If you’re like me, you built up your possessions over time—deliberately.
I love to cook and bought a deep fryer for my once-a-year foray into fried zucchini blossoms, purchased the supplies to cross-stitch a Christmas stocking for each of our children (finishing one—Ryan’s–the year he turned 24) and aggregated sufficient china, silverware and crystal for holiday dinners. We bought violins, a piano and ski equipment. I lugged home heirlooms as my mother died, then my sister and lastly my father. We furnished a too-large house.
I welcomed each and every purchase and can recount them all–which is why downsizing was such gut-wrenching work.
Beyond that, it was an acceptance of age and that my kids are grown, a reminder of the people gone before me, and to a degree, astonishment at my own consumption.
Two years before we listed our house on the market, I started to cull, tackling room by room–much like my mother’s spring cleaning ritual, touching and thinking about everything. I dumped boxes of photos on the floor and examined each one. Piles formed: for the kids, donate, trash. EBay items collected on the dining room table.
When the kids came home, we sat on the floor and poured through their things; they wanted so much less than I had saved.
I boxed up items for the next homeowner: a handful of spare tiles from those in the house, yards of fabric that matched the curtains–bought for pillows never sewn.
The rest of the home improvement detritus, I carted to the dump. My stitching and sewing projects went to Goodwill—along with the sewing machine.
I lugged computer monitors and old televisions to the annual electronics drive at school, paints and other chemicals to a specialized disposal facility.
I was ruthless.
Then came the eBay cycle: sterling silver, an Hermes scarf, family heirlooms—small items, shippable and generally of some desirable brand. Every weekend, I listed ten or more items, boxed and shipped what had sold, then listed more.
The books. Oh my, the books. The Collected Stories by Colette–out of print and reeking of cigarette smoke; I inhaled and set it aside. Months later, I finally sent it away.
I set a rule that anything living exclusively in the attic must leave: my grandmother’s hand sewn baby clothes, my mother’s doll and boxes of similar things.
Yes, in the absence of any palatable option, I sold the heirlooms on eBay. Not because they were valuable–generally most expensive part of the transaction was the shipping–but rather in an effort to unite each item with a collector. I enclosed a note telling the story of the piece and the person who owned it and received thank you letters in return, including one in French for the poupee which I had shipped to Paris. The doll is loved and lives in a place that I love. What more could I hope for?
I set aside quilts my great-grandmother, who lived to be 103, hand pieced and allowed myself a smattering of other precious items: my paternal grandmother’s hand-painted wedding license, a quilt square my maternal grandmother stitched as a child (including her loopy embroidered signature), my mother’s cherubic cradle roll certificates—and I framed them. I boxed my father’s baby’s first Christmas ornament in a series of nested boxes like Ukrainian dolls.
My own things, I purged–my baby book, yearbooks, diplomas.
We found someone who wanted a table saw. A man who worked on our roof wrestled the piano free days before we planned to disembowel it with a Sawzall. Then we gave away the saw. We sold kayaks and a car on Craigslist, gave another car to a friend (for taking our dog) and donated a third to charity.
I dealt with high touch items: small antiques went to a consignment shop in Denver; a first edition of The Great Gatsby was auctioned in San Francisco.
I spent two very full years on this, starting because we had a plan that included when we would sell the house. As the work was winding down, I was asked to move to Bratislava. I frantically finished and boxed everything that could be boxed.
Over the course of these two years, we stopped buying anything–no new sheets, towels, dishes–allowing natural attrition to run its course.
Our kids took what they wanted which was much less than I strong armed persuaded them to take. I clung to these words: they took what they wanted.
When our house sold, we filled the garage with free-to-a-good-home furniture that a friend managed down to nothing. We were living in Europe and had no other choice but to take a deep breath and let go.
In a storage unit, we stuffed enough to furnish a two-bedroom condo. (The “royal we”—my husband, kids and daughter-in-law did this while I stayed back in Slovakia.)
As our time in Europe extended, and we ultimately became full time travelers, it made no sense to pay more than 200 dollars a month for storage. We allocated a week to empty the unit and donated almost everything.
I guess you could say we were fools; we paid thousands of dollars to store items which we ultimately gave away. For me, I needed to learn that I could live without all the things I could never live without.
We rented the smallest U-Haul which forced us to judiciously select those items to move to our son’s in Philadelphia—some family antiques, pictures, photos, handmade quilts, Christmas ornaments, the handful of heirlooms, items we still use—a bicycle, camping equipment, off-season clothes. It fits in his basement in an area that is roughly ten feet by five by four—with a few antiques sprinkled through his row home.
I keep telling him they look lovely. Old habits die slowly.
If we wanted to get rid of everything, it would take a weekend. Maybe that weekend is coming.
Our values and priorities have changed. I realize the memories of my family are not stored in any single item but are rather safely tucked inside me. Those memories can’t be transferred to anyone else no matter how much I wish they could be.
I have no regrets.
I was asked to write about downsizing and did so in the spirit of the new launch of this blog. If you are considering this, here are other links you might enjoy.
Categories: How To