On letting go of material possessions … but not all of them

We cast off many of our possessions to downsize to a New York apartment, with huge help from fabulous friends who helped run our garage sales.

When John and I moved to New York six years ago, we had not one but two gigantic garage sales. We were leaving a three-bedroom house with a garage and a basement to move to Manhattan so we simply wouldn’t have room for most of what filled our first house.

I’ve had very few regrets about getting rid of most of those possessions.

Once in a while, I wish we’d kept John’s mom’s heavy Dutch oven because it was the perfect tool for soups and obviously well used over the decades.  I can’t believe I cast off the wooden F from The Foolery’s sign, which I got when the Mount Pleasant music bar closed and taken to every residence since college.

Then those twinges pass, and we not only make do with what we have, but we probably still have more than we need.

A few things, though, I just couldn’t get rid of, even though we had no practical use for them.

My mom died a few years before we left Ann Arbor, and I’d inherited her rocking chair, her big antique desk and a cedar chest she got as a gift when she married my dad. We had all three in our house, but couldn’t see how they’d fit into 650 square feet in NYC. The desk alone would take up most of that.

My mom’s heavy old desk, which feels like it’s made of concrete and lead. It’s been in storage for six years and now has a new home.

Our friends Barry and Carrie let us put the desk and cedar chest in storage in their basement when we left Michigan. We figured we’d either get a bigger place in New York once we had more time to look or we’d move home after a few years, so we just needed to park them temporarily.

Barry and Carrie sold their house and took our stuff with them. It’s important to note here that the desk feels like it’s made of concrete and lead so moving it is no small feat.

Earlier this year,  Barry put me on notice that we’d have to find another home for our long-suffering furniture. They were clearing out their own unnecessary stuff so they’d be giving up the storage unit they no longer needed, and that’s where the desk and cedar chest had lived most recently.

This gave me a fist-sized knot in my chest. While I’d never meant for our friends to tend our furniture for six years, much less move it and put it in paid storage, this deadline meant decisions.

Mom got this cedar chest as a wedding gift when she married my dad. The top is damaged from sitting under an open window in a rain storm, and the inside smells of soap and perfume because she used it to store inventory from her Avon business.

My anxiety was magnified because we’re  far away, so relocating heavy furniture would either mean tricking an unsuspecting friend back home into a monumental favor or flying to Michigan to do it ourselves. And John had shoulder surgery this spring, so lifting anything is out for him.

I went down that path a while, trying to manage this long-distance chore, until one night I was practicing piano and the thought hit me hard: my mom would think I’m ridiculous for caring so much about furniture.

The cedar chest was a wedding gift when my mom and dad got married, but they’d divorced when I was 3 years old. My mom was hardly sentimental about her wedding. The chest was a convenient place to store the merchandise for her Avon business.

I have lots of memories of her desk: my mom put her first computer on it and built her tax preparation business on it in the corner of our living room. It was her command center. When I cleaned out her house, I found every one of my report cards in it. I was 30 at the time.

But she got the desk because a friend was getting rid of it and she got a good deal on it. THAT was why my practical mom, the queen of the barter and discount, got the desk, not because of love. She needed a desk and got one cheap — not after buying two plane tickets and renting a one-way moving truck to drag it across several states.

After my mom and dad got divorced, Mom traded in her wedding ring for this sapphire and diamond ring. I’ve worn it since she died 11 years ago.

I loved the book “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui,”which emphasized you can hold onto a memory without the physical item associated with it. Mementos and photos and the like can help trigger memories that might otherwise slip away, but something as significant as remembering my mom won’t disappear without a desk we can’t use.

After that realization struck me, we thankfully adopted out the desk and cedar chest to one of John’s oldest friends, so it feels like they’re still in the family.  Since H.T.  previously took in the rocking chair, it felt like they were all reunited.

A few days before my mom died, we talked briefly about her jewelry. My mom was a tomboy who wore men’s Levi’s and frequently went braless, but she loved certain sparkly things, including a set of opal earrings and matching necklace and a ring she got when she traded in her wedding ring from my dad. She wanted to wear the opals for her funeral, she instructed. I added that I’d keep the ring and wear it when I wanted to feel close to her.

“You’ll wear it every day,” she ordered.

“I’ll wear it every day,” I agreed.

It’s not my style, but I get compliments on my mom’s ring all the time, and I always respond that it was my mom’s.

I think she’d like that more than holding on to furniture.

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2 replies

  1. I think your mom would applaud your decision and celebrate her wonderful daughter.

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