, I tackled all the I could never sell these items accumulated after my sister and parents died. Boxes filled with ancestral treasures; none of which had ventured outside their attic confines since Roosevelt was president (Teddy? Franklin? Take your pick.).
I saved a very few special pieces to pass down to our three children and then contacted antique dealers willing to sell the remainder on commission. “How could you?” to some was “How couldn’t I?” to me. My mother had saved my baby book (which I purged), AND my umbilical cord (please lord, tell me that was mine.) My umbilical cord! – charmingly tied with a pale yellow silk ribbon. I rest my case.
The Plan had been to sell our home when Taylor entered her second year in college, avoiding the disruption of hoisting anchor during that difficult first year transition. As her freshman year came and then started to go, we made no move to list the house beyond a cursory dinner conversation. “We should consider selling the house someday.” “Sure, but we have to live somewhere.” Our somewhere was a home which could house a small Somali village. Even by the overblown standards of the United States, our house was too big.
Then, our fateful day, “Julie, would you be interested in moving to Bratislava? Maybe for three to six months?” Pat had been elected to a board position in our community the prior year and held leadership positions on three or four other boards. Extracting him from our home town would be as difficult as the purge– ultimately a front page news event in our sleepy little weekly paper. Yet we said “yes”.
I elevated purging to Olympic levels: dumping car load after car load into the local Goodwill; carting home improvement project leftovers to the dump; disposing toxic waste at the specialized center; dropping off old televisions and computer monitors at the annual collection drive. Those things which remained were boxed and labelled. We sold our two cars and set off for the airport – signing a listing agreement as our final act. We moved with a total of four suitcases. Period. Taylor had just started her sophomore year. My “three to six month assignment” grew to three and a half years – somehow, I must have sensed it would.
We lived through Roller Coaster Redux – this time bigger and faster with more white knuckled plunges. Pat flew back to close on our home as the deal fell apart mid-flight. We gambled and emptied our unsold house. Mike and Emily moved a few rooms of furniture to their home in Virginia. Ryan spontaneously diverted his storage bound things to a second-hand furniture store – cashing in quickly and funding more reasonable choices for his newly purchased row house in Philadelphia. Taylor’s things joined ours in a still too big but better than it was storage unit.
As our house listing approached its twilight days, an offer. Ryan executed the sale on our behalf a month later. One Friday night in July, I stood on a bridge in Salzburg texting – Is it over? … No, and please stop texting me! International texts cost money. That night, I tip toed into the bathroom, softly closed the door and opened my ipad – an email from our realtor with a short and oh so sweet subject: Congratulations. I returned to bed and cried – sadness and stress and relief. I awoke laughing – relief and excitement and freedom.
This summer we will return to Colorado to move Taylor from college to the real world. A few of our things have scattered to the wind – friends housed antiques until our return. We will sweep everything together, send Taylor what she needs, and shed more. We discuss selling everything. At some point storage costs exceed replacement value. Our furniture is too big to fit into our permanently downsized life, too expensive to wait in limbo for our roots to regrow – timing and destination unknown. We furnished an entire apartment in Budapest. It just wasn’t that difficult or expensive.
I don’t recount this expecting people will change their ways and stop buying. Nesting is in our DNA, buying things we don’t need our national pastime. Yet, many of our friends are still sitting on their super sized homes – awaiting their own someday. I suggest if your world in between doesn’t come with three bedrooms with two and a half baths, the time may be now. Start the purge. The process is hell, but the freedom is exhilarating.
(This post is for you, Tom – the voice on the other side of the fateful phone call. Thank you. Without that nudge, the world in between would still be a day-dream.)
Categories: How To