One Man’s Trash

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“After 40 it’s patch, patch, patch.”

Seen on a T-shirt

“After 60, it’s pitch, pitch, pitch.”

Sally Daab Armstrong

Downsizing! It seems that I’m at it again!

My recent return to Vermont found me in a condo one-third smaller than the one I left in Michigan. Sorting, tossing, and recycling have been a necessity. It’s impossible to retain everything I brought with me, but another round of jettisoning the treasures and minutiae of my life has not been easy.

I was raised on the 1950s black and white Westerns…movies, and television shows…Gun Smoke, Ponderosa, and every Sunday night…Wagon Train. I was both distressed and curiously intrigued when inevitably, it became necessary to lighten the load and leave something along the trail. I’m not sure why but I found the jarring clang of a piano tossed from the back of a Conestoga or the crash of a crate of heirloom china being unceremoniously flung over the side especially heartbreaking. How did those people decide what to toss and what to keep? It’s hard to let go of things that connect us to other times and places, but in the end, they are just things. The memories and connections remain; it’s just “the stuff” that we lose.

Then again, couldn’t they keep just one of Grandma’s teacups? Maybe tucked into a flour sack? I suppose that’s what makes this task so challenging for me. I can only do it in stages. I keep the “just one thing” for now, but in a few months…as the purge continues…I might decide that it is indeed just a cup, not the memory, and I can set it free.

The famous Japanese lifestyle coach Marie Kondo says we should eliminate excess clutter and put away all the things from the past that no longer contribute to our lives. Thank each item in the Goodwill box for the joy it brought us or the comfort it provided, and then…as they sing in the Disney movie…let it go. I still have much more than I need in this tiny condo, but I’m getting better at bidding adieu to things that, at one time or another, I thought I couldn’t live without.

“Have gratitude for the things you’re discarding. By giving gratitude, you’re giving closure to the relationship with that object, and by doing so, it becomes a lot easier to let go.”

Marie kondo

I’ve made many trips to Goodwill and The Restore and joined a local Buy-Nothing group. Everything offered in the group is free to whoever can use it. The next owner will continue to breathe life into my rejects, creating new histories instead of sending them to the landfill.

Free Pile #1

Knowing how difficult it is to reduce the inventory, I find it very curious…puzzling even…that I involuntarily slow down for anything along the road with a Free Sign. Who knows what sidewalk gold awaits me? Within split seconds, I’ve designed a new seat for the chair with the broken caning, and I’ve chosen a paint color that would add charm and delight, making it a lovely addition to my front porch. Then I remember…I don’t have a front porch, and I don’t need more stuff…especially broken, discarded stuff.

That doesn’t seem to stop me. I keep looking. I keep imaging.

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” 

Gloria Steinem

Maybe I could repair the sagging shelves of the bookcase, repurpose the metal plantstand, or mend the flannel shirt. I wasn’t looking for another book to add to those next to my bed waiting to be read, but the cover is so shiny, and the title is intriguing. Could I successfully incorporate these finds into my life? This entire reaction generally lasts but a few seconds at best. Thankfully, my better angels take over, and I don’t come home with something new which would be destined for my giveaway box.

Free Pile #2

Buying second-hand, frequenting flea markets, looking for bargains, and hunting for treasure is nothing new and not certainly not unique to me. Perhaps this practice is one of the remaining vestiges of our days as Hunter-Gatherers. We don’t search for bargains and treasures out of greed, although there is an element of saving money and making the most advantageous transaction. It is more a matter of imagining our world just a wee bit differently. What would it be like to possess something new and unexpected? Could our world be different? Improved?

Maybe that’s true of ideas and thoughts as well. We keep what works, what gives us clarity and meaning. We’re open to new thoughts and imagine incorporating them into our lives but then, often as not, we drive on…leaving them in the grass at the edge of the road…without employing them or making them our own.

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” 

Thomas merton

When I was a teenager, we often passed a rather ramshackle building on our way to the city. It always appeared ready to collapse. Held together with spit and a promise, it was filled to overflowing with all kinds of fascinating and enticing bits of wood and metal…Sleazeman’s Junk Emporium. It was a dilapidated, rundown collection of…well…junk, but the name was so clever and inviting. This memory reminds me to be careful what I bring into my house or into my thinking, for that matter. Sometimes what appears to be gratis is a costly problem with a jazzy name…the couch with fleas, the appliance with the wrong cord, or conclusions without basis in facts.

Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.

Albert einstein

And so…I slow down, look, and imagine even as the purging, shuffling, and reducing continues.

Special Delivery

WARNING: Be very careful accepting any parcel post from me in the next few weeks. You may be an unsuspecting participant in my downsizing adventure. I imagine how any number of my cast-offs…I mean treasures…could change your life.

Tossing Out the Feathers

“Much of what we acquire in life isn’t worth dragging to the next leg of our journey. Travel light. You will be better equipped to travel far.” 

Gina Greenlee, Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons for Solo Moment

Twice this week I encountered friends who were crying softly as they sorted through the accumulation of their lives. Each of them was preparing to move from their long-time home to something smaller. One was moving across town and the other halfway across the country. The distance in miles was really inconsequential. It was the emotional distance that was making the journey…even though chosen and happily anticipated…challenging.

Watching Birds Through Penny’s Window. Spring 2018

Many in my generation of Baby Boomers are beginning to pitch unwanted and unneeded feathers from our nests. We spent years gathering those feathers to create a soft, comfortable place for our chicks, but while we were busy building a life and tending to their needs, they grew up. Now that they have fledged we are left with more room and more everything else than we need. Ah, but there’s the rub. Our children want none of the beautiful plumes we’ve accumulated and we struggle to rid ourselves of them, because they link us to another place and time. It’s not really the feather it’s the memory of the flight that is so hard to give up.

Following the death of my husband and after helping to empty my mother’s condo and then her assisted living apartment, I find myself eagerly wanting to simplify my life and…in my opinion…ruthlessly purging the flotsam and jetsam of my existence. Sending the bits and pieces that hold the memories of my childhood to the Restore hasn’t been easy, but then it occurred to me that I’m also holding on to the memories of others as well. I have child size Depression Glass plates that were my mothers, a collection of report cards and boy scout badges that were my husband’s, and my father’s fraternity paddle from college in the 1940s . Each of those is now destined for some form of recycling. I will still carry my memories of my parents and spouse, but I realize I am not required to continue to provide safe harbor for their memorabilia.

Another Visitor at Penny’s Window. Spring 2018

Tidying is the act of confronting yourself. The process of discarding and organizing confronts your emotions about the past, as well as your fears about the future. Your stuff (things that bring you joy and things that don’t) will show you what you value most in life.

Marie Kondo The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

During the process of assessing, sorting, and purging, we often find ourselves confronting people and places from our past that we had forgotten. Memories rise to the surface bringing with them the joy of remembrance as well as the reminder of pain and regret. It’s not an easy process. In the end, we realize that things are only things. Freeing ourselves from the physical debris that no longer fits into the life we have or serve us as the people we have become, though challenging, is a very liberating experience. Once we pare down our possessions we find that assessing and sorting our activities, relationships, and obligations and purging those that no longer bring us pleasure, joy or meaning expands our options and provides the space and time in which to enjoy and develop those that enrich us. Keeping those negative memories also serves no purpose. Let’s ditch them too while we’re at it.

More Fun Out the Window, Spring 2018

Find what you truly cherish in life.  Cherish who you are and what brings you the most joy and fulfillment.  Don’t let stuff, or worries, get in the way or distract you from the life you want

Marie Kondo The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

With less feathers in our nest we can use this time to hunker down and luxuriate in peace and simplicity or perch on the edge, take a deep breath, flex our wings, and fly.

Stork in Flight, Hunawihr, France 2019