Category Archives: I can live without…

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

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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.

Plush touch for the tush

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By Susan Caba

The Resale Evangelista

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?

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Are you a wadder or a folder?

As a result of that idle observation and my subsequent, too-extensive web-surfing, I can now tell you:

  • Americans buy more than seven billion rolls of toilet paper every year. Each of uses an average of 23.6 rolls every year, according to the Cottenelle Roll Poll as reported by the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia. Americans use 50 percent more toilet paper than people in other Western countries and Japan. (According to The Guardian, the British use 110 roll per person each year–but I bet they aren’t buying the jumbo rolls.)
  • If stranded on a desert island with only one item, 49 percent of those surveyed would take toilet paper. Not food, toilet paper. Really.
  • The answer to that age-old question, over or under, is overwhelmingly in favor of over—72 percent over, 28 percent under.
  • And here’s a factoid to drop at your next gathering: 40 percent of people wad their toilet paper before using, 40 percent fold, and 20 percent wrap it. Men tend toward folding while women prefer wadding.

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.

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Put a bow on it

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? 

Who knew? Greenpeace has a TP policy

Did you know—I’ll bet you didn’t!—there are four categories of toilet paper: Super
Premium, Premium, Regular and Economy. 20161106_151801The 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!

Gone, all gone!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

To dust, perchance to sneeze…

George Carlin on dusting

How often do you dust?

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The question was posed on a writer’s forum. As it happens, I’ve been noticing a thick ridge of dust on the edges of the ceiling fan above my bed, and thinking I should get up there and wipe the blades. So far, I haven’t progressed beyond noticing. In general, I’m with the late columnist Erma Bombeck who wrote: “My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.”

“I am reading a book in which a woman dusts weekly,” wrote the initiator of the discussion thread. “One day she does low dusting, another she does high dusting…my goal is once a month. I should do it more, but just can’t bring myself to and I don’t have the time.”

In one paragraph, she sums up 50 years of domestic history, taking us from June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver to Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond; from aprons and pearls to sweatpants and tee-shirts. Despite the gains of the women’s movement, there is still the immutable, inescapable, inevitable reality of dust.

The question is a verbal dust-bunny of life’s dilemma: Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Should I be doing more?

“I shoot for once a week, but often don’t stick to it. It’s funny you mention this today, as I’ve been wondering whether a dust (or dust mite) allergy is contributing to bad post nasal drip.”

“Dusting floors with the Swiffer, 2-3 times per week. We have all wood floors and only a few throw rugs. The dust / hair / lint build up is crazy. … “

How often do you dust? How often should you dust? These are two of life’s existential questions. Our answers to them are as good as any other clue to who we are and what we value, aren’t they?

“Every other weekend. My husband and I do a top-to-bottom cleaning of the whole house. We both loathe it, but he would never agree to having someone else come clean for us. … But I shouldn’t complain, since he does all the bathroom cleaning, leaving me with dusting and floors.

“Um…. well….. when it gets to the point that I notice it and then I wait until it annoys me?”

I once interviewed the wife of a Mafia capo  who felt very guilty because she neglected to dust behind the family’s television. So she failed to discover an electronic bug planted there by the FBI.

History is writ in such motes of dust. If she had cleaned more diligently, the FBI couldn’t have persuaded her husband to testify against his mob boss. On the other hand, the agents were kind enough to inform the capo that he was next on the boss’ hit list and put the family into witness protection.

To dust, or not to dust, that is the question—
whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the jibes and titters of outrageous gossip,
or to take arms against a sea of dust mites,
and by opposing, end them?

To dust, to Swiffer—
no more; and by our vow, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural germs
that homes are heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. … Aye, there’s the itch.

(With apologies to Wm. Shakespeare)

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. She hardly ever dusts.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flea market fanatics flock to…

What Cheer, Iowa

Croquet, anyone?

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Took this picture at a flea market in Iowa. Oh, wait. It wasn’t just any flea market. It was the What Cheer flea market, in What Cheer, Iowa, renowned in years gone by for the What Cheer Opera House, which still stands.

I just like saying “What Cheer”–it’s a great name for a nearly deserted little burg that comes alive three times a year, when the old fairgrounds fill with the trucks, trailers, tents and the decrepit cars of vendors.

Discarded Babydoll

The What Cheer Flea Market takes place three times a year. The biggest–and often muddiest–is in the spring, in early May. It’s quite the scene, with dealers getting there early and picking over each other’s treasures.

There’s a lot of trash and, depending on your mood and tastes, probably a lot of treasure. Mostly there’s just a lot.

I’ve gone as a spectator and a vendor. Both experiences were, well, intense. I had fun, but then I blend into crowds.

If you want the best bargains, go late Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, when the dealers are anxious to pack up and go home. Setting up a booth is bad enough; breaking one down after two nights sleeping in your car is hell. The less a dealer has to take home, the better he/she feels.

Rental of a 20×20 outdoor booth is $45. Electricity is a few dollars extra. There’s a kinda camp-like chowhouse that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are bathrooms. Don’t count on getting a hotel room in What Cheer–there aren’t any. A lot of the vendors bring campers, or simply sleep in their booths or cars–it’s that kind of place.

The next dates are: Aug. 1-3 and Oct. 3-5. The gates open at 7 a.m. Admission is $1, a dollar extra for early birds on the market’s first day.

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

Busted!

Secret stash in the back of my Subaru

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

“What’s that in the back of your car?”

Sounds like a casual question, but it wasn’t. My friend Jone Bosworth quizzed me with a raised eyebrow and a tart tone.

“Jumper cables,” I explained.

“No, that other thing–the big brown thing,” she pressed.

“Oh. Well, um…it’s a leather loveseat,” I said, in what I hoped was an off-hand manner.

“A loveseat!?! What are you doing with a loveseat? You’re supposed to be downsizing.” Clearly, I hadn’t nailed the off-hand thing.

You will recall that I am downsizing, simplifying and focusing my life. It says so, more or less, in the sub-title of this blog.

Is that a leather loveseat in your Suburu?And I have–I sold my house, disposed of many possessions and put the rest in a storage locker. Well, there was a little excess that I had to put in another, much smaller locker. And as soon as my brother Joe takes our great-grandmother’s dining room table, I can consolidate the two.

In the meantime, as I told Jone, there’s some room in the lockers. Hence, the loveseat.

“What? There’s room in the lockers? There’s room, so you’re filling it?” She wasn’t buying that rationale. I tried another.

“Well, my friend Fran was getting a new loveseat and chair, and she needed to get rid of this loveseat and she said she was going to give it to a charity that gives furniture to formerly homeless people who just got their first apartments, and the loveseat is really nice and Fran said I could have it, so I told her I would donate some cash to the homeless organization; besides, she wanted to get it out of her condo pretty quickly and the homeless place couldn’t pick it up for three weeks and I told her it would fit in the back of the Subaru–she didn’t believe me, but it did, so I took it.”

Jone stood there, hands on hips, eyebrow still raised. I am awed–and a little scared–of people who can raise one eyebrow.

“And it’s the right scale for whatever smaller place I end up in,” I added, meekly.

Still silence, still the eyebrow.

What can I say–I relapsed.

Jone, an executive coach, told me I have to work on breaking some habits of mind if my down-sizing and simplifying are going to be successful:

  • Just because something is free, and really nice, doesn’t mean I need it.
  • Just because that something fits easily into the back of the Subaru, doesn’t mean I should put it in there.
  • Just because the storage locker has room, doesn’t mean I should fill it.
  • Just because I want it, doesn’t mean I should have it.

Oh, okay, fine, I’ll work on changing my thought patterns.

In the meantime, it’s a really nice leather loveseat and it fits in the back of my car and there is room in the storage locker….

The Resale Evangelista is about simplifying life, cutting down on clutter, spending wisely and creating a focused, artful life.

If you are in the Washington D.C. area and have nice furniture you would like to donate, try The Wider Circle. The non-profit organization accepts furniture in good condition only, and redistributes it to families or individuals who need it. And if you have cash? Wider Circle accepts that, too.

For more information: Phone: 301-608-3504; Email: contact@awidercircle.org; Questions about donating furniture: furnish@awidercircle.org

If you are in or around St. Louis, the Miriam School’s Switching Post accepts donations of furniture and household items in good shape and sells them at prices well below antique shops or commercial stores. It’s an open secret that interior designers shop at the Switching Post. The store is staffed by volunteers and all proceeds go to the Miriam School, in Webster Grove, for learning-disabled children. Last year, the store raised $100,000 for the school.

For more information: Phone: 314-646-7737; Website: MiriamSwitchingPost.org

If you know of other non-profits who accept furniture, feel free to leave their contact information with your comments, or send them to me and I’ll add them.