The Place Things Go to Be Forgotten

I just went over to take a quick picture of something to send to someone, but Mom had the garage door open and I went in to see what was going on. She had pulled everything out of the utility room. Stuff was everywhere and it looked like a lot of work for a nearly 88 year old to be doing. “What’s going on here?” I said, wondering whether those would be famous last words.

There’s a phenomenon that occurs after traumatic times involving death and loss. It’s kind of a restructuring of priorities, a re-evaluation of one’s life, a need to do something drastic to counter the trauma. My brother had talked about it in our early morning “touch base” session at Mom’s house. He was going through it, having just lost his wife to cancer. He was cleaning house, looking at everything and making decisions to keep or not. And evidently, it was contagious. Mom had caught it.

Her first excuse is always that she’s looking for spiders. Spiders are not allowed to live in Mom’s garage. It was only a few months ago, in the spring, when all the corners got “broomed”, and everything, including a freezer full of food, was moved and cleaned under. But we might not have done the utility room thoroughly, and today was the day.

“Since you’re here, would you mind going up in the attic and getting the blankets you said you saw. Tell me what’s up there, and bring it down if it’s something I should look through.” Mom doesn’t go up in the attic any more. It has one of those pull down ladders which is only wide enough to fit between the ceiling joists. The ladder is a little scary at any age, but certainly in one’s eighties. I had been going up and down, storing things, ever since we moved up from Florida two years ago – kind of the curator of the attic museum. Things only go up in the attic if they are willing to be forgotten for a while.

For the next half hour I tossed items down the hole, rearranged boxes, poked around reacquainting myself with the contents of containers, calling down to Mom as we made decisions. What to do with that set of dishes that used to belong to a friend’s mother, now deceased? What to do with the bag of fabric strips for braided rugs? What about all those fake flowers, and knick knacks that got replaced? Why are there two boxes of old jeans up here? How many good cardboard boxes do we need to save? Almost all of it came down the ladder. It looked like an attic explosion, with Mom in the middle of it.

This looks neater than it really was. But notice, no spiders anywhere.

“Don’t worry. I won’t do it all today.” She reassured me that she was only going to put things back in the utility room. I packed up a few things to take over to my attic for a few years. I stood, trying to think why I had come over in the first place. Although it felt good to organize and de-clutter, I was feeling a little guilty about the mess we’d made.

I guess it’s all a part of the grieving process, and everyone does it differently. Some of the things we do are helpful, some aren’t, and some don’t leave us feeling the way we thought they would. But we need to do something, a cleansing of sorts, and then maybe we can go on, one day at a time… just sayin’.

A to Z: Selling Our House (Letter J)

Tomorrow will be another busy day, scrubbing grout in between grocery shopping and a trip to the airport to pick up my cousin. I’m posting early so I won’t forget and be late. 

Junk is a J word

As I consider PAYING to store things during our move, I look at my possessions with a different perspective. I cannot afford to box up and store anything that I consider junk. But the definition of junk is very subjective – kind of like beauty being in the eye of the beholder.  You’ve heard it before, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. There is a reason almost every house has a junk drawer – true?

I may not be in my next home, one that I will be required to furnish, for months. When that time comes will I have a place for the collections, knick knacks, throw pillows, books, etc… that I have now? I can’t count on that. It might be much better to wait and see, and furnish a new place with things that fit in its spaces. So having adopted this sane way of looking at paring down, why does it all fall apart when I go up in the attic and find this…

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Look at those precious little pig faces, and the rooster and hen. I love the little clear glass pitcher too. I love it all.

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That white vase is so unusual, and the blue and brass Delft vases could be valuable, couldn’t they?

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This vase has always made me happy. I have to keep it. It won’t take up much space in storage (rationalize much? yes).

I just can’t help hanging on to precious, unique things, even if all I ever do is look at them. Like my chickens (or maybe they are roosters), whose heads are salt and pepper shakers and bodies are cream and sugar servers. Or my funny little vases that have a Delft label. They are either things I’ve had passed down from family or things I’ve miraculously come across in a garage sale for almost nothing! Definitely meant to have a forever home with me, I’m thinking.

Then there is my blue glass collection. I love blue. And my John Deere collection which bears witness to my farm girl soul – it’s all boxed up, ready for transport. It’s not junk when I see it and think about giving it away. So then, how is it that some of these things have been put away in the attic for years and I didn’t even remember I had them? Would that be the definition of “junk”, stuff you don’t miss enough to know that you miss it? Maybe.

I have found things that I hope will be someone else’s treasure. In fact, I make such frequent trips to the donation center that I drive to one farther away where they won’t recognize me. But I’m hoping that someday I’ll enjoy unpacking the things I’ve kept and finding just the right place for them.

This moving process is useful in that it has helped me limit those collections to a reasonable number. Best of all, I think I’m really going to avoid that last-minute frustration of throwing all those left over things in a box because I don’t have time to thoughtfully sort through them.

Do you have precious junk? Would you put it in a box and pay to store it?

 

Thoughts on Moving Away

I have been asked when and where we are moving, by people who seem surprised. I have thought about it so much, for so long, that it seems everyone must know. And now I find out that they haven’t been reading my mind…

The husband and I, and our two daughters moved to Florida in 1987. Our children were young and did most of their growing up here. My parents spent their winters here with us. We had frequent visits from my brothers and their families. Over the years we developed many friends through church, work, our daughters school activities, and the neighborhoods we lived in. Bradenton was a busy, happy place for us, filled with people we loved to be around.

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“Goodnight John boy”. “Goodnight Mom”. “Goodnight Grandma”….    Photo from FanPop

You know the scene as the lights start winking out in the big white farmhouse and John Boy says good night? And one by one, the whole family responds to him? They had multi-generational living back then. It was more common because the world wasn’t so easily traveled. There was more chance of children meeting and marrying someone in their own community and living close. More people made a living on farms and in small towns. Well, that all changed, and many other things with it.

Our family aged into a different phase. The girls went to school in different, sometimes far away places. They had choices of where to work, where to live. They experienced that feeling, close to disdain, toward their hometown, the place they knew everything about – both good and bad. They left to see what other places were like, if they were better. Sometimes the available job opportunities made the choice for them.

Things changed for my parents too. Travel became more of a chore, and then my dad died.  By herself, mom felt more like a burden and lonelier wherever she was. Last winter she stayed with us in Florida for two months and then went home to Wisconsin. This winter she didn’t want to travel away from home at all.

Mom lives in Wisconsin, one daughter lives in North Carolina and the other in Seattle (only Alaska would be further and more inconvenient). I’m left with this burning question the last few years – how can I possibly spend time with the people that I know best and love dearly when they are scattered all over the country? Why do I settle for only seeing them on vacations and at funerals and weddings? I began to ask God to help me do something about the situation.

The plan to move has come about gradually, but I’m sure you can see the sense in it. It’s the only way we can put feet to the prayer, and the desire to be closer to at least one of the individuals we care about. We have been tied to the area by the husband’s good job for the last thirty years but he will retire very soon, leaving us to choose to go elsewhere if we wish. We do wish.

There are advantages in taking time to plan and work toward a move. I’ve been studying downsizing and paring down for a while now and it is making a difference. I have helped other people move and have acquired definite opinions on how I don’t want to do it when it’s my turn. And taking time also gives us opportunity to think and pray for the best path to take, even if it should turn out to be staying where we are. We aren’t telling God how to answer us, we’re asking for our heart’s desire. We don’t ask to see all the way to the end of this process – just the next step, one at a time.

We do believe in having some sort of plan though, and you have been hearing hints of it in my writing. We are quite close to putting our house on the market. I am looking at the contents of each room, selling some things, packing others, giving some things away. When I finish this, the house will be ready for staging and showing. We will put our boxes and furniture in storage and if the husband can finally say goodbye to the job, we will go…. somewhere.

We want to go someplace where we are useful, because we still feel we are useful. (I am aware that will also change and we will have need of help ourselves.)  I can’t say that the people we would want to live near really need us, because they are getting along just fine now.  I can say that I think we could add benefit to their lives by being physically closer to any of them. The most probable scenario would be to store our things in North Carolina, until we find a suitable house there. We would likely delay buying for a while, living instead with Mom in Wisconsin, enabling her to have our help and company at home if she desires. Her move to an assisted living facility for the winter has given us more time to prepare the husband’s mind – he has mixed feelings about extricating himself from his work. That is understandable.

There, you have it. There are no deadlines or dates attached to anything yet, but unless God stops us, you can know that is where we are headed. Moving is not easy. There are so many emotions involved, so many memories tied to this place of thirty years. The oneacrewoods has been God’s blessing to me personally, a hideout for a country girl trying to live an urban life. But I am ready to consider the next home, with anticipation.

I know there are good times coming.

On Having a Library

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Books by old, dead guys (no disrespect meant), some still wrapped in cellophane…

Many times, when not tending to the urgencies of my life, I turn back to the job of paring down, preparing for the coming stage when there will undoubtedly be less space. This week I came to an important conclusion which I hope will help me. I had to ask myself the question “do I want to have a library, or do I want to read?” Some clarity is needed here, because they are not the same.

Over the years, the husband and I have moved six times. Each time our library has grown with our changing interests, filling boxes and boxes of books, taking a lot of storage space. We have seldom done anything to diminish the load. We did sell our Encyclopedia Britannica set when it became apparent that there was better, more current information available on the internet – that’s about it.

I went through a period when my primary furniture interest was bookshelves. I bought them with visions of having a real library in our home, where shelves lined the walls and comfy chairs begged us to sit and read. That didn’t happen, but we did end up with bookshelves in every room but the kitchen (actually there were shelves for books in the kitchen too, sorry).

I have come to some useful observations, one being that I have not read a majority of the books I own. They are not interesting enough for me to want to read them NOW. They are “someday” books, waiting for whenever. The most embarrassing example of this is the set of classics we bought, again with the Encyclopedia Brittannica, in our second year of marriage. Quite a few of them still have the cellophane wrappers around them, having not even been opened in 40+ years. I know I’m probably missing out, but I seldom get the urge to read Socrates, or even Freud. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Another useful observation that gives me some direction for the future, is that a lot of my pleasure in books is that I like to look at them. Even the ugly ones, old and tattered, please me when they are lined up on the shelf in just the right way. I could pretend that they speak of my eclectic, intellectual interests, but no, I like their color, their geometric forms, their two or three word messages printed with a variety of interesting fonts looking at me down the row. And for my visual pleasure I probably need only five boxes of books, not thirty-five.

You see, the important question came clear to me yesterday, as I took another load to the used book store. The question is, do I want my own personal library, or do I want to read? The answer is that I want to read. But with few exceptions, I don’t want to read what is in my own library. I want to read the book I heard about on the radio, or the book one of my daughters wants me to read with her, or the book that tells me how to cope with life here and now.  I want to read it slowly, note the parts I like, maybe write down some quotes, and then I want to give it back so I don’t have to cart it around and dust it for another 40 years. If it’s one I think would be valuable to read again (and if it looks pretty) it will go in one of the five “keeper” boxes.  Just sayin’, it’s time to lighten the load.

 

One of the things about retirement that I’ve noticed is that a lot of my retired friends have asked for recommendations of good books. I’ve had to think of my favorite reads and be able to name them. I’ve also been looking for good writing. As my interest in writing grows and I wonder how I might express things I want to write, I look for books that captivate me, stir my desire to be moved by words. When I read, I’m also thinking “Do I want to write like this?”, “yes or no?”.

 What have been your favorite, most valuable reads? Whose writing inspires you?

A Day in which I Wore a Dress

I have a closet full of clothes.  Some of them I wear almost every week. Some of them I haven’t worn for a long time but I have memories of them as favorites, or I have memories of how much I paid for them that keep me from giving them away.  Since I am engaged in the long term project of downsizing, today I decided to wear a dress and make a decision. Does it go or does it stay?

This has been a good day to wear a dress because I intended to stay inside and write.  A dress is good for writing.  There isn’t a lot else to be done in a dress, comfortably.  I often wonder how our pioneer ancestors walked across the country in dresses, not to speak of all the things they usually wore under their dresses to complicate things. I know some of them probably put on a pair of pants if they could find some to fit, but I’m also thinking that pants might not have been all that great back then either.

So, in my dress, which I bought at a garage sale a couple years ago, I sat and wrote all morning.  The writing was productive and the dress kept me from getting distracted and going outside. But I gradually got the “knowing” feeling. The dress was not “me”. I took it off and put it in the box to go to Goodwill. It was a useful exercise in paring down.

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If I had fewer clothes I would have fewer decisions and wouldn’t that be nice?