Living in the Ending of Things

Where is that thing, I wondered as I dug deep in the back of the closet.

I know I have it. I’ve had it for years.

As I searched for the missing item, I realized how much stuff had accumulated on just three shelves in only one closet. 

Stuff, stuff, everywhere. And I am getting rid of it all.

Every single thing.

Item by item, I scan each room as I try to assess the value of everything I have lovingly, and sometimes unknowingly, collected over a lifetime.

I am no longer attached to the vast majority of these things, these representations of my life. In fact, everything I own is being reduced to just ten boxes, things I’m actually making myself keep, because I will eventually settle into one place again. I am keeping items that are, for the most part, sentimental: a painting, a family heirloom, a favorite sweater, my new pans.

I’m thrilled that my family was just visiting, because I gave a box to each of them, two adults, two teenagers, and a pre-teen, and had them fill their boxes with whatever they could find of mine that they wanted. I was thrilled when my beautiful great-niece chose my beloved collection of perfume bottles and antique trinkets from the top of some long-forgotten woman’s mirrored vanity. The tall, handsome 14-year-old snagged a stunning decorative knife, the youngest, still a sweet kid but looking more and more like a young man, got my first-gen iPad. Their mom and dad got camping stuff and keepsakes. They each got a box-full of my memories.

How does one begin to liquidate a lifetime of possessions? Getting rid of all my personal belongings is a monumental task, and yet here it is, looming in front of me. 

Memories flood in as I look more closely at things I’ve had for years, things I don’t really see any more. One by one, memories come from my many years of a marriage long since over, of my crafting days, of lifelong friendships and friendships come and gone. Even my plants hold the history of the business I once owned. Who is going to inherit these memories? Who will hold precious the items I have carefully chosen, over many years, to fill my space?

One by one, items I post to my Facebook friends are finding homes with people I know, at least. Nothing has yet gone to a random stranger, although that will certainly happen in my first liquidation sale. 

IMG_0754

Bottom photo by Suzanne McQueen

But how can I possibly put a price tag on the little print of Vermeer’s L’astronome I got when my husband and I visited the Louvre on our first and only trip together to Europe? What is the value of the lovingly hand-beaded astronomy orb I spent hours and hours making during a creative period? How do I price the tiny trinkets friends have gifted me over the years, dusty now, sitting in a glass bowl?

I have given myself many months to prepare for this part, this parting with the symbols of my life. I am spending time with my thoughts, my memories filled with sweet hope, quiet satisfaction, deep contentment, tragedy, and lost love.

Occasionally, I must remind myself why I am doing this. Why am I, at fifty-eight years old, selling everything I own to travel the world? Then the spark flares, the adrenal flows, and the excitement rises as I remember: to experience life to its fullest, to meet people of all colors, shapes, and sizes around the globe; to see the spectacular sites of ancient history; to hear the sounds of monkeys screeching, shop owners calling out in strange tongues, and temple bells ringing through the jungle; to smell the fragrance of flowers I’ve never seen, aromas of foods I’ve never heard of; and to taste, in all respects, the flavors of lands far away and completely foreign to me.

This is what drives me: the knowledge that this is the only life I have. The time is now, while I am young enough and healthy enough to vagabond my way through the world. And I am thrilled and excited all over again.

Ah, there’s that thing. I gently pull out a small, faded photo of my former husband and me before we got married. I am sitting on his Harley, and he is standing beside me. We are falling in love, smiling the smiles of joy and young life. There are casts on each of our broken right arms. The Golden Gate Bridge is rising high in the background. This picture is going with me on my journey around the world. It holds all the love, all the dreams, all the adventure I once felt as a young woman. It will remind me that the future of that young woman is now. Now I stand on the threshold of the rest of my life. 

If you like this blog post, please like, comment, and share. Doing so will help support me as I prepare for this amazing lifetime journey.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Suzanne McQueen
    May 11, 2015 @ 12:05:29

    Beautiful! Well said.

  2. Jessica Vineyard
    May 11, 2015 @ 12:16:57

    Thanks, Suzanne!

  3. quiltbat
    May 11, 2015 @ 13:57:43

    Beautifully written, as usual, Jessica! I could relate so much. You are paring down much more than I ever did!

    It all boils down to feeling and sentiment, doesn’t it? Things are just things, but the photos and objects we associated with a time in our lives are harder to part with. While disposing of clutter can be cathartic, there is some comfort in keeping that special photo or inexpensive trinket that sits in the bottom of a drawer. You may not consciously think of it for years but once you lay eyes on it, emotions flood in.

    I still have the old white (now grey) cardigan my mom gave me on our road trip back east when Bill and I were newly married. I was 21 and didn’t own a coat in CA let alone a warm sweater for back east. Mom ran into the house and grabbed her brand new (with tags still on) sweater and impulsively gave it to me. Forty-some years later, the buttons are now missing. While it used to fit my 110 lb. skinny body, it’s never going to fit me again. Yet occasionally I drape it around my shoulders when I get chilly or think of mom. It has moved with me seven times since 1969.

    After doing serious downsizing when we moved to Ashland after 40 years on the east coast, a total stranger I met on Craig’s List lovingly took all my plants. She sends me occasional photos when they bloom. It was harder giving them up than some of our furniture! But I feel happy someone is enjoying my babies!

    What you’re doing is very freeing and will give joy to others. Those items will now hold memories of YOU in them, and the owners may feel the same pangs someday when they have to be passed along. Material things are not permanent, but feelings are!
    Barb

  4. Jessica Vineyard
    May 11, 2015 @ 14:01:33

    Oh, gosh, Barb, thank you for such a thoughtful, introspective comment! I love your story of your sweater. We don’t always realize our attachment to things that symbolize memories until we are packing and moving or doing some serious cleaning-out. Thank you for your delightful comment and for your kind words.

  5. Anonymous
    May 11, 2015 @ 18:15:42

    You are such a great writer, you just take your readers to where you are and what you are feeling! I love it.

  6. Jessica Vineyard
    May 11, 2015 @ 23:30:58

    What a sweet comment! Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

  7. Ilana Moss
    May 13, 2015 @ 21:52:21

    Hi Jessica. Beautifully written. I did this eight years ago, although my “world travels” have been inward more than outward. Years from now you will look back at this moment and it will seem like another lifetime. Enjoy!

  8. Jessica Vineyard
    May 13, 2015 @ 22:44:57

    Thank you, Ilana.

  9. Anonymous
    May 14, 2015 @ 14:52:51

    Hi Jessica- that really speaks to me. I am doing a similar journey as I said- it’s hard letting go but freeing. Such a smart thing to do!

  10. Anonymous
    May 14, 2015 @ 14:53:26

    do I have to put in my email and name each time? it’s shelley- previous post…

  11. Jessica Vineyard
    May 14, 2015 @ 14:55:00

    I’m not sure, but I think so. Otherwise you show up as an anonymous guest. đŸ˜ƒ

  12. Ed Taylor
    May 16, 2015 @ 14:40:43

    Nice!

  13. Anonymous
    May 16, 2015 @ 19:27:54

    Thank you, Ed!

  14. Jessica Vineyard
    May 16, 2015 @ 19:28:59

    Thank you, Ed!

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