Where are you going this time?
Long before there were Minimalists (visit them here) who traveled the world with fifty-one things and before Marie Kondo (http://tidyingup.com) sparked joy with her life-changing magic of tidying up, George Carlin (enjoy the video) famously pinged our devotion to stuff. In his routine he mentions needing a place to store such important items as our “fourth-grade math papers.” I’m guilty of moving school papers of mine that date back to third grade more than 2300 miles over 42 years and through six houses (not to mention storing those same pages with my mother for eons). I’m equally guilty of rarely looking at those papers, although when teaching the boy until recently known as Sixteen, now Seventeen, about taking notes for class a couple of years ago, I reached into my box and found a perfect example of what I was talking about in my philosophy notebook from college.
That specific collection of school papers is corralled into one storage bin. Not so well filed are papers from Seventeen and Thirteen’s school experiences along with files of my first full-time job search, pages of creative writing from before there were computers, and financial records, some dating back thirty years. In the unfortunately accommodating storage area of my basement, it’s all too easy to stack in bins and crates what my mother years ago named “scream boxes”—those collections of things or papers that tumble together into a tangle to be sorted some other time.
Looking through the basement in preparation for this year’s garage sale, I found I’ve got a mix of scream boxes and organized packets. Ignoring these, it felt really good to skim out items from the basement we aren’t using, and set them, along with things from every room in the house, out in the garage at the beginning of May. Strangers came to look over our things and few left without purchasing something. You have really nice stuff, one person told me. “Now, you have really nice stuff,” I smiled back, handing her change and a bag holding her treasures.
The garage sale was the most lucrative I’ve ever had, but of course it’s the human interactions that I remember the most. There was the lady who has recently become a mutual funds investor who started talking to Seventeen, giving him advice about life. In short order they were exchanging email addresses, because investing is something he loves to talk about and he has acquired a surprising wealth of knowledge already, even if he’s still working on accumulating actual wealth. There was Larry who readily dispensed his version of life advice to my son: “Work with this,” he said, pointing to his head, “not with these,” and here he wiggled his fingers.
More than one person asked Seventeen about his accent. Born in Maryland and an Iowan since five and a half, his intonation is sometimes a little surprising, but he doesn’t have an accent. It isn’t the first time, he told me; he’s been asked about it at school.
The most hair-raising and smile-inducing visitor to our garage arrived in a shiny silver Jaguar that likely cost more than will Seventeen’s first year of college. Seventeen and I were leaning out of the garage to gawk at the car as he walked up the drive, “Did I park funny?”
“No,” I told him. “We were just admiring your car.”
Seventeen said something affirmative and enthusiastic in response to which the stranger looked straight at him. “Do you have a driver’s license?”
“Take it for a spin,” he tossed the keys to Seventeen and added, as an afterthought, “Is that okay Mom?”
Off they went down the driveway together where the Jag’s owner showed Seventeen how to adjust the mirrors. I caught my breath as the big car purred away, my son at the wheel.
“Awww, Mom,” the car’s owner walked back up my drive, “don’t worry. I have plenty of insurance. Every boy should have an opportunity to drive a car like that.”
As his story unfolded, it turned out the owner of the Jag had grown up on a car lot, driving all kinds of luxury vehicles. He had, he said, been driving Jaguars for thirty years.
What seemed like an eternity but likely only a quarter of an hour later, Seventeen brought the car back, grinning from ear-to-ear. The owner, too, looked pleased, having given the kind of gift that stories are made of. He strolled off to climb back into his machine, one of our few customers who left without making any purchases.
For two and a half days our belongings left in the arms of strangers. Reactions around the house were varied—watching from the window Ninety-One said she felt a little like she was being robbed. But when she made her way out into the garage, she found the items there had lost their emotional energy and she was glad to see them go. Seventeen is practical—anything he doesn’t want to take to college should be turned to cash. Thirteen spent a happy hour spreading the contents of scream boxes excised from her room a few years back around the basement, discovered a packet of glitter, and proceeded to sparkle her hair, clothes, and the basement floor. Her contributions to the sale itself were few.
In three days we easily divested ourselves of any number of things we no longer use, with a healthy balance going to charity and resale shops over the next two weeks. The experience offered so many gifts: the house feels lighter, brighter, and more welcoming, easier to navigate and to consider what’s still here; I spent a weekend in my garage with Seventeen, enjoying his company at the beginning of what is his last summer at home before he leaves for college; and we put into the bank a tidy sum toward our summer family adventure, the memories from which are sure to be much more precious and important than any knickknack or unused bowl.
May is a month like December, a whirl of activities, concerts, recitals, and endings. There’s a big commencement in our world—Seventeen’s graduation from high school this weekend. So while May took me away from writing as much as I’d like to, it is presenting me with plenty to write about. Look for the inevitable post about my graduate soon and thank you, as ever, for sharing the journey with me, Rxo