1: Unit 91

1: Unit 91

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Unit 91

If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.

~Olin Miller

Day after day, I drove to the Public Storage warehouses in Jacksonville, Florida in the oppressive heat and humidity. I punched a code in the keypad, drove in quickly when the steel gate opened and checked my rearview mirror to watch it lock behind me. I was alone in an unsavory part of town. I wound my way through the maze of narrow corridors between rows of numbered orange doors until I found Units 91 and 92. I slid the heavy doors up on their rollers and fought the feeling of panic. I was totally overwhelmed by the task at hand.

To even get into either unit I had to move articles nearest the front out to the parking lot. I started with a few smaller items: an electric heater, a vacuum cleaner, and some small end tables. To move larger pieces like bureaus or desks I slid cardboard under them to help slide them across the concrete floor, a few inches at a time, so I could shimmy by and size up the rear of the units.

I started with the stacks and stacks of packed cartons. Ideally the movers would have packed the tall bulky pieces at the back of the units and stashed the boxes close to the front. This had not happened. Their mission was to get it off the truck and into the storage units as quickly as possible. So now I looked at two 360-square-foot units packed floor to ceiling, with scarcely room for another bar of soap in either one.

Boxes. Boxes. Boxes. After opening one or two it became apparent that they had been filled indiscriminately in the last hours before our deadline to be out of the house we left in Maine. Tucked in with mixing bowls, cheese graters and soup ladles were packages of cereal, rice, raisins, sugar and nuts. To leave these items in storage in Florida’s heat is to invite hordes of ants to an all-you-can-eat buffet. So my first item of business was to open every box that potentially had food items inside.

Because we had to drive from Maine to Florida, I had packed a carefully chosen selection of snacks: rye crackers, cheese, almonds, grapes, cherries etc. When we were ready to leave, I noticed, despite repeated instructions to all four men packing the truck, my basket was missing. They were just tightening the strap on the back doors, so with a shrug, I let it go. I found my basket six weeks later in Unit 92. A lizard had beaten the ants to the picnic.

After unearthing the perishables, I went for the irreplaceable, the photos of my children, the originals of my poems, the essential papers indicating I had been born, married and having not yet died, paid my taxes every year. I culled the personal items from boxes stashed with everyday utilitarian items, toasters, towels and teakettles.

“Reduce. Reduce. Reduce.” I repeated that like a mantra as I separated the contents into “discards,” “essentials to keep” and “not sure yet.” By the end of each day, hot, sweaty and exhausted, I would shove the items from the parking lot back inside the units until my next session. I would load my car with items I wanted or needed for our rented home and sigh over the still overwhelming loads in Units 91 and 92.

The work I did each day was hot, heavy and lonely. One afternoon I noticed a three-quarter-ton truck pull up to a unit close to mine. An older couple got out and went to work immediately loading things into their truck. My first response was gratitude for their company, even though we had not even spoken. A while later, when they had finished loading their truck, the man approached and said hello. “You got lots of stuff,” he said. “Mind if I take a look?” He added, “In case you don’t pay your rent,” with a quick grin.

“Do you buy stuff?” I asked.

“We buy whole units. Cheap. When people don’t pay their rent and the storage company gets rid of it all.”

“I’ll pay the rent,” I said, “but I am looking to get rid of some of this.” So I let him look around a bit, took his name and phone number and gave him my contact information. His wife called to request an inventory list of the items I wanted to sell. I said I had more sorting to do but would comply when ready.

Over the next few weeks I continued sorting, moving the items I would keep into one of the two units. I typed the inventory, affixing an estimated value to each item based on cost, replacement value and/or Internet research. I submitted the list. They gave me a price and we set a date and time to meet at the storage units. They brought two trucks and a couple of big guys to help.

On a damp, misty morning I watched as belongings I’d had for years were loaded into a cavernous truck whose destination I did not know. The antique wardrobe with the beveled glass mirror, the pine secretary unit that used to hold my favorite books, the lingerie chests, bureaus, beds, a favorite corner china cabinet and on and on. Sofas, chairs, safes, lawn ornaments and assorted knick-knacks. The truck filled. Unit 91 emptied. I swept it out and went to the office to settle the paperwork. A few months later, movers would haul the contents of Unit 92 to the home we purchased in another city in Florida. The house would be more than filled.

In the three years since parting with all that stuff I have continued to make donations to Goodwill, I have dropped bags and bags of items at church thrift centers, and I’ve given to friends and acquaintances just about anything they happened to admire when visiting our home. I’ve tried to adhere to the policy of “one in, one out” when it comes to acquiring new items. We’ve downsized our home by several hundred square feet.

At the moment, there is nothing I need, and nothing lacking from my life. I no longer even think about all the items I got rid of nor do I miss any of them. I have no regrets, except that we moved all that stuff from Maine to Florida in the first place!

~Phyllis McKinley


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