Thursday’s Words/Nonfiction: The Better Deal

I went to a mini-country flea market a couple of weeks ago and was at first disappointed. It was a lark, something to do on a lazy July afternoon. I expected a vast array of fascinating items, pretty things, possibly antiques, as well–like the flea markets you see on TV, where most things look interesting. If I try again, I will have to research the best ones to browse–although I have said I’m not keen on collecting anything now. Possibly never again. Yet afterward I felt it was a satisfying, even cheery time.

I have written before of the things I managed to hang onto. But I haven’t even been a bonafide collector–rare books or other pricey specialties–oddities like intact fenders from 1940s trucks, say, or fine lacy collars from France. No, I am no expert or even wanna-be expert. Rather, a gatherer of bits and pieces: hand-thrown ceramic mugs; arty blank greeting cards; magnets depicting interesting places or people; excellent pens and mechanical pencils (not pricey–just a strong, smooth delivery). And more useless things, of course, like rubber bands and old glasses. Because you never know…

When we moved in March, we gave the heave-ho to those useless and many superfluous items. I kept thinking that I wanted to lighten my life load and also that I do NOT want my children to have to deal with extraneous items when I am finally gone. Lots of drawers and cupboards were emptied and sorted, memories no longer requiring vast material semblances. There was a whole storage area in the basement whose contents I didn’t tabulate. I don’t care what was there; it hadn’t mattered for decades. I didn’t watch those hauling, nor the truck being filled and leaving for the dump. The haulers sorted out any good stuff and did what they wanted with it. I was entirely relieved to see empty space.

So I am not wanting to replace the old with newish old things. I have done that for years–church rummage sales, garage and estate sales. I would stop in a flash to see what was good, or just to browse. You couldn’t imagine what might jump out of a dusty stack or a pile on a table. Something useful or lovely, all was game– though most of the time I walked away empty-handed, pocket currency intact.

Second-hand shopping was, in truth, the affordable way to manage our household’s needs for many years. It wasn’t about collecting good stuff. With five children, clothing and shoes were expensive to supply. My husband, a businessman, got good togs, but I was happy enough with hand-me-downs. (Appreciated Goodwill stores many times over.) So were the kids until they thought they knew better at 12, 13. Our four daughters shared clothing, anyway–even wore some of mine, since we were all about the same size for years. Our son was the only one who sometimes got brand new clothes. I’m not sure he even cared since dirt and sweat permeated all.

The same went for household things. I’d seek out decent pots and pans and replacement dinner sets and glasses. Another good bed frame. A usable lawn mower or cheap bike. A chest of drawers I could paint or a small desk to refinish. End tables for the den. Vases and picture frames and unused candles–always desired and useful, it seemed. Everything I needed could (and can) be gotten somewhere for much, much less. Back then I could not– and later, would not–pay full prices. All could be gotten for a song at any sidewalk sale opportunity. Why not go for it? One could always walk away with a shrug; on to the next possibility.

I also have appreciated chatting with the sellers as I searched, hearing stories of why they were clearing things out. Sometimes–like I had a few times early on–money was needed badly enough to sell their goods, say, to cover rent or a looming car payment. Other times they were revamping, hoped for a fresh decorating or fashion start; were moving and starting over far away. Divorce seems to always demand unloading much. Babies growing fast, children leaving home. Job losses, illness. Or just a desire to clear out the cobwebs, be free of their–they just faced it head-on– junk. (All situations I have been familiar with over decades…) It was clear if they were real collectors of valued items, they could even make good money. Then go out and buy more. What could I say? I’ve always adored books and had (perhaps) too many. Still do and buy them used mostly–and re-sell later.

I have to say it is hard for me to spend hard-earned money on new and costly items. I can see new computer or washer, for example, dressy shoes or beautiful handmade art or jewelry now and then from art fairs (have to support artists and crafts people!). But my forest green Laz-y-Boy sofa came from my sister’s years ago; it is still serviceable. As is the fine woolen tulip rug my other sister sold me for cheap. (She is gone; I think of her every day as I walk on it). And by the way, they have both been serious bargain hunters out of principle, my remaining sister far more than I. And she has been a serious collector of turquoise jewelry and Native American totems, old tools, musical instruments and more. She’d take used furniture discarded on the street, restore it to its gorgeous origins and sell it–she long had bought and sold certain items for a tidy profit. It must be in the blood, as my deceased brother collected wind instruments, silent and foreign movies and jazz records and motorcycles/cars and their parts– and more. My son salvages broken things, fixes them for fun, gives them away. We love to find hidden treasures, I guess, to keep or gift. And if we really save on a big sale or with smart haggling it is a happy purchase, indeed.

But I am, I believe, done with accumulating much more. I just like to look. I don’t need much, nor fancy things (okay, good clothing left over from my retired work life), though I’m sure some think I could enjoy better possessions than what we have. Truth is, I like our pared down belongings, and the emptier spaces that suit our current home. Less to take up my time fussing over, maintaining.

What matters more to me is the simpler life, a life swept of miscellaneous stuff and of absurd agendas (like cleaning fancy silver, which I was brought up doing–who needs it?). My mind grows more orderly, calmer, as if sunlight illuminates and breezes sweep in to freshen up my thinking. My heart is steadier and less constantly taut with life’s aches. My soul feels a stirring that can be overlooked or even lost when revved up with pursuit of this desire, that finery, that temporal need. I want to stand alone with myself and feel alive and quite alright, just as I am.

My husband and I gravitate more to the outdoors in drier, warmer weather. The rustling, nearly meshed canopy of leaves above, balcony overflowing with potted flowers, hummingbirds and bees flitting in and out: heavenly moments. I cock my ears at birdsong (and kids’ voices far off) while taking meals, reading a book, or practicing daily meditations and prayer at our outdoor table. My breath moves through me like silent music, filling and releasing me. What I have cannot be seen nor noted as admirable, but the joys and wonders are embraced within, absorbed and passed on, I hope, in living well with others.

I am less burdened since getting rid of much. I could live with even less. My spirit feels good. aligned with itself, not cluttered by irrelevant distractions. What matters even more to me is not what I own but if I inhabit this day and night truly and honestly. And what I can give of self and time.

But… having simple fun matters. Going to the country flea market was a brief stop during an outing on a toasty summer day. There was nothing for me but two new hand-stitched burp cloths for my twin grand-babies. Cost me five bucks. But we wandered about, anyway, conversed with congenial, interesting people. We enjoyed a happy hour with family, after which we had a delicious meal at a humble grill in a town we had never been to before.

One can wander, peruse odds and ends and share warm greetings for the simple pleasure of it, after all. I think we can use more of that kindly sort of thing, and less the actual material ones.

Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: These Things Amid True Beauty

All the pleasing useless items

hedging their bets that they

take precedence, lined up along

walls or closets, at attention on shelves

and bunched in summer’s spark

and colorations–

these objects playing at art, their

hollow meanings ascribed by those

too restless, with avarice or adoration


and how can possessions claim prominence?

What makes the parade of belongings so winsome–

temporal natures proffering importance,

their attributes heightened when placed amid

life’s cracks and repairs, we so arrogant, faithless?


Why must this small thing with heft in hand seem a treasure?

We are directed to acquire and we obey easily, choices

a surrender to ragged need of relief. Or simple delight.

We bring so close what fails to stir us deeply,

as if the material world is what saves us.

Which we know will most often

discard us with no backward glances.


I survey decorative items chosen and gifted,

at ease in place despite my pondering.

Often their loveliness is facile,

turns heavy and dull, the room more lonely.

I note: let no thing enter that is not real. Wanted.


But there is a finer matter: human spaces shared.

A life opened, remade with the touch of a hand.


When beckoned by a call, stillness rippling,

I scoop up this blooming peony-soft being

that fits here without thought,

warm against my chest,

eyes round with no blame or insouciance

mouth void of duplicity or meanness

and the breadth and width of the whole world

empties and refills with inestimable value.

This moment and place I belong to earth

becomes infinite as I belong to her.

Any praise uttered cannot

state enough truth

so she sighs and chirps,

speaks for me,

an expectancy of and

a claim upon love.

Missing Rings

Missing Rings

Rings 2 007

Ah, rings. There are six shown above, a good variety. There could be, perhaps should be, more to display. I’ve collected a few rings over my lifetime, especially when much younger and my hands seemed to desire adornments more than they do now. Not that they were uniquely lovely hands. They were so functional–fingers long though skinny–for playing my cello and a little harp, for noodling around on piano, for writing everything in longhand and, of course, bike riding and swinging from tree branches.

I was less interested in any jewelry until I entered high school. Rings have been gifts, or were found at fancy and plain shops. I made them, too, from silver. Most sit in my wood jewelry box. Even after giving a couple away to daughters, I counted eleven more in nesting spots. Out of those, more than half could be tossed now, as I have little if any attachment to them. This tidying task is on my To Do list along with the others. But the ones I value most are ones I wear often, usually three at once and daily.

All are shown above with the kindly regarded fourth, and a fifth set back. Apart. I prefer jewelry made of silver as gold tends toward flashier. I like the coolness of silver, a twilit ribbon of water or the horizon on a rain-promised day or snow and ice in barest morning shadow. Silver soothes and lightens, shows its beauty in a decorous way.

In the front row: a moonstone set in a clean silver setting. In the second row: a phoenix inset with a small turquoise, then a silver ring with a filigree of floral designs, and a gold one with twin pearls. In the back is a wide rose gold band. It is not my wedding band.

In fact, I have no wedding band. I have had, of course; I have been married more than once and am now. But I’ve had no ring on my left ring finger with a purpose of declaring “married.” Not for quite a while.

My very first wedding ring was handmade by an white-haired, philosophizing, gifted jeweler and artisan in Sarasota, Florida. I had admired his work and his affability when on a vacation, before I was even expecting to marry Ned. Then such plans came to be and my fiancé and I, twenty-two and twenty respectively, designed interlocking shapes. The drawings and sizes were mailed and finally they came back, hand cast in luminous gold. The rings had heft and beauty, perfect for the event, a church wedding we shared with friends and family. I felt the ring’s unique presence, and it held my hopes.

But our marriage ended nine years later. And much later, the ring was sold for its considerable gold. It was an act of angry grief. I thought it was only an object and would never regret it. Now, 36 years later, the memory of its meaning remains beyond the thing itself. I sometimes wish it was around– to pass on one day to children we had and loved together. To admire its glow, its creative design, to feel its weight and exquisiteness a moment before returning it to a quiet spot.

My current husband, Marc, and I married in the living room of our rambling blue house, our combined five children, my parents and a few friends in attendance along with a gentle-eyed minister. The day before we had bought silver bands at a hippie shop where artsy-craftsy items were sold. It was a college town; we had little extra money; we had put it off until late. It seemed less important than getting things settled with our new family and moving on with life. The bands were worn for perhaps three years, then one day mine was simply gone. It was winter. My hands were bluish-white with cold as always, and I sought lotion to put on chapped skin. I looked down to find the ring had disappeared. It had had a small split in the thin curve of silver; it had not held up well. I wondered if it finally just broke apart and fell while I was doing daily chores. It never was found.

I began wearing another silver band, the one in the photograph on the right. I had made it in my high school art class. It was plain, save for six delicate lines that scored the round-edged circle. I liked having it on; it passed easily for my wedding ring. We first spent money on our children and other priorities, not jewelry. So I decided to keep wearing it and my husband was agreeable. Then five years later he bought me a little bit fancy blue topaz which I gladly wore until…yes, disaster…the good-sized stone fell from a loosened prong as I rode a bike. Gone for good. I really missed that one but it was back to the silver band.

Twelve years later I still wore that high school band even though we divorced. I figured it was one that was wholly mine, married or not. I had created and enjoyed its simplicity for twenty-five years at that point.

Some rings came and left with me, one marriage to the other, one life passage to another, as well as when single for six years after the second divorce. Since high school I had worn on my right hand one of two rings. You can see a gold one set with diminutive pearls as well as one in silver with a large moonstone.

The pearl ring was a gift from my parents for my sixteenth birthday. I was very surprised by their action partly due to the extravagance–they usually didn’t buy us much of “extraneous” things (meaning, irrelevant to our cultural and academic education) nor anything fancy, I felt very grown up when wearing it, pleased they entrusted me with a possession of loveliness and some value. It looked classy on my hand. They were the only pearls I enjoyed wearing, despite a single strand of pearls being a girls’  preferred piece of jewelry for dressing up (I had a pearl necklace, handed down from my big sister). The importance of it was their gifting it. And it matters I’ve managed to keep it for so long. And that it still fits.

The moonstone ring was one I bought with money saved a long time. I got it a year or so after receiving the pearl ring. I saw it at the finest jewelry store in town, where my girlfriends and I liked to browse, ogling bright gemstones, shining silver necklaces and bracelets–all while under laser gazes and snippety glances of elegant saleswomen. Rarely could I even  small things there for best friends. It was the style then to engrave a locket or  an “ID” bracelet with initials or a message and give to closest friends.

When I spotted the moonstone, it dazzled me more than any diamond could. It held a deep glow in its milky depths. It changed when turned under display lights, brighter, then softer and richer. It seemed to presage something mysterious and good. I had to know more about this stone, and read soon after that it was said to enhance intuition, that it encouraged hope and balanced energy. That did it; I had to have it. It felt like this was meant to be my ring, whether or not it had any special qualities. For me it did; the moonstone spoke to me. And so I purchased it and wore it for the next decades on my right hand. Without it, my hand feels oddly bare.

Now it’s worn on my left ring finger, the traditionally designated marriage finger. I mentioned I don’t have a wedding band now and thus, this takes its place alongside the basic silver one I made so long ago. The reason I don’t have an official one? When Marc and I remarried and finally got around to designing silver bands, it turned into a trying experience all around. I wanted a sapphire as well as a tiny diamond from a family ring set into a wide, textured band. It was made in such a way that the settings kept catching on fabric. Too, when it was cold and my fingers “shrank”, the ring turned and another finger got scraped. Then the diamond fell out. Marc’s heavier ring, with no stones, was fine. I returned mine to the jeweler  but she stated it couldn’t be well repaired or redesigned for a reasonable price or length of time. After a trying exchange, I finally got part of the money back. I was so frustrated and disappointed.

And I was done with all that. I was starting to wonder about this wedding ring business. So far I haven’t found another wedding ring that thrills me. Thus, my old moonstone and silver band now keep their place on my left finger. Marc is nonchalant about all this; he wears his sturdy silver band.

Rings 2 010

Another ring in the picture displays a small phoenix. That story is simple: it came from my (now only living) sister, who has collected a great deal of turquoise jewelry so knows her stones and silver. She gave it to me after a difficult time in my life when I was determined to embrace sobriety well and gratefully, yet was experiencing self-doubt and melancholy. The mythology of the phoenix is that across many cultures this majestic bird has symbolized death and rebirth, a bird who perishes in a fire of its own making, only to come alive and rise up once more. It seems foolish not to wear that one. I do appreciate its beauty as I wear it, but it was more my sister’s love that helped me increase my strength and hope, to start over again.

The wide ring with a complex design appears to bear flowers or geometric shapes reminiscent of ceramic tiles that often draw me. I bought this one about ten years ago after it was potted at a silver shop in Hood River, Oregon. The day was sunny and breezy. Down the hill flowed the powerful Columbia River, brightly marked with windsurfers and paddleboarders, many kayaks and sailboats. We had watched and walked, drunk our cold brew coffee and chatted. When I saw the ring I thought: I’m always happy here and this ring feels just like that feels. It suits me well with both flowers and geometry. I’ve worn it since on my right hand.

The last one in the picture, a rose gold band, is enigmatic. I put it at the back because it has no meaning other than what I may choose to ascribe to it. It is, ironically, most like a wedding band and it likely is. It just is not and never will be mine.

It was after a senior concert at a high school that our daughter attended. I had gone alone, as Marc was on a work trip, and parked on a major street near businesses. I was tired but pleased with her concert; Alexandra had gone off with friends. I put a few items to take home on the passenger side of the car seat, closed the door and looked down for no good reason. There, between the curb and my car, lay a ring. It barely glinted. I could only see it a moment because  headlights swept across pavement. I picked it up, and held it closer to my eyes, then looked around, wondering who may have lost it. It could have been anybody who had parked there–and  at any given time. I wondered, though, if it was someone with kids at the school. Or a business person crossing the street. A woman walking her dogs. A visitor to the area.

For a moment I thought about taking it into the school, but the building was nearly dark as evening came to a close. It could belong to an elderly woman or someone who had fingers like I did, thin, bony, “slippery” when cold. But how would I ever know? I put it in my pants pocket and left. Then I forgot about it.

It was a week later when I started to wash the dress pants that the ring was retrieved. I turned it over in my fingers. It was a pretty rose gold, I was sure of it, with its golden-coppery sheen. I tried it on my right ring finger. To my surprise, it fit. I felt a bit shaky with that sense of doing something wrong as I stood in my laundry room, admiring–wearing–another woman’s ring. It could have adorned someone’s hand for fifty years. It had tiny scratches, was worn on the edges, maybe from lying in leaves and dirt a long while. Or the result of years of wear and tear. Life being lived. Who was she? What did she think when she realized it was not on her finger?

I can’t tell you why I kept it, there was no real reason. I didn’t know what to do with it, how on earth I’d find such a person. I considered putting an ad in the city newspaper but how would that work out? Anyone might say it was hers; no one might even read it, it’s just the paper. I had a ring with no home, no place to be. No hand to warm. Maybe I kept it because it just turned up for me–someone who doesn’t even own a ring specific to marriage. As I write that sentence, no feeling surfaces. Still, it remains in my polished jewelry box with those I no longer wear. For all I know, it might also be similar to the ones I wear: not emblematic of marriage, exactly, but a gift. Or even a ring she found in a dusty shop or yes, right on the ground. But I guess I have become its de facto keeper.

I do know this: rings don’t have power in and of themselves. They are small adornments, enhance a hand or symbolize things but we make our own meanings. Yet they can exert influence on us. They can stir things up one way or another, perhaps help us release our own magic. Hold a semblance of our pasts and aid the sharing of our stories. They can even contribute to our creation of new chapters in unseen ways as we move forward.


My Labor Day Dalliance

While I was power walking during Labor Day week-end I got a quick call about a sort of inside job. I readjusted my route and headed west. Soon I stood before rows of high hedges. Wiping the sweat from my neck and brow, I boldly strode up a flower-lined walkway and entered a large, attractive neighborhood house built in 1841 for the sole purpose of ogling its contents.

Lest you imagine I harbor hidden criminal tendencies, let me assure you it was legitimate; there was an estate sale being held. My sister was the caller and when I arrived she was already scoping out the best goods. It was the last day, which meant everything under one hundred dollars was fifty percent off. In other words, a possible bonanza awaited her, and maybe myself.

Since my older sister is one of my best friends and has an enduring interest in estate sales, I have gone to a couple dozen of these over the past years. She buys things she considers investment-worthy. My sibling is a small-scale entrepreneur, someone who invests wisely, has bought and sold a lot of goods including real estate–unlike myself.  She also just buys for the odd reason. Given her experience and decent results, I like to observe what she deems worth her cash and why. And estate sales are interesting to me, a recreational experience. I have a fascination with houses: their architectural details, nooks and crannies, decorative touches and interior design, yards and gardens. Most of all, with the stories that resonate within the rooms. Objects can speak volumes about people. Perhaps even more, the ones they leave behind.

Most estate sales seem to take place after the homeowner has died. In this case, the owners had sold their home and moved, leaving behind what they didn’t value. I gathered it was a way to make a little more money. It was certainly tidier than leaving furniture, mirrors, baby equipment or a box of odds and ends at the curb. Most people, of course, donate items to charitable organizations or give things to friends and family.

I’ve moved enough to know how all this goes. From age twenty through forty-five, I moved about fifteen times. I’m not completely clear about that number because it’s possible I may have forgotten –or blocked out– a couple short ones. I became well-versed in sorting, tossing and packing. My children might argue otherwise. I’ve been in the same place for eighteen years and there are a fair number of items stored I barely remember. When I last moved, I cleaned out things deemed irrelevant, and left a good-sized two-story, three bedroom house for a much smaller apartment. You can never take everything with you. Nonetheless, I stuffed two desks, for example, trying to do so. I can’t get some of the drawers open. In my defense, I’m a writer. I still am attached to paper (and peculiar items like old glasses and rubber bands which I’ve written about in other posts).

But this place was a different scene altogether. It was an imposing structure, a toney historical residence. The majority of fine objects had been purchased. In the expansive, bright living room, I spotted a flawless white leather loveseat for five hundred, as well as a creased, worn brown leather couch for seven hundred. Three bookcases were displayed side-by-side, each about ninety dollars.  I paused. I own many books which have a habit of stacking up in various spots. But the more bookcases, the more volumes would have to be bought to fill them. A conundrum. I waited on those.

In the red-walled dining room–how can one concentrate on appreciating food flavors when color blares at you?– there were landscape paintings and photos that were ignored by shoppers. For good reason. A couple better dining chairs remained, two of which seemed like possible buys until I examined them better. I am unfortunately not a “DIY” person; I like what can be used immediately.

In the cramped kitchen (the house was built in the nineteenth century, after all, I reminded my sister)  there was dinner and glass ware, the lovely and simply useable. Silver and china serving bowls, scratched platters and worn cooking tools sat side by side like aristocrats and the help, all waiting to be wanted. A small countertop model microwave, for some reason, was marked “Not for Sale.” Three graceful Lladro porcelain figurines were wedged in between random glasses. They always seem to have a spot at these sales.

Once in the shadowy, comfortable study I had to back out: there were too many books. Most of them were common airplane reads, not my usual choice, but also lining the built-in bookcase were a few mysteries and therapeutic manuals, travel books, special edition National Geographic tomes, political biographies. I winced and lowered my eyes. I just didn’t need to add to my own book collection that day.


I confronted a door not to be opened and wondered if it was a bathroom, pantry or just a closet. It was a very old house; it seemed a few things had been altered over time, more than I’d see.

The basement was smaller than expected, two rooms with sad carpet. A door with a sign stating “Do Not Enter” led to the other half. Is there anything that makes you want to enter a room more than such a sign? There might have been extraordinary things in there, or something better left unknown. In any case, I saw a lot more bedding than I had in years. There were nicely folded mattress pads (I passed), many sets of king and queen-sized sheets of various colors and conditions, extra pillow cases and shams, towels and bedspreads and comforters jumbled on the floor. Along one side of a wall languished twenty decorative pillows. I kept picking them up and studying them at arm’s length until my sister got impatient. She had chosen a few sets of sheets, a favorite find for her to give to a daughter or those in need. I admit I felt a sudden lust for pillows. They are an item I often am drawn to but seldom buy. These, as well as most of the bedding, were in bold colors, which informed me further of the previous owners’ aesthetic sense: fuchsia, reds, some purples and blues. A group of outdoor pillows with festive designs caught my eye but, frankly, my balcony affords two plastic green chairs and tables only. I don’t lounge there often; neighbors are a stone’s toss away. These luscious pillows were made for the large redwood deck on the east side of the house, a place one might have coffee while admiring birds and watching roses grow. Sounded dreamy to me as I climbed the stairs to the main floor.

I was not getting much sense of who lived here. Urbane, yes, with some sophisticated taste. Perhaps a bit cultured, but hard to tell. It didn’t seem as if children had romped about, or a loping dog had torn up carpets or scratched wooden floors. The second floor was as much a blank canvass with four bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms. Bed frames remained in two; no chest or lamp tables were seen, no mirrors or knickknacks. It was as empty as if no one had lived their lives there at all.

Then I entered the main bathroom with classic black and white octagonal-shaped tiles. There on the counter were trays and bags of perfumes and lotions, make up and nail polish, all of it expensive, much of it partially used, then cast off. The most intriguing thing to me were groupings of travel-sized items brought home from many trips. I related to keeping somethings “just in case” and I don’t like paying a few dollars for “trial-sized” items. But these homeowners certainly had enough money for incidentals. I counted about seventy such items. Half of those had come from other countries, as the product names were not English. I picked up a few bottles and sniffed, wondering if they’d be handy. The prices were too high, some even more than I’d pay in a store. I left them behind except for one small soap by Aveda which I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Downstairs I met up with my sister. She tried to talk me into the good bookcases but I resisted. I tried to talk her out of four turquoise rings that were exactly alike, to no avail–she collects turquoise and silver. I paid for two purple floral pillows shams to give to a daughter, my little soap and a fancy wooden picture frame. Cost: four dollars. We were satisfied. The best part, for me, was catching up on our own news as we headed home, as we’re busy and live twenty minutes apart.

I often come away from an estate sale with a picture of the people who lived there, its history. Often, lingering secrets seem to reach out to me. But this time the place felt scoured of life’s residual energies, as if the previous family had been good and ready to clear out. They had moved, not died, and their lives were going on elsewhere. The grand historical essence may return after the rooms stand emptied of ownership a couple of weeks. I walked away pondering ponder who first built and loved this lovely home. But for the time being it was devoid of its deep roots. The property was resonant only of the business of buying and selling. Soon it would be cleaning and preparations for new owners. Different possessions will take the places of those departed, be a unique reflection of the people who enjoy them. Still, things don’t make or break us, but our truest being and doing. Housing is our small oasis, a place of repose and privacy. I hope the future folks living there will be extravagant of heart and soul, create a fully inhabited home. I may stroll on by and take a quick peek through the back fence by winter. Meantime, I await my sister’s next call. I might find one great book.


Are We Known by What We Own?


Spring cleaning came to mind this week, and that was surprising. I am not a deeply committed cleaner–I find something more interesting to do 8 out of 10 times. But the rooms are opened up to breezes that sweeten the place one end to the other. Sunshine illuminates winter grime on every window, and I have a hankering for all my sandals. They are in a box on  the closet shelf, but first I must move out the cold and rainy weather shoes and boots. I have half-winter and half-summer clothing smashed together, too.

An hour is the most I can manage and that takes dedication with good music turned up. It means I start a list of what needs attacking, easiest first. Then I carry out a legitimate dusting (not just a swipe where dust mites are clearly colonizing) and vacuuming, even in tough corners. Windows come next. I even cleaned my washer tub–I didn’t even know there were products for this. But in the process of starting, it dawned on me I have a lot more to do than the usual tasks. It unnerved me.

If you asked me, I would say I am not and never will be a collector. I know people who collect. Their lives can become run by their unique passions; they are drawn like a magnet to things. My spouse collects ink pens, flashlights and knives, jade items, river rocks and agates, sacred texts (older is better). And other things I just do not understand. My sister, Allanya, drags me to estate sales. I go because I enjoy her company and like to see interesting houses. And I find it curious what people stockpile in a lifetime–it tells me such stories. Allanya is interested in investing, in part. She purchases fine turquoise jewelry and old totems, but also instruments and primitive paintings. We might end up with a piece of furniture or two she will shine up and sell.

I am not shopping-averse. (I can see my family smirking at that.) But what I need is far less than what I appreciate so I try to temper my hunger for books, music, visual art and handmade jewelry, with varying results. I am not moved to stop at flea markets and antique stores even though they do hold an allure every couple years. I have never once shopped on Ebay.

All that occupies my small curios wall cabinet came from my mother. I confess I don’t look often at the few Lladro and Goebel figurines, a row of silver and crystal bells, things she enjoyed in her attractive home. But wait. Bells, are something I do like and, well, sort of gather. I inherited some, was gifted several, bought a couple more over the years. They tend to like dust. That’s the problem with things–upkeep.

Perhaps because I’m not working outside the home now, I pay closer attention to my surroundings. Besides ubiquitous reading materials that occupy multiple places, there is more tucked away. I decided to take an honest inventory of some things I have but do not need. These are small but they sure are adding up. And at the end of the list–I worry it will get longer–I have to ask my self: Why do I keep these things? Perhaps by the end of this essay I’ll have performed a bit of useful self-analysis.

Here are small, seemingly unneccessary things I hang onto:

1. sample perfumes
2. all extra buttons
3. old reading and sunglasses
4. any-sized rubber bands
5. old maps
6. half-used candles
7. scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon
8. paper bags from stores–not just to use for my recycling stuff but from all stores
9. cards–both old and new
10. skin/make up products, for too long
11. report cards, letters, drawings from my children and grandchildren
12. single socks and old bras

It’s a bit embarrassing to see such a list on this lovely clean page. My habits likely have sprung from being the child of Depression-era parents. My parents did not toss things unless absolutely useless, and neither did they waste money on needless possessions. My father, though a musician and educator, had a knack for fixing things, from stringed instruments to large appliances, stereo equipment to cars. My mother repaired kitchen tools, clothing and snafus that are part of property ownership. I didn’t inherit their talent. But I got the message: do not treat possessions poorly. Make them last.


My childhood home had a good-sized basement and an attic. The attic alone was a strange and intruiguing place. There were myriad objetcts within cramped recesses for a child to root out, try on, wonder over, play with, mess around with for a good hour or more. A favorite was old cigar boxes. (They got those from the drugstore when emptied, thus they got free storage). My mother stored extra buttons there or bias tape of many colors, and spools of thread. The colorful, often embellished buttons supplied me with hours of sorting (hues, style, size), using for doll quarters’ decorations and art works, some sewn. Unless she needed them; I had to ask first. And then there were my older sisters’ fancy concert and prom dresses. Gift wrapping supplies. Fabrics. Extra or old games of all sorts. Some of my mother’s high heels. Things for winter, like woolens and my white fur muff and matching hat. But the point is, it was a place for storage and everything that wasn’t in the main house was in there. And the basement, where there was a fruit cellar stocked with homemade jams and canned peaches and applesauce. That basement deserves a story of its own.

So you get the idea. My parents saved and preserved. The junk drawer in their kitchen, just like mine, held sometimes useful things–toothpicks galore, string of all sorts, bags of rubber bands (sorted), eyeware repair kits, tape of different types, half-full Elmer’s glue bottles. Gum, mints, chipped marbles, old birthday candles, keys and so on. Oh, I fogot to add old keys to my list…

Maybe there’s a part of me that’s cheap. Collecting perfume samples? If good ones, I have to hang on until they’re completely empty and even then, I still like them in a little ceramic bowl on my dresser. If I don’t enjoy one, a daughter or grandaughter might. Sometime. Make up and skin supplies? I can’t throw them out until deemed well past expiration date or a very bad choice. The reading and sunglasses are another story. They are given up if broken. I buy cheap glasses. I have stepped on or lost some; it’s good to have a few back-ups, right? A daughter noted there is at least one pair from a couple decades ago in my desk drawer.

Maps. I really like maps and could probably get hooked by very old ones–such skill and imagination they required!– as well as those from around the world. But I don’t want to get started on that. I do throw out ones I’ve actually used on trips when they disintegrate at the folds.

The spare buttons that come with new clothing are kept (in their little plastic bags) for no good reason (I have so far not had to use more than one extra button) except I loved them as a kid and you know, just in case. And my five children have had a lot of paper items to share, many of which I let go long ago. But colorful, odd-sized paper bags from stores? They would be handy in a pinch–I do reuse them. Single socks? Well, I am an optimist. The other ones do turn up occasionally. Those old bras….have to say I just gave away some decent ones since I lost weight the past couple year. But part of me wanted to take them back. Another few pounds…

I see how it happens: I want to keep extra things to save money. Or because they signify a fond memory. Or maybe I just like something enough to “wait and see”. I am, it seems, as possessive as anyone else of a vast trove of stuff I would like to take out and just burn some days.

I think it is time to stop waiting and free up more rooom in my living space and life. I think of those estate sales, how much one can accumulate. Find even necessary. It seems an embarrassment and wasteful when I see what was left behind by others. So what matters most in my life? What do I want to leave to others when I vacate my time and place on earth? I think of the files of poetry and stories. My CDs. My bookshelves groaning under the heft of great authors’ words and a few anthologies with my own writing. Sketchbooks I have half-filled. Maybe my family will trash them once I’m gone; it won’t matter. But I see–no surprise to me–that creative activities and passion for nature and people have defined my living.

Bottom  line, the immaterial world matters most. Those who have shared their time with me, taught me about important matters. Those I have cared about and who have cared for me in return, despite the work and courage it requires. And God’s presence first and last, as the Creator’s inimitable love is the only certainty to me. We all know stuff is made to be shared and discarded. I do have some good sense. But there is a way to go before I am smart enough to always do what is truly wise. It will likely take more sorting out.