Taking Care: Cleaning out the house 

We immediately had found a buyer for the Tudor house.

Now I had five weeks to deal with 65 years of accumulated stuff. I said to Brian, my real estate agent, “How am I ever going to do this?”

I looked up “moving” on the Internet and decided to follow the suggestions I found. Make a list of categories: Keep, Discard, Repurpose, Donate, Recycle. Sort one area at a time and follow on from there.

I still did not have a place to move, so paintings and breakable items would have to be carefully wrapped, boxed and stashed in storage. Each of the children came and tagged their favorite pieces. Surprisingly there was little overlap.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Brian said. “It will be fun! I have an experienced woman who can help you. She moved her mother from New York City. ”

The next morning I opened the door to greet 20-year-old Tiffany with a giant Coke in hand. She had a tattoo on her ankle and her brown hair was pulled in a pony tail. She said, “We’ll have the best time! I moved my mother from New York City in a station wagon and even strapped things on the top of her car. Only one ski flew off. Where do we start?”

I sensed her youthful energy. Mine had long since vanished.

The most challenging area would be John’s downstairs workshop in the former playroom, so we started there.

As a younger man he had manufactured machines and tested equipment made of metal. He shipped them worldwide.

Their size, about 30 x 25 inches, had to fit through the oak door. The workshop held a hodgepodge of unfamiliar objects, such as a lathe, a drill press and a band saw. Extra materials were stored over the garage. I rarely visited these mysterious and messy areas, and he never let me tidy them up. It wasn’t my territory.

I was determined to have a generous spirit in directing the fate of our belongings. The children and I voted to have Bill, a loyal helper to my husband, choose whatever he desired as a gift from us.

“I was going to ask you if I could buy a few of John’s tools. This is unbelievably great to receive them from you,” he said. He began to tote a truckload of stuff up the stairs. It took most of the day.

Then I telephoned 1-800-Got-Junk. Two hours later three guys arrived to clear out the rest of the workshop, assuring me everything possible would be recycled. They dragged up heavy loads from the cellar with nary a complaint. They swept both areas, were as polite as could be, and gaily waved out the truck window saying, “You’re going to need us again. We’ll wait for your call.” I looked at the empty space, full of melancholy as I recalled the hours of pleasure John had enjoyed creating his machines.

The basement hadn’t been that clear for decades. Even the spider webs were visible.

We had over a thousand books to recycle. A rare-book expert advised me which ones to sell. I spoke to someone at the Fletcher Library, who agreed to take the rest for their sale—no damaged or ones with yellowed pages. I rose at 6 a.m. every morning for 14 days and placed them in piles. Then Tiffany put them in plastic grocery bags. Late afternoons we dropped them off at the library. As a treat we stopped and each got an ice cream cone.

Next we tackled the clothes. My best would go to SCHIPS, next to one of the churches, then to Goodwill and the Salvation Army. I felt better knowing they would be worn.

Two and a half weeks into the purge, I found myself in a real recycling mode and had no trouble making decisions. I did occasionally feel wistful, but it was essential to concentrate on the task at hand.

John’s tailored wool jackets were the most difficult: handsome ones from London and Bermuda with crests on the pockets. He had loved wearing them, I realized

I could give them to St. Michael’s Playhouse for their productions. I knew the clothes would have an unusual extension to their life on stage. The same with his English riding boots, his raccoon two-tailed hat we bought in a tent in Bulgaria, and his tall mink one from Russia. His suits, ties and sweaters would be perfect for businessmen in Burlington. I kept some of the smaller items, such as shirts and ties, aside for extended family.

My mind was tired and whirling by now. Some of these items themselves had little emotional attachment for me: kitchenware, the woodshed with lawn mower—welcomed by a neighbor, and other items. Then the garage—I can’t even remember what was stashed there.

The movers spent two days wrapping glassware and dishes in bubble wrap. Alice, our daughter, packed the oil paintings. The movers carefully loaded the grandfather clock and the remaining furniture.

Now the house looked as if its spirit had vanished. I felt totally exhausted, and each evening and morning I reminded myself that I would have the enjoyment of reassembling the contents in a new form. I could finally become a minimalist as I weaned things out. I had let go of stuff I didn’t need or even want. It was freeing to the point of being invigorating. This first phase was completed. I took a deep breath.

Moving takes organization and is never easy. I was satisfied with what I had done and how I had gone about it.

And I had only complained once to Stephanie, my hairdresser. I told her it had been hard work, and I wondered if I would hold out to the end.