23: Good Riddance

23: Good Riddance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Good Riddance

Material blessings, when they pay beyond the category of need, are weirdly fruitful of headache.

~Philip Wylie

There’s nothing like the sudden loss of a parent to put one’s life, and one’s priorities, in perspective. My dad had passed away four months ago and my husband Eric’s dad had a serious illness. We decided it was time to move closer to family.

So one night, after dinner, while we were all still sitting around the dinner table, Eric brought up the subject, with only two words: “We’re moving.” The statement hung in the air for a moment, with none of us speaking, before he continued. Holding up a calendar, Eric added, “We’re planning on moving at the end of May, back to Fairhope.” There was another second or two of silence in this sudden dinner-turned-family-meeting.

“It’s only January,” fourteen-year-old Sarah said, after giving twelve-year-old Gus a “back me up” look. “Why the rush? And what about your jobs?”

“I do international work,” Eric said, “so I can work anywhere. As for your mom, she’s a teacher and a writer; she’s pretty mobile, too.”

After a little further discussion, both kids were on board to prepare for our move from just outside Nashville, Tennessee to Fairhope, Alabama, 520 miles south. Although Sarah had been right in saying that we had months to get ready, we had a large house that was filled to the brim with possessions. We had four months to empty a four-bedroom house with a five-car garage, guest quarters downstairs, and a 150-square-foot basement storage room. The house would have to be fairly empty by the first of May for us to put it on the market and have it sold by the end of that month.

We laid out a plan: everyone was to pack a box a day, label it, and tape it up for a storage space we had rented in Fairhope. This box-a-day plan sounded simple, but every day there were decisions about what we really, truly needed for everyday living, because the boxed items would stay in storage for several months until we found another house.

And so the months flew by, with our house becoming more streamlined and less cluttered. Some items were destined for storage, and twelve vanloads of stuff went to Goodwill. By the first of May, with so many possessions removed, we discovered something we had not anticipated: we were suddenly less stressed about taking care of the house. Eric noticed it first. “Do you know,” he asked me, “we’re not spending nearly as much time dusting, moving and generally taking care of things?” His eyes took in the living room, empty now save for the television and sofa. “Our life is simpler.”

“Yeah,” Gus chimed in. “I kind of like it this way.”

We all seemed to feel a sense of lightness, without all those possessions.

As we drove to Alabama it occurred to me that none of us truly owns our possessions. Every item you have must be cared for, kept clean and, sometimes, insured. Rather than our “owning” possessions, after a time, they “own” us.

By the time we got to Fairhope, offloaded our truck and collapsed onto our blow-up mattresses, we knew it was time to downsize. With most of our things in storage, we first looked for a house that would accommodate us and no more — no guest quarters, no huge garage. The minimalist bug had bitten us, and hard.

We moved our basic necessities into the new, smaller house, and after a few weeks, all four of us went to the storage unit, planning on taking all that to the new place. But a funny thing happened: once we opened the door to the storage unit, nothing inside appealed to us.

For example, the chairs in need of reupholstering didn’t need to come out; I’d had them for years and had never touched that project. The huge roll of upholstery fabric was there, too, still in its original wrapper. Parts of bed frames were there, still in need of repair. Filing cabinets, full of papers we’d not even looked at in years, lined the walls. Boxes of hundreds of books and dozens of pounds of research papers from my writing projects stood nearly to the ceiling. Boxes of stuffed animals and toys the children hadn’t even wanted or played with were stacked near the entrance.

We all stood there, eyeing all the possessions that had consumed so much of our energy. We eyed the mountain of “stuff” again, and then, nearly simultaneously, we all said, “It’s all going to Goodwill.” That was eleven years ago, and we haven’t missed any of it. And now, when we’re rearranging items such as furniture or artwork, we pretend we’re moving again, and that usually lightens our load a bit more.

~T. Jensen Lacey


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