In Which We Get Rid of 95% of Our Possessions in 3 Weeks
"Working as a mover makes you not be a hoarder. I see so much stuff every day, and I don't want any of it! All they are...are nice things."
--G. Owner of a local moving company
So yeah. It's pretty crazy to decide, after ten years of living in a place, to leave. It's even more crazy to decide to stop living in a house. Especially when you, despite some exceptions during camping trips, always HAVE lived in a house, and now suddenly you've decided to keep only those possessions that are absolutely necessary AND will fit into a van + pop-up camper. And even more especially, it is crazy to do this when you have four young kids along for the ride.
At the point just before Jeff and I made the decision (I think it was March 27th) to leave our beautiful home, and put Outdoor Living In Warm, Dry, Non-Moldy Places as a new action step on our Health Improvement agenda...well, it would be an understatement to say that Things Felt Chaotic. In reality, Things felt explosive like dynamite had just taken the top off our mountain, and like all the Things were pummeling me about the head in order to jockey for Priority at the top of the Crazy Shit To Deal With List: Jeff's deteriorating health, a mold remediation project in our basement, Eliza's dramatic behavioral and other health issues, never-ending meal preparation, Jem's not-so-great health, Ben's not-super-great health, the difficulty I have homeschooling my children with their particular brands of Issues, my sanity-and-whether-it-can-sustain-recent-improvements-considering-all-of-the-above, taking care of a baby, Jeff's work, Community Obligations... Etcetera.
We were spending a couple of weeks at my parents', to try for a sabbatical. A time to think things through. And then we added something new to the mix, and actually said it out loud: We Are Going To Sell Our House. And buy a camper. And live in it. And See What Happens Next.
At which point it was like one of those scenes in a movie where the bubble bursts with a gentle yet thorough "POOF!", the fantasy dissolves, and suddenly the character is standing, slightly dazed, finally observing the details of What's Actually There.
It was March 27th, and I was lying on my parents' couch while Jeff and I talked about Next Steps. I felt slightly bruised, running on adrenaline, but now - rather than my usual general sense of dread and concern for the future, brought on continually, generally speaking, by the unpleasant ill-health-symptoms of family members, and my helplessness due to how (apart from cooking) I feel unable to Turn Around The Deterioration - I felt suddenly Really Super Excited. Travel! For as long as we've had kids, Jeff and I have wanted to travel with them. The few times we've tried it, it's been pretty awful, exhausting, difficult. We've put it off because, well, it seemed Extremely Imprudent to keep trying.
But this new idea - to travel in such a way that it might IMPROVE everyone's health, and simplify our lives so that there might be fewer obligations for Jeff and me...but more of the things that make life helpful - was such an uplifting, FUN one! Such an inspiring tool to add to our Healing Everybody Toolbox! Less about drudgery, and more about adventure. Mightn't it be awesome?! To travel for a reason?! In this case...even forgetting about indoor air quality...long-repressed ideals and dreams were bubbling up. I want to be outdoors! Seeing stuff! With my family! And NOT have a huge, beautiful house back home, to worry about and take care of and pay for.
Meals and laundry and seemingly-endless chores...that stuff always needs doing, so why not do it in New Places? Sure, we could try yet another healing attempt for Jeff while staying in our home...but really, why not give this a try? Spend the winter somewhere WARM! Experience new things! Breathe New Air! Maybe even (for me) get a healthier husband at the same time!!
And so, as I figuratively brushed off the remnants of the POOF, I decided that the kids were going to be okay. I mean, after the initial shock, of course. We had to tell them. Ben would be really upset, until he adjusted to the New Normal. It was normal, to feel shock and sadness about Big Changes. We all would cry and miss all our friends dearly. We would do what needed to be done. We would take care of the mold remediation in the basement.
And of course - it was as plainly obvious as anything I'd ever known - the absolutely necessary thing that had to happen now was to Get Rid of Almost Everything We Owned.
Even as a kid, I liked to save things. And as of March 27th, 2016, after a few more decades of Collecting, I had became complicit in a collectively inadvertent hoarding experiment (despite simultaneously playing the role of de facto Family Organizer Who-Regularly-Declutters).
Gazing at the situation head on - (ahem) considering our jam-packed shelves and cupboards and bins and drawers and more shelves and more cupboards and more and more crap (not even counting all the drawers and shelves in the bathroom, the attic, the basement, and the garage) - I wondered if I had actually turned into my grandmother, who saved used wrapping paper - very neatly folded - from presents given to her by students she'd taught in kindergarten in the 1930s and 40s. Yes, she saved her memories. She did it neatly, too. But by the end, she'd also fossilized her life.
I really never intended to accumulate A Lot Of Stuff. And standing on the other side at this moment, I never intend to own so much ever again. But in case I accidentally do - and subsequently want to get rid of 95% of it in approximately three weeks - I've jotted down some notes to help the divestment process go more smoothly next time.
During the weeks after March 27th, I spent nearly every waking hour (when I wasn't doing a ton of other things) Facilitating The Re-Homing of Our Possessions. And thinking like crazy. I was creating these sort of infographics in my head, or maybe they were flow charts (or perhaps I'd invented a new, words-can't-describe-it method of Organizing the Movement of Stuff which, if I could only put it into words, could net me a best-selling book called, oh, I don't know, maybe something original and lucrative like "The Life Changing Magic Of Getting Rid of 95% Of Your Possessions"), to imagine the most systematic, productive, efficient, and Quick way to Get All The Stuff Out Of Our House. I felt the sorrowful gazes of at least 2-4 pained and sad family members upon me at any given moment, and I knew that the whole thing was pretty traumatic. But I also knew that the trauma would pass...eventually, and only once the process was done. So I tried to move as quickly as possible, without crossing the delicate edge into Ruthlessness.
One thing I now know is that even when your stuff is like ours - highly regarded (by us), generally good quality (at least when we originally got it), nicely arranged and well-organized - it will not be very lucrative to sell it. (We sold our very expensive, 1-year-old, very good quality organic cotton and wool and natural latex bed for half of what we paid for it: $1750. Other than that, we sold relatively little compared with what we gave away and donated, and with a few exceptions due to generous buyers, we sold things for a relative fraction of what we paid initially. The grand total of what we made for all other household items sold (apart from the mattress) was about $3500. Which is a lot. But a whole lot LESS than we paid for all our stuff over the past fifteen years.)
If I had any advice to give myself-getting-rid-of-things-in-the-future (or better yet, myself-choosing-which-things-to-acquire-in-the-first-place), I would remind myself: some items will be very popular, but most things won't be sought after at all. The cost of acquiring an item is sort of like rent, in that you often can't get it back at the end of an item's useful life. At first you'll have visions of people pouncing on all the Great Bargains you have to offer, and exclaiming, "This is EXACTLY what I've been needing! I'll pay you three-quarters of what it would cost me new!" While this will likely happen occasionally, it likely won't be what happens MOSTLY. You will be facing mountains of random objects that nobody really wants. You might feel a little let-down by this, like maybe your Good Taste is somehow in question, or your sense of style, or your ability to organize a yard sale, or your Priorities in life...and it's possible that these things ARE good ones to question.
But the biggest thing to remember, oh self in the future, is this:
Stuff weighs you down. If you hang onto it because you can't get a good price for it, or because it's pretty, or simply because of the guilt that plagues your soul when you think about getting rid of it, because after all it's Nice Stuff, and you Went To The Trouble Of Getting It in the first place, so it would be a waste to give it away now...then you will never be able to let go and get god. Oh, sorry, what I mean is: if you don't get past the intense urge to Keep Your Stuff, you will never feel the intense freedom that comes with certain discoveries: there are many possible good homes for stuff! Your house does not have to be that home! You can prioritize nothing less than a new life when you prioritize different and fewer things! Stuff is happy to move on! Having less can be liberating! No longer will you be Chief Curator of Things.
By the way, and also, I don't really know what I'm talking about. I was recently telling my sister exactly what I thought about certain decisions she was making, and what I wished she had done instead, and what she might want to think about before making decisions in the future, and in the same breath I was explaining how hesitant I was to tell her these things, because I never want to give advice, because of how I don't actually know what the right thing is for anybody else to do, and I don't want to be held responsible for somebody doing something when I have no idea what I'm talking about. My sister kind of looked at me oddly, like I was maybe offering her some purple sardines with mud pies for lunch, and said patiently, "uh, Sara...You TOTALLY want to give me advice! You're telling me what to do right now. Of COURSE you want to. Just SAY it already!"
And then I had a lightbulb moment, totally! I said, maybe you're right! But I don't want to try to give you ADVICE advice, like the kind where I know what's right for you. I just want to share all my opinions, and tell you what I think you should consider before you do what you're going to do. That way I can tell you what to THINK about...not what to do...
Mostly I didn't say anything useful except for all the Totally True Stuff I was sharing with her in the hope that she would see things My Way and do exactly what I would do, if I were her, which I never will be, but still - it's the best we can do, to empathize and pretend, right?
All that is to say that when I say "you" in this particular update, I actually mean "me." And nothing I say should be construed as any sort of advice - advice you should only procure from a Qualified Stuff Dispersal Expert.
At the beginning of April, while we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa, we hired Karen to work for a week.
Actually, if you're planning to get rid of most of the things you own, and you don't currently have access to the services of Karen, you should find someone like her, right away. You're looking for an extremely dependable, resourceful, strong, and capable person who additionally knows your children very well, is a fantastic organizer, and knows your house from top to bottom.
If you have small children - like four years old and younger - and Divesting will require the purging of many toys...it's definitely good to take a vacation for a week or two before. (Incidentally, by "vacation" I do not mean "an extended period of recreation" [not very frequently possible, in many households with children], but rather "the action of leaving something one previously occupied.") It's amazing how short-term many children's memories are, and how much less they care about Possessions after only a week or two away from them. The child may never actually remember, after even a short time, that most of her/his toys ever existed. This is a real learning experience for all the possessions-centric adults who might be watching nearby, personally agonizing over their own favorite Things.
If you have older children, it can be a good idea to explain why you as an adult are - and have been, and will be - making certain choices that affect them. It's easy for anyone to take certain things for granted, and not realize that they are choices to begin with (like: should all people live in a house? what type of house is affordable? should children go to school? should people eat three home-cooked meals per day? how should a child spend his/her days? what's the best way to treat health problems and challenges?), so there are lots of interesting conversations worth having. Your kids might not really have much of an opinion about things that you personally feel very strongly about, and they might feel very strongly about things you perceive as Very Unimportant Indeed. Your children might not actually realize that one of their parents is experiencing a Health Problem unless that health problem knocks them over the head and makes itself insanely obvious by shouting clearly in their ears. You might not have realized that they don't realize this, so you'll want to explain what's going on.
Additionally, and incidentally (yet growing more relevant with every passing day), your kids might be aware that you dislike housework, but fail to grasp that you feel trapped and completely tied to domestic tasks, especially the act of performing said tasks while caretaking whining and arguing and demanding and ill small people, and that you actually fantasize about flying away from home, alone and FREE, in order to capitalize on some heretofore undiscovered megatalent like, say, Left-Nostril-Breathing Opera-Singing. In your fantasy, you run away to join the Nostril-Breathing-Opera really for the sole purpose of being somewhere where Somebody Else scrubs the grungy, caked-on edge of the table in front of where the baby sits, cleans the bits of poop off the heating duct so you don't have to, makes breakfast every morning, and matches All The Fricking Socks. It would probably permanently damage your children's fragile self-esteem if you actually mentioned these escapist fantasies, but you do think about them - and the ways you somehow filled up your life years ago, leaving not enough space for adventure, adult socialization, and left-nostril-breathing - while you patiently remind your children that boogers should be deposited in a tissue in the bathroom garbage, socks can be found in the pile where all the clean clothes are, and no, there isn't a snack available four minutes prior to dinner simply because dinner isn't being prepared quickly enough.
No indeed. You probably shouldn't mention how long-suppressed escapist fantasies are ever-so-slightly driving a teeny part of your new travel plans. Instead, you should gently discuss: What is the True Cost of our lifestyle? How much does it cost in money, and time, and stress, and reward? Is this lifestyle working for all or most of the household? What if it's pretty nice for some, but Not Really Great for one or more members of the family? Since reality usually includes a mix of things that are great and those which are sucky, how do you figure out when the overall picture is out of balance, and has crossed the line into Really Unsustainable? Whose needs are most important, and which needs trump other needs? Can you even know?
These conversations will likely not help your children to understand you, but it can help you to understand your children.
If I sound confident, and like I figured out exactly how to soothe the trauma and disruption of announcing our imminent departure (especially for Ben, whose preferred routine is Sameness, served up with a side of rigidity, which has mostly set the tone for our family's activity level for a dozen years)... well, I'm writing it all down to prove to you what an awesome mom I am, and how perfectly I've finessed the past two months.
Hahahahaha, just kidding. Despite Jeff's and my making this decision-to-leave together, I was the one doing the Purging...therefore I'm pretty sure that the kids (and possibly Jeff) felt like I was the sole Arbiter of Doomsday, and I felt pretty damn lonely there at the helm of the Divestment Ship during the three weeks of Moving It All Out. But that's why I also knew that the process needed to happen quickly, so we could move on to the other parts of our adventure.
So okay. Right. Back to the task list at hand:
Before you start to get rid of nearly everything, it is good to get everything in order: think of your home as having zones, and make sure that you know where pretty much every single thing is located within those zones, in categories such as Clothing, Toys, Outerwear, Linens, Office Supplies, Wall Hangings, toiletries, crafts supplies, books, games, pantry items, cleaning supplies, electronics, outdoor gear, etc. etc. etc. This way, you can go through the contents of each zone in as methodical a way as possible, and end up actually throwing things into garbage bags destined for Charity while you cry large tears onto the curly-haired baby you are carrying, since you Really, Really want to be Fucking Done Already With This Huge and Overwhelming task.
Sorry. I'm calmer now.
Here's what Karen did while we were away:
-- Purchased 4 packages of plastic garbage bags, and ~60 medium and small size boxes from Uhaul.
-- Washed and dried all bedding on all beds, plus everything that was in the dirty laundry baskets (we had our favorite clothes with us at Grandma and Grandpa's), plus four large towels and three small ones. It was about 17 loads of laundry. After this, she bagged it all up in plastic garbage bags in our bedrooms, and labeled them.
-- Disassembled the "climbing structure" we've been borrowing from our dear friend Sue for all these years...so that the living room had as much space as possible.
-- Bagged up all remaining towels, pillows, cushions, rags, coats, hats/mittens, napkins, dish clothes, stuffed animals/dolls, clothes, etc. Labeled each bag (maybe 10 more, Giant Sized garbage bags), and put them in the living room.
-- Boxed every book in the house except for boys' shelves. The only books kept separate were my cookbooks, piano music, and five other single books that had Large Sentimental Value or Important Notes in the Margins Related to Health or Work. These boxes (~19) were also stacked in the living room.
-- Collected all pieces of paper - scrap paper, bills, wall hangings, lists, decorations, pictures, paper toys, etc....and either recycled or put in a single pile for me to sort through later.
-- Put all the downstairs toys, dress-up clothes, toy kitchen accessories, etc. into boxes/bags (probably five or so), labeled them, and put them the living room.
-- Put all the homeschool supplies and obvious office supplies into boxes (maybe three or four), and labeled them.
-- Put all additional toys from Eliza's closet, and any on her windowsills/table/etc., into boxes and bags (maybe eight or ten), labeled them, and put these in the living room. (I didn't want to have to tell Eliza not to play with these little-used toys, but needed to have them Put Away so they didn't become immediately tempting.)
-- Put all our photo albums and scrapbooks into boxes, and label.
-- Vacuumed all floors, upstairs and down.
-- Brought all trash and recycling to dumpsters.
You're probably thinking, Hey, that's not too bad! I could do that in an afternoon!
Okay, so listen up: that's the power of Simplification via Explanation. Anyone who can accomplish the above-listed tasks in fewer than about 30 hours is welcome to prove it to me next time I have a household to liquidate, and see if their muscles aren't a little bit shaky after all that heavy lifting.
Actually, if you think you can do these tasks quicker than Karen and I did, maybe you're just insane.
Oops, sorry. Getting rid of all our stuff sometimes make me snarky. Good thing I don't do it every day. Get rid of our stuff, I mean.
One minor small tiny fact: As of April 1st of this year, I, Sarabeth Matilsky could recall the exact location of pretty much every single one of the 456 trillion items we owned at that time. Actually I'm exaggerating. I could only remember where 99.3% of them were.
I can't figure out why I didn't realize it sooner: I Want That Brain Space Back!
Getting The Mountain of Stuff Out
It's probably hard to imagine, because "boxes and bags" sound so neat and tidy, but when we came back from Grandma and Grandpa's house, we were greeted by an Enormous Mountain of Possessions. All neatly boxed and bagged and labeled...but the impact of such an enormous mountain of disruption in our living room is hard to overstate. I walked in and kind of burst into tears. Eliza sort of looked panicked, and jumped into Jeff's arms. Jem was pretty excited to explore, and Ivy thought everything was pretty A-OK, and crawled off to see what she could get into. Ben did not like it. At all.
As I mentioned, the enormous jolting shock of our collective accumulation quickly became (for me) a Large Imperative: we needed to clear out the stuff. And quickly, because there was a Whole Lot More Stuff to deal with, and there was currently no room to even walk in the living room, let alone sort more stuff. So I sent an e-mail out to friends and neighbors, explaining about the larger items that were for sale, and inviting people to come over and bid on them (bids to be collected and organized six days later), buy smaller things, and Browse our Stuff (aside from the mountain of clothing/linens/books that were already headed for second-hand stores and donations). I mentally made a list of items that we'd received as gifts and should therefore be re-gifted rather than sold.
The First Inventory:
LIVING ROOM/DINING ROOM:
Large, nice sofa; a nice green color, with subdued rainbow cushions Mission-style dark wood coffee table Yamaha Clavinova Digital Piano Solid, dark mahogany "secretary" desk (antique) Round maple table with two drop-leaves Rectangular solid oak dining room table, very sturdy (this is not for sale, but seeking a home on extended loan!) Four padded folding chairs Four nice wood folding chairs 3 bar stools Stokke-style adjustable children's high-chairs Free-rolling kitchen island Cherry wood china cabinet/hutch
Fermentation Supplies - 17 5-liter Fido jars, plastic and metal trays (full hotel-pan size) to keep overflowing pickle juice from damaging the floor, lots of wide-mouth canning jars (quart size) Lots of random stuff, including Greenstar juicer, Excalibur Dehydrator, Country Living Grain Mill, oat flaker, clay bakers (round and French-bread sizes), dishes, utensils, pots and pans, cookie sheets, salad spinner, mixing bowls, pie pans, baking pans, knives, yogurt maker, etc. Two chest freezers, one large and one medium-sized Miele HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner (12 years old and still really awesome) Dorm-style fridge Large and small-size coolers
Circa-1960s White sewing machine in beautiful console desk (originally given to us, so free but for the $60 we spent in March 2016 to get it tuned up) Large, solid oak legal desk (v. heavy) 9 unfinished and finished shelving units, large and small, most solid wood but three composite 3-drawer dresser, wide and low, dark wood (top is scuffed) Very fancy dress, beaded and golden-white, size 6 2 twin futons ("green" cotton) plus wood frames 1 full-size futon (organic cotton) plus light wood slatted frame Very cool "Innovation" futon couch (with thin futon), folds width-wise for a narrow loveseat configuration instead of the usual futon couch. Electronics/peripherals Newish laser printer with new toner and extra cartridges Flat screen Monitor 2 kids' desks (one dark wood, small, with a single drawer; other one very well-used and -stickered)
Lots of games, and toys including large k'nex sets, a bin of legos, lots of duplos, gears, maple blocks, wooden marble run, musical instruments, etc. Fiberglass canoe Gas Grill Various gardening tools/shovels/rakes/etc. Cross country skis, poles, and boots (mens size 11, women's size 8, kids sizes 2 and 3) four really nice Nokian Hakkapeliitta snow tires Rans Recumbent Bicycle, short wheel-base Rack to hold two bikes for storage (leans against the wall) Snow pants, jackets, etc. etc. (Warm Winter Stuff) for women's size medium, men's medium, and childrens' up to size 12 Crafts/beading supplies Lots of education/homeschooling resources (to give away) Kids' small play table with two small chairs (to give away) Ben and Jem's Special Wares
Prior to the first day of the "sale," I further emptied out the kitchen cabinets about a third of the way: all of the stuff I could part with immediately was spread thickly on the dining room table, and every time anything was sold or given away, I added more. Once most of the kitchen stuff was piled up, I moved onto miscellaneous Stuff, such as the contents of utility drawers, yoga mats, maps, random jewelry, etc. I removed ~50 photos from picture frames (this takes much longer than you think!), and got all of our recently-generated scrapbook items into scrapbooks (all memories henceforth should be preserved digitally).
After a day or two, it quickly became obvious (at least it did to me) that nobody treasures exactly the same things as you do. Which means...if nobody wanted An Item after the first time it was out on the table, nobody probably wouldn't want it the second, or third times, either. I cried periodically, due to the enormity of Getting Rid Of all these items that had been, right up until now, our Treasured Possessions. But I hardened my heart each time, realizing more and more clearly that Having Much Less will be necessary if we want to Do Much More with our lives. And so, since most of the rest of the random objects we owned were not actually that interesting to most people...It Was Time To Donate.
But wait! First, Karen helped me to empty the attic. This was mostly ~20 boxes of Precious Memorabilia (in addition to the 8 boxes of scrapbooks and photos that were already waiting to be sorted downstairs), along with many many boxes and piles of out-of-season clothes for the kids, costumes, boots, shoes, etc. We sorted and boxed as we went, with the Precious Things set aside to sort at a later date. We also brought down the last couple dozen winter squash, the remainder of our stores from the six bushels I purchased last fall.
I disassembled all the kids' bed frames, and brought them downstairs. We set up appointments with people who wanted to pick up bookcases at a later date. I emptied all the drawers and nooks and utility bins and Containers Of Little Things That You Never Know What To Do With. I disassembled Jeff's and my large and heavy bed frame, and delivered it to its new home in two trips with a cart. I disassembled our enormous, heavy latex mattress, and brought that over in three more cartloads. This felt so relieving! I never want to own such a heavy bed ever again.
The next day, Karen and I emptied the basement. This included all of our sports equipment, ice skates, rollerblades, camping gear, bikes, more camping gear, tools, etc. We piled it in the backyard, and then moved it into the carport as we sorted: give away, donate, sell, trash, recycle...three hours later, everything out there was at least orderly.
Then we took four more trips downtown, to at least four different donation sites. (I also cheated...by letting Karen work her magical re-gifting powers, and having her take many and various things Away, that didn't belong in any clearly-defined donation category.)
Meanwhile, the living room was now piled even higher with boxes and bags of stuff that wasn't even part of the sale anyway. It was time to deal with the books. I set aside my piano music and tried to wrap my brain around getting rid of it (sob!) (I ended up taking some acquaintances up on their offer to host the music in case we someday have a house and piano again), and I gave away the homeschooling supplies. I kept the few cookbooks with which I learned to cook and wrote copious notes inside...and left the rest of the books in their boxes, which were about to Go. It took me a long time just to load the car with those ~14 cases, after which Ben and Jem and I took them to the used bookstore downtown. We emerged perhaps five hundred pounds lighter, with less than $200 to show for all that paper we'd accumulated over the years. Ben was very sad. I felt Very Liberated, and my arms and back felt a little sore. I never want to own so many books ever again.
Alone, I went to the second-hand kids' store, and "sold" most of the toys. I use quotes to indicate that the price I received, in store credit, was so incredibly minimal that it made no sense to spend the time on the project really, except that I needed to bring the toys somewhere, and charities don't want them, and having a "yard sale" while trying to sell toys that are hidden behind opaque plastic bags in order to reduce Children's Trauma is really ridiculous...not to mention that if you give stuff away to kids whose houses your children regularly enter, then your children will see the toys that used to be theirs...anyway, so that's why I "sold" the toys.
There's a funny thing about selling things. Sometimes, if you try to give something away for free, it doesn't work as well as if you take the exact same article and charge for it. (A desk that was so peppered with stickers that I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to deal with it...was posted on Freecycle. After the first interested party didn't show up, and the second person arrived but wouldn't take the thing away, saying it was "too nice"...I gave up. And consigned it to the local second-hand furniture store for $40.)
Next, I went through all the bags of labeled clothes, linens, and outerwear, and removed the few items that we wanted to keep, or that I wanted to give to Mom. This took hours, and felt overwhelming.
Next day, I borrowed our neighbor's pick up truck, and loaded the bags and boxes of linens and clothes into the bed. I piled it really high, until Karen said I'd better stop because I was going to get pulled over if I drove with such an enormous, uncovered load. Then I stuffed the passenger seat with a few more bags. Then I stuffed a few more into the back despite Karen's admonishment, but it was so precarious at that point that I really couldn't fit the final three garbage bags full. I drove down the hill at ~20 mph, and brought it all to Catholic Charities. It was snowing lightly that day, and I helped unload all the bags with suddenly-jelly-legs, eyes just a bit prickly, thinking guiltily: my donations could practically clothe a third-world nation! And my children have such nice clothes...while other children have nothing! Or at least, much less than mine. I honestly couldn't believe how many bags there were. Remember, this included ONLY the stuff that we weren't currently using/about to grow into, or that my mom didn't want. (Later, I went through all our currently-wearing clothes yet again, and got rid of a few more bags-full.)
Then I continued to sort through my most Favorite Kitchen gadgets, and saved the best ones for my mother. I figure she deserves a little something after all these years of being my mom!
And then I helped the boys - who are really great sports, each in their own ways - to sort their things into three categories: most-precious things to keep, stuff to give away, and stuff to try to sell. This felt tough. How could I impose this ultimatum on my children? And yet...how could I not? Children receive ultimatums concerning their lives and lifestyles and opportunities and responsibilities from the moment they come into this world. Some children have nothing but the clothes on their backs...and my children are fortunate enough to have a whole lot more. This next Family Journey is not optional, because this time it's Papa's health that is the deciding factor, and if he gets much worse, the kids will be worse off, too - no matter how many nice Things they have. Also, if there's one thing certain, it's that Jeff and I have busted our asses to fight for the health of each of our children in turn, with many sacrifices along the way, so...anyway, you can tell that I feel a bit shaky on this one, a little defensive, and definitely aware of the challenges that particularly Ben is facing, in becoming unmoored from many of his Possessions and his home.
There truly is no rule book, wherein it is outlined exactly how much space a child should have to store his/her possessions, exactly how many are allowed, and in what sort of home a child should live. But in questioning our own situation, and changing it, suddenly it seems like there should be. And so...as we downsize, and require our children to downsize too, it is surely unusual...but I don't think it's unreasonable.
One never actually knows if one is making the "right" choices for ones children, after all.
In looking back on the many major decisions we've made that impacted our children, I actually have no regrets. I only ever wish that I was able to make certain changes sooner. A lot of my life over the past dozen years has been in the service of improving my family's health. And this current decision is too, made not-at-all-lightly (despite my attempts to joke about it), after nearly 10 solid years of Trying To Make Ithaca work out for us while improving our family's health.
And at the same time, I am so, so sad about leaving this place. Back when I was seventeen, I fantasized about living in an Intentional Community; the gorgeous place we've lived for the past eight years is exactly where I dreamed about raising my kids. I am sad that we will no longer live here, I am super sad to leave our friends, who - despite Jeff's and my reclusiveness due to all the crazy health issues in our lives over the past decade - have accepted us and been nice to us and supported us in so many ways.
I must admit, I may be equally sad to be giving up my fantasy of living in a cohousing community, a fantasy that never came true for all the years when Ben was sick, nor for Jem due to challenges of his own. The fantasy involved a life in which my children would be enmeshed in an extended "family" of friends and neighbors with whom they frolicked happily in the woods from sun-up till sun-down, in all sorts of weather, engaging in adventure play and Lifeschooling and Childhood Bonding Activities. Despite Ben's amazing progress over the past six years, this has not been his reality. And not for Jem, either. Instead, they mostly look to me for entertainment during the day, and also they bicker. This isn't EcoVillage's fault, of course - and when Eliza's crazy symptoms subside enough to let her Sunny, Social Personality come through, she quickly shows me what life here could be like, if my two oldest kids were different, if my husband felt better, and if Eliza didn't also suffer from intensively challenging symptoms that are worse in the fall/winter/spring, if Ithaca weren't really pretty hostile in the weather department for nine months out of the year... If if if.
I think about the people I love here, and the people who have been so wonderful to my kids despite their issues, the folks who have helped us come out of our shell of isolation, and the people I wish I'd gotten to know better...and my heart aches to leave all of them.
But as Mom pointed out, it would be pretty upsetting if we weren't sad about leaving some aspects of our life here!
It helps that Jem is pretty psyched about traveling. Of anyone in the family, up till this past fall, we've probably said No to his wishes more of the time than anyone's. So this feels like a good omen.
After the "sale" was over, and the larger mountain of boxes and bags had been donated, and the arts and crafts shelves (three, really really jam-packed, large, and enormously full) had been sorted, and the games had been given away, and the toys had been silently liquidated, and the furniture had been emptied and readied for consignment, I (and then Jeff) went through box after box after box of "precious things": the items that we've carted around with us (and, later, joined forces to collect) ever since leaving our respective Families of Origin.
Our goal: recycle, re-gift, and throw away the contents of nearly thirty boxes, to consolidate down to eight boxes of photos, scrapbook stuff, journals, and memorabilia - the Super Duper Precious Things. We sorted, and exclaimed about How Time Flies, and looked at photos of people we hadn't thought about in a long time, and contemplated how much confidence a person can gain over the course of young-adulthood (the opposite sort from bravado) (and isn't it nice, I asked Jeff, to know that I am with you after eighteen years because I adore you and love you and want to be your wife...rather than because I somehow fear that I couldn't otherwise find anybody else?!).
And then, several late-nights later, we had winnowed it down to nine boxes - plus 1 box of Kid Precious Things, like irreplaceable and awesome crafts projects, favorite gifts and dolls, etc. This is the sum total of what we intend to store during Whatever Comes Next. My parents, as well as Jeff's parents, generously offered attic space for these boxes, so after delivering these to their respective Storage Spaces, we felt much lighter indeed.
All throughout the three weeks of Getting Rid of Nearly Everything, I spent most every spare minute sorting. At first there was always another drawer or shelf or cabinet to empty. It felt like our stuff was procreating in protest. I sorted through spare pen tops and keys and thumbtacks, office supplies and magazines and shoelaces, bike parts and documents and beautiful clothing, and I took every single food item out of the kitchen cabinets in order to remind me to try to Use It Up by July instead of buying more. And somehow it seemed like there were always more pen tops, and more food in the cabinets, and more and more and more. And then, imperceptibly at first, there was a day when there were empty drawers, and empty closets, and empty cabinets, and the seemingly bottomless Pit of Possessions was finally, finally getting emptier.
Jeff and I went through our file boxes, switched to e-statements for all of our bank accounts, and learned that we didn't actually need to have kept 99% of our "important documents" that we've been carefully collecting for all these years. I brought a large box to be shredded. Jeff went through his electronics, and gave away cables and CDs and Equipment.
And then we took stock of our remaining furniture, to figure out how to get it OUT. We found a neighbor willing to host our beautiful oak table, in case we want it back someday. All the rest had to be taken to the consignment place, which involved hiring movers to get it downstairs and then into various neighbors' houses, or readied for pickup so it could be sold for a third of what we originally paid. I went through our currently-we're-using-it piles of clothing for the third time, and collected another bag to donate. I went through every drawer and cabinet and closet and shelf, sorting and giving away and donating the rest. I helped the boys do a final Sort of their stuff. I went through the carport again. I brought sporting goods to the second-hand sporting goods store. I brought camping stuff to the second-hand camping store. I mailed borrowed items to be reunited with their rightful owners. I set aside items as gifts that I knew certain people would like in particular.
And now, apart from stray odds and ends and a few pieces of furniture that will probably require a four-hour shift of work to get collected and sorted and Sent On Their Way...well, apart from that, we're done!
Now, we're on to the task of furnishing our camper (once we get it) with the stuff we need to bring. I bet that'll just take an afternoon to coordinate!! And it will probably be cheap, too...