Monday, 18 May 2015

The Unbearable Heaviness of Being: Lessons From a Yard Sale

Post Yard Sale
For me, houses are a metaphor for life. At night, in my dreams, buildings become physical symbols of my inner life. Whenever I find myself in a basement, I awake knowing that I've penetrated the deepest recesses of my consciousness.

I've spent my adult years stuffing things into bureau drawers and closets, in a failed attempt to present a smooth surface to the world. But those hidden possessions weighed me down. When the time came to get rid of them, it proved a deeply cathartic process. 

The Storm Before the Calm

It began when I left my new home in the north, to prepare my former house for sale. Since then, our belongings have been sold at yard sales, given away to friends, donated to charity, and trucked away to the dump. As I waved good-bye to each load, I felt lighter and lighter, giddy even. Mental and physical burdens were lifted. 

These are the lessons I learned from that experience:

1. Out of sight is not really out of mind. Every now and then, it's important to take out our stuff and really look at it. Some of the things in my closets had not seen the light of day in decades. From time to time, I'd shove in something new, all but closing my eyes to the stuff in the back. My sister, Marilyn, watched in dismay as I pulled out item after item, every one of which had to be moved, priced, and sometimes cleaned. 

So it is with our inner life: old hurts and resentments cannot simply be shoved into the back closet of our mind. Take them out, and examine them in the bright light of day. Because whether we know it or not, they affect our daily behaviour and our interactions with people. 

2. There is a cost to things we acquire. My house is located on a peninsula. With all garbage barged out of town, residents are charged a fee for every bag of trash.
This dumpster cost $643 to dispose of, over half the profits of my yard sales. Aside from the monetary cost, there are ethical and environmental considerations in accumulating this much garbage. 

Many people pay storage fees for the things they are unwilling to jettison. This article, entitled Hoarder Nation, explores the consequences in the United States. It's likely similar in Canada, on a smaller scale. 

We ultimately pay a price for every extra burden we take on. 

"Count the cost." 

Who said that? 

3. Some costs can never be recouped. Between the two yard sales, we made about $1000. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? To prepare, my sister and I worked day after day, often starting at 7 a.m. and working right through to dinnertime. In the end, we calculated that we made under $5 an hour, for intensely physical labour. How hard are we working to deal with the fall out caused by bad choices, made in the past? 

Before: Living Room with Yard Sale Items

4. Our stuff is a burden to others. I was haunted by the thought that I would die and my children would have to deal with all our possessions. For years, I went to estate sales, where every little knick knack and soap dish that Grandma had so lovingly hoarded was laid out for the world to devalue. I was particularly puzzled by the old family photographs. Why would anyone buy someone else's old photo? Then it struck me: they wanted the frame. The picture itself was ripped out and thrown on the garbage heap. 

I refuse to become that grandma: no one else will have to sift through the flotsam and jetsam of my life, forced to make choices I consistently refused to consider. This includes psychic inheritances, which are far heavier than physical ones. When we carry negative opinions and old feuds into our future, we risk passing them down to our children. From now on, I plan to live more selectively and consciously.  

Trying a new purchase on for size
5. Too much choice leaves us stymied. While sorting through our possessions, I discovered a large aquarium, dusty but in perfect shape, with all its equipment in working order. I asked myself, "Why didn't this take pride of place in my house?" The answer came immediately: because it was stored with eight other aquariums of various sizes, in various states of disrepair. Because I was unwilling to sort through all the useless items, I missed seeing the one thing of real value. 

6. Some things become almost impossible to dispose of. Books are a writer's lifeblood. I had carted mine around for years: dragging them to Colombia and back, moving them from the east coast to the west. When I was finally ready to pass them on, there were no takers. "These are wonderful books," the shoppers at my yard sale commented, as they lovingly put them back on the shelf. Why weren't they buying? For the same reason I'm not: e-books and Internet access. In the end, my beloved books were put into boxes and donated to a charity thrift store, one of the few places in town that will still accept them. A large tote of three-inch floppy disks suffered a worse fate, going right into the dumpster. Printers, monitors, fax machine, and computers were all recycled. Shoppers will still purchase DVDs but the time is fast approaching when it will be impossible to unload them. 

Time makes all things obsolete: choose carefully what you plan to take into your future. As we lifted and sorted, my sister reminded me of Jesus, Buddha, and Ghandi -- all of whom refused to be weighed down by useless burdens, physical or otherwise. We can't move forward if we're pinned to the ground by old stuff. 

After: Staged Living Room
This week, I'll pick up my single suitcase, lock the door behind me, and hand the keys to my real estate agent. What will life look like from now on? I have no idea. I do know I will not assume the same burdens again. It's just too much baggage in my years of living backwards


About me

Susan Young de Biagi

As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou—my first novel—I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products. 
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"Susan Biagi has woven a marvelously intuitive tale … at once beautiful and harsh, observing the simple and dangerous lives of cultures interacting on the threshold of new world history." 
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aging, transition, fashion over 40, fashion over 50, retirement, health, Christ, faith, mature, wise, wisdom, you, love, passion, change, baby boomer, zoomer, senior, beauty, generation, decision making 
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1 comment:

  1. When we moved to Powell River we had a house full of things left in Los Angeles. We only wanted to bring what we needed and things I felt were important treasurers from my past. My husband was much better than I in culling our things. Like you we had piles for charity and the trash. We didn't have enough time for a sale, except for my beloved Mustang. It was extremely difficult and I still think of things that are gone. If I had more time I might have been able to do it in a more organized manner. What hurt the most was taking my father's family encyclopedia set published in the late 1800s with lovely green and gold bindings to Goodwill and watch as they were thrown into the bin for recycled paper. - Margy