Category Archives: Get Rid of It!

Gone, bit by bit

Books and photos and stuff … oh, my!

steiff bear w:boxes 2

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I had reason yesterday to look under my couch with a flashlight. Tip to anyone inclined to do the same: Don’t. Under no circumstances should you look under your couch more than twice a year. Especially not with a flashlight.

The beam of light revealed a harsh landscape of down feathers, dust and various unidentified crumb-y looking things on the hardwood floor. No dead bugs, dirty socks or other major debris, so that was a plus. No money, either—a negative. Anyway, I was looking for my cat, whose tortoise-shell coloring provided the perfect camouflage for hiding under the sofa.

Normally, I clean house only when I’ve exhausted all other forms of procrastination. I do make my bed every day. Whoo-hoo! Lately though, I’ve taken an incremental approach to housekeeping.Not a room at a time, that’s too much commitment. I do just as much as I can, then quit. Doesn’t matter if I’ve dusted but haven’t vacuumed. Next time.

"Kobayashi Issa." AZQuotes.com. Wind and Fly LTD, 2017. 28 May 2017. http://www.azquotes.com/quote/692401

I’ve found cleaning takes a lot less time this way and, overall, the apartment is generally cleaner than under my previous system. The old way, in which I aspired to clean a room at a time or the whole place, took way too long. Mainly because of my need to notice the place was dirty, deny the place was dirty, anguish over my sloth, go out and buy new cleaning supplies, and even, in extreme circumstances, sit down and write something. Then I got around to cleaning—maybe.

This incremental thing doesn’t come easily. I’m definitely an instant gratification gal. It has been said—infrequently, mind you—that I have the attention span of a flea. As a kid, I didn’t mind cleaning the kitchen because, with seven kids using the kitchen, the mess made it easy to see progress. Although it really burned me up if, while I was cleaning, someone came in and started making a peanut butter sandwich or poured a glass of milk. Any progress I’d made was spoiled.

Finally, I’ve realized that, yes, progress can be made inch by inch. Incrementalism works in writing (though a deadline really helps). It worked for me in building an art collection over the last several decades, one flea market or thrift shop find at a time. I’ve heard it works in creating an exercise habit, or losing weight, though I can’t testify to that. And it works in getting rid of stuff.

Decluttering can be done gradually. Don't stress about doing it all at once. Just start.

Storage locker bound

The number of my possessions, compared to three years ago, is significantly reduced. It took me two years, but I finally condensed the contents of a three bedroom house with a full basement and a double garage to one ten-by-ten storage locker. (Alright, there was another, smaller locker for a brief time.) I now live in a two-bedroom apartment. Besides the ample closets and cupboards, the only additional storage space is the shower–yes, the shower–in the second bathroom.

Last week, I tackled the shower storage. I need a place for the cat box, so the shower has to be cleared. Besides various boxes of books, it contains two tennis rackets, a basket of tennis balls, a large stuffed Steiff bear that converts to a rock-a-bear, a plastic bin that I believe contains tools (too soon to tell, it’s at the bottom of a stack) and two sets of diving fins, goggles and snorkels, which I bought at Goodwill, intending to sell. (I don’t do that anymore. At least, not much.) Oh, and a box of Max’s children’s books, which I kept, as well as a box of his comic books, which he chose for me to keep.

The bad thing about incrementalism is that it creates temporary disarray, which can easily turn permanent. In order to empty the shower and get rid of stuff, I have to take that stuff out of the shower. I’m doing it a box or two at a time.

Volleyball signed by Olympic champion Karch Kiraly

Goodbye volleyball & comics!

So far, the diving gear, a shower rack and some books have gone to Goodwill. The comics and a signed volleyball will soon be reunited with their rightful owner.

As regular readers know, my number one rule for streamlining and creating a more artful life is this: If you think you are ever going to move—or die—start now! If you do that, the good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once.

When I was a kid, one of seven ages 1 to 12 years, my mother had a cleaning lady who came in twice a week to restore order in the house. My mother would leave her with the kids and return to find the house clean. Once I heard her ask, “Mary, how do you do it?” Her answer was maybe my first lesson in incrementalism: “Honey, I just start.”

So I’ve started on the storage shower, disposing or dispensing of its contents. Good thing, too. Because when I was searching for the cat, I had to look under the beds. And you wouldn’t believe how much stuff was packed beneath them!

Tortoise shell cat with golden eyes

Marla, the disappearing cat

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s saying Goodbye to All That Stuff (well, a lot of it) in the process.

Related: 

Ditch my books? Oh, no!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

little-library-in-sb

A little free library on Grove Lane in Santa Barbara

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:

  • Set up a Little Free Library. This charming “take one, leave one” book-sharing movement zoomed from a one-man tribute to his book-loving mother in 2009 to an international phenomenon, with more than 32,000 Little Free Libraries throughout the U.S. and countries from India to Italy. The idea is simple: Erect a book box on a stand curbside, place your adoptable books inside and invite passersby to take a book—free—and leave one, if they are so inclined. I once left an 24-inch plastic brontosaurus on top of the Little Library in my neighborhood, knowing it would find a good home. Building a Little Free Library is a great project for kids, too.
  • Donate to a school or college. This is a particularly good option if you have a topic-specific collection of books. The director of a Stanford University journalism fellowship program winnowed his extensive library by donating to a nearby community college. No need to aim for Harvard University or Berkeley. Nearby community colleges and high schools would probably welcome books related to their programs, such as journalism, design, construction or historic preservation. If you have children’s books, find an age-appropriate local school and see if any teachers want books for their classroom.borges-book-quote
  • Seek out collectors. If you have a narrowly focused collection—on history books, cook books, atlases or some other specialty—find others who collect on the same topic. You may have a rare book and not even know it. When I sold my house in St. Louis, I took a bunch of books to The Miriam Switching Post, one of my favorite non-profit shops. The great thing about the Miriam shop is they provide year-end, itemized lists of your donations for tax purposes. I was perusing my list when I noticed this item: Two books, value $460. What!? The titles were specified but the individual values were–one for $340 and the other for $120. I have no idea what these were and I for sure never spent that much on a book! Probably there were decorative books I picked up for a few dollars to use as platforms for a lamp. At any rate, someone at the Miriam Shop researched their value. At first, I was aggravated that I didn’t do that myself. Then I realized I never would have done that, would also never have found someone to buy them. The tax credit was great, though. If you think you have books like that, advertise on Craig’s List, check websites like The Book Collector or look at the ads in publications such as  First, The Book Collector’s Magazine. Be very, very careful with this option–I sense their are some among us who could be lured into a new collecting habit. You know who you are.
  • Sell them—in bulk, if possible.  If you have a lot of books with no particular pedigree, call local second-hand book sellers and see if they will buy the whole lot for a single price. If you are having a garage sale, books usually sell relatively well. Just don’t expect to get anything more than a pittance for most—and resolve to banish any that don’t sell to your local thrift shop. Remember, the idea is to get rid of the books. Price ‘em low, to encourage everyone to buy an armload.

    Prisoners prize dictionaries

    Dictionaries gather dust in thrift shops but are prized by prisoners

  • Give them to prisoners. The Prison Book Program is a grassroots organization founded in 1972 to send free books to prisoners. The website points out that most prisons don’t allow family or friends to send books to prisoners–they must come from a bookstore or publisher (the old hollow-out-the-book-to-hold-something-illicit problem). The Prison Book Program is affiliated with a bookstore and gets books from many different sources, to serve thousands of prisoners each year. The website includes links to local Books for Prisoners programs, to cut the cost of shipping. While the organization delivers books on many subjects and genres (see the list on their site), there is high demand for two types in particular: Basic legal information and dictionaries. They even have a special program to purchase dictionaries in bulk. (I’m so tempted to visit a thrift shop I know of that is over-stocked with dictionaries, I suppose because anyone with access to Spellcheck doesn’t need them.) Unfortunately but understandably, there are restrictions on some books–no books with a spiral cover, no writing in the margins, no children’s books, nothing with weapons on the cover, no chic-lit, romance or (obviously) true crime. No travel guides, either.
  • Goodwill, of course.

 

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s saying Goodbye to All That Stuff (well, a lot of it) in the process.

Gone, all gone!

ba-colorful-fireworks-animated-gif-pic-1.gif

Animated video by http://bestanimations.com/

Yeah, it’s Independence Day for sure!

That’s it. I’m done. For the first time in almost three years, I do not have a storage locker.

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

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.

  • Four mid-century modern rattan and bamboo bar stools. I bought them just before I got divorced and haven’t had a home with a counter in the 15 years since. I kept imagining them in a Deco-inspired kitchen or, alternately, selling them. Neither came to pass. I hauled them to Goodwill.
  • Four pressed-back oak dining room chairs that belonged to a gaggle of grand-aunts on my mother’s side of the family. I used them with a solid oak clawfoot table that came from the same household. I foisted–uh, I mean, presented–the table, which extends to seat 12, to one of my brothers. I don’t see myself entertaining 12 people in the near future and besides, the chairs weren’t my style. I gave them to Habitat for Humanity’s ReSale store with just a twinge of familial guilt. Goodbye, chairs.
  • An eiderdown comforter I bought in Switzerland on a trip after high school, took to college with me and used on my son’s bed. It was fluffy enough to hide my college boyfriend when a girlfriend popped in at an inopportune moment. Now I never get cold enough to need a real eiderdown comforter–and have no need to hide a male friend, should one materialize.

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?

DSCF2095

My “good box” collection

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…

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re gone: Who’s stuck with your stuff?

Spider Web pearls by Lisa

Dew-covered spiderweb photographed by Lisa Mendelson

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

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?

Lisa sweetness in a moment

Lisa, last year, at the Santa Barbara Harbor 

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.

Lisa Mendelson’s obituary

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.

DSCF2104

Sunset behind Lisa’s house in Santa Barbara

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.

DSCF2277

One of Lisa’s quirky wall plates

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!).

House-sitting for Lisa

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.

Basements, oh yeah!


Keep or ditch? That is the question…

Art must go in declutteringBy Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

Everybody’s downsizing—or should be.

You know my motto: If you think you’re ever going to move—or die—start now. Several of my friends are, for various reasons, taking my advice and dealing with their clutter.

And most of them start with the basement. Oh, yeah, the basement.

Basements are repositories—make that dumping grounds—for items that “might be useful later,” that “should go into the next garage sale,” or once belonged to someone meaningful (possibly Great Aunt Tilly, who died eons ago, but you’re not quite sure) and therefore must be kept in perpetuity, no matter how ugly or unloved. The job is always daunting.

My neighbor Maryann never did a thing in the basement. That was her husband’s territory. Other than doing laundry, Maryann walked through on her way in from the driveway. What lurked in the far regions was, in her mind, not her problem.

Until, that is, she came home after a long weekend at work, walked in and found herself ducking under sleeping bags hanging from the rafters. “Just then, my eye began to twitch,” she recalls. “That was the moment I realized the basement was now mine!”

Maryann is one of those organized souls that I both pity and envy. Armed with a tape measure and an actual, drawn-on-paper floor plan, she commandeered her son, Joe, and got to work. It took a summer, but she no longer ducks under hanging sleeping bags on her way to the washer and dryer.

Sherman, on the other hand, is moving to a bigger house—Sherm, what are you thinking? Nonetheless, he’s purging, too. His reason? After his parents moved to a nursing home last year, he had to clear their long-time home of “stuff” that had accumulated through the decades.

“I don’t want my daughters to have to go through this exercise, so I’ve decided to get rid of stuff I haven’t unpacked in four moves over 10 years,” he said. “Besides, do I really still need a cassette player?”

And now we come to Lee and Terry. They’ve lived in their comfortable, four-bedroom suburban St. Paul home for 30-some years. Their kids are out of the house (but their stuff isn’t) and Lee and Terry are ready to move into something smaller. They want to sell their house.Lee's basement before

Before: 20 years’ accumulation

The problem? The basement, of course. Lee knows buyers will want to at least see the floor.

“Clear the Clutter” is a step-by-step guide to tackling your basement.

Where to begin?

Theoretically, you—like Maryann— will tackle the basement with a plan. The plan will detail specific areas for certain activities or objects. My reaction to this advice is “Uh-huh, right.”

I’ll tell you where not begin. Do not start by going through packed boxes or file cabinets. Those are snake pits of delay and despair. Once, when a California wildfire was literally burning up the hill toward my mother’s house, she started leafing through papers in her file cabinet, deciding what to save. I had to steer her out the door. This was no time to decide whether her kids’ third grade papers should be saved.

I would like to say you should just dispose of the file cabinets and any packed boxes that haven’t been opened for years, without ever looking inside. However, just as I was about to do that myself when I was moving, I opened a box in my garage. What did I find? My son’s baby book and a bunch of writing I thought was long gone.

So, move those boxes and, if you must, the file cabinets into a convenient corner. You can deal with the contents later. Besides, moving them out of the way should open space for processing other junk—I mean stuff.Lee's basement after

After Round 1: Four hours later

Note: There’s a difference between clutter and “stuff.” Clutter is an accumulation of broken, out-of-date, useless or unused, meaningless things. “Stuff,” on the other hand, is something useful that you actually use or which holds meaning beyond its function. There’s no question about clutter—it’s gotta go. Stuff? Well, maybe it stays—but it still has to be assessed with an eye to getting rid of it.

My approach, after moving packed boxes and trashing obvious debris, is to just dig in. That’s what Lee and Terry have been doing. (Should you work with your spouse? Oh boy, that can get complicated! I’ll leave it for another day.)

Join the challenge: 52 weeks to an organized home

I’ve been coaching Lee from afar on what to keep and what to jettison. For example, she came across a piece of art and emailed a photo.

“The dilemma,” she wrote, “it’s lovely and used to hang in my family home. But it’s been in the basement for 8 years. That should tell us something, right?”

Right. If you have to ask, you know it’s got to go.

Ditching something you actually like is very, very hard—the first time. After that, it gets easier. In fact, I got downright giddy. Of course, a deadline helps. The night before I closed the sale on my house, I left a 17-inch, nearly new television on my neighbor’s porch. (Off-loading useable items in good condition to friends is one strategy for guilt-free disposal. As in my case, it often works best under cover of dark.)

I asked Lee what items she found hardest to discard.

“The beautiful, cherry twin beds that I slept in as a child, that my daughter slept in when she was young, and that now sit in our basement…

“My grandmother’s sewing machine, the one she taught me to sew on, so high sentimental value for me, not so much for my kids—that was an “aha!” realization.”

“Sentimental things about the kids …How do you decide what’s the right thing to keep and what’s the right thing to remember—and then give away? And practical things, like toys that could have a useful second life when grandkids are around—like American Girl dolls and the PlaySkool Castle. How long do I hold on to these things? (Neither of Lee’s children are married, or even engaged.)”

She had no problem parting with Battleship and sundry other games, reference books made obsolete by time and Google, decorative baskets for storing magazines—complete with magazines from the last century, and bags of costume jewelry destined “for the garage sale.” In fact, anything destined for a garage sale went, instead, to Goodwill.

“If I don’t have it in the house, I won’t have a garage sale, which just saved me valuable time and hassle. Priceless.”

Exactly.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Having cleared her own basement, she is now nagging friends to purge their stuff, too. 

The Evangelista would love it if you share your own basement or attic stories in the comments section–after all, doesn’t it feel good to know you’re not alone?

House-sitting, with pets…

A dog-gone good way to vacation

By Susan Caba Resale Evangelista

Dot and I jHouse Sitting for Pets, by Susan Caba in Spring 2015 Bark Magazineust returned from a walk in the woods around the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. While I stumbled over roots, Dot reveled in the fresh smells of a muddy creek bed, hid behind my legs when approached by a larger dog, and snuffled delightedly through a pile of pine needles. … 

So begins my article on house-sitting in the Spring edition of The Bark magazine. My sojourn with Dot, a 10lb Jack Russell named for the single brown splotch on her right hip, has come to an end. Her rightful owners have returned from India and Dot was happy to see them.

Dot and I got along just fine as roommates for close to 8 months. She was part of my year-long house-sitting adventure, moving around the country in search of a permanent location. House-sitting is a also great option for those who merely want to get away for a few weeks and don’t mind–or welcome–caring for a homeowner’s pet during their vacation. 

House Sitting Pets is a great way to see the world and live an artful life

My erstwhile roommate, Dot

I got to stay in the Kellers’ lovely home with a wraparound porch and woodburning stove while getting to know the area around Chapel Hill, NC. The Kellers didn’t have to worry about Dot and their three cats–who benefited by staying in their own home. You might consider this arrangement if you have pets that you’d hate–or couldn’t afford–to put in a kennel while you’re gone.

House-sitting arrangements are part of the new sharing economy. While house-sitting has been around for decades, the internet has energized the practice by making it easy for homeowners and house-sitters to connect without having to coordinate locations and simultaneous travel plans. One of the major factors driving the trend is people’s desire for in-home pet care.

Andy Peck, founder of TrustedHouseSitters.com–the site I use most–told me that 80 percent of the people looking for house-sitters have pets. “The most important thing to most homeowners is that they’ve got happy pets cared for at home. More and more people don’t want to use kennels.”

“It’s a win-win for both parties. The sitter goes the extra mile—it’s not liking asking a reluctant nephew to do the job,” he said. “And a lot of people genuinely love looking after pets while having a “stay-cation” in a great place, a vacation where they can live like a local.” 

House Sitting with dogs, Spring 2015 Bark magazine

My dog, Frazier, now living in California

Some assignments involve luxurious properties—sometimes quite decadent luxury. Ocean-view estates in Costa Rica, country mansions in Great Britain, and apartments in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco are  frequently among the listings, though these tend to be filled fast–often within hours. There are always lots of listings for Australia, New Zealand and Canada. House-sitters just have to keep local weather in mind. Canada is cool and green in the summer, but most listings are for winter months, fine for skiers. Australians flee their country during its torrid summers.

Shari Keller told me that Dot sealed the deal for me in getting their house-sitting assignment. Dot’s a shy creature at first but took to me almost on first sight. Within days of my arrival, she was already giving me the nightly signal that it was time for us to repair to the bedroom. She started out sleeping in her own bed on the floor but rapidly insinuated her way into sleeping in my bed, invariably taking a spot in the middle. (I’m told that arrangement has come to an end and Dot is back in her own bed. Sorry about that, Dot!)

Browsing the pet photos in house-sitting ads are enough to make me laugh out loud. One couple wrote: “We live in South West Calgary, about a half hour from the downtown core. We are looking for someone to feed our dogs, and give them lots of attention as well as take care of our home, water plants, etc.” The listing included pictures of Ginger, a doleful English bulldog, and a very perky Coton de Tulear named Willow.

As always, I caution you to read the listings of house-sitting assignments very carefully. The listings are often mini-biographies that reflect the homeowners’ adoration of their dogs and other pets. Sometimes, that familial love can be a little over the top or the pets that need care are elderly or ailing. There is also the risk the animals won’t be as adorable as described.

A friend agreed to move into a Victorian house in Colorado for a month, only to find that one of the two dogs she would be sitting was a snarling hound of the Baskervilles. Her first clue was when the homeowner provided “the biggest ham I’ve ever seen,” to lure the dog to his kennel.

Don’t take on more than you can handle. (I again thank the Kellers for getting rid of the two dozen chickens they had before they left for India. I didn’t think it would be a big deal taking care of them. However, when it snowed 7 inches one February day, I was very glad I didn’t have to go out to the chicken coop and hook up some heat lamps.)

I‘ve written about some of the more hilarious posts in Talk to the Animals.

If you’re interested in house-sitting, here are some of my earlier posts: More Talk to the AnimalsHave a Yen to Try House Sitting?, Tiny Houses, Travel and Defining Home.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need. She’s traveling around the country for a year, seeing how other people live.   

Mugged by my “stuff”

African mask purchased at Leland Little auctionThings accumulated when I wasn’t looking!

By Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

Readers, I backslid.

While I was busy living with less, a bunch of stuff sneaked up and mugged me. I never saw it coming.

Oh, there were clues. The mattress pad and down comforter, purchased early on and cut down to fit my bed in Chapel Hill. The little microwave I bought when I realized I needed one to reheat my coffee. The two small paintings by intellectually disabled artists that charmed me in Asheville.

Art—that was the first telling sign I was slipping. The microwave and mattress pad, the $1 coffee cups and wine glasses from the PTA Thrift store—those I could rationalize as “needs.” There  were no easy rationalizations for the paintings. I liked them, they were reasonably priced and I felt good spending the $25 for a worthy cause.

I didn’t realize how far I’d fallen until it was time to pack up and leave the Kellers’ house. Stuff had accumulated. African masks, for example. A bigger and better coffee maker. Six cans of tennis balls and a hopper to carry them. A small oriental rug. Not to mention the mahogany dressing table which I bought because I wasn’t sitting on my bidding hand at an auction. Besides, it’s for my son’s girlfriend—not that either one of them asked for it.

You’ll recall that, despite rigorously culling over a two-year period, I have a 10-by-15 storage unit in St. Louis that is loaded front-to-back, side-to-side and floor-to-ceiling with my belongings. I arrived in Chapel Hill with a moderate amount of stuff in the back of the Subaru. I’m leaving with suitcases bungie-corded to the roof.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. It’s a well-written, research-grounded book about the motivations and emotions of hoarders. Whew! Glad I escaped that affliction!

I gotta tell you, though, some of the characteristics weren’t entirely unfamiliar.

We are attached to our things because of what they represent—opportunities, memories, and connections to significant people, places and events. Why else would I keep the musical mobile with panda bears that hung over my son’s crib, or the miniature buildings of a Greek fishing village my father brought back from a trip? Why would one friend treasure a tattered book of essays about our national parks she received as a child, or my former mother-in-law use her son’s baby bib—sixty years later—as a potholder every morning in her tea-making ritual?

“It wasn’t the objects themselves that she valued, but the connections they symbolized,” the authors wrote about one woman in Stuff.  “And it’s the same whether we collect celebrities’ clothing, a piece of the Berlin Wall, a deck chair off the Titanic or five tons of old newspapers.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 10.19.13 AMUh-oh. I have a piece of the Berlin Wall. My mother and youngest brother were there as it was being chipped into oblivion.

Jean-Paul Sartre said we learn who we are by observing what we own. Sartre wrote that “to have” is one of three basic forms of human experience, the others being “to do” and “to be.” William James said acquisitiveness is a human instinct, which contributes to our sense of self. “What is ‘me’ fuses with what is ‘mine’ and our ‘self’ consists, in part, of what we possess.”

Our stuff also represents our image of ourselves. Like the time I bought a cunning set of dishes thinking, “these will be just great for a luncheon.” Only after I paid for them did I remember I hadn’t ever had a luncheon. I don’t even like the word.

One woman described in Stuff had more than 300 cookbooks, kitchen counters hidden under cookware and gadgets, and a stove no longer visible under layers of kitchen accoutrements. “Much of her hoard allowed her to imagine various identities,” the authors said. “A great cook, a well-read and informed person, a responsible citizen. Her things represented dreams, not realities. Getting rid of the things meant losing the dreams.”

The anecdote reminded me of clearing the house of a woman who obviously intended to be a great cook—she had an unbelievable stash of baking equipment, mixing bowls, state-of-the-art equipment and serving paraphernalia. All of it was stored in the basement, unopened and unused.

Hoarders or not, it’s because we imbue objects with these layers of meaning that it’s so easy to acquire things and so difficult to get rid of them. Which brings me back to my 8-month house-sitting assignment in Chapel Hill.

It turns out that, lovely as my hosts’ home is, I needed my stuff around me. I brought a few photos of my son with me, but that was about it for personal mementos. My house in St. Louis—if I do say so myself—was an artful, art-filled environment. (Yes, maybe too art-filled!)

And so, reader, that’s how it happened—the African masks, the little Waterford pitcher I bought at Goodwill for $8 (and never used—it was one of those “irresistible bargains”),  the bird feeder, the framed picture of bathing beauties under a beach umbrella, the block-printed greeting cards, the bedskirts from the thrift shop (which I left behind), the frames for unframed children’s art and, oh yes, the DVDs for learning how to salsa dance (which I had to watch in slow motion and, even then, could barely see how the woman was moving her hips).

So, the Subaru is loaded again to the gills. But at least I gave away the lawnmower.

The ResaleEvangelista has culled her belongings, in order to create a simplified, more artful life.

If you’re new to the site, you might want to check out these earlier posts of mine about the joys and perils of house-sitting.

New Year 2015

 

Onward, to the future!

fireworks

“Irrelevant that the tiger has leapt,
is even now at mid-point in an arc
that will certainly end in your destruction.
So it is for all the ten thousand created things.
Of relevance only is the curious fact that, at this present instance,
you are alive.”
Chief Inspector, Homicide, S.K. “Charlie” Chan, The Last Six Million Seconds

Going to move or die?

Don’t wait ’til the last minute to downsize

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Here is my advice on downsizing and decluttering: If you think you are ever going to move–or die, start now!

I’ve passed along that advice to several people in the last year, having spent many months–more than a year, really–getting rid of many of my possessions. The recipients of my wisdom have chuckled and nodded, but I didn’t get the impression they were taking me seriously.

Two of those people have lived in their respective houses for more than 20 years. Every closet, every drawer, every shelf is full. In both cases, art work abounds. Photos and mementos are plentiful. Dining room cabinets are filled with beautiful crystal and china, none of it recently used. One person has closets filled with carefully kept business clothing; she hasn’t worked in more than a decade and wears mostly tank tops, shorts and flip-flops.

Neither of these particular people have children, so there is no one waiting or willing to inherit. One woman has her father’s Steinway grand piano; she doesn’t want to part with it, even though she doesn’t play. I have to say, my mother has been diligent in pruning belongings in the last 15 years. Of course, one of her main strategies is shipping things to her various children, mostly without warning. (A strategy I don’t condone!)

Downsizing doesn’t mean you have to move immediately. In fact, you may find that clearing accumulated belongings rejuvenates the home you live in. When I removed a third of my possessions–including art and significant pieces of furniture–in order to sell my house, I was surprised at how well-furnished it still was.

If you need more nudging, read this New York Times article by Elizabeth Olson. She quotes Kimberly McMahon, co-owner of a Maryland downsizing and moving service, who says many people “wait–and wait” to begin getting rid of stuff.

“Downsizing is the hardest, because it is emotionally difficult for people to release their history,” said Ms McMahon. “It’s the worst anxiety associated with any move.” Her advice? “Nothing should be off limits. Either use it, love it–or leave it.”

And here’s another NYT article, about a couple downsizing gracefully to a retirement apartment. One of the subjects says “I didn’t want to spend one night without my husband in our old house. Plus, I didn’t want to do the packing by myself either.” Her own mother, she said, had been an inspiration: she died at 101 with only two small boxes to her name. “She gave away things for years,” Lydia said. “You have to stop accumulating, and start clearing out early.”

‘Nuff said?

 

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, reducing clutter and creating a focused, artful life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Artfully Packed Suburu

How I drove across country–twice–hauling my coffee-maker, three suitcases, office supplies, yoga mat, tennis rackets and swim gear, a leather couch and my great-grandmother’s claw-foot oak table with 6 leaves

My Suburu holds everythingSusan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

So there we were in St. Louis, MO, getting ready to cast off for Louisiana and, beyond that, North Carolina. All that remained to be done was to pack the Suburu. Enough possessions for a year, plus a family heirloom to be delivered to my brother Joe.

My plan was to drive to Joe’s house in Louisiana, drop off the table and spend a few days there, then head for my new (temporary) home in North Carolina. It’s funny how a simple road trip can take on so many facets–sparking childhood memories, renewing emotional connections, provoking anticipation of the future.

Melody, my 13-year-old niece, was along for the ride. She lives in Taiwan. Her only exposure to the United States has been the summers and holidays she spends in Santa Barbara, visiting my mother.  Missouri was a revelation for her. First of all, it was green–the Midwest has had rain, while California is drought-stricken. And there was more for her to do in St.  Louis than in Santa Barbara. We went to the zoo, to the Arch, bowling and, of course, shopping (Melody and her mother are the original shopaholics).

I never really thought about it, but Santa Barbara is really an adult resort town. Unless you’re a beach person–which Melody isn’t–there aren’t that many kid-centric attractions there. It’s the bane of an only child: Adapting to an adult’s idea of fun, and getting used to talking (mostly) to grown-ups. My mother compensates by arranging for lessons. Horseback riding, tennis, swimming and more. She  did the same for my only kid–Max learned to kayak and scuba dive during his Santa Barbara summers.

Possibly the biggest excitement for Melody was staying with my friend Patricia, mother of four sons and a daughter. They’re all in their 20s, except Patrick, who is 16. Let’s just say they have a boisterous way of communicating with one another.  As the oldest of seven, it’s nothing new to me. To her credit, by the end of the five days, Melody could discern the difference between mock outrage and true trouble. And she grew to enjoy the mock outrage.

One of my tasks while in St. Louis was consolidating my two storage lockers. By the time I finished moving last spring, I couldn’t manage the careful packing required to fit all my belongings into one 10-by-15 storage unit. Melody patiently sat watching while I shifted boxes and furniture to empty the smaller locker into the larger one.

The key to this successful effort was taking my great-grandmother’s oak claw-foot table out of storage.

I have a photo of myself as a toddler in a highchair, exchanging sideways glances with my mother–with spit-curls bobbie-pinned into her hair–at that table. I collected it from my great-grandmother’s house when I moved to Philadelphia to work for The Inquirer. I’ve had the table for 30 years.

My ex-husband and I hosted many a Thanksgiving dinner on it, once for 18 people. As a single person, I am most frequently a guest during the holidays, not the hostess. It was time to pass it along to my brother Joe, who has three daughters. The table, lightly scarred considering its age, will provide ample space for home-schooling and homework, as well as holiday dinners.

I have to say, the Suburu is a great car for hauling. I can’t tell you how many people have marveled at its capacity when they see it fully loaded. The key is artful packing. If I do say so myself, I’m a master at maximizing space.

Suburu road tripA 19th-century oak pedestal table, with six leaves, is not a standard size object. The round table top is 54 inches across. The pedestal, with four impressive lion’s feet, complete with toenails, is massive and bulky. The leaves, at least, are manageable.

Luckily, the top pulls apart into two pieces. Each just fit into the back of the car. No two ways about it, the pedestal parts had to stand up behind the front seats and took up more room than their actual volume. In other words, canny packing was required. Then I had to add the rest of my possessions. Enough for six months or more in North Carolina.  This required some jiggering around. Ultimately, two suitcases had to be bungee-corded to the top of the Suburu.

I’ve said it before. Getting rid of possessions and moving has been a revelation. Who knew that the essential contents of my house could be squeezed into a 15-by-10-foot space? Who knew enough possessions for almost a year would fit in the back of a relatively small vehicle? Even so, I won’t be surprised to find there are still things I won’t need.

Eventually, I got it all in. As usual, it was two steps forward, one step back. I put stuff in, packed around it, then found it necessary to pull things out and start again.  Of course, when I got to Joe’s house, I had to unpack the whole car in order to get the table out, then repack for the onward journey. But that’s another post. This is enough for now.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying and clarifying her life. It’s a journey. Come along for the ride.