Sued51's Blog

{August 20, 2019}   The Pain of Downsizing

So, I’ve decided to come clean or should I say “become clean?” It’s not really my decision; I no longer have a choice. My landlady says the stuff has to go. I now have a deadline.

My kitchen

After living 60 years, this is what I have to show for my life. Beginning with babysitting in my teens, I have worked for most of it and this is what’s left.

My husband took the best stuff: the leather sectional couch, the cherry king sleigh bed with the Temperpedic mattress and the Tiffany lamp (just to name the standouts so you get the idea). And I didn’t argue because I knew I couldn’t afford a place big enough to house that stuff, and I just wanted peace after years of misery.

He took his prizes and moved out of state. I moved to a small apartment that I was lucky enough to find in the newspaper (yes, my mother still got one, thank goodness)with my two cats. I was left to watch a family of renters with two Saint Bernards and two cats ruin our 5000 sq ft house. All the stuff my husband didn’t want was locked in the furnace room in the basement. According to the lease, I was responsible for the yard, and I struggled to mow the acre of hilly lawn before or after work. I did some weeding, but soon gave that up, letting my beloved flowers choke as I felt choked. All of this was hard for a woman in her fifties.

The renters finally moved out because the guy I hired came out three times and couldn’t fix the Thermador double oven and we couldn’t afford to buy a new one. Now what?

We would have to sell the house at a bad time. (No, I didn’t want to move back in and take in boarders as my husband suggested.) We would have to short sell it. And so began the process of going through what was left, yard sale after yard sale alone, making very little, because no one wanted to pay for anything. It was a heartbreaking lesson.

Then the selling process and the negotiating. The new owners fighting me for all the large items I had no place to put and couldn’t move: thousands of dollars of exercise equipment, the pool table, the air hockey table basically given to them. They were the ones who had the money to buy this huge home and they were robbing me! I felt hopeless, humiliated and angry. And my husband, from afar, was angry at me: couldn’t I see that everyone involved was making money but us??? Of course I could — I was the one witnessing everything up close and personal!

The night before the closing, my neighbors and my realtors helped me clean out what was left in the garage. My much-loved neighbors added to their own trash by taking stuff to their house to go out for trash pick-up and the realtors filled their vehicles to use the dumpsters where they lived and worked.

I had moved the items I didn’t want to part with to a storage unit. There were a few items of furniture, but it was mostly memorabilia and sentimental items. I had very little time to go through anything, working two jobs and taking care of my aging mother. The storage place raised the price of the unit every six months. I crammed more stuff into my apartment, gave some things away, had to throw some stuff out that got ruined by mice. Then I downsized to a smaller unit. I tried to put everything into bins so nothing else would get ruined. And the storage place raised the price, again and again, until I was paying the original larger unit price for the smaller unit. I finally brought everything to my apartment to save money.

Which brings me to now. I have consolidated and given away at least 6 bins worth. And now the rest has to go without any more painstaking sorting. And my anger has me writing this. (Healthier than drinking and taking valium.)

Believe me, I know I am fortunate. Plenty of people never have stuff to have to downsize from. And I know someone who lost everything to a fire, including countless gorgeous sweaters she had knitted over the years (I think I was more heartbroken about those sweaters than she was!) But I’m still angry. Angry at this throw-away culture, angry at the people who take advantage of people in bad situations, and angry at myself and my husband for all the money and years we wasted.

I have learned some tough lessons when it is too late to do me much good.

The dear friends who have watched me go through all this tell me I am amazing and inspiring, because I have found within me the resiliency to still try to have a life and find some joy. This is just the highlights (and lowlights) of what I have been through. Maybe I will retell my story in a much more literary and more grammatical format and detail in the future, but the anger and pain demand I write this now.

I hope this action burns out what is left of my anger and shame, and maybe teaches others something. Be kind to people you think are hoarders; they are not broken, they are people in pain and they have been through enough without your judgment.

flashMy youngest brother swears my father had a “Flash”#1 comic book. He told me that in excellent condition it is worth over $100,000. “Then why aren’t we finding it right now?” I asked.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that my much-loved father was somewhat of a hoarder.  I wax non-grammatical and say “somewhat” because it was never as bad as on the “Hoarders” TV show (and I loved him too much to put that label on him), but believe me…there’s a LOT of stuff.  My brother believes that particular treasure is in the attic of our mother’s house, so yesterday we spent a couple of hours dragging out box after box looking for THE comic book.

The boxes that were regular books had to be moved out of the way. There were magazines in piles that also had to be moved aside. “I’m sure we’ll find it in the boxes at the end,” my brother said. AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL, I said to myself.

Thanks goodness the weather wasn’t hot, but I can’t say I could breathe very well with the dust, spider webs and mouse droppings. Insert nose and mouth into shirt collar. There was no guarantee that if we found it, it hadn’t been chewed to pieces. The boxes were heavy and I had to carry them in a bent-over position because the attic isn’t high enough to stand up straight. But…as there are a few of us that need the money, I quietly carried on with the end result in mind.

We finally reached the “mother load;” he let me know which boxes had comic books in them and I brought those downstairs. We finally began looking through them. My father loved the artwork on the “Conan” books and some other comics that aren’t very popular. He had many Disney ones and Archies; many of the comics were newer ones (from the 60s or 70s). But…there were some from the 30s and 40s mixed in: Rin Tin Tin and “War Heroes.” “They’re mixed up,” my brother said, “we have to look through all of them.”

So we did…and…WAIT FOR IT: it wasn’t there.

My brother found HIS “Spiderman” #1 and #2 that he thought my other brother had taken from him years ago. We also found my great-aunt’s clock during the clearing of the path, which my mother had been looking for, but no “Flash.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t in a shed, the basement, or who knows where else, but it wasn’t with most of the other comic books. If it is in a shed or the basement, there is even less chance it is a sale-able condition.

My brother went home with his “Spiderman” comics, and I went home tired, dirty and disappointed, but it had made me think (and given me this blog).

I don’t gamble, because I feel it is a waste of money. Yet I was willing to waste 6 hours that I could have used looking for a REAL job, on what is really just another get-rich-quick scheme. Hoarders always think they have something special and most of the time, they don’t.

BTW, my father did have “Batman” #1 and “Superman” #1 comics that he sold many years ago when he was out of work and needed to feed his family. They did come in handy, but they didn’t make him rich. Who knows, maybe he sold his “Flash” during some other tough time my brother doesn’t know about, maybe he didn’t. Maybe we’ll find it one day or maybe we won’t, but I’m not holding my now dusty breath.

dumpsterI’ve reached that age when many of my friends are dealing with cleaning out older relatives’ homes. We talk about it a lot. I”m downsizing, myself (not voluntarily, it is important to note). The issue of accumulated possessions is taking over my mind like a hoarder’s stuff takes over their homes, and the resulting picture is not pretty. Why do we collect stuff and why do we hold onto it?

I’m not a psychologist (although I have a BA in psychology) and I haven’t extensively researched the subject because it hits too close to home (my beloved father suffered from it). I can’t even say I’ve watched the show, “Hoarders.” I tried, but it made me nauseous. This post comes from my gut, my intuition, and from my own feelings.

First and foremost, hoarders have spent their lifetimes amassing their possessions. It took a lot of money and work to collect all this; it is their “life’s work.”  I see this watching the TV show, “American Pickers.” Usually the people with barn after barn full of stuff say they have been collecting it all their lives, and they are proud of it. It is the sum total of their life.

I’m guessing that my feelings at being forced to downsize are very similar to what hoarders experience when someone forces them to clean out their homes. I spent a lot of money and energy accumulating my stuff; I spent many years at jobs I didn’t like to buy these things, and now I have to give them up. It’s devastating. If my life were a formula, it would look like this:

Energy + Stress + Boredom + Putting up with misery and disrespect = Things.

And when you get old and your things get old, they become unwanted, worthless, dumpster-worthy. How does that change the formula?

Energy + Stress + Boredom + Putting up with misery and disrespect = 0 (ZERO)

Having an outside party come in and determine what is worth saving is a humbling experience at best, a humiliating and heartbreaking experience at its worst. It’s possible that none of it is “worth” anything. Try putting your precious treasures up for sale on Craigslist or at a yard sale, and you face similar enlightenment…if you don’t want to “give” it to them, they don’t want it. I have come to the distressing conclusion that the only true intrinsic value of things, as well as people, lies in their serviceability to someone. I imagine this is what the hoarder thinks: My life has come down to this. Isolated and alone as a lot of them live, they identify with their “stuff.”  When other people make the decision to throw the hoarder’s stuff in the dumpster, they, in effect, are throwing the hoarder in the dumpster as well.

I also think some hoarders have a misplaced need to “rescue” things; it gives them self-worth. This could be a conscious rationalization or an unconscious thought. The rest of the world is the “enemy” that wants to toss these treasures in the dumpster; the hoarder wants to “save” them (in more ways than one). Thus they end up with items other people have discarded; these items become their community, their “followers,” their tribe. They are creating their own museum, preserving history, holding onto the world as they knew it.

And we, the caretakers, the “normal” ones, think we are smarter than them, somehow better than them. We are better able to judge the worth of things. But the hoarders are well-aware of the “games” we play — throwing things away when they aren’t watching; getting them to tell stories to distract them; slipping something inside something else and spiriting it away– we think they won’t miss these items amid the clutter. In reality, do they miss the particular item? Probably not. Do they feel that something isn’t right in their world, that someone has taken something from them? Yes, they do; you have stolen a piece of their life, passed judgment.

When my father was alive, I read articles about helping hoarders get rid of things. One suggested taking pictures of the items and listening to the hoarder’s story regarding that item (and there usually is one); this makes it easier for the hoarder to let go. Logic says, they can look at their items in a photograph without cluttering their house. What then happens to the pictures? They still end up in the dumpster when the hoarder passes away.

The caretakers/family feel embarrassed, angry, insulted: why does the hoarder need that stuff when he or she has us? WE are what they should consider important. The answer is: where were you when the hoarder was amassing the stuff? It doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you were unaware or turned a loving blind eye, you weren’t dealing with the real problem.

Nobody wants to look it in the face, but it is all about loneliness, lack of connection, and the feeling of a wasted life. Is this the legacy of capitalism?

My desire to simplify and clean out has coincided with my desire (and need) for extra money.  I would have thought this was serendipitous, but…NO.

Posting things on Craig’s List has only led to Spam or responses reading, “If you want someone to take it off your hands, I’ll take it for FREE.”  Selling on Ebay?  I don’t like paying a fee and a lot of the stuff I need or want to get rid of is too big to mail or ship, or just plain not worth it.  I’ve got shelves of stuff in the garage put aside for a yard sale that hasn’t happened; my husband wants me to prepare for it by pricing and organizing things, not just throwing them out in the driveway.  Yes, I’ll get around to that…

My father was a saver (the PC word for hoarder).  It paid off for him at one point in this life when he was unemployed and was able to sell his childhood comic books to support our family for a year, but that was a long time ago.  We’re discovering he also held onto a lot of things only because he thought they were useful: jars, boxes, etc.  I’m not surprised no one wants those things; they go off to recycling without a second thought. (We loved him too much to just toss them.)

Many of the memorabilia items he saved are worth a little (i.e., between $30-$50), but that isn’t much considering the time needed for researching, posting, monitoring, and shipping that would be required to hold an auction on Ebay, or the time that would be spent trying to find the right “niche audience” elsewhere.

Like my father, I have saved a lot of oddball things. What…no one wants my RC cola cans with baseball players on them? REM trading cards, anyone? Ok…I get that, but what about my beautiful wool cape that I splurged on 15 years ago?  I would still wear it, out of style or not, if it fit me, but unfortunately I will never be that small again.  That reminds me — I tried the consignment route before and ended up not bothering to pick up the clothes after they didn’t sell.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t an average size in my younger years (size 4 is small for most people), which is also a reason there were less buyers.  So, I’m learning about the law of supply and demand the hard way.

The psychological part is really hard; it’s difficult to get comfortable with money that I now see as “thrown away” on what I thought were quality items.  It’s also difficult to get past the same mentality my father had: it is still a useful item; we don’t need more in the landfills.  I don’t mind giving to someone I personally know who needs help, especially when I think they will actually use what I gave them, but I can’t give something away to a stranger on Craig’s list; I can’t get past the feeling that I’m being taken because they will figure out a way to sell it and make the money that I can’t.  Swaps are great, but again, there has to be a demand.

This is an eye-opening time in my life. In the end, I will continue to hold onto some things and donate others — at least I can get a tax credit — but these days I sure could use a small fraction of the money back and it is hard to recognize that was a pipe dream.

et cetera
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