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(I try to avoid commenting on current events here — but of course I can’t stop thinking of the victims of the Arizona shooting, and of the malevolent politics that I hold responsible for tipping a disturbed individual in the direction of political assassination. I’m writing good old fashioned letters to the certain half-term quitter governors, to let them know that they ought to be ashamed of themselves today. That’s all.)

I’ve watched Hoarders, you’ve watched Hoarders, we’ve all gotten that itchy feeling that there are corners of ourselves and of our houses that could be a Hoarders in the making. I vow that 2011 is the year that I start living with less stuff.

There are five big black Hefty bags out by the curb right now, full of bits of my past life, waiting for the garbage collectors to come by on their usual Monday rounds.

Also in the trash:

Every video cassette I own (even the precious $80.00 viddie of The 400 Blowsthat an old boyfriend gave me for my birthday in 1991 — I know it cost $80.00 because I saw it in a store and wanted it but didn’t have $80.00 and back then, imported French films were expensive). There are three shopping bags full of every audio cassette I own (except for the one from Selected Shorts with Bart Giamatti reading his essay about baseball called The Green Fields of the Mind which I have to keep because it’s in my line up of Music To Listen To When You Want To Feel Sad). 

Half a dozen loose-leaf binders with all my notes from when I was studying jewelry history.

ALL my slides from when I used to give lectures about Scottish jewelry, watch design, pearls, and Faberge. So heavy! I mean, literally. HEAVY. So much heavier than Power Point.

The entire file from when I was writing the catalog raisonne of the c. 1810 Empire “George Washington”  clocks which I wrote in 1993, back when you had to keep copies of all the letters you wrote to people to ask about their antique French clocks.

Three bundles of books, which does not include the 104 books I have piled up on the guest bathroom floor. Those books are all very decent (lots of art books, popular science books, nature books) and I will bundle them up and drop them off at our library’s used book shop for re-sale. My goal is to live with only  100 books; I’ll let you know if I make it or not (I’m not finished with my clear-out yet).

I am so ready to let all this stuff go, all this and more: this haul is from just one closet and two book cases. I have two desks and another book case to clear out. I’m going to be 55 years old next Sunday and I have a lot of history, tangible history that is just cluttering up my life. Literally. And it’s just STUFF.

(Wasn’t that the name of the shop that the wife of one of America’s bankrupt swindler CEOs set up when she had to sell her worldly goods? Jus Stuff? I remember she was from Texas and I guess they drop their terminal Ts in the Lone Star State, or they think it’s OK to be middle aged and “cute”. Does anybody else remember Jus Stuff?)

Digging in my closet, though, I did find some treasures, including this:

That’s a tea bag in the upper right corner, to give you a sense of scale. This is a hand-embroidered, felt applique banner that I made for my bedroom in 1974. I was 19. Yes, that’s the Star Ship Enterprise. Yes, I was kind of a moron when I was 19. Yes, you would have been far too cool to be my friend when we were 19.

I was not in college; I didn’t have the money, didn’t have the mentoring, didn’t have the socio-economic expectation of a middle class lifestyle. I was working full time in the order-processing department of a factory that made industrial gauges, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But some little part of me was able to resist the Borg of Low Self Esteem: I did know that deep down, I should have been born French. Or Vulcan.

And I had only one goal in life: to save every spare dime I earned, to put towards a plane ticket to Paris. And lo that did come to pass, and lo, that has made all the difference.  (See above: re: the more high-falutin’ of my trash.)

So the Star Ship Enterprise banner makes the cut. This time.

By the way, this is a c. 1810 George Washington clock:

I sold this clock at auction at Christie’s in New York on Oct. 28, 1992 for $42,000. At the time, there were ten published examples of this kind of clock (another one of these clocks is in the Blue Room in the City Hall of New York City, the room where Mayor Bloomberg gives his press conferences; the next time he’s on TV,  look on the mantel behind  him you’ll see it). I got curious about these clocks and I nosed around and found 15 of them in America — that’s what the catalogue raisonne was about. Let me tell you, having “Wrote catalogue raisonne of 1810 DuBuc George Washington clocks” on your resume doesn’t get you as far as you would think; I soon stopped mentioning it altogether. 

P.S. Barbra Streisand sold her collection of Art Deco furnishings and art at Christie’s in 1994. (I think it was 1994. Could have been ’93.) She was switching genres, dumping the Deco for American Colonial and Federalist stuff. So when Christie’s was asked to decorate the suite at the Pierre Hotel for the TV interview that Barbra Streisand was giving to Barbara Walters about her tag sale, I was asked to find a nice clock for the fireplace mantel. Guess which clock I put there.

Yes, it’s a journeyfrom sewing a Star Ship Enterprise banner for your bedroom to schlepping an 1810 Empire George Washington clock to the Pierre Hotel.

Thank you, everyone, for your Comments (as usual, the best part of this blog). Thanks especially to those who have commented on my public speaking: and when we get together in Seattle, I’ll tell you my other Barbara Streisand story — the one about her Cartier clock!

Yes, life is a journey. We are lucky to live in a land where it’s possible to end up a long way from where you started. Anybody else out there have a Star Ship Enterprise banner in the back of your closet?

13 comments to Garbage Cans, full of stories.

  • Tracey

    I read this just as I was preparing to drop off a dozen books in my laundry room book exchange. I’m on vacation this week, and in addition to do lots of laundry (cats keep vomiting hairballs on the bedding), I’m prepping clothes to be donated. I’ve managed to get rid of about 4 dozen books in the last year. Good luck with the 104. I paired down last year and I really do feel lighter.

  • Vivian, you are inspiring. I just did 4 small drawers last week, and thought I was doing great. One small bag of paper trash, 2 or three items to the common room give-away where I live, and that was it.
    I am now inspired to keep at it. And I don’t have a thing that has any history. Just junk.

    Yes, small mind half-Governor with cross hairs on a map, and now claims it doesn’t mean anything. But it means something to nutjobs, you spotlight chaser. If there is money in it for you, you will go for it.

    We are all saddened today and all this past weekend.

  • Deborah

    I’m thinking, “Dang! Sell those videotapes on Amazon or eBay.” But I understand the need for a clean break.

    I purge, but other stuff moves in to fill the space. I purged big time before we moved from Flint; I purged as we unpacked at the house we rented here; I purged when we moved from the rental into this house. Still there’s a truckload or two in the basement awaiting purgement.

    I always try to find good charities to donate to (very time consuming) — a big box of towels (2 people really don’t need 40 towels & the colors don’t go with new bathroom) to the Humane Society for little doggie comforts, etc. That’s my excuse for the stuff in the basement — haven’t found the right place yet. Right.

  • Congratulations on your purging. I like watching Horders because it makes me want to clean something and that feeling doesn’t come around as often as it should! I started a new blog for myself vowing to get rid of 2,011 items in 2011. ( I’m well on my way and working to lighten the load daily – or at least weekly. ;)

  • Joan

    I’ve watched Hoarders, Lordy, it gives me the creeps and the one about the animal hoarders! Just plain sad, especially for the animals. But I have to say it makes me feel like Mrs. Clean. I have one closet in the bedroom that needs a good purge, won’t even go into the room with my art supplies, sewing, knitting, quilting stuff…it’s moving me closer to the door in the hallway every day. I never was like this in the past, now that I’ve turned old (71) I think something crept into the house and took over part of my psyche. Now I just pile things up. Added to this is the fact that I’ve been in this house for 33 years…you can imagine the stuff that accumulates over the long term.

  • Nadine

    I like getting rid of the past and keeping only the parts that work in the here-and-now. It’s like shedding a skin layer, like snakes. It feels good to let go. I love getting rid of the old me.

    I keep few things, nothing Star Trek old. I’ve always kept all my Phillies Phanatic rubber figurines from the early 80s because I lived and died by that team the years Dallas Green was the manager. I’ve saved all the team yearbooks. And I have a ticket stub from the 1980 Play Off series in the binocular case I always took the The Vet to scope the guys during batting practice. The early 80s were good to me.

    Dallas Green is now 76 and his 9 year old grand-daughter was killed in Tuscon on Saturday. I’ve been thinking of him.

    Of course the shooter was crazy, but why do I live in a country that defends the need for 30-round clips for handguns? I’d feel much safer if crazy people had to re-load after very shot. The NRA is right: guns don’t kill people. Bullets do.

    One more reason to be Canadian.

  • I did a big purge because of a move last year – hey, most of us put this task off until we’re forced into it. Man, I had a hard time with my clothes. I’d look
    at a dress and remember the great time I had in it (wink, wink). I decided I’d take a picture of the really good memory clothes. I really didn’t need to keep the actual dress – all the dress did is trigger a memory – I’d hardly wear any of that stuff now. Since then, I’ve taken a picture of most of the things I’ve thrown away or put away and I find the picture is quite enough thank you.

  • Janet

    Helen’s right about taking pictures of things you’d like to remember. I heard a story on NPR several months ago about a granddaughter who was distraught over the fact that her grandmother was having to move to assisted living, and she was sad that the place so full of childhood memories would be gone. A friend suggested she get a photographer to take pictures of all the rooms in the house, the special things that meant so much, etc.

    My parents are now in the their late 80s and won’t be able to stay at home too much longer, so for Christmas I gave them a book simply called Home. I photographed every room in their house, things on book shelves, pieces of furniture, pictures on the wall, even Mom’s house shoes in the closet. The book is 44 pages of ordinary things that reflect a lifetime of 6 kids, a dozen grandkids, etc. Now when they move, they have a reference to the where they’ve lived for 40-plus years — without having all the stuff they no longer need or use.

    You all are motivating me to get back to the hard task of de-cluttering that I started three months ago — thank you!

  • Diane

    Well, I’m 66 and have heard horror stories of kids having to clean out their parents homes when they died or moved into a nursing home. I do not want to have to put my own kids through that so I too have been unloading my “stuff”. I especially have trouble getting rid of gifts from family and friends that I no longer use (or fit into!) But I am making progress. Now just have to encourage my husband to get started on his.

  • Marta

    Bravo! This is an issue we have had to confront this year. We downsized from a large house to a one-bedroom condo. After subjecting most of our worldly goods to auctions and garage sales, and finding how little value our stuff held for anyone else, we felt liberated. Since then it has been a bit easier to purge things we thought we wanted to keep (except art supplies, of course). And, yes, watching “Hoarders” has helped, too!

  • Jacquelyn

    Gosh, it sounds like most of blogreaders are old.
    Like me. Lisa, good job with the casting off of stuff blog! And Janet for making the scrapbook that acknowledges attachments and memories. And just everybody for letting go. And, Viv…I do have a star trek banner thingy in, of course, the very back of my closet. It is a large picture of a siamese cat made with tiles (from a kit I am sure) when I was a teen.
    We are soooo into reduce, recycle and reuse out here….our library has a free magazine box. Someone empties it when needed at the transfer station recycle dept. On the transfer station grounds is our Famous Exchange…where you can bring all your castoffs . You can exchange for something you need…or just “shop” ….and pay what you feel your finds are worth or for whatever you happen to have in your purse. Books, everything for kitchen or dining room, sports, shoes, clothing, appliances, electronics..well, just everything. People come for parts for all manner of stuff. Every community should have an exchange! (we have no Goodwills, Salvation Armies, etc on this island) Besides those places SELL our donated stuff to “3rd world” countries….
    If you can get out to the San Juan Islands when you come west Vivian, I will take you shopping.
    After your talk at our waterfront bookstore.

  • Sandy

    Oh I agree less is More – we are suffocating with STUFF!! Bravo!

  • Rachel

    What inspiring posts, thanks to all of you. I hope to be moving in the next year from my one bedroom apartment to a studio. There are a gazillion books between me and that goal, as well as art and craft supplies. I have very moderate clothing, kitchen, etc. My problem is the *potential.* the projects planned and never gotten to. The materials kept *just in case.* Getting rid of them is giving up. I have said for years that I need to get rid of half of all I have in order to have room to use and enjoy the other half. I dont even think it matters what goes into which half. Still the work is hard and the the results not very visible as yet.

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