Not long ago an envelope appeared in our mailbox from a realtor. It was addressed by hand—really by hand, not “by hand” by a machine. The writer identified herself as a local agent working with clients in search of a “special home” in our neighborhood. She designated the preferred streets and noted the desired square footage, the hoped for excellent condition, “nice back yard and unique character.” Gosh. What a coincidence! Their “special home” description sounded just like our house! (Especially the part where she allowed that if the house had “unique character” but wasn’t in excellent condition the clients would feel comfortable making moderate updates.)
I recognized this maneuver, as years ago my sister-in-law wrangled her dream house by going straight to the owners, who initially had had no thought of selling. (My brother and his wife have now been living in that house for over 25 years.) I confess that I was flattered that someone might want our house that much; it confirmed that I was an excellent judge of houses! Moreover, it was heartening, in this vale of depressed housing prices after having purchased our house at the peak of the market in 2005, to see the proposed price range. The offer would be very attractive-- if we had any interest in selling.
But we don’t have any interest in selling. More accurately, we don’t have any interest in moving. At least, I don’t. The last time we moved it almost did me in. And I thought we had been so organized. I had even contracted with a “moving manager,” someone who specialized primarily in helping “older folks" downsize from their rambling piles in Chestnut Hill into their new cottages in Main Line retirement communities. Our situation wasn’t quite like that, of course, but I gauged that I was going to feel the same trauma level. She sent her minions to help us pack up 225 cartons of books and unnumbered boxes of our mix-and-match glassware and the various sets of Wedgewood and Lenox handed down to us from various branches of our families. Everything she scheduled went off as planned. But I made a significant tactical error: I left too many odds and ends behind to deal with after the main move. We didn’t have a deadline to get out of the old house, so I thought, “Why push it if we don’t have to?”
Well, you push it so that everything gets done in the old house at the same time that you are ready to settle in and recuperate from the move in your new house. So there we were, one toe still in our former home, with kitchen drawers filled with rubber bands and paper clips, shoeboxes full of loose photos, clothes trees with two out of three legs toppled onto empty bedroom floors, and more. All in a house of dust once hidden but now painfully apparent and inducing sneezes and itchy eyes. For four long weeks after our move, every day, after work and on the weekends, we went back and forth between the houses, loading things out of the old place into the back of the Jeep and hauling them over to the new place. Finally, in a fit of desperate exhaustion, we rented a dumpster and just started throwing things away. We swore we had learned our lesson about stuff.
We have now been in our current house 6½ years. The 225 cartons of books are still in the garage, and down in the basement we have box after box of old vinyl records, Annie’s artwork from lower school, files of W-2’s going back to Jon’s and my college years. A fine film of dust covers gym bags containing Jay’s lacrosse gear from upper school, which he last used in 2003. Under the ping-pong table is a duffel with roller blades and kneepads purchased for a 2001 trip to Key West. (Neither ever came in contact with asphalt—in Florida or elsewhere.) Against a crumbling wall lean towers of stereo equipment so old that the components are a turntable, tape deck, and tuner. A T8200 Vision Fitness treadmill, purchased in 1999 and broken since 2009, blocks the way to the old bureau whose drawers house VCR tapes of Disney movies. There’s no way we could move with all that stuff down there.
Last fall we were visiting with my brother and his wife when, over drinks, she turned to him and wailed, “Don’t you dare die before I do! I couldn’t possibly clean out the basement by myself!”
I know just how she feels.