Tag Archives: simplify life

Boot Camp!

Snowy days, reflections & free time

yield memories of things outgrown

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

Housebound by snowstorm Stella and disinclined to wield a shovel against the cold confection piled like meringue across her driveway, poet Sarah Freligh chose, instead, to fight the weather with words.

She challenged fellow writers on Facebook to a Snow Day Boot Camp: “Make a list of things you’ve outgrown,” she wrote. “Start with concrete objects like jeans, bras, and pencil skirts, then move to the more abstract—mean friends, bad habits, worrying about how your hair looks in Wegmans. Then write a poem/flash fiction or nonfiction that follows your list—what you’ve outgrown, what you can feel yourself outgrowing.”

To add aerobic intensity, Sarah set a deadline—30 minutes. Other than shoveling snow, there’s nothing like a deadline to get the heart pounding.

The challenge—things you’ve outgrown or are outgrowing—was a natural for Resale Evangelista. We’re all about simplifying and clarifying to create a more artful life. Most of the time, that means recognizing what is no longer needed and throwing it overboard. Sounds simple, but it’s not.

Little girls across the ages experience First Communion

The author and her mother, each after their First Communion, 50 years apart.

I tuned in late, so had nothing to contribute. But many others did, and the results were striking—fond farewells to everything from patent leather First Communion shoes to grateful goodbyes to the miseries of youth, like this from Julie Mellen Damerell:

submerged in snow, remembering
white patent leather shoes I wore for my First Communion
the day Grandma gave me the gold watch I lost in a year

that tan and white shift with matching coat I wore to Easter mass
not knowing Grandma’s money would not buy Sunday dress again

those three-inch heels I wore to prom and the sprained ankle

red and white checked bell bottoms I sweated in at the pool party
too embarrassed by my thirteen year old body in a bathing suit

buried in all that white, fear that I would not have a thirteen-yea old body
or hope that heels, a matching coat, or bell bottoms would make me
good enough

Outgrowing the angst as well as the ankle socks

Sarah Freligh is the award-winning author of two books of poetry, Sort of Gone (2008, Turning Point Books) and Sad Math (2015, Moon City Press), winner of—among other accolades—the 2015 Moon City Poetry Award. She’s a former sportswriter and colleague of mine at the Philadelphia Inquirer, now teaching creative writing at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.—a city which is always a contender in the annual ranking of snowiest U.S. cities. One learns that the necessities of life in Rochester include lap-cats, wine or hot chocolate (depending on whether it’s before noon or not), and something to keep the mind from slipping into a snow-glare  daze. Hence, Sarah’s impromptu Boot Camp for writers. She was feeling magnanimous, so she extended the usual 12 minutes to a full half-hour.

The great thing about this snow day concept—Things I’ve Outgrown—is its acknowledgment of emotional as well as physical mementos of the past. The parallels to editing our surroundings are inescapable. There are emotional costs and benefits—sometimes both—when you decide, or are forced, to pitch a bit of history: furniture imbued with fond memories, valued or valuable detritus from failed relationships, books associated with a certain time of life, a treasured tidbit from childhood.

Poet Jessica Cuello, author of Pricking (2016, Tiger Bark Press) and Hunt, winner of the 2016 Washington Prize from The Word Works (as well as other prizes, awards and fellowships), captured that mix of things and emotions lost or outgrown, starting from childhood.

Little Lulu with the stitches
where my brother bit her foot off,
the banana seat bike.
The Little Nutshell Library: “There once was a boy
named Pierre who only would say I don’t care.”
The key to the 4th grade diary. The diary.
The cut out obituaries.
The track ribbons. The letters
back and forth where I lost my best friend (No,
not those yet.) The journals from each year—
shame written in them.
The nursing pump, The Boppy, the kids’ art pieces
that must be thrown out secretly.
My appendix, mole on my breast,
my windpipe, esophagus,
left hand from grading, dinner with my mother,
mortgage, teaching roster,
responsibilities, body.

 Speed-writing lets hidden feelings leak

One of my favorite quotes (not to mention one of the few I can remember) is from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe:  “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I bring it up because, as I said, I appreciate the forced-march nature of a deadline. You have to think fast, but not too deep. Paradoxically, the speed sometimes uncovers a thought or feeling you couldn’t capture if you were thinking too much or too long. There’s always time to refine later.

This may sound crazy, but you could take the same approach to your linen closet or tee-shirt drawer. Fifteen minutes, no stopping to consider whether the excess towels should be saved for summer beach visits, or if the shirt from the first Rolling Stones retirement tour really is a piece of history. Pitch it, move on. Unlike the snow day writing assignment, you could have a buddy on hand to intervene when you hesitate over the well-worn baseball cap that reminds you of your first love.

Another striking thing about the flash-art that came out of the Snow Day Boot Camp is the sense of place and time evoked by the writers. Sarah Cedeño has lived in Brockport, N.Y., her whole life. She described her childhood in an interview with the Missouri Review: “I spent a lot of time in my parents’ back yard growing up, digging up potato bugs and playing with poisonous berries.  We didn’t vacation.  I didn’t do summer camp.  I made friends with two girls who went to the church across the street from my parents’ house when I got bored of my best friend, who lived next door.”

I so remember that kind of childhood. I don’t know how she managed, in 30 minutes, to convey both the placid beauty of that small town life and the occasional frustrating limitations, in this, her Boot Camp memory:

I’d outgrown my childhood playhouse years before. I watched it dismantled when I was in college: my father, with a hammer, while my cousin’s husband and his twin daughters watched, ready to rebuild in their own yard. Me, I was up the hill at the kitchen window—counting it all: the plywood, the shingles, the sign that said “Sarah’s Place” in rainbow font, the rainbow font like a fantasy.

I’ve outgrown a toy chest I used to hide in on the front porch with Hulk Hogan and Godzilla, Barbie and Gumby, the crayons I wrote my name with above our doorbell, that humid, screened-in space between home and not. And my sister’s hand-me-downs, shrunken and pale with too many washings. Wine coolers in flavors like raspberry dazzle and chillin’ cherry. I’ve outgrown beer that isn’t pretentious.

I’ve outgrown straightening my hair on the regular, dying my hair lighter or darker or red, fingernail polish in any shade. I’ve outgrown time like I have (outgrown)  four identical pairs of leather boots and about a million dreams, I’ve outgrown silence and a well-placed smile over my open mouth.

My skin has become tight, and whoever said you grow into yourself is full of shit— I grew through my own skin, and some mornings I want to rip and run out of it, but the sidewalks are too short and the road too long.

I didn’t start out to compare the process of a writing boot camp with the process of simplifying and clarifying life through the act of decluttering or downsizing—I thought this post would be all about the content. But it seems a natural fit. And I’m not the only one who noticed. One of the last comments on Sarah’s FB post came from Barbara Hammon.

“OMG!!,” she wrote. “I’m too late to play, but only because I was cleaning out my pantry and disposing of homemade pickles from ’02, cans of soup my past boyfriend bought (I don’t eat canned soup and he’s been gone almost 3 years), and multiple unrecognizable stuff. My pantry is cleaned and reorganized and ready to face the next decade. One room at a time.”

“So,” Sarah replied. “You did do the prompt.”

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. That often requires recognizing what you’ve outgrown and need to pitch, to make room for something else–maybe even just space! I’d love to hear what you’ve decided you’ve outgrown. Or maybe there’s something you suspect you may never outgrow? 

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?

Tiny houses, travel & defining home

 What does it mean to be un-moored from any specific place?

SusanCaba
Resale Evangelista

Today, I’m writing from a hillside house in Santa Barbara. The scarlet bougainvillea —attended by hummingbirds—competes for sunlight with lavender blooms of jacaranda trees and spikey purple agapanthas in the garden. I walked outside in my robe this morning to have coffee by the pool overlooking dun-colored hills.

The Pacific is an indigo wedge on the horizon. I’ll swim a few lengths of the pool—no suit needed—before showering in a spa-like master bath with heated floors. For these two months, I’m driving a vintage white Mercedes dubbed “The Sugar Cube.”

In a way, house-sitting is an idyllic life. But I know the ultimate goal of my year of living restlessly is to find a place that feels permanent. Actually, I’ve come to realize that’s been a goal of mine my entire life. I’m also getting inklings that what I’m looking for is less a place than a sense–a sense of belonging. So far, I have only vague ideas–maybe daydreams, maybe delusions–of what that sense of belonging would look or feel like.

I started musing along these lines after coming across a couple of essays by San Francisco blogger Cheri Lucas Rowlands. She and her husband, another writer, have sold most of their stuff, rented their loft and are in the process of completing a tiny house–20 feet long, 8 feet wide, 131 square feet–on wheels. (They bought a partially completed model from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.)

Like me, Rowlands and her husband decided that finding their place in life required stripping down to the core.

“We want a physical home we can call our own — one we really do own, with no mortgage, excessive bills, or superfluous possessions to weigh us down. Escaping a mortgage and living more simply will free up money, which will free up time,” Rowlands wrote, describing the birth of her Tiny House Travelers journey.

But Rowlands and her husband, Nick, are looking at their decision to downsize and detach from any one location from a perspective beyond mere housing:

“As travelers…trying out different locations for size; as a couple exploring our relationship to our shared space and to each other; and as writers deeply interested in the evolution of space, place and home, and in people’s ties to physical objects and locations in a world where the boundaries between the ideas of the digital and the physical are becoming increasingly blurred.”

I’ve embarked on a similar adventure, through serial house-sitting. I hadn’t really articulated what I hoped to discover, other than a permanent place to live. My thoughts started to gel along the lines of “a sense of belonging” after reading Rowlands’ essay.

A few weeks back, I wrote about my friend Doreen Carvajal  unraveling mysteries about her family’s history that had been quietly churning in the back of her mind for decades. I started the post by asking, “What is the burning question in your life?”

“I’m asking” I wrote, “because I think the search for an answer–whatever the question–creates a sense of passion and purpose in life. I’m envious of those who not only have such a question (and recognize it) but summon the will, the energy and the resources to pursue the answer. In the process, those people experience a deep sense of satisfaction and, I think, come to know some fundamental truths about themselves.”

I haven’t been able to fully shape my burning question yet. But I think it’s related to finding that sense of belonging. And, as I wrote that last sentence, it occurred to me that instead of using the word “finding,” I should have written “creating.” As in creating that sense of belonging.

In a New York Times article about her quest to uncover family secrets, Doreen wrote: “We can change the story we tell about ourselves and, by doing that, change our future.”

Coincidentally, I had been thinking that the subtext of my year of living restlessly is, “Change my story, change my brain, change my life.” I’m a believer in the science that says we can “rewire” our brains by over-riding the stories about ourselves that we grew up believing.

That’s why I said I should have written “creating” a sense of belonging rather than “finding” a sense of belonging. Apparently, I have control over whether I belong or not. Now that’s a scary realization!

I’ll finish with one more thought from another of Rowlands’ essays, What it means to write about travel.”

“Traveling can simply mean exploring–whatever your world, whatever your reality–and is often less about place and more about time, change and one’s relationship to a moment.”

In that sense, I’m traveling…aren’t we all?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helpful Reminders…

Mantras for Resisting Temptation

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

We all face temptation from time to time–a gorgeous set of dishes we know we’ll never use; the Louis Vuitton suitcase in perfect condition, despite the fact it’s too big to carry on and you wouldn’t risk checking it (and don’t have $2,200 to spare); the motorcycle jacket you know your husband would love–well, you think he would love it–for Christmas.

The Resale Evangelista understands. I’ve slipped, myself.

But if we’re going to simplify life, buy only what we need, and create focused, artful lives, we have to hold strong. Right? So I’ve found some inspirational little quotes to help us maintain resolve. Print them out and tuck them in your wallet. Better yet, wrap them around your credit cards with a rubber-band.

“Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?”
― Chuck Palahniuk
“Hanging onto a bad buy will not redeem the purchase.”
― Terence Conran
 “The wonderful things in life are the things you do, not the things you have.” 
― Reinhold Messner
 

Letting go, with mixed feelings

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

I’m sitting in my newly streamlined living room, candles burning, music on the stereo, drinking bourbon from a beautiful, heavy highball glass, with the computer on the Chinese leather trunk that serves as my coffee table. I didn’t think my house was over-furnished or over-decorated before but I have to admit, it seems more peaceful in this somewhat minimalist version. Maybe it was overly stimulating before.

So I’m taking a break from the packing. I figure I need it, having dropped the big-screen television the other night as I tried to move it, alone, from a high space to a lower space. Blam! It fell forward face-down. It was only an 18-inch drop, but enough to reduce what had been a scene from Downton Abbey to an artful kaleidoscopic display. I didn’t even bother to curse. The mishap solved a dilemma I had been pondering–whether to sell the (relatively new) television or try packing and moving it. Problem solved: I’ll just put in on the curb Friday for bulk pick-up.

Today I took a signed oil painting to the Miriam Shop, a non-profit organization that sells donated home furnishings and art. The proceeds benefit a school for learning-disabled children. The painter was an art professor at Washington University in St. Louis, the subject was a matron with a stern expression–probably a widow, judging by her grey dress and black-veiled hat. My ex-husband and son both considered the woman scary, but I gave her credit for her mustard yellow gloves. They were the tip-off to either some repressed strain of rebellion or dark humor, I’m not sure which. The painting was very good and, in the past, I would have made the effort to sell it. But I decided instead to just let it go. I hope she finds a good home with someone who appreciates the cuffed yellow gloves.

I also dropped off a partially finished needlepoint canvas of seashells, and the yarn to finish it. It’s pretty clear I wasn’t going to get around to completing the piece–I started it in college and have been carting it around the country for, what, more than 30 years? My good friend Lee and I used to sit and needlepoint and talk while eating iced sugar cookies we snitched from Lee’s roommate, Leslie. It probably wouldn’t have taken much time to finish the needlepoint–I’d done most of the complicated parts–but if it hasn’t happened so far, it’s time to admit I’ve lost interest. Until now, it’s just been too easy to pack up the basket of yarn and carry it on to the next port. If it’s meant to be finished, the task will have to go to someone else.

The standing gilt Buddha I inherited from a friend who died of AIDS is now wrapped in tissue paper. He, too, is bound for the Miriam Shop, along with a pressed-tin barrel-topped chest my college boyfriend refinished for me. I’ve been using it to store wrapping paper and, let’s face it, I don’t wrap that many gifts anymore.

I’m kind of amazed at how easily I’m letting go of things. When I first started editing my possessions, each decision was fraught with emotion as I considered who had given me the item or been with me when I acquired something, the events surrounding my acquisition, the family history I might be discarding. Now I seem willing to let things slip away rather effortlessly.

Maybe it’s because the associations are so long ago, like the wrapping paper trunk and my college boyfriend. Or that I don’t need the needlepoint to remind me of the pleasures of sitting with Lee and chatting. Or that I internalized the artfulness of my friend, Donna, who died of AIDS and her Buddha is extraneous. Those people and events are part of me, not a garment I have to wear to remember them.

Dishes, dishes everywhere …

Luncheon dishes

How many sets of dishes is too many for a simple life?

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

I don’t cook much. I don’t entertain big crowds. I don’t cater.

But I have an active imagination. That’s the only rationale I can come up with for the fact that I own six sets of dishes. That I know of–there are some boxes in the garage that haven’t been unpacked for a long time.

Some part of my brain must envision me having large dinner parties. Because I keep buying dishes. They’re like potato chips, I can’t have just one set. I sold a set last year, and recently gave away another. And yet, I still have six.

Here’s an actual conversation I had with myself recently, as I was buying a set of delicate bone china for six–teacups and saucers, salt and pepper shakers, creamer, sugar bowl and six smallish plates.

Me, to myself: “These would be great for a luncheon or tea party, they’re so pretty and different.”

Myself, to me, after I paid for the dishes: “You haven’t had a luncheon in–you’ve never had a luncheon. You don’t even use the word!”

It’s the gatherings I miss

I used to have dinner parties, both before and after I was married. As a single woman in Des Moines, in my twenties, I didn’t hesitate to have 10 people over for dinner, though I didn’t have a dining room table. I had a group of 10 or 12 close friends. We had garden parties, cookouts and, about once a year, one couple from the south would make fried chicken and creamed corn.

When I left Des Moines, the 10 or 12 of us had a dinner party at Cynthia’s house that I’ll never forget. Not because it was grand or elaborate. It was warm and intimate. A few of us rotated in and out of the kitchen while the others talked, drank and played games in the living room. The peonies were blooming in the backyard, near where we were grilling.

We were family.

When I moved to Philadelphia, my roommate and I had people over for dinner–Doreen had pink LuRay plates. She loved pink, and we hunted down those pink dishes all over South Jersey!  After I married, my husband and I entertained often, first outside of Philadelphia and later in St. Louis. Some meals were more elaborate, others were very simple. Some were long-planned, others spontaneous.

We had friends, tDSCF1061oo, who had dinner parties. Penny and Warren Wood, Russell and Catherine Palmgren, Judge Garb and his wife, Joan. Thanksgivings at the Garbs’ Bucks County farmhouse, big fire burning in the library, Zeke arguing with Amit about the Constitution, wine flowing as freely as the conversation; the Palmgrens’ annual Boxing Day dinners, elegant and easy; too many meals at the Woods’ house to enumerate except to say they were usually memorable for unexpected interactions among guests, including heated political arguments and a near-divorce (not mine).

One Christmas, we attended a party in Bucks County in which everyone drank too much and talked and talked and talked. The next night, we went to a party in Chester, Pa., at which everyone drank too much and danced and danced and danced.

Here’s what I really miss: the camaraderie and community of a dinner party. Six or eight or twelve people sitting around the big oak table that–though it’s not my taste–I inherited from a great-grandmother. We’d drink copious amounts of wine, dig into salad, pass the lasagna or, more often than not, the coconut shrimp curry that is my ex-husband’s specialty, and laugh and argue.

Once, I remember, we had a British couple for dinner. Of the four of us, I was the only one criticizing the British occupation of India. Another time, we had a family of four for Thanksgiving dinner. Among other things, we served carrots with a little butter and brown sugar. “Mom,” gasped the 12-year-old son of our friends, “the carrots are drenched in butter.”

Kid, I thought, you don’t know drenched. I think my mother used a half-stick of butter on every bowl of broccoli or cauliflower or carrots she served us as kids. Max and I will still look at one another when a dish is particularly rich, roll our eyes and say, “Mom, the carrots are drenched in butter!”

Volunteer job feeds an addiction

DSCF2131After the divorce, life became more  harried, the kitchen in my house was horrid and I got out of the habit of having dinner parties. I packed up the blue and white Rosenthal china my mother bought in Europe and gave me as a wedding present. At the time, I believed I would soon be leaving St. Louis. I would unpack the china in California, where I would again have dinner parties.

Well, I didn’t move. Who could move a son right before middle school, when he’d have to make friends–yet again–at a new school. We stayed in St. Louis, in a house I first rented, then purchased. I still thought I would have dinner parties again. That was 13 years ago. I wasn’t hosting dinner parties, but I was buying dishes.

In part, I bought them as a side effect of volunteering at the Miriam Switching Post, a non-profit store on Big Bend Blvd. that, as they say, is an “on-going estate sale.” The dishes–and other furnishings–are donated by people who are down-sizing, closing out parents’ estates or simply redecorating. Proceeds support the Miriam School, for children with severe learning disabilities.

Inevitably, there are dishes. Everything from beautiful bone china to pottery to Fifties era plastic dishes in acidic colors. And they sell for a pittance of what they would cost new, or what contemporary china costs. As with so many things, I can’t understand why anyone would buy new dishes. Never mind going to antique stores, just go to Goodwill.

The dishes, no matter how beautiful or how inexpensive, rarely sold. I guess it’s because people want what they want. In other words, they don’t want to select from the china at a resale store. Maybe it doesn’t fit their vision of what their life will be. Maybe the dishes just aren’t in style, or are too small. Maybe they don’t entertain as we used to (now I’m sounding like an old codger!)

I had to quit working at the Miriam shop. It was becoming the most expensive volunteer job I’d ever had. And my cupboards were filling with dishes (among other things) I didn’t need.

Recently, I did again entertain the idea of entertaining. About a year ago, I invited several people for dinner, to hilarious effect. . All I can say is that people I thought would mesh beautifully–didn’t! Those of us reduced to observers chuckle still at the DSCF1157memory of two alpha male guests jousting like bull elephants. One claimed to invent juggling, the other professed a fanatic dedication to his vegetable garden and vegetarianism. In its own way, the dinner was memorable.

But I haven’t had another one since. I haven’t served lunch on the German painted china. It’s been a while since I used the funky, lime green and cream, Stangl dishes from the Fifties. My Rosenthal is still wrapped carefully in newspaper, then tucked into a sturdy box. I’m finally moving and, as I pack those excess dishes, I find myself chanting an old nursery rhyme:

Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon. The little boy laughed to see such a sight–and the dish ran away with the spoon.

Got that, dishes?

Finding replacement china

If you’re missing pieces of your china, or want to fill in with additional pieces, try China Finders, at 2125 Cherokee St. in St. Louis. You’ll be astounded at the variety of patterns and pieces stacked in what seem like endless shelves. Phone number is:314-776-5900.

Replacements Ltd. is another resource. The on-line company buys and sells hundreds of patterns of china and crystal, both obscure and common.

 

Pete Seeger dies…

Pete Seeger sings Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, for RamDas Foundation
 Pete Seeger singing at the  RamDas Foundation

He lived a simple life, devoted to values & vision

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

I was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway yesterday, listening to the Byrds’ cover of Turn, Turn, Turn, on my way to my mother’s house in Santa Barbara. The music and my destination coalesced into high school memories–specifically, a school assembly discussing anti-Vietnam War protests.  Earlier in the week, a rioting crowd of protestors in the neighboring college community of Isla Vista had burned down the Bank of America.

Folk singer Pete Seeger wrote Turn, Turn, Turn and it, along Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone, became anthems of the anti-war movement. Hearing them as I drove, I had flashbacks of the era–a neighbor’s son who served in Vietnam; the physician I worked for part-time, who specialized in getting draftees medical deferments; the long hair, shredded jeans and handmade leather sandals apparent everywhere in I.V.; the wafting smell of marijuana at a Joan Baez concert on a sunny afternoon.

Seeger, who died Monday at age 94, lived the epitome of a simple life. By that, I mean he spent a lifetime working toward his vision of a peaceful world, even if it meant making progress–as he put it–“one teaspoon at a time.” Seeger focused his considerable talents toward that goal for most of his seven-decade career.

He didn’t create a line of clothing for Macy’s. As far as I know, he only had the log house in upstate New York–no vacations in the south of France or exotic islands. He didn’t maintain a garage filled with expensive cars. Did he flash “bling?” You gotta be kidding!

Seeger promoted his causes, not himself. His weapons were a five-string banjo, a 12-string guitar and songs that became anthems for civil rights, labor rights, environmental causes and, above all, world peace.  He refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his political beliefs, and was blacklisted for 17 years. Still, he stuck with his values and his belief in the power of song during turbulent times.

Roger McGuinn, the Byrds’ lead singer and a Seeger protegé, made an interesting observation about those times and those songs. He pointed out, in a radio interview about Seeger’s influence, that there was no Twitter then, no Facebook. Those have become the tools of mass political communication with the power to rouse rebellion. That’s true.

Even so, Seeger’s songs still have the power to make us sing along. It doesn’t matter if you’re singing the right note, he said, “as long as you’re singing it.”

So here are the lyrics to Turn, Turn, Turn, as well as a video of Seeger performing the song. Feel free to sing along:

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late