The Excavation

 Tales of a Tindominium #3 Least you think I have been suggesting that the transition from daydreaming about whether to live on an island to realization was a purely cerebral adventure enjoyed over glasses of wine, let me tell you about The Excavation.                       I had no idea that living in one house for thirty-three years would result in a pile of debris the size of a small mountain. I can’t fathom how we managed to fit all of the “stuff” we had accumulated into the house. Now we had to deal with it in order to sell our home, which meant we had to prepare for the realtor-mandated “staging.” Staging means you strip your house to its naked flesh, scantily dress it with a few enticing items from whatever precious decorating trend is in, and create an antiseptic setting where potential buyers can imagine themselves and their stuff living in ecstasy. You can thank HGTV for this obsessive marketing practice, where the line between reality and fantasy blurs for buyers and makes fanatics out of sellers.                         The volume of the stuff was bad enough, but the weight of it was something I had not been prepared for. I thought I was going to do a little digging through, throwing out, and then clean. Instead, Steve and I began peeling through layers of our lives. We had lived next door to my parents, who lived next door to my grandmother and uncle, and had cleaned out their houses after they passed away. Steve’s father had lived with us for a while after we cleaned out his house of forty years. So you can see how we ended up having some of their stuff.                       Our children had lots of stuff when they lived at home and during occasional rounds of the rotating door. Each had passions and interests, all of which require more stuff. When you love dance, music, and art, you have to read about them and display all sorts of reminders of the plays you saw, the performance you were in, the guitar you first played, right?                       Steve and I were no less guilty. We shared a passion for gardening and cooking. Do you know how many tools and toys there are for gardeners? For cooks? Our kitchen had his and her sinks so we could cook together and not get in each other’s way. We each had our favorite pots and pans. I collected cookbooks, many of which I still have been unable to part with.                       The garage and cellar had been off-limits to me by my own choice because the array of tools and gadgets that my husband had acquired, including the ones from his father, was enough to make me want to call the fire marshal.                       Then there was the writing stuff. The writing books. The writing, because you have to print what you write to see it as others will. The tools for writing. Who can live with less than a hundred pens in various colors? Or the rainbow of post-it poised for ideas to be scribbled upon.                       Have I mentioned music? We still had LP’s, on top of a tower of CD’s that threatened to avalanche without warning.                       The word “minimalist” was not in our family vocabulary. I told myself that the stuff surrounding us reflected our interests and zest for life. All true, but now we needed to get rid of the stuff.                       I had read Marie Kondo’s books about joy sparking you through the art of decluttering and others before them, not entirely unaware that the day of The Excavation loomed. Still, what I was unprepared for was the emotional evisceration I experience when faced with objects undeniably part of my family history. My mother’s wedding dress, my father’s formal Navy cap, and epaulettes, lace from my great-grandmother’s slip, postcards my own grandmother had sent me, and photos. Oh so many photos, some mysterious in their own right because I found myself asking over and over, who are these people? None of this stuff sparked joy, but it did trigger other emotions, including pride, sadness, and nostalgia. It was exhausting.                       My first strike had been to see if anyone wanted any of these items, but another lesson I was learning about stuff was everyone has their own and nobody wants yours. Yet it felt disrespectful, almost irreverent to be discarding family memorabilia.                       I tried remembering that getting rid of stuff didn’t mean I was discarding the memories evoked by it. Easier said than done.                       In the end, it was the pressure to get the house on the market during peak season and the parade of moving professionals crawling through our home that ended the paralysis. Donations to organizations who would pick up stuff with their trucks. My car headed to Savers without any prompting by me for a daily drop-off of more stuff. The Metal Man. The Stop Junk Truck. There is an entire industry devoted to getting rid of stuff.                       By the time our home went on the market, we no longer recognized it. Urged by our realtor to be prepared for a showing with little notice, we stopped cooking fish and garlic and shampooed our poor old golden retriever without mercy. We ate take out, packed on pounds, and didn’t know where anything we owned was. Well, not entirely.                       There were the inevitable storage units. Note the plural. One near the home we were selling and one with essential stuff we advanced to the Cape where we would be living six months a year. The excavation had not quite scraped us to the bone.                       We closed on the sale of our home at our kitchen counter one evening in December and were on a plane set to spend the winter in St. John the next morning. A suitcase with my stuff for paradise got lost and I arrived in St. John with the clothes on my back, a husband who had just learned surgery had been successful, and a lightness I hadn’t felt since I was a child. 

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