Friday, August 13, 2010

What's In the Closet

I remember when I moved to this tiny condominium from a fairly large duplex. Before that, I lived in a three-bedroom house with only two people to spread out and do all kinds of projects. I cut down considerably for the duplex, and then I came to Hot Winds, the town where all blather blows. Rents and mortgages are sky-high and floor plans are low in square feet.

When I moved, it was the first time I hired a professional mover. If I am smart, I will never do that again. It cost the moon, and they wrecked one file cabinet, my sewing machine, and double-dinged my sofa. Plus I slept on the floor for two weeks because they warehoused my load instead of bringing it on. In my own truck I had a cat, a box of pans and toiletries, another box of cleaning supplies, a yard chair, and a pair of binoculars that somehow got left out of a box. When I unpacked, I felt like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, with a soupcon of the Joads added in.

But before that, I had to cut down.

I did it by math. I was moving from 1500 to 500 square feet, so every category had to be cut by two-thirds. That was 1. large furniture, 2. occasional furniture, 3. memorabilia, 4. financial records, 5. books, and 6. kitchen/bath. And art supplies, sewing supplies, scrapbooks, etc etc.

I never did succeed in cutting down the books two-thirds. At that time I had about 3,000 volumes.  But I spent a long majority of time on this. RiverTown had eight used bookstores. I would cull down and take boxes in for trade. One day I had twelve cartons to trade. The first store took five of them and in exchange I took three books. What a deal!

I took the rejected seven boxes to the next store, and then on and on. The eight-times-rejected last two boxes went to Goodwill. In the meantime, I had garnered a huge box of New Books. The only one I remember for sure getting from that trade-a-thon is An Encyclopedia of Georgian England, which I still have. It's a great book. And I got it down to about 1500 volumes, which I thought was pretty good.

Financial records can only be pared down so much. But I threw out, sold, gave away, and traded around a bunch of items. One person at my bookstore had become an amateur carpenter. I gave away the table he had made me as a gift. But I was afraid he'd find it elsewhere. I drove out of town and left it at a Goodwill in another region of Louisiana.

I find that much of what I own still has out-sized identifiers on it. I watched a friend of mine go through a hell of grief--both her parents died, and her sister committed suicide. She was drowning in old possessions to either sell or keep or real estate that needed serious rehab. My book trade-a-thon was a small piece of what she was trying to do. When my husband died, I determined I wouldn't get stuck as she did. Plus I had to sell a bunch of it in order to keep going for awhile.

And yet.

Most of what is in the closet is not clothes. It is old memories. I threw out so many pictures when I moved, but I still had eight small albums of them (still do). I have files on everything I've ever studied, including the best artist postcard collection you've ever seen. I have tin boxes from a great-grandmother I never met and china cats from a grandmother that passed away--my other grandmother's bread knife and my grandfather's bow tie, gloves and pitchers and silver trays I never used even in the day and who knows what all?

All of these things could be valued and valuable to my life. But at what point do they hinder the growth of new life? Part of the reason I have been taking so long is that it is hard to figure out what would be a representative collection.  Because I do not want to be buried along with the dead people in my life. I want to move forward. But I don't want to forget them either.

It's not that I love the possessions, or couldn't live without them. I love the people, and I love the history. But too much personal history is not conducive to personal movement. It does me no good to save Christmas ornaments if there's no place to put a tree, for instance. So, either the ornaments go, or something else leaves that makes room for a tree, and a Christmas party--a joyous celebration in the middle of winter. Determining between those two is easy. But then there are follow-up choices that have to be made. Each of them requires some painstaking thinking.

I got rid of the dinged-up couch months ago and have yet to find a replacement. The two dress forms are going to go--place for a Christmas tree if I want one. The photo albums are staying and so is my grandfather's bow tie. The silver Elegant-Ware is out the door someday soon.

For some people, these will look like the wrong choices. For me, they will be the right ones.


The Observer said...

Ann T:
What a great post, and such a great analysis of why we hang onto stuff, and how stuff can hinder us.

I have way too much shit, and I have been a bad steward of much of it. There are days that I would like to rent a big dumpster and throw everything in it. But I know there would be things I'd miss. I'm intending to have a fall clean out of the inside of the house, as well as continuing cleaning the brush and stuff outside.

Thanks for the post, and welcome back!

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Thank you! When you decide to tackle this, ooh, I am feeling for you already.

I couldn't come up with an overarching plan at first. Finally I took it by location (it's not THAT big of a closet, but talk about multi-tasked space!) and have been dealing with it on a foot-by-foot basis.

Tomorrow I am putting on Aretha Franklin and going to town on super-old financial papers.

LOL, and boy am I glad to be up for air!!
Ann T.

Yellow said...

Good to have you back! It takes a long time to deal wtih all the "stuff"

When I was a kid my dad made me a toy box out of an old LARGE dresser. This thing was BIG, and painted blue on only one side (I think at some point in its life it was a play house).
Anyway, my mom would make us clean it out once a month. What fun! But it still took HOURS because we would always find a toy, or something we had forgotten we had, it would always bring back fun times, and stories to tell, or think about. We usually had to give away or trash one thing from the box, it was never the "new" toy. No matter that we had not seen it or played with it for months.

Some things just hold that place, a reminder of such.

I still think less is more! Keep up the good work.

I wish you the best of luck.

Bob G. said...

As a person who's done his share of moving a lot of my life (and no, I wasn't trying to stay one step ahead of, I've seen both the ":pro" movers and self-moving.
When I was younger, moving my stuff or helping my folks move was always preferred over having "strangers" do it.

WE had a vested interest in EVERY itme...others did not.

As to what I "saved"...well, that's best left to a post of my own...someday.

Let's just say I've always endeavored to retain the BEST from what memory serves.

There are always a few items you WISHED you kept, and once in a while, you come across something you "thought" you tossed, but, after rediscovering it, you're damn glad you didn't.

I know if the missus and I ever move (again, being this place is free and clear, BUT in a ghettohood), we might invest in those "strangers, but rest assured, everything will be categorized, filed, indexed, boxed, stamped and numbered...!

I'm getting too old for this..."stuff".

Excellent post.

Have a great weekened.

The Bug said...

When we moved last year I was ASTOUNDED at how much stuff we had packed into a one-bedroom apartment. Dr. M is truly an amazing organizer of STUFF.

I tried to be ruthless at that time - not wanting to clutter up the house we were moving to (& keeping in mind that it really wasn't much bigger than the apartment). But we still arrived with an awful lot of things. Now might be a good time to go through them again to see what can go.

One thing I read somewhere: if you have something that you really don't need to keep, but it has great sentimental value, take a picture. That will take up less space (especially if it's digital) & you'll still have the memory.

Unknown said...

I used to keep the box the printer came in so I'd have it when I moved again. WTF??

Yes, its that kind of collector of shit I USED to be. I've stopped doing it. In the last 4 moves (yes, I've moved 4 times since Lauren left for college) I've gotten so good at getting rid of stuff its amazing. I Have about 12 boxes in the garage of "stuff" I can't live without from my life. Stuff from when I was a baby, thru last year. And actually about 5 of them are Laurens "stuff". Since I am the holder till she is out of the Navy and can take possesion of her own memories.

It was hard to get rid of some things, but it was not practical to drag so much stuff around all the time. It only stayed in boxes and was never unpacked anyway. I mean, what the heck was I going to do with all my notes from Paramedic school and the textbooks?? It just boggs ya down. BUT, I must say, I've never, ever thrown a picture away in my life. Back in the pre-digital days I took less pics but tons nontheless. I have everyone plus the negative. I will scan them all one day, but thats a chore and a half.

So this comment is getting out of hand. I love stuff. I miss some of my stuff, but cleaning without it allover the place and moving is cheaper and easier without it. lol

Great post Annie. Good to see you back. :D

ur sista from anotha motha. ;)