We returned home from The Camping Weekend That Changed Everything in August with a whole new energy and way of looking at the future, COVID or not, and neither of us has questioned the decision since. Which is sort of our style – once a decision is made we don’t look back. Dave would have broken camp, sold the house the next day on eBay with everything we owned in it and bought a boat sight unseen if I’d let him. I’m the more slow and deliberate type. He’s still the detail guy, researching the heck out of all aspects of buying and living on a boat with a singular passion and focus; he was a dog with a bone. I’m the more holistic one, pondering all to be done to wrap up our life in Stillwater. Dave accomplished more with his technique of putting on blinders and taking a machete to loose ends, whereas I put on prism glasses so I could see all the colors separately and knit the loose ends into a lovely scarf into which I could wrap myself up. And yes, I got distracted by the shiny objects along the way.
By Labor Day, The Great Purge was on. The thing about purging and cleaning out ‘stuff’ is that it feeds unto itself and is quite liberating; it becomes a self-licking ice cream cone. Not to go all Marie Kondo here, but when you get going you realize it really is just ‘stuff.’ You discover duplicates or even triplicates. Things you’re not even certain what they are anymore. The coffee can full of leftover hardware accumulated from Ikea pieces. Some little part you saved because you weren’t sure what it went to but were afraid to throw out because it might be key to the function of something forgotten in a closet for the last six years and then you’d have the throw THAT out also. The bin of accumulated picture hanging hardware you took out of the wall with every move to reuse, but couldn’t find the box when you got to the new place so you just went out and bought a new package of 20 because it was the same price as the package of eight even though you only need four and so added the extra to the bin. Old bicycle parts that might come in handy someday – but never did. Electrical connectors, mismatched serving spoons, the set of six wine glasses you’ve had since before you were married which is now down to three, fabric that you loved and were afraid you wouldn’t be able to find when you finally had the time to do something with but never did (okay, that was just me and not Dave), the accent table that you both think was the other’s before you were married. All needed to go.
In addition, we had a ton of stuff from Dave’s parents’ and aunt’s homes when they passed away. Their homes had been cleaned out quickly with no time to sort as we went, and grief added a layer of value at the time to objects based on childhood memories. And as the last of their generation, there was a fear of losing some piece of family history. But fortunately with the passage of time, the grief subsides and sentimentality fades. Now as we pulled something from a box it was not infrequent that we wondered what the heck we were thinking, because it was just some tchotchke from a roadside souvenir shop. We kept and packed away things with a story behind them. The retelling of these stories and reminiscing as we worked made the labor actually enjoyable. And seeing cleared out closets and empty shelves was an instant gratification driving us forward. Imagine seeing that junk drawer in the kitchen nearly empty.
We also knew that whatever we did after this adventure, we wanted to live smaller. We identified what furniture could go and I got busy on Facebook Marketplace. What a gem of a resource during The Great Purge! We priced things to sell rather than make money, and things disappeared. I’d post it and most of the time within minutes I was getting pinged with, ‘Is this still available?’ (Seriously? I just posted it two minutes ago, NO ONE has managed to pay and pick it up in that time.) Me being me, at first I was trying to be accommodating and queue them up as ‘first inquiry gets first right of refusal,’ holding things for a couple days if requested. I learned pretty quickly that this meant that I was still in possession of the item when they failed to show up or canceled. So I became ruthless. Pay me up front if you want me to hold it, or else if I get another interested party that can come earlier I’m taking it and I’ll let you know. It was amazing the items that sold quickly. Bonus was the heartwarming stories, such as the case manager who had promised her client, a recently-widowed elderly gentleman, that she would find him a desk for his new apartment on his meager budget (yeah, she got a highly reduced price and we threw in a comfy office chair to go with it). Or the guy picking up a free garage storage rack with bins so he could better sort the clothing and toiletry items he collected on his own for distribution in the homeless camps downtown (he left with some coats, warm sweaters, and winter boots additionally). The best part is that it wasn’t going to add to a landfill. There is a big market out there for reuse-repurpose-recycle, and it’s grass roots and local.
In mid-September, we decided to have a garage sale to get rid of all the stuff in boxes in our garage. It was really kind of embarrassing how much stuff we were getting rid of, because it meant we had it in the first place. We had tables and tables of small items in the garage, with sport and camping gear laid out in the driveway, along with small furniture pieces and garden items. There were several boxes labeled ‘FREE’ at the bottom of the driveway, as well as laundry baskets of random stuff that was ‘EVERYTHING 25¢’. I was worried that I wouldn’t have many shoppers because of COVID, but that was hardly the case. *** For the uninitiated, you should know that garage sales are considered a contact sport in Minnesota. I had posted that it would start at 8, and when I opened the garage door at 7:15 for final preparations a dozen people rushed in. I scrambled to find Roxy and get her inside, finally finding her hiding under the tables in the garage to get out of the way. Within a few minutes, many people had staged piles of stuff they already fancied so they could go back and look some more.
I swear someone could do a dissertation on The Psychology of Garage Sales. People seen walking to their cars with armfuls of ‘stuff’ begets people walking to my garage thinking this must be quality ‘stuff.’ Tables packed with ‘stuff’ gets hearts racing at the prospect of a ‘find.’ I discovered that when you have a large inventory, price most things at $1 or $2 and people buy in volume. Price something so it seems like a bargain and its perceived value goes up. Witness one conversation I had with a woman over a carved coconut from one of Aunt Tootie’s trips to Hawaii:
Nice Lady: I really love that carved piece. Is it really only a dollar?
Me: It’s a coconut. And you can have it for 50¢.
Nice Lady: What does it do?
Me: Absolutely nothing. It just sits there.
Nice Lady: I’ll take it. But not for less than $1.
Trying to add up items in a large pile while also answering others’ questions was just not happening with my Middle Age Brain, so I quickly resorted to the ‘how about $10 for everything’ Gestalt method. Way easier, and way more successful. Meanwhile, the FREE and 25¢ areas were depleted before noon, and Dave was running around plucking items off the tables to refill these baskets because it was the Psychology of a Garage Sale Bargain – and it was ‘moving product.’
By 4 pm, the tables were looking rather sparse, the driveway had a few random bigger items left, and we realized we hadn’t even finished our coffee from the morning. We had debated if we wanted to do the traditional second day and based on our low inventory it should have been a no-brainer to just pack it up and call it a success. But it was actually Dave who looked around and said, “We’ve got to go back through the house and get more stuff for tomorrow!” I thought he was joking, but he was already scooping up a couple boxes and headed inside. We had stopped going through cabinets earlier in the week because we just didn’t have room to put it all out in the garage but here was an opportunity. So gather we did and sorted it all onto the garage tables. Come Friday morning at 8, we did it all again. Number of people wasn’t quite as high as Thursday, but I’m pretty sure we saw people that had been there the day before that somehow found out we had restocked. By the end of the second day, we had only half a dozen boxes in the back of the truck and ready for a donation run. My rule was that once things make it to the garage, they don’t go back in the house. And we vowed that we were never going to have another garage sale, mostly because we weren’t going to have that much stuff ever again.
We were exhausted but felt great. One of the most daunting tasks on the To Do list was in the books. We had indeed Greatly Purged, and the Ball that was to be our New Life was starting to roll.
*** Note that we were as COVID safe as possible, and this was at a time when Minnesota’s case numbers were relatively low and things were reopened. We had a big sign out front that masks were REQUIRED and bottles of hand sanitizer out, and people were really quite compliant and respectful of others.