I packed up my apartment in one afternoon, amazed at the amount and the variety of useless stuff I collected in fourteen months. Some of it I had when I moved in, but not the one hundred plus ketchup packets or the fifty little plastic sleeves of soy sauce. I certainly didn’t remember owning hundreds of clothes hangers. It’s funny the items you consider worthwhile when you are choosing which to leave and which to take. Two of my possessions I consider valuable enough to be the first on the “keep” list — a small statuette of a sad dog in a Boy Scout uniform, and my 1958 Barbie doll.
The ceramic dog was a present from my father. By the time I came along he no longer led a scout troop, but I liked the little statue and asked him for it. The Barbie doll might be worth some money if her feet weren’t marked with the imprint of my childish teeth. Barbie and the little dog were among the first things I took out of the home I left to my ex-husband.
The more stuff you own the more dusting you need to do. If I could, I would reduce all my possessions down to what would fit into a backpack. I could make do with a travois I guess and drag the lot along behind me. I fled a twenty-five-year marriage with just what fit into my car, plus a futon. A small price to pay for a quick retreat.
Three months after I appeared alone in court to finalize the divorce, my ex-husband’s sister asked if I wanted anything from the house. They were selling it in a last gasp effort to avoid foreclosure. I brought friends, boxes, and a pickup and arrived to find the front door of the house covered in plywood. Law enforcement had kicked in the door, looking for a man my ex had let stay at the house. We loaded up photo albums, dishes, books, odds and ends I thought I might want.
I wound up with a collection of novelty coffee mugs, a flock of ceramic roosters and chickens, battered pots and pans with loose handles, puzzles, games, blankets, paperback books and bookcases–it grew exhausting dragging it all along behind me. I decided to hold a garage sale. I convinced my son, Andy, that he should let me hold the sale at his house by offering to split the proceeds with him.
I’ve lived long enough to have suffered through several garage sales, they seem to come in ten-year cycles, like a plague of locusts. The day of the big event I set up in Andy’s driveway with a cup of coffee and watched the sun rise while our first customer arrived. The woman struggled out of the passenger seat of an older model pickup truck with a bed piled high with used furniture. She ambled toward me and asked “Is your lawnmower for sale?”
I explained that we didn’t own a lawnmower, let alone have one for sale, and she huffed, turned around, and walked swaying back to the truck. The treasure hunters appeared. They rummaged through the mismatched coffee mugs, torn sheets and worn out bath towels, boxes of puzzles with just one piece missing, and clocks that no longer worked. They turned to ask, “You got any gold or silver jewelry?”
I had my wedding ring, but I didn’t sell it. Not then. I kept it stashed in a wooden jewelry box for a year after the divorce. I sold it at a store front with a large black and yellow banner proclaiming “We Buy Gold! Silver! Top Dollar!”
Each item that sold meant one less thing to pack up and move. I felt lighter as the boxes of knick-knacks, throw rugs, and collections of paperback books left with each buyer. I had been carrying the weight of these things for years. By ten o’clock on the second day of the sale I was down to several dozen coffee mugs, some pots and pans, a used television antennae, and a warped dresser with loose knobs and sticky drawers.
Andy joined me on the driveway as we watched people cruise by, checking out the remnants from the safety and air conditioning of their cars. Our last customers were a pair of older Hispanic men who paid two dollars for a dozen coffee mugs. Before they left, they asked if we would like to buy some tamales. The men led us to their car, parked at the curb in front of the house. They popped the trunk and lifted a foil wrapped bundle from a red plastic cooler. The tamales were warm, fragrant with chili and garlic. My son and I closed our enterprise. We packed up the left-over goods to donate to charity and placed the bulkier stuff out by the curb with a sign that read “Free.”
I still have the Barbie doll and the ceramic dog. The other things I own do not all fit in a backpack and I doubt I could get it all into my SUV. The possessions we own and the memories they contain can weight us down and bind us in one place like anchors, keeping us from moving on toward a better destination. And sometimes our things act as ballast, giving our life balance, reminding us of where we came from and holding us steady on our course.