Damn, another bargain got away!
The former home of ever-debonair actor Cary Grant recently sold and I hadn’t even known it was available. Never mind that it’s 5,200 square feet and cost $3.4 million. I would have liked to have a shot at it!
The former home of ever-debonair actor Cary Grant recently sold and I hadn’t even known it was available. Never mind that it’s 5,200 square feet and cost $3.4 million. I would have liked to have a shot at it!
Books. Among the people I know, books are the hardest possessions to get rid of when editing their possessions. Even using the phrase “get rid of” seems too harsh when it comes to books—sort of like murdering a friend.
Books hold memories beyond their own contents—memories of when, where and why you read them, how their content reflected your life at the time, what adventures they prompted and the disasters that may have ensued. Our most-loved books, or at least mine, have aged along with me, acquiring wrinkles, creases, rips and stains inflicted by a well-read life.
I have a small box of outdated tourist guides that are more potent mementos of my travels than the now long-forgotten souvenirs I lugged home from Greece (Greece on $5 A Day—now there’s a throwback to another era!), Brazil, Calcutta or Peru. No doubt their information is useless but merely riffling through their pages prompt images of folk dancing on the beach in Mykonos, shopping a flea market in Buenos Aires, or photographing a rickshaw driver in repose in Calcutta.
Some books evoke particular eras of my life. I can think of three examples that turn back the years each time I catch a glimpse of their covers: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook taught me to deal with a life issue, tie it in a package and tuck it under the eaves of my brain’s attic—not gone, not forgotten but no longer possessing the power to interrupt my dreams. I read The Women’s Room, by Marge Piercy, in college and know it influenced my feminist persona. I still long to wander the United States on the Blue Highways described by William Least Heat Moon, discovering “three-calendar” country diners, eavesdropping on insights of the local denizens.
I may be part of the last generation with an attachment to physical books; my son sells them back to Amazon as soon as he finishes reading them (sometimes he does regret this). I guess I’ll get used to it—after all, I’m probably among the last to have grown up with three channels on the television (not to mention the revolving dial and, later, the wired remote).
Still, some books don’t rate room on the bookshelf—some never even make it past the bedside table. In my case, those are the novels that, once read, go right back to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. But for those books that may be more difficult to part with, here are a half-dozen ideas for placing them in new homes:
The half-bath was serviceable but ugly, tucked as it was into a former closet and cloaked in beige from linoleum floor to slanted ceiling. My spirits suffered from the same condition, the comedown from my son’s wedding, a scarcity of work and congestive car failure.
The bathroom needed to be tackled–not to mention, spackled.
The Lowe’s team came in and installed a new floor, in a pattern woven of gray, black and white ceramic tiles. They took away the yellow toilet (with a cushioned seat, no less) and hung a tiny sink. The rest, dear readers, was up to me and my sidekick, homeowner and slave-driver Susan Rowe.
Now, this would seem to be a post about faux painting and DIY bathroom decoration. And it is, on one level. But it occurred to me, when the project was complete, that it’s also about the restorative power of creativity to lift the spirit when times are bleak. More about that in a little bit. Now back to the bathroom project.
I wrested the old toilet paper holder off the wall, crumbling some of the plaster down to the lath. No amount of patching and spackling–at least no amount I was willing to undertake–would smooth away the age lines of the roughened walls. And there was a lot of wall for such a small space, just 3 feet wide and 8 feet deep, with tall ceilings. The walls were divided horizontally by a chair rail.
We decided on a gray for the lower half of the walls. The Lowe’s guy, a former painter, suggested “Popular Gray” or “Amazing Gray” by Sherwin Williams. You gotta love those names, so easy to remember. Going for a classic color combo, we agreed on sunshine-y yellow for the upper walls and bright white for the trim.
But what about those wall scars, especially on the lower half? And gray? With 32 square feet of wall space on each side, the result could resemble a dimly lit air raid shelter. The solution popped into my head as I fell asleep that night—texture, we needed texture. That would break up the expansiveness of the walls and hide the roughness.
Susan and I decided to single-handedly revive the apparently dying trend of faux painting. (We assume it’s a dying art because the clerk at the Sherwin Williams store tartly informed us that “We don’t do faux painting,” when we inquired about supplies. And even Lowe’s didn’t have the array of sponges and glazes that were typical until recently.)
We eschewed professional tools and made do with Saran Wrap for the sponging and regular eggshell latex paint for the surface color. (I won’t go into technique—check YouTube here and especially here for better instructions than I could give—but don’t use cling wrap. It goes limp too quickly.) We also decided against shades of gray (50 or otherwise) for the colors—too cold, too monotonous. We chose light putty, a medium green, a dark gravel color and the yellow from the upper half.
A day later, the lower walls resembled camouflage. Even after patting on the final layer of green, I had serious doubts about the outcome. The undercoats didn’t seem to be showing through the top layer—“We should have used glaze,” I thought. Susan, though, was enthusiastic. “It looks like expensive wallpaper,” she declared. (Susan is from Georgia, she’s entitled to “declare.”) When the top coat dried, I saw she was right—the layers beneath peeked through just enough to look like distressed plaster.
The trim went quickly. The mirror was hung, the new toilet paper holder attached, towels and artwork went up and—voila—the ugly half-bath had morphed into a cheery little jewel box. Susan and I took turns exclaiming how great it looked. The best reaction came later, when her twenty-something son—unaware of our efforts—opened the door. From the kitchen, we heard “Whoa! What happened here?” Oh no, something must have fallen! But he was just taken aback by the transformation. His “whoa!” was high praise from someone not often inclined to offer effusive praise.
The real value to me occurred a few mornings later, when I woke up feeling blue about a lack of work and worried about the slow expiration of my faithful Subaru. My psyche was a pastiche of Popular Gray and Amazing Gray, streaked with shades of Charcoal. The world was not a sunny place for someone as untalented and powerless as I felt.
But then I thought about the bathroom. It came out pretty near perfect, because I focused on making it so. That’s what Resale Evangelista is about—creating beauty and value, even when resources are slim. I got out of bed with a little more faith in my creativity.
Ah-ha, I thought, so that’s what hobbies can be about—exercising the creativity muscle for the sole pleasure of accomplishment. That’s a thought I’m going to remember, and put into operation more often and not just when I need to chase away the gray and beige.
The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes that requires cutting through the fog to see the light behind the clouds.
Dammit! I just discovered I bought cheap toilet paper. And by cheap, I mean flimsy—see-through-it flimsy.
I don’t like flimsy toilet paper. (Don’t worry, no graphic details ahead. And, oh my God, don’t read the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on toilet paper!) I like thick, cushiony toilet paper. White, preferably with those embossed stripes.
Toilet paper comes in one-ply all the way up to six-ply, just like cashmere. And just like that lovely, soft and strong material, multi-ply toilet paper is softer, stronger and, as a practical aside, more absorbent. I like the feel of it—in my hand—better than the thin stuff. I deserve, and can afford, the luxury of good toilet paper.
You may be wondering what the quality of toilet paper has to do with living an artful life. Well, we all have our quirks and preferences, the little things we notice in our daily routines. One of them is soft toilet paper. It’s not like I notice when it’s good–I just don’t like it when it’s bad.
Would that I had stopped with that thought, rather than deciding to write a bright little blog post. If only I hadn’t felt the need to Google toilet paper history. And why wasn’t I satisfied with the perfectly acceptable bits of information in the Wikipedia post—the first hit of 7.2 million on the topic of toilet paper history?
As a result of that idle observation and my subsequent, too-extensive web-surfing, I can now tell you:
My toilet paper musings brought back memories. I remembered the trip I took to Europe after high school and the rough brown paper squares dispensed in European bathrooms.
I remembered when my son’s girlfriend and her pals tissued-bombed the fir tree outside our front door. Some of those girls had quite the arm—toilet paper streamers hung from branches 20 feet up. Half-unspooled rolls littered the ground like pinecones. “Their mothers will kill them when they find out all this toilet paper is missing,” I thought, as I filled a grocery bag with usable rolls.
And Mr. Wipple—I despised those iconic commercials. He was always lurking around the paper goods aisle, accosting customers as they squeezed the Charmin. These days, I dare say, he would be branded a perv-y stalker. Because of Mr. Whipple, I will not, to this day, buy Charmin.
I don’t buy toilet paper with printed patterns, either. In this I am a minimalist. Nor do I fold the loose ends into a triangle—or a paper swan, a leaf or a bird on a tree. Yes, folks, your can origami your toilet paper to make an elegant statement in the bathroom. There’s even a name for this artform: toilegami.
If you’re really interested (and if so, you have waaaay too much time on your hands) download free directions for these toilet paper confections from the Origami Resource Center. After all, says the website author, “If you are going to sit for a long time, why not fold an origami flapping bird with toilet paper?” Yes, why not?
Did you know—I’ll bet you didn’t!—there are four categories of toilet paper: Super
Premium, Premium, Regular and Economy. The difference between soft, thick toilet paper and the flimsy stuff is the mix of wood and recycled materials in the paper. The more wood fibers, the fluffier the toilet paper. Eighty-four percent of American households buy premium or super premium. I blame Mr. Whipple.
So now we come to a moral dilemma. Believe me, if I knew my idle thought would lead to moral ambiguity, I never would have started this post.
Really soft toilet paper is bad for the environment. Greenpeace, the environmental activist organization, says Americans’ pickiness about toilet paper is contributing to deforestation, global warming, harm to indigenous peoples and extinction of endangered species. Virgin forests are being ravished to make toilet paper.
We should be buying paper made with a high percentage of recycled pulp, according to Greenpeace. In Europe and Latin America, about 20 percent of households use toilet paper with recycled content. The rate is about half that in the U.S. Singer Sheryl Crow suggests using just one square of toilet paper per bathroom visit. Uh, no.
Next thing you know, toilet paper will be labelled with its carbon footprint. Oh, wait a minute, that’s already happening. Proctor Gamble and Kimberly Clark are duking it out in California for a low rating by the state’s Air Resources Board, based on greenhouse gases emitted during manufacture–balanced by absorbency that, I guess, makes the finished product more efficient. A British company has determined that a sheet of TP made with recycled pulp uses 1.1g of carbon to manufacture compared to 1.8g for paper made with 100 percent wood pulp.
So there’s my dilemma, soft on the tush or hard on the environment?
The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s going to try not to think too much about toilet paper. There must be easier ways to reduce her carbon footprint!
What do you do with the detritus–or cherished mementos–of lost love?
Sure, you can burn the wedding photos, toss left-behind t-shirts that still smell of your lover, donate the books once read together to charity. But what about the most intimate symbols of your intense love or overwhelming heartbreak–the things that demand a more dramatic gesture to mark the end of the relationship?
I’ve just discovered the solution–the Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles. Opened just last year, it is already the repository for, among other keepsakes, silicon breast implants that–once removed–signified freedom to their previous owner (wearer? implantee?); a blue dinosaur pinata that was one lover’s first birthday gift to another, and a piece of belly button lint preserved in a small plastic bag.
The label on the lint reads: “D’s stomach had a particular arrangement of body hair that made his belly button prone to collecting lint. Occasionally, he’d extract a piece and stick it to my body, sweaty after sex. One day … I met his oddity with my own; I put the lint in a small bag and concealed it away in the drawer of my bedside table.”
Love is strange.
The original Museum of Broken Relationships was opened in Zagreb in 2010, established by two Croatian artists who decided to celebrate their love affair, according to a delightful article in The Guardian. Los Angeles lawyer John B. Quinn was captivated by the emotions stirred by the exhibits in Zagreb and decided to open a local branch in the home of a bankrupt Hollywood Boulevard lingerie shop, formerly decorated with leopard-print carpet and red velvet dressing rooms. Donations were solicited with an ad that read: “Unburden the emotional load. Don’t throw away the debris of your romantic exploits – give it to us.”
The texts, wrote Laity, have a compressed power a bit like a short story. “I spent an entire summer making this birthday present, and he left it in my car”; or “You … did not want to sleep with me. I realized how much you loved me only after you died of Aids”. Some are little narratives of failed promise: “We met at a bar in NY; I lived in LA. 3 drinks, 2 poems, 1 walk later, we had sex on his friend’s couch … We saw the northern lights, but they were not as bright and vibrant as we thought they would be.”
Not every item memorializes lost romantic love. One of the most heartbreaking is a fake gold charm bracelet that once belonged to a daughter abandoned by her father–a souvenir from what she said was the best and the worst holiday of her life. “Disney World 1977. You stood at the entrance and promised to bring us back there one day. Mum told you not to make promises you can’t keep. I have given up trying to make sense of your rejection of your two little girls.”
Can you imagine how cathartic it must be to boil a broken heart into a few words attached to a small object, then mailed to the Museum of Broken Relationships? Talk about clarifying and simplifying! And yes, the museum does accept donations.
I can’t think of a better resting place for these objects–things that we all, no doubt, are harboring with the knowledge that they deserve a dignified disposal, a metaphoric Viking funeral.
The Museum of Broken Relationships, Facebook is at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California.
The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes that includes getting rid of emotional, as well as physical clutter!
I only wish I had taken “before” photos of my friend Susan Rowe’s living room and dining room before we redecorated–the transformation is that dramatic.
And we did almost all of it with things Susan already had. That’s a lesson in looking at what you have–shopping your own house. When you do, you often get a clarified sense of your own taste. You notice the commonalities of color, pattern and style preferences. When you pull together items that, for one reason or another, have been scattered throughout the house, you’re rewarded–as Susan was–with a impact much bigger than the effort to make it happen.
A description of Susan’s downstairs, pre-makeover will have to suffice. The last time she redecorated, she was going for a monochromatic neutral look. The rugs in both the living and dining rooms were pale gray-on-white patterns. The window treatments in both rooms were Roman shades in a nubby cream, with sheer half-curtains below for privacy. Threads of orange and khaki in both materials were the only colorful accents. Both the sofa and love seat were off-white, rolled-arm, tufted back pieces. There was an upright piano in one corner of the living room, a contemporary black desk in another, along with a random armchair.
The walls in both rooms were painted a creamy neutral. Photos of Susan’s two kids were plentiful, both on walls and almost every surface. Small paintings by her father were a little hard to see, as they were hung too high or in out-of-the-way corners. Lamps, I am sorry to say, were too-few and in sad condition. You know how it goes–you decorate or redecorate, get consumed in work while raising your kids and volunteering at church and pretty soon, twenty years have passed. That once-fresh decorating is dated and possibly faded!
What does it take to get started? Time, for one thing. And a buddy, for sure. Having someone else along for the ride, at least at first, makes all that decision-making (where do I put the sofa, should I make curtains–or take a nap) much easier. Susan’s decorating streak burned brightly for several months after our mission in the living room and dining room was complete.
Susan’s house is beautiful, with hardwood floors, pocket doors, a big bay window and elaborate mantels over the fireplaces, one in each room. The dining room mantel includes built-in glass cabinets. Like most of us, Susan had acquired and accumulated knick-knacks and decorative items that crowded the cabinets and almost every surface.
Susan opened her own law practice, working from home. The two kids are grown, graduated and out of the house. All of a sudden, she had time to look around and make changes. And boy, did she!
I don’t know where she got the courage, but she ordered a massive Mission-oak side board for the dining room on eBay. When I arrived, it was shrouded in cardboard, awaiting placement in the dining room. The designated space was occupied by a much smaller buffet. My first night there, I was up late so I tore apart the cardboard shroud and moved the sideboard into place. It looked magnificent, perfectly scaled to the room. That was the start of our decorating frenzy.
The final results are pictured above. With the new buffet in place, and the old one on a more appropriately sized wall, we rehung the art. You can’t see it because of the reflections in the glass, but the piece at the far end of the room is a Japan-esy abstract of leaves floating on a lake. We took four of the largest formal portraits on the Susan and Ross’s children, and grouped them above the buffet–which created a much bigger impact. The antique lamps on the new buffet belonged to Susan’s grandmother (we found them in the basement) and the big pottery platter was purchased during a visit to North Carolina. Susan had the antique gas lighting fixture–original to the house–rewired and placed on a dimmer switch.
Textiles made the biggest difference in the look of the dining room. After a long online search, we settled on the geometric rug from Lowe’s. We saw a lot that were more elaborate or more striking–but also more expensive. This rug, as I recall was around $200. Susan and her friend Barb Montgomery recovered the dining room chairs with fabric we also used to make Roman shades in the living room. The two of them also made valances from a different but coordinating fabric over the dining room windows. Susan later used that material to make accent pillows for a couple of chairs.
As you may recall, at one time I had two storage lockers–the big one–10-feet by 15-feet–packed front-to-back, side-to-side, bottom-to-top, and a smaller “spillover” locker. I acquired those when I sold my house in St. Louis and spent a year or more house-sitting around the country. When I moved into a one-bedroom apartment here in Virginia, I put the excess stuff in a 10-by-10 storage unit. Now that I’ve moved to a two-bedroom apartment, I’ve made room for everything.
Well, not exactly everything. I parted with several items I decided I could live without–things that had some meaning or history attached that suddenly seemed not all that important.
As I found when I staged my St. Louis house for sale, getting rid of the first thing with emotional or financial value (as opposed to run-of-the-mill furnishings or detritus) seems nearly impossible. But it’s like diving off the high-board for the first time, or skiing a black diamond slope. After the first time, the subsequent dives, ski runs or Salvation Army deposits get easier and easier.
Quick factoid: Self-storage facilities are a $33 billion business in the United States. There are 2.63 billion square feet of self-storage capacity, and almost one of every 10 Americans rent a storage unit. According to Alexander Harrison, an independent Virginia journalist who blogs about the industry at The Storage Beat, about half those people are using their units as a substitute for attics, basements or garages.
I have to admit–the storage locker is empty, but there is still an excess of stuff. One wall of the second bedroom is lined with unpacked boxes, of what, I’m not yet sure. There is still too much artwork lurking at the back of closets, behind furniture and in a Chinese leather trunk. And the shower in the second bathroom is a temporary library, housing a half-dozen boxes of books, cleverly hidden behind a hanging panel of fabric.
Books, this is where real difficulty arises. I have a box marked “classics and favorites.” There is another labeled “design and art books,” as well as one of “current reading” (despite the fact the box hasn’t been unpacked in two years.) Another, small but hefty, contains travel guides from the past twenty or more years. Though probably the most useless, these are the hardest to discard–“Greece on $5 a Day” is the memento of a post-high-school trip to Greece, more lasting than the 20 boxes of slides I haven’t looked at in the ensuing 40 years. There are guides to India, Antarctica and Hong Kong before the British lease expired. Is it wrong to dedicate three-feet of shelf space to a chronicle of my travels?
On the bright side, I unloaded a cache of moving boxes that were “too good to throw away.“ They, along with a couple cartons of bubble wrap and packing nerdels, were piling up in the storage unit. Then, as I wandered through Lowe’s one evening, in search of a desk top, I spied a young woman loading fresh boxes into her cart.
“Moving?” I inquired.
“Yes,” she replied, “the van is coming tomorrow and we’re nowhere near packed. I thought we had enough boxes, but we keep needing more.”
“I can help! I’ve got boxes! Free boxes! What’s your address?”
As an example of just how frantic moving can make you, she didn’t hesitate to give me her address and phone number despite my wild hair, paint-spotted clothing and out-of-the-blue offer. I paid for my desk top, ran to the car and rushed to the storage locker–in a downpour, mind you. It didn’t take long to fill the Subaru with an assortment of boxes, both assembled and flattened, as well as the packing material. I was unloading them to their grateful recipients in about 15 minutes. They offered money but I assured them that accepting the boxes was more than enough payment. My only regret is that I’ve since unpacked 10 more boxes that are “too good to throw away,” and it seems unlikely I’ll have such good luck again in Lowe’s anytime soon.
As always, remember my advice: If you plan to move–or die–anytime soon, start getting rid of stuff now! It takes longer than you think…
Uh-oh, I’ve become one of those people.
You know, the people who drop something off at Goodwill, then go inside to see what they need. Well, okay–I’ve been one of those people for many years. But I recently took a turn for the worse. I became one of those people who loiter around the door to the backroom, waiting for new stuff.
Didn’t I say it was bad? I know, very bad.
In my defense, I was waiting for a specific item. I spotted it–a KitchenAid MixMaster–on the pricing desk as I was donating a box containing two small oil paintings, a brand-new Swiss hot chocolate pot and a 50mm Nikon lens, among other highly valuable items. “When is that going out?” I asked the attendant, lifting my chin toward the mixer. “About a half hour,” he said.
“I don’t care what it’s called!” said a woman testing the first home mixer on a stand. “It’s the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had!” And thus, a brand was born.
So I went inside and posted myself in housewares, just outside the swinging door marked “Employees Only” that is all-too-familiar to Goodwill patrons. At my favorite Goodwill, in St. Louis, I looked scornfully at the regulars who gathered outside the door every Thursday evening (a heavy restocking period), waiting to pounce on new merchandise as it appeared. “Get a life,” I thought. And yes, I did recognize that I was in the store often enough to know these people as “regulars.” I, however, am not a pouncer.
Or I wasn’t. Goodwill was relatively busy that day, so I didn’t stray too far from the swinging door lest some other fleet-fingered shopper spy the KitchenAid and spoil my big score. I determined that I would pay up to $50 for the MixMaster. New, they cost almost $300.
The KitchenAid home mixer cost $189.50 when it was introduced in 1919–$2,200 in today’s dollars. The mixer and the price were both refined in 1936. The weight was trimmed from 65 pounds to about 30 and the price was cut to $55. (Thanks, Jitterbuzz, for the KitchenAid page!)
My mother had a MixMaster when I was a little girl. It was white, with black trim. As I recall, it had two beaters. Since there were four kids, two of us got a beater each to lick, someone else got the bowl and the fourth person took the spatula–or as we called it, the scraper. I always made it a point to lick the outside of the beater, then did tongue twists to get the batter from the inner surfaces.
It’s hard to say whether my (temporary) conversion to a door-hanger constitutes a degradation in my habits, or a step up to a higher, more discerning level of thrift shopper. Anyway, i wasn’t doing it for myself, I was cherry-picking for a friend.
(Which reminds me of the time my then-10-year-old brother said to my sister, Mary, on her 16th birthday, “Let’s go down to the pasture and hug and kiss under the moonlight!” When the rest of us hooted, he said, “Oh, I’m not doing it for me–I’m doing it for her, because she can’t get anyone else.”)
I digress. My friend Maryann mentioned she wanted a MixMaster for a friend whose disability makes it difficult for to hold a mixer and turn the bowl simultaneously. As I said, a new MixMaster costs almost $300, more than Maryann wanted to spend. So there I was, loitering–and drawing weird looks from other shoppers. I think they suspected I knew something good was about to appear and they were considering whether they, too, should loiter. I may be paranoid about that, but I don’t think so.
The door swung in, the door swung out. Nothing good appeared. I strayed just far enough to find a tennis ball basket with a handle that converts to a stand, for $2.99. I have such a basket. But its handles are hard to use. This basket was much better. I put it in my cart.
Finally, the swinging doors opened yet again and there it was–a slightly grubby but still majestic MixMaster, white under a spattering of old cookie dough. All the accoutrements, or at least the basics, were present and accounted for: Aluminum bowl with removable rims to keep the batter from splashing, a beater, some kind of paddle and a bread hook hefty enough to tow a car.
The Goodwill staffer made a sharp right at the aisle containing kitchenware. Before he could get it out of his cart, I was by his side. Goodwill protocol required him to actually put it on the shelf, rather than right into my basket. I hefted it myself, without even glancing at the price sticker: $4.99.
Four dollars and 99 cents, people! And when I got it home and plugged it in, it worked! Another fruitful day spent Goodwill shopping.
A dear friend, just 55 and apparently healthy, died in her sleep on St. Patrick’s Day.
She left behind a desolate husband—and a house she inherited from her father, along with all the belongings he had accumulated in a long life. Lisa couldn’t bear to part with any of it, and she’d added 20 years of her own possessions.
Her husband Lee called me an hour after the paramedics left with Lisa’s body, wailing with heartbreak. The second or third sentence out of his mouth? “What am I going to do with all this stuff?”
I’ve said it before: “If you think you are ever going to move—or die—start getting rid of your stuff now.” I guess I should add, “Start now, even if you don’t think you are going to die for a long, long time.”
Among her possessions are dozens of potted plants, a 1924 Steinway grand piano, her stuffed animals from childhood, 1980s sweaters (hers, from high school), cashmere sweaters carefully preserved (her father’s), her mother’s ashes, kitchen appliances ranging from pro-level food processors to panini presses and pasta machines, collections of handmade pottery, five cartons of classic jazz recordings, dozens of towels, her father’s gold Rolex watch and a grandfather clock Lisa had lovingly restored herself. And that’s just what comes to mind in a moment.
Lisa was 9 years younger than Lee, and his health has been bad for some time. Neither one of them dreamed she would die before him. As an adopted only child of parents who themselves had no siblings, and who divorced when Lisa was about six, her father’s mid-century Modern house in Santa Barbara embodied the security that Lisa craved but never quite attained.
She wasn’t a hoarder but something in her couldn’t let go of anything that evoked her past and that elusive sense of stability. She only parted last year with a little convertible her father had given her 25 years ago. She hadn’t driven it for years, and it was one of three cars she owned. As the years passed, stuff accumulated—and Lisa always liked things to remain mostly where they had been originally placed.
When her father was dying, he made Lisa promise she would never put him in a nursing home or hospital—and she didn’t. She and Lee made the same promise to one another. When Lisa died, her estate was in order and debt free. Nonetheless, she left her husband with a heavy emotional mortgage. In the few conversations in which they contemplated Lisa dying before Lee, she always, always, always entreated him not to sell the house.
Lee grew up on a farm in Kansas. He joined the Marines and, after having four children with his first wife, lived something of an itinerant life as a successful engineer. When he and Lisa met, he was living on his sailboat in Santa Barbara. He is not attached to many things. There’s no way he can see himself caring for this house and these things indefinitely. His three surviving children all live in Colorado. None are likely to move to Santa Barbara.
So here he is, heartbroken in a house that’s been maintained as a shrine to Lisa’s father and which now threatens to become her mausoleum, as well. Just acknowledging that it’s too much for him is painful. Of course, there will be changes made—there have been already. I’ve taken those high school sweaters and a few sundry other items to Lisa’s favorite thrift store. (Sorry, Lees.) I’ve pitched some plants and trimmed others (so very sorry, Lees!).
It took me two years to edit my belongings down to a manageable volume to move from a small house in St. Louis to a one-bedroom apartment in Virginia. Have I mentioned I still have a storage locker and am moving from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom apartment? I’ve developed a mantra when cruising the resale aisles: “I don’t need that. I don’t need that. I don’t need another one of those.” (As opposed to previous mantras: “It’s no more than I deserve,” “The only purchases I ever regret are the ones I didn’t make,” and “At that price, how can I go wrong?”)
Watching Lee, I’m even more conscious of the over-abundance of stuff in our lives. If you don’t believe me, skip the retail aisle in your favorite thrift shop and go take a gander at the rooms that overflow with donations—much of it great stuff, much of it garbage.
We’re all going to have to do it sooner or later. If not for ourselves, then for our parents, our siblings, our friends.
So I’ll say it again: “If you think you are ever going to move—or die—start getting rid of stuff now.” Your heirs will profoundly thank you.