Along about January, I think I began talking about having a garage sale. If you know me, that doesn’t happen in this household very often. I hate them! But, I was getting desperate to deal with our growing piles of stuff. Newly retired and recuperating from surgery – a little fix-me-up on the shoulder – meant that I was spend way too much time thinking about all the “stuff” we had that we just didn’t need.
I subscribe to a feed on Facebook call the Minimalist. It speaks to my heart and makes me yearn to get this thing about life right. Prior to marriage and children, I was fine with the basics. I really didn’t have that much to pack up any time the Navy decided it was time for a move. However, after marriage brought two households together nearing my 30’s, then the subsequent moves of my mother and his father leaving us with many of their belonging, followed by the Barbie houses, toys, books and other paraphernalia of raising children, our house began to look like a Goodwill Store.
Claustrophobia set in and I knew that we had to thin things out. We’ve had two maybe three other garage sales in the 29 years we have been here. But this one was BIG. I was pretty sure we could entice lots of people with the myriad of interesting things offered even if there were no longer baby clothes and strollers to be had. And, I felt we had a fighting chance with more than just a few signs and an ad in the paper. I had the Internet to help!
I enjoyed cleaning out rooms, closets, drawers, and boxes of forgotten collections. I spent more than three months attacking nearly every corner of the house, the garage, the cellar, and finally even Ben spent a good long time in the barn. Just before Easter, my husband and daughter emptied the storage unit and brought all of it to the garage where there was hardly a path to walk around all the stuff.
Keep in mind that we outfitted two apartments for college-going girls with full kitchens and all the basics without buying hardly a thing.
How do four people accumulate so much? There were some lessons to learn here. Some obvious ones and others that were almost so subtle as to miss them.
1. Save your money. Those ads for Pier One and the cute ideas on Pinterest? They are spending your retirement faster than you can make it because you think you need what they advertise. I’m pretty sure that I’ll never remember a table setting during a holiday event with family. My memories are about conversations, food and activities – not the cute lanterns hanging from the apple tree on a summer afternoon.
2. Once you have found that ONE picture from the event that says it all. Print it and frame it. Do you need 100 pictures of band camp – each day? They take up space and sit either on your digital devices or in boxes where no one sees them or remembers them. Just one.
3. Same goes for clothing. I get it that you found a pair of pants that fit you perfectly so you bought 3 more pairs. Wear them and wear them out, because if you’re the norm, that perfect fit won’t be so perfect if a few years. Moreover, you didn’t need them in every color offered. Trust me.
4. I remember as a kid playing with the pots and wooden spoons in the kitchen at my mom’s feet. My children did, too. In spite of the Made-in-China, bright pink paraphernalia of the world of the little girls, the most fun was the cheapest fun. Save your money.
5. There were two moments during the sale that were emotional. Selling the girl’s Barbie house and giving away a tattered dog igloo. The Barbie house was big. It was in the barn for more than a dozen years and needed a good scrubbing and a repainting. But I remember all the good times watching the girls and their friends act out the drama of their life with Ken and Barbie. The house went to one the first students of mine who now is 36 and has an 8-year-old daughter. I knew the old house would get good use and couldn’t think of a better family to give it too. This young woman represented a part of me – the best of my efforts in the classroom – and in some ways “my kid”, too. It was an emotional moment to see her all grown up and doing so well. But it was cool to know we would be sharing a common experience. (My, I’m getting old and mushy!!)
6. The other moment: sometimes you just have to give things away. It’s a largess that has been shown to me time and time again. It takes so little to be kind. This guy drove up in a beat up small sized pick up. A happy dude, just out enjoying the beautiful day… I had just taken a picture of the igloo with the intent to put it on the Facebook garage sale site for free if someone would just come pick it up…and there he was before I even hit enter. Look, buddy, you need this more than I need your 5 bucks. He told me that I was a blessing to him. Nope. Got that wrong. You blessed me. “Now, you need help getting’ that thing in your truck??”
7. My husband and I had way too many of those moments discussing the value of objects – whether or not to keep or let go, and how much it would take monetarily speaking to let go. Things have come to represent our memories. A kind of place marking, and a way to not forget what we treasure. Things also represent what we believe we have accomplished in the course of our lives. For some, letting go of the “thing” is tantamount to giving permission to forget the memory or dismiss the value of its attribution in our lives. For those of us who desperately wish to be minimalists, it is necessary to remember that that “piece of junk” is someone else’s diamond in the rough. Dismissing what you deem as junk is in effect dismissing the value of your loved one’s life, too. I’ve talked to numerous couples this spring who seemed to be paired in opposites: one a keeper, one a cleaner-outer. Perhaps this should be one of those questions during pre-marital counseling….how will you handle a garage sale situation? For us, we were stretch painfully acknowledging our differences.
8. And back to that ultimate issue: what do we really need? I guess in some ways I don’t regret the things that have accumulated. As I walked the garage sale during the quiet moments, I realized that we are rich in memories because of some of these things. Now they are off to enjoy a second life and many memories for someone else. I don’t need to hang on to the things, but in writing and talking about those memories, we preserve them. I am the keeper of my mother’s diaries. Many journals, books and letters that I haven’t even opened yet. Even after 4 years, I just haven’t been ready to open that door yet. What will my children read after I’m gone? I want them to read about how much fun we had. I’ll keep those diaries and who knows, maybe I’ll actually read them, too, but these words are for my kids. We did have a lot of stuff, but it wasn’t the stuff I loved; it was the memories we made with them. I have room to keep my memories, but not necessarily the three-story dollhouse.