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W. Hunter Roberts

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Stuffing It

Posted: 09/01/10 01:00 PM ET

August 30. I've been back in the U.S. for a month and 10 days. It's hard to believe just six weeks ago I was swimming in the crystal waters of the Adriatic and eating little fish friends in olive oil. It's one thing to decide to leave. It's another to actually do it. What do you do with all your stuff?

Before I got back, my subtenant bailed on her decision to pick up the lease of my flat, which she'd rented with all my furniture. It was too late to change my reservations, so I was left having to dispose of all my earthly possessions before my lease expired on July 31, a mere 10 days later. Oh well. At least she saved me the trouble of disposing of my wine collection, by drinking it all.

If you're leaving, there's no point in storing stuff in the U.S. It just costs money and leaves you with the same decisions a year or three later. Might as well be done with it. I called my friend Elizabeth, who lives on my block, and arranged a tag sale in my absence. Thanks to the wonders of technology I was able to talk with her from a rural village in Greece while she walked through my flat with her cell phone, looking at every piece of furniture, every dish, every silver-plated serving tray, deciding what to keep and how to price everything else. I placed an ad in the local paper, and set a date.

Katherine, the organizer, says there are only three categories: Love it, Use it, Get rid of it. Noah, who moved to London from San Francisco, then to Boston, and back to London again, sorts a little differently. He says there are things of lasting beauty, unique and irreplaceable, like art. Then there are family heirlooms and mementos. Those are trickier. They have to have an actual story you can tell. Third, there are tools you use to make your life easier. He said my bed and memory foam mattress were tools for sleeping, allowing me to keep them, which was a relief. Then there is everything else--maybe cheap, maybe expensive, but stamped out and replicable. Those are in the get rid of 'em category.

When you sort everything you own in nine days, you see clearly what's important to you. I wrapped every single piece of art to ship, yet it was stunning how easily I let go of hundreds of books. I had to admit I would probably never again open the many tomes I had loved and had carted around for decades. Better to bestow their gifts upon someone else. I pared down a legal sized four-drawer file cabinet to a single box. Shoes were another matter. Would I ever again find the perfect pair of four-inch taupe suede and black patent leather spectator pumps? Or peu de soie peep toes with a rosette on top? Never! They got to come, stuffed into the bottom of my wardrobe. So did serving dishes, pasta maker, crock-pot, and silver. Winter coats went in along with my black velvet Jessica Rabbit dress, fall suits and table legs that got removed to make tabletops easier to transport. One large, ornate sideboard and mirror, which had crossed the country twice already, made the cut, packed with linens and lingerie. But bookcases, bureaus, sofas, rockers, end tables and dining set--all gone. Sarah's church was having a rummage sale, so two guys came over with a truck and took whatever I hadn't sold and couldn't take. The soup tureen found a good home with Elizabeth and Ali got the fragile angel.

By 8 p.m. on the night of the 31st, everything was gone. The rummage sale guys drove off with a truck full of furniture and housewares. The sales ended, the free box was set out on the street, and the international shippers loaded my most precious things into the van to wait for me to give them the go-ahead to send it across the ocean. The house was clean and holes patched. Burt took my sofa and two rockers to sell on consignment, and I was left with an accordion file, my laptop, two suitcases and a little money. I sprayed some rosewater on, because I had packed the shower supplies, and went out to celebrate.

It was amazing how light I felt. Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I think I understand that now. In those days camels entering the city gates of Jerusalem would have to go through an archway, called the eye of a needle. In order to do so, they had to unload the burdens they had been carrying, or they wouldn't fit through.

There is nothing wrong with having stuff, if it gives you pleasure. But if you are unwilling to let it go when the time comes, it will keep you from entering the portals of the Promised Land. I unloaded enough to pass through the first portal that week. I am on my way. Stay tuned.

 

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