When Leaving Things Behind Provides Unexpected Gifts

moving

Photo by HiveBoxx on Unsplash

Moving is a momentous event in almost everyone’s life. It may be to another part of the town or city, to another part of the state, or another state – near or far. Regardless, it is stressful. And the question of what particular THINGS mean to us is inevitably raised. We are always leaving things behind.

The value of the THINGS is joined in the struggle with other attitudes about using and reusing rather than disposing, of waste, etc. What we learned as children about all this is deep in our psyches. Given these factors, it’s no wonder we struggle with these decisions when on a tight timeline and stress is at a high level.

In my recent move from Nashville, Tennessee to Southern California, I went through all of this. I wrote about some aspects of it here: https://carolbrusegar.com/personal-liminal-space-a-cross-county-move-in-the-space-between/

Now that I have arrived, although what I shipped has not, I look at the process of leaving things behind  with a sense of wonder and gratitude. In unexpected ways possessions that didn’t go with me have been welcomed and will be enjoyed by a wide range of people. Some of them I knew, some I had just met and some were handed on to people I don’t know at all. I had not expected the re-connections and new acquaintances made in this process to be so pleasant and meaningful.

Things That Were Left Behind

A piano that had been used for practice by my daughter and by me in my role of church musician in past years, but which had not been used for quite some time, went to friends of mine. They had just decided they wanted to get a piano so that the partner newly retired – who had played in performance groups extensively in the past – could play. Their excitement soothed my conflicted thoughts about releasing this gift from my mother and warmed my heart.

A desk and matching file cabinet that I used extensively in the past couple of years but just didn’t fit into the truck went to a young teacher now teaching virtually. He had no desk and was making due with a table and subsequent crooks in his neck and shoulders. His joy in having a serviceable desk was palpable. He also took an elliptical that had been in my garage since I moved in – something I never used and he was glad to have.

This same teacher notified a couple with two sons learning virtually but without actual desks about my two additional desks. When they arrived to pick them up, she brought me a gift – a candle and and infinity scarf – in gratitude for the gift of the desks. I had a collection of crochet and latch hook projects my mother had made laying out at the time, and she was very interested in them. I had taken photos of them and was ready to let them go but didn’t know where or to whom. I offered her any items she would like and she took them all, saying she and her family would enjoy and use them. In a subsequent text she assured me she would take good care of them. She has invited me to visit their home and enjoy some Egyptian food when I visit back in Nashville.

A small white wicker nightstand was a treasure to someone I previously attended church with. Her first baby is due in January and she had been unable to find a similar item of the right size because things are backordered and out of stock these days.

Two file cabinets and a nightstand to be assembled were claimed by young people in the neighborhood looking for such items.

I learned in this process that entertainment centers aren’t in much demand these days! This was a tough one. I finally found a friend with a large enough vehicle to deliver it to a resale place, and his employee who came along to help was eyeing the piece with great interest. I asked if he wanted it and he affirmed that he did. So it went to a family connected to a friend.

I sold a nearly-new bunk bed to a couple who turned out to live just a couple of blocks away and are just beginning to serve as foster parents. The bed will be for them – children in difficult situations needing a caring space, caring people and a cozy bed.

And finally, a buffet that belonged to my parents for many years. It was not up to being shipped again and I determined I could let it go. A friend who needs more storage for materials for her home sewing  business (currently focused on beautiful face masks) was delighted to get it and pledged to take special care of it as a family treasure. She generously gave me five of her beautiful masks as a thank you for the buffet.

Beyond these meaningful re-homed items, a friend who is a genius re-distributer moved out additional miscellaneous items and got them to people who needed and appreciated them. They went to individuals and to a resale store. Knowing that so many of my things will be used by others is a great feeling.

Leaving things behind provided emotional and psychic rewards.  Sharing with others minimized the sadness of letting go of things I had used and enjoyed and even things with special meaning. I am grateful for these gifts in the midst of a busy and stressful time leading into the beginning of a new era of my life.

 

Women’s History: a Window Into Our Past

Women's HistoryMarch is Women’s History Month – an encouragement to explore that vast and varied history of our gender. I recently found an article that opened up a window into the years when my mother was a young woman – early 1930s into the 1950s. It is entitled “How Marjorie Hillis Changed the Way the World Thought About Single Women With Her 1936 Book ‘Live Alone And Like It’” by Dr. Joanna Scutts. I have never heard of Marjorie Hills. Have you?

She published her first book in 1936 while working as an editor at Vogue Magazine in New York City. That book was titled Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman.

Dr. Scutts describes the book in this way: “The book offered ‘old maids’ and ‘spinsters’ an enviable new identity. Instead of ‘extra women,’ surplus to society’s requirements, they could reinvent themselves as ‘Live-Aloners,’ defined by what they did, not what they lacked.” She spoke around the country on the topic and department stores did tie-in promotions.  It was quite the splash!  Ms. Hillis followed this book with others which reflected her life changes over the following 20 years. The article scans the societal changes during those years as well and how they impacted women’s lives and expectations.

The last paragraph of Dr. Scutts article is a statement for all of us to ponder:

Yet there is still something subversive in Hillis’s call for women to live exactly as they chose — to “be a Communist, be a stamp collector, or a Ladies’ Aid worker, if you must, but for heaven’s sake be something!” She was radical in her awareness that singleness was not just the happy, voluntary, temporary state of the young but that older women, widows, and divorcées had a right to their own pleasure and needed to defend it throughout their lives. Even today, it’s hard for a woman to declare that she has made her choice to live alone, and not have people assume it’s a fallback option, or denial, or just what she’s doing until she meets someone. There are still limited ways of talking about happiness, fulfillment, and a good life outside of the model of the nuclear family. As Marjorie Hillis preached, exercising the right to live your life as you choose is still a political act.

There is great value in knowing our history. It gives us perspective, appreciation, and a challenge to reflect on who we are and who we can be.
In addition to reading the article, you may be interested in Dr. Scutts 2017 book: The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It.

DECISIONS ABOUT KEEPING OR RELEASING MEMORABILIA

BoxesAre you a keeper/packrat/archivist? I am, especially of items related to my personal history. As I prepare for another move, one which will be into a smaller space, I am again going through things I have kept, moved, and stored over the years. Many of us downsize at some point and face decisions about what to keep and what to release. How do we make those decisions about keeping or releasing pieces of our history, the memorabilia that we have kept?

If you are in a great time crunch – the deadline for vacating an apartment or house before the next occupants arrive, a moving truck is scheduled soon, etc. – you may tend to go to the extremes. You might either grab boxes that are still packed and pledge to go through them when you arrive at the next destination or discard things without looking at what is there.

Ideally, you won’t be in that extreme a situation and can make some decisions that will serve you in the future. To help facilitate that, it can be helpful to take a little time to consider how you see your memorabilia and treasures being used in the future. If you have already organized things into scrapbooks, photo books, etc. This will be an easier process. If, however, you have boxes of memorabilia, files and photos that are simply organized by time period, it will take more thought and work.

There are a number of factors that you can consider. For example:

  • How do you anticipate using what you save in the future?
  • Will you be looking at these things yourself and showing them to others as a way to share highlights of your life?
  • Do you think you may be doing some reflecting and writing about your life – some type of memoir, or less formal remembrances – to pass on?
  • Might you organize a few key things that symbolize or illustrate key parts of your life legacy?
  • Are there things that other people would treasure if you are ready to let them go?

The type and volume of things you save can be affected by your answers to these and similar questions. You will probably hang on to more things if you will be using them to write and then be able to discard or distribute more.

Lest your eyes glaze over at tackling this process, I share a personal experience. I located a few things that were connected to key experiences in my life that I didn’t know I had or at least didn’t know where they were. They have given me information that will help me pursue contacts from my past that I have been hoping to make for a few years. The items were photos and a yearbook from my sophomore year in college and newspaper clippings about a 6-year old child from Mexico spending a school year with us in our one-room school in Wisconsin. Real treasures!

Laura H. Gilbert has written a book that you may find of interest as you embark on a downsizing or decluttering effort: The Stories We Leave Behind: a Legacy-Based Approach to Dealing with Stuff.