Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Getting Rid of…

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I come from a long line of hoarders. I think I understand the motivation. My grandparents who emigrated to the United States were poor to the point of starvation and had to scramble hard just to keep a roof over their heads and their children fed. I can understand that accumulating things when one has nothing can be very comforting (and even when one has lots of things). The grandparents and relatives who were in the United States for a few generations, and were relatively well off, were hit hard by the Great Depression and their children suffered economic woes. The compulsion to keep everything, just in case you might need it sometime in the future, was strong. When my parents and my family combined households 19 years ago, we brought along way too much of the detritus of three generations, despite our best efforts to weed through it. Although we did not know it, my father had only a few months to live when we undertook to build our home together. He died two months before we moved in. In sensitivity to my mother, and because I was overwhelmed as well, at the end we merely threw things into boxes, hired two moving vans and piled the boxes into the ample storage space in our new digs.

When my mother died a few years ago, it took the whole family weeks to sort through her possessions. She still had most of her clothing, coats, and shoes from the 1950s through the current decades. She had drawers and cartons full of papers, pamphlets, and magazines. She clung stubbornly to each tiny thing so that her spacious room was filled with boxes and knick-knacks that she resented us moving when it became medically necessary to clear some floor space for her to walk after hip surgery.

Saul and I are pretty old now and we have been spending a lot of time recently getting rid of the accumulations of not only the previous generation, but ours as well. We’ve had several garage sales over the last three years, and are tired of spending our time and energy preparing for them. Time has become a much more precious commodity as we age, and our energy must be allocated carefully. There is not as much of it as there used to be. As we are getting ready to put our house on the market again, the mantra of the realtors has been “de-clutter, de-clutter, de-clutter.” To this end, we completely filled a 20-foot truck from Habitat for Humanity with most of the contents of our garage. Saul and I decided that he could keep two cartons of his favorite tools, and he did that easily. I’ve sent at least ten trunk-loads of household items to Impact! so far. We expected to feel a little remorseful as we watched the materials that were attached to so many memories disappear, but instead, we both felt lighter and a bit giddy about it. So many people stand to benefit from our charity.

Neither of our children got the hoarding gene, so we feel that we are doing them a favor by taking care of this now. I don’t want as many of their precious hours wasted going through stuff as ours were. We are hoping for more of a gypsy lifestyle as we age that will allow us to travel for extended periods of time and move from place to place depending on the climate. It is surprising to discover how little one truly needs to live comfortably. When the desire to impress other people with our possessions diminishes, we can be much freer.

I am trying to free myself also of the angst associated with this process. After all, we have the luxury of a modicum of good health, a pension, and social security benefits. This change is not being forced upon us, as it is upon so many. We have chosen it for better or for worse.

This past month has been filled with many wonderful moments, besides the ones that have come from the clearing of our living space. Izzy read Torah for the first time and did a confident and masterful job. We’ve had some great and lively Shabbat dinners both at home and with Jess and Alex. We celebrated Yona’s third birthday at a Shabbat dinner with carrot cake cupcakes. A few days later, she received her first haircut. I tried a new recipe for coconut flan baked in a bundt pan that we ate for Shabbat lunch after Izzy’s aliyah which I am excited to add to my repertoire. Izzy was thrilled to learn how to open up a samara and stick it onto her nose like we did when we were kids. In preparing the garden for planting, Saul ran into a horseradish root that he thought must be buried down to China. I have been reading lots of books lately from a Kindle account on the iPad from Larry and love that I can read all night long without bothering Saul with reading lights. I finished the Hunger Games Trilogy; the new fourth Mysterious Benedict Society book, Mudbound, a book about the complex racial relationships in the deep South after WWII; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Madeline Albright’s new book, Prague Winter, which was written with amazing insight in part because of her VIP access to obscure and secret files, and her unique life experiences as the daughter of a Czech diplomat; and who could resist reading 50 Shades of Grey after all the hype? My 45th high school reunion took place this past month, and while I couldn’t attend that day, the correspondence and photos that have been going back and forth for weeks, thanks to the magic of Facebook, have given me a nostalgic and revelatory trip “down memory lane.” Comparing notes with my longtime high school friend, Roxy, has been great fun. Roxy, George, Saul and I had an incredible brunch together at the Wm. Penn Inn and celebrated George’s cane-less, second, successful recovery from hip surgery. Getting an early start on Cinco de Mayo, we had a delicious Mexican dinner at Tamarindos with Beth and friends, Ilsa and Manuel. I drank so much of the delicious, homemade, sulfite-free, free margarita’s which they refill like water, that I had to really concentrate on walking to the car without bumping into anything. It was the most pleasant high I have had since overdosing on French wine (Sancerre) in Paris twenty years ago, and like Paris, there was no painful sulfite reaction or hangover.

I woke up this morning filled with angst again for several reasons. We met with a potential realtor yesterday and the housing market for sellers right now is awful, to say the least. One of Jessica’s best friends, Cheryl, died suddenly of a heart attack at 53, and the funeral was this morning. Faith’s daughter-in-law, Sheri, lost her mother and that funeral was also this morning. As I prepare for Mothers Day for my family this week, I couldn’t help but feel a pang at the sudden loss of these two dear mothers to their families at this time of the year. But, I am determined to put all this in perspective. Saul and I have much work to do and I intend to make the most of every moment we have available. I want to continue to streamline our possessions, de-clutter our home and our lives, and get rid of the unproductive negative feelings that cause stress and diminish my ability to enjoy my life.