Tag Archives: Goodbye to all that stuff

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.

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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: 

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.