Monthly Archives: June 2009

Getting to Nothing: the firestorm method

firedamagedhouse

Someone sent me a short TED talk by filmaker David Hoffman whose house had burned to the ground nine days before he came to the TED conference. For a man who lost his entire film and photo collection, not to mention his STUFF, he was quite chirpy about it all.

I just looked at it, I didn’t know what to do. I mean…was I my things? I always live in the present – I love the present. I cherish the future…

[I lost it all in] Twenty minutes! Epiphany hit me, something hit me. “You’ve got to make something good of something bad.”

Maybe he’s telling the truth and this stunning loss is just another minor pimple on the ass of progress to him. Or maybe after nine days he’s still in shock and denial.

I knew a woman who lost everything in the Oakland hills fire back in October 1991. She had been a marriage counselor, married to a (overbearing asshole)  psychiatrist. A year later she had divorced him, quit her counseling practice and gotten a real estate sales license. She had also begun studying for her own Bat Mitzvah (which she finally had, at 55).

Although she had had a beautiful home filled with lovely things, she told me it was the best thing that ever happened to her.

I don’t think I want to take that route…

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Filed under Downsizing, Envisioning a simpler life, Inspiration & encouragement, Spiritual lessons

Craigslist observations (so far)

Bye-bye oak dresser and table

Bye-bye oak dresser and table

I listed 8 items on Craigslist Thursday night. Five were instant hits – lotsa calls, the other three….total silence.  Of course you always hope for the serendipitous possibility that your listing of the stuffed armadillo and the one stuffed armadillo collector in the universe happen on Craigslist at the same moment, but most transactions are very mass-market-ordinary.

Here’s what I’m learning so far.

1. What’s hot is hot, and what’s not is not. Combine the word “antique” with “furniture” and add a cheap price – that’s hot.  Describe an item that’s large, unique and (relatively) expensive – that’s not.

2. “Free” is hot. Whether folks NEED the thing or not. So my next strategy with the !@#$ humongo McGuire desk is to offer it free. (I’m very close to taking that experimental plunge.)

3. Cheap is hot. People love a bargain and will travel great distances for it. The folks who hauled off my two antique oak dressers drove about 40 miles each way.

4. Selling on Craigslist is time-consuming and not terribly profitable. So far I’ve netted $398. Better than a stick in the eye, but at some point I will consider my friend Gretchen’s suggestion: have a big party (friends) and invite people to take what they want, leaving some money if they wish, or not.

Until that time, enjoy this song about Craigslist by Weird Al Yankovic, who is still going strong.

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Filed under Art & antiques, Downsizing, Selling stuff

Sudden misgivings: am I selling too soon?

shorter oak bureau

It’s not like this oak dresser is anything special, even though it’s old and I’ve had it a long time. Nor is the other old oak bureau, or the plain pine one.  And I’m not enamored of any of them.

But now they’re gone and there are holes where they lived. Empty space.

Neither spare bedroom was crowded with furniture in the first place. One was my  son’s (currently globe-trotting), and the other a very comfy guest room.   Without dressers, neither room feels so homey.

I won’t miss the stuff, it’s the hospitality potential I’m selling off  – the “Mom’s place where’s there’s always room for you” .

On a crasser note, the two antique bureaus were probably priced too low, given the enthusiastic response I got from my Craigslist posting.  I  could have gotten an additional $20 for each of them.  On the other hand the pine bureau went for $5 more.  Live and learn.

Now let’s talk about the !@#$ing McGuire humongo desk… am I going to have to PAY to be free of it?  In case you’ve forgotten what it looks like:

McGuire Desk

McGuire Desk

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Filed under Attachment - Vairagya, Baby steps, Downsizing, Emotional issues, Furniture, Selling stuff

What about the family piano??

Mom's piano

The piano is a dying fixture in the American home.  So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000.  Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.

People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet,  and flip pancakes.

This is very bad news for me.

I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.

A few months later I bought a too-big home  because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.

Right.

First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.

Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.

Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of  it and call it my bed.

There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present  ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total).  She taught singing for 70 years with it,  playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub.  My two sisters and I  shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.

After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.

Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention the pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems have come undone.

He and I need to have a little chat about the piano’s future…

Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…

The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.

In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture.  ….

In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.”   [ouch!]

…   Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.

“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”

And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?

In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …

[Cross-posted at 365pwords . Piano is a great p word.]

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Filed under Attachment - Vairagya, Back Story, Emotional issues, Family issues, Furniture

Yard Sale poem

yardsale

Just came upon a great poem by the late great Jane Kenyonabout a yard sale at her father’s house after he died . This is just an excerpt from the poem, “Yard Sale”:

Under the stupefying sun
my family’s belongings lie on the lawn
or heaped on borrowed card tables
in the gloom of the garage. Platters,
frying pans, our dead dog’s
dish, box upon box of sheet music,
a wad of my father’s pure linen
hand-rolled handkerchiefs, and his books
on the subsistence farm, a dream
for which his constitution ill suited him.
….
Hours pass. We close the metal strongbox
and sit down, stunned by divestiture.
What would he say?

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Filed under Family issues, Selling stuff

Sold one more thing

Garden Way Cart

Garden Way Cart

Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.  I posted the cart on Craigslist and probably should have priced it higher because eight people responded excitedly in short order. But the cart has  lived outside for fifteen years and my son had scoffed at its saleability. “Who would want that old thing??? You should pay someone to come get it!”

So I asked $35 for it and could have gotten $50.

If I were to sell, donate, or toss one item a day, I’d be fully down-sized by maybe 2050. Down into my grave, actually.

Perhaps I need to pick up the pace?

Especially motivated since yesterday, when I went on a house tour  in the downtown neighborhood where I’d like to live, once I sell this place…

The Hough (pronounced “howk”) neighborhood is waking up from a generation or more of neglect. Nobody wanted an old Craftsman bungalow from the 1920s, because McMansions were the hot thing around here.

Then the market collapsed.

But now those cute little bungalows are HOT,  people are doing fabulous renovations and the neighborhood is really coming up. Six homes were on the tour and I could have been happy in any of them, though three were really too big.

Between my travel lust and now bungalow lust the motivation is getting stronger. I begin to see that alternatives to my current life could be extremely attractive…

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Filed under 101 Reasons to Downsize, Baby steps, Downsizing, Envisioning a simpler life, Gardening/plants, Inspiration & encouragement, Selling stuff

I’m jealous.

Wy-amtrak1

My25-year-old son mooched off his kindly old mum from October thru May, stashing away heaps of money from his job – like so many autumn leaves in  giant trash bags.

And then poof! He took off for Wylie’s Excellent Global Adventure – to travel in distant lands till his money runs out, or I yank on the invisible apron string I tied to his ankle the night before he left (whilst he slept).

To make his money last, his plan is to work for room and board wherever possible. Right now he’s helping a Swedish family renovate their old farmhouse through the WWOOF program (worldwide opportunities  on organic farms).  He’s strong, smart, and a hard worker (when motivated… i.e. not working for his mother).

Suddenly I’m thinking, hey! Instead of downsizing, why don’t I just sell/store everything and get the hell out of town myself. Way out of town. Far away. I would be an aged oddity at a WWOOF placement, but I sure have done my share of garden work and have the experience.  (Not quite the stamina or strength though…).

I know if I really put my mind to it, I could do it. But first I gotta figure out how to sell this place for a decent price. Oh that.

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Filed under 101 Reasons to Downsize, Downsizing, Envisioning a simpler life, Family issues

“The Joy of Less” – Pico Iyer’s simple life

Lake after the rain passes

Today’s essayist in the NY Times series on “happiness” is Pico Iyer. He calls it “the joy of less…”   which would have been an excellent title for this blog given that my name is Joy. Unfortunately I’m only GETTING to less.  BEING at less is still just an aspiration.

Iyer’s parents are Indian, but he was raised in Santa Barbara, with stints at Oxford and Harvard.  A constant world traveler, he went to Kyoto more than 20 years ago for a stint at a Buddhist monastery. Although that only lasted a week, he satyed on. Perhaps because he has spent so much time folded up in an airplane seat and living out of a suitcase, the simple life is especially appealing to him these days.

I still live in the vicinity of Kyoto, in a two-room apartment that makes my old monastic cell look almost luxurious by comparison. I have no bicycle, no car, no television I can understand, no media — and the days seem to stretch into eternities, and I can’t think of a single thing I lack. I’m no Buddhist monk, and I can’t say I’m in love with renunciation in itself, or traveling an hour or more to print out an article I’ve written, or missing out on the N.B.A. Finals. But at some point, I decided that, for me at least, happiness arose out of all I didn’t want or need, not all I did.

In an interview for Vagabonding.com he spoke of how he came to travel so light:

A few years ago my house burned down, and I lost everything I owned; all my notes, all the books I hadn’t yet completed, all my photos and hopes and letters. And yet traveling helped me see this as a liberation: to live more at home as if I were on the road, to savor the freedom from a past and from possessions, and to think back on all the people I had met, in Tibet and Morocco and Bolivia, who would still have thought of my life as luxurious. Most of the people one meets while traveling deal with more traumas every day than the privileged among us meet in a lifetime. That’s how traveling humbles and inspires.

I know that if I had less to care for and worry about and be attached to, I’d be much more inclined to travel. Heck, my son is currently globe-trotting with nothing but a backpack, his modest savings, and his native wit. Could I (would I?) do that?

Iyer concludes his Times essay:

And yet my two-room apartment in nowhere Japan seems more abundant than the big house that burned down. I have time to read the new John le Carre, while nibbling at sweet tangerines in the sun. When a Sigur Ros album comes out, it fills my days and nights, resplendent. And then it seems that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most freely when it isn’t pursued.

If you’re the kind of person who prefers freedom to security, who feels more comfortable in a small room than a large one and who finds that happiness comes from matching your wants to your needs, then running to stand still isn’t where your joy lies….

I love the idea of such a simple life… but getting the ball rolling seems so hard, like a Sisiphean boulder:

Rock, thy name is Inertia.

Rock, thy name is Inertia.

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Filed under 101 Reasons to Downsize, Downsizing, Inspiration & encouragement

Downsizing doldrums…

It’s been hot, I’ve been way too busy, and downsizing is just not happening right now:

Cat rests, by gianluca neri

Cat rests, by gianluca neri

By its very nature, downsizing isn’t the most uplifting of activities, which means that it’s ever so easy to succumb to activities more pressing and fun than tossing things you love.

Last weekend it was a hike in the Columbia River Gorge at the peak of wildflower season. This week it’s been crises at church and preparation for the sermon I’m delivering on Sunday.

I’m already preparing my excuse for next week: a garden that has just gone nuts – everything blooming, growing, spreading, climbing – from veggies to the world’s healthiest weeds.  When it comes to spreading their seed, weeds wait for no man – or for no woman who’s trying to downsize.

On the one hand, the glory of my garden is a major reason I want to stay here; on the other hand, my garden’s demands are a major reason I want to sell this place.  You can see my problem.

What’s your excuse for not doing what you’re supposed to be doing?

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Filed under Downsizing, Emotional issues, Inspiration & encouragement