We just sold our house! I regard this event with both sadness and relief. Sadness because when we purchased this ugly duckling 11 years ago, together we transformed it into the beautiful swan it is today. Our blood, sweat, and tears, not to mention cash, went into each tile, each light fixture, each plant and blade of grass. And the relief? No longer having to deal with cracked tiles, rusting light fixtures, plants devoured by hostile iguanas, and fungus that turns the beautiful blades of grass from healthy green to sickly straw.
Yes, it was time to down-size. Time to abandon the flight of stairs that is a necessary component of a two-story home, to the more care-free, single-level life of apartment living. I am aware that this move is not all gain. We are sacrificing space and the sense of independence that are the perks of home ownership. But, on the other hand, I don’t think iguanas are inclined to climb to the fourth floor to eat the hibiscus on my terrace.
We shall return to Florida in a few days, survey our belongings, and make some tough decisions regarding what to take, what will fit into our new abode, and what is best left behind. In my experience, these decisions are tougher for some than for others. Like my husband. So in addition to packing, I expect I shall expend some precious energy convincing him to part with certain objects which will no longer be practical in our new life. I base this premonition on marital history, which I recount in the essay below.
Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
When it comes to decluttering, the world seems to consist of two types of people: those who are able to divest themselves of inanimate objects once they’ve outlived their usefulness, and those who would sentimentally cling to an old rubber band.
Darned if I know why letting go of things is so difficult for some people, and so much easier for others, but I do know this. If you happen to be living with someone who is a “keeper” and you are inclined the other way, I suggest purchasing a helmet in preparation for repeatedly running up against that stone wall. Trust me. I speak from experience.
I should have recognized my husband’s discarding disorder back when we were dating, and he proudly pointed out how he had deconstructed and reconstructed a very large piece of furniture to occupy a small corner of his small living room. “That must have been costly,” I offered as I gazed at the not very attractive results. “Wouldn’t you have been better off getting something new that would fit?” “And throw away that perfectly good breakfront?” he replied incredulously. “Besides, it used to belong to my ex-mother-in-law.”
I must have been blinded by love. I missed that red flag completely.
Throughout our years together, we have continued to engage in these little skirmishes regarding possessions. Among the notable incidents was the clash over the cardigan sweater, the color of which is reminiscent of a jar of French’s mustard long past the “use by” date. There are small holes in the right sleeve, and a couple of stains on the front that have baffled the dry cleaning experts. I lost that one.
I also lost the battle over the 40-year-old pair of shoes, the old lamp with the crooked shade, and the out-dated set of law books that probably haven’t been relevant since the turn of the century. Not this century; the last one.
For a while there had been an uneasy peace in our war over useless objects. That is, until the other day.
Staring at the collection of loose papers and file folders that were threatening to completely occupy the living room we agreed that the time had come for my husband to have a desk, and return the sofa to its intended purpose.
After considerable analysis of our floor plan, we realized that the only way to properly accommodate a desk was to divest ourselves of an existing piece of furniture that might be called a buffet, or a server, or a credenza; I’ve never really been sure of the difference. Whatever the proper name, it had long ceased to have any practical function, and had become a dumping place for other unnecessary articles that I failed to throw away when my husband’s back was turned.
“Great,” I said. “It’s about time. It was starting to become a bit of an eyesore.”
“But we’ve had it for such a long time,” he said. “We can’t get rid of it just like that,” he said with an unsuccessful attempt at snapping his fingers.
Even without the accompanying finger snap, I knew where this was heading. So I went to look for the helmet.
“All the more reason to let it go,” I said in my best practical voice.
“But we bought it for our very first apartment. Don’t you remember? I can still picture the shop. It was that antique store on 10th Avenue. It was a Sunday. It was 4:00 PM, and it was raining.”
“What color were the salesman’s eyes?” I retorted, trying, but failing to hide the sarcasm. I also reminded him that the term “antique” shop was a liberal application of that label. He ignored me and went on.
“Isn’t there somewhere else we can use it? What if we cut off the legs and….?”
“No,” I said abruptly. “No carpentry.” I had better nip this in the bud. “We have to let it go.”
“Then maybe there’s someone in the family who would want it. Then we could at least ask for visitation rights.”
I thought about this for 5 seconds, maybe 4.
“Can’t think of anyone,” I replied.
“How about Aunt Sally?” he queried.
“She might have liked it,” I agreed, “but she died six months ago.”
So for the next half-hour we worked our way through the entire roster of immediate family members, first cousins, and second cousins once removed. After I got him to agree it was impractical to even think about shipping a large piece of furniture to Uncle Sid’s ex-wife in Alaska, he finally capitulated. Was victory actually mine?
Removing the helmet, I rushed to the phone to call Good Will. I knew full well it was only a matter of time before he figured out how to turn it into a planter.