Hats and Thrift Stores

For the Fourth of July, we drove to the bay and took in the annual picnic fundraiser at the Governor (1903-1907) Pardee Home Museum where they garnish the event with live music and open the house for guided tours.  Folks dress in suggestions of period costume, overt combinations of RedWhite’n’Blue, or not. Straw hats abound…

We traveled with a couple new to the proceedings; indeed the wife is new to the United States so I stowed two summer hats for ladies in our weather gear bag, just in case.  It turned out that the extra (a hastily acquired replacement for one previously mislaid) matched the lady’s outfit perfectly.  Her husband crowed in delight as she tried it on; my closet was immediately decluttered of one hat, she looked lovely and would be well-protected from the afternoon sun.

During the drive we learned that the couple had spent the previous day shopping local thrift stores for home decor and essentials to adjust her new home to her own housekeeping style.  Lots of dust and dross and a few treasures.

For me, the high point of our annual excursion is the Home Tour.  The George Pardee family was full of collectors who “kept everything.” For now, the curators have it all gathered on side tables, in closets, on shelves, in glass-fronted cabinets.

My inner kid loves to stare at a cluster of carved miniatures, say, from all corners of the world: to admire the colors, imagine the craft of the toymakers, then fantasize a story for each item in turn.

Of course I want to examine every title in the library and every scrap of needlework in the place.  At the tour’s end, I determined to gobble my lunch and rejoin a later party.

I turned to my new friend to ask how she’d enjoyed the house tour.

“Just like the thrift stores,” she sniffed, and trotted off to ask permission to pluck lemons from a tree in the garden.



Although the once-through has been finished in all the accessible parts of the house, besides the garage there are two deep storage areas full of unsorted stuff.  These are accessible only from outside the house and anything we would want to remove would have to be hauled up the mountain slope of our lot.

So we’ve taken a break from going through stuff to have new gutters and downspouts installed and the exterior of the house painted, all to be completed before the winter rains arrive.  Maybe next month.

But as I was enjoying this break from decluttering….

(Although the hauling off of those broken rusted out gutters and downspouts was a great decluttering; and those piles peeled paint and decades of dirt power washed from the house were another…)

…I was also facing the specter of a dwindling cushion of savings.

It didn’t help that adumbrations of unpredictable yet plausible future demands on our savings flickered on the horizon, an example of decluttering and simplification one does not view with equanimity.

If I were a more cheerful ascetic, perhaps I could have transformed my fears into commitment to follow a (presumed) call to live a more deeply spiritually and less materially focused life.

But I knew I must set about decluttering my fears exactly as I have decluttered cupboards, closets, and crawl spaces: by opening them up to examination, discarding useless broken thinking, then making plans to implement any useful ideas.

In particular, I asked for help from a professional who understands these not-totally-unpredictable future demands, I settled down to “do the math” and estimated worst (and best) case scenario liability, I filed appropriate paperwork, and generally resolved to face it all “one box at a time” one day at a time.  And I learned that we’ll be alright.

Yes!  we’ll be alright.

And in the end, the house is worth more with a good coat of paint and a serviceable gutter system.  And realistically, we shouldn’t have to redo either the painting or gutters ever again for as long as we own the house.

Next summer we’ll declutter our elderly roofing.

Little Girl Blue’s Troops, Redeployed

The ancient food processor awakened and declared its willingness to serve a new mistress; to work in tandem with the newly arrived hand mixer; to accept partnership with the inscrutable microwave.

(The range was an old friend, but they knew better than to fraternize while on duty.)

The assigned mission was familiar, welcome, enlivening and just specialized enough that if well-performed the food processor’s place in the permanent arsenal would be assured.

It played its rôle, waited and watched as the purée smoothly filled the pie shell then baked to firmness.

The shower afterwards felt good. Secure in its new commission, the food processor returned to its shelf.

Decluttering my new home of the hoard accumulated by my husband’s long ago-deceased first wife feels like traversing a minefield.  There is always the danger of rubbing against unexpected emotion.  But, too, I’ve learned to anticipate my own sudden eruptions of anger borne of exhaustion.

Six months ago while staving off intense irritation at having uncovered Even More Christmas stuff — enough to decorate five homes, and very little of it to my taste — the sentimental poem, “Little Boy Blue” of Eugene Field sprang to mind.   Its references to the little dusty toy dog and the patient rusty tin soldier left behind by a child who had died years earlier rang so truly that I was in tears and in the twinkling of an eye my views on the whole process of discarding for reuse or recycling shifted.

Last night as I was preparing a dessert, I wrote the first line of the preceding vignette.  I finished the tale for this post.

Taking This Show On the Road

A few days ago I had a message from a reader who loved my motto,”Just Get Rid Of It.”

The writer explained the great benefits of creating good digital photos of the memories then just getting rid of the stuff.  Digital photos don’t take up space…

That same day I saw pictures of art created from someone’s mother’s old costume jewelry.  That writer loved having all the memories collected into a compact and beautiful piece.

And once I knew someone who would get rid of the trappings of time past by carefully burning them while praying for those who had gone on.

The interesting thing is the writer had picked up that “motto” from a story in which I was writing about the difficulties of Just Getting Rid Of Stuff when opinions within a family may differ about the trash vs. the treasures.

On the other hand, I do tend to be unsentimental about physical emblems of my history; these days I do tend to get rid of stuff before it becomes clutter.  The important thing for each declutterer, I believe, is to honor the memories, and all who share them, while releasing the stuff.

A few weeks ago an old friend offered me my first job as a decluttering consultant.  Literally.  She started the conversation by asking what I would charge to come help her dispatch stuff from two homes and some outbuildings in preparation for putting the property on the market…

WELL!  The imp on my shoulder immediately assured me that I am a SCHOLAR of decluttering, a pundit, a writer of blogposts! and not someone who would actually go into the business physically decluttering other people’s stuff!  The apprentice imp beside him whispered reminders that I shouldn’t forget that still have three more deep storage areas of my own to tend to this summer!


Of course I’m heading out to help my friend!

She’s my FRIEND…

By the time you read this I will be off in a land with only spotty Internet, helping her to sort a lifetime of belongings memories into Things to Sell, Things to Donate, Things to Store (Because the Kids SAID They Want Them), a very few Things to Keep, and Things to Trash.

But I do NOT intend to make a business of this….

(“SURE you don’t!!!!!,” jibes the imp on my shoulder.)

Space and Treasures

Last time I wrote about working with my husband to decide what to do with the spaces in our home. We have the luxury of enough space to suit our projects. Not all do…

Recently, a friend with pre-teen children told how she had cleared her living room to make way for a time-sensitive project. No sooner had she finished than her son gleefully dragged out his bin full of Legos. Within minutes this wealth of open workspace was filled with his projects-in-progress. You may imagine what ensued! (The Legos were impounded.)

When I was young, we kids received a gift craft set. It had wooden beads painted to be faces, bodies, arms and legs and instructions for assembling them into little figures using adroitly twisted pipe cleaners. I loved those little painted beads; in my imagination they became living characters and I couldn’t wait to bring them to life.

The detail was too picky for our child-sized fingers and although my father helped us finish making a few of the figures, my exuberant, bored, younger siblings soon littered the room with the colorful bits and pieces.

My mother, who could be impatient about gifts of children’s projects that required adult participation, regarded the mess and announced that if, on the morrow, she found ANY of this mess it would all be discarded.

She must have stepped on a bead because the next day I came home from school to find the set, even the finished figures, gone.

Although I knew that she’d warned us, I wailed so bitterly over the deaths of my inanimate friends that my mother softened. But it was too late. She did find one little figure she had missed in the sweep. For years that figure was a fixture on our Christmas trees.

But what took root in my heart was not the intended lesson of “Don’t Leave Your Stuff Lying Around Cluttering Up The Place.” Rather it reinforced my already skeptical views about sharing precious things. I learned to hide my treasures and became reluctant even to admit aloud that I had any.